A few years ago, I got a cantaloupe at my local Aldi grocery store. While I’ve always been something of an Aldi evangelist, I’ve also always been suspect of their produce. As an inhabitant of a northern state, my rule with Aldi produce is this, particularly in the winter months: the hotter the climate the item was grown in, the less likely it is to be good by the time it gets to Aldi’s northerly shelves. Of course this is true of any store, as it’s expensive and difficult to safeguard fresh food as it travels around the country. But I’ve found this to be more true at Aldi than at any other store.
I know this sounds like a snap judgment, even a prejudice, perhaps. And it’s true that I do not have any graphs or statistics justifying my opinion here; I only base this bias on that very subjective measure of overall quality: personal experience.
Which brings us to the crux of this story. Four years ago, I bought a cantaloupe from California in the middle of winter at a Buffalo Aldi. Because I love Aldi so much (the low prices! the simplicity! the aisle full of random deals!), I hoped this cantaloupe would disprove my Anti-Aldi Produce Bias. I typed in the pin from my debit card after the cashier rung up my groceries, because this was still the time when Aldi didn’t take credit cards. And then I brought my cantaloupe home, full of hope that I would be enjoying its firm juicy orange flesh come dinnertime. All day I gave Aldi the benefit of the doubt; surely this amazing store had been working around the clock in order to properly preserve its produce.
But my hopes were unfounded. When I cut into that cantaloupe at 5:30, to put a slice on everyone’s plate for dinner, I found that the inside was brown, bruised throughout, with no juicy orange flesh in sight. Disappointed, I considered what alternative to substitute for my kids’ fruit or veggie that evening. I settled on that great crutch of food preparation—the baby carrot—and moved on with my day.
After dinner that evening, I pondered what to do with my rotten Aldi cantaloupe. I looked at my receipt, wondering if $2.79 was enough money to warrant a trip back to the store for an attempt at a refund. Then I read at the bottom of that white slip of paper, “Twice As Nice Guarantee: Refund AND Replace.”
“Could that possibly mean,” I wondered aloud as my daughter sat forlornly at the dinner table working on a small pile of baby carrots, “could that mean that I can get a refund on that rotten cantaloupe AND a new cantaloupe?”
The next day I went back to Aldi, having bagged the bad melon in a Ziploc to use as evidence. I showed it to the manager along with my receipt; he asked no questions and counted out two dollars and seventy-nine cents from the nearest register. He glanced up and said casually, “Go get yourself another cantaloupe.” My great Cantaloupe Calamity had a happy ending. I left the store with a new and much fresher piece of fruit that, with my refund, I never even paid for.
Zephaniah writes that God also has a Twice As Nice guarantee. We all have areas of our lives where we feel shame. God says that it is these areas that he particularly wants to redeem. It’s easy not to pay attention to good things in life when they’ve always been there. But when something in our lives is particularly difficult, we are much more likely to notice when it changes, improves, or disappears. A couple experiencing infertility may find joy in a pregnancy and delight in a new baby more readily than a couple who never had trouble conceiving in the first place. A teacher who struggled for mastery of her subject matter will be much more understanding towards a struggling student than a teacher whose subject always came easily.
I’ve found that in God’s economy, we’re often blessed in the particular areas that we have experienced shame or sorrow, the places where we may have felt we got rotten fruit. That is not to say that every struggle or difficult circumstance will be redeemed in our lifetime, but some of them will. As Christians, we watch and wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, for the emergence of God’s kingdom on earth, and for the eventual return of Christ, who is God’s ultimate redemptive guarantee. This Advent, let’s open our eyes to God’s Twice As Nice transformations, the beauty from ashes that many Old Testament prophets write about as they predict the coming of Jesus.
Like Zephaniah, the prophet Isaiah writes,
Let us not just hope that God will take problems away. This would be a mere refund, and we all know that God isn’t going to be outshined by Aldi’s guarantee. Let’s pray for transformation, for the Lord to take our most bruised and rotten places and grow something beautiful.