She carried thousands of them. And by thousands, I mean more than twenty.
That big old suitcase of a purse had everything in it. Kleenex, on the off-chance a bloody nose should need immediate attention (hey–it had been known to happen) or even for the occasional tear that might dare to escape from the corner of a little boy’s eye. Band-aids for scraped knees–a virtual certainty–and pricked fingers. Scissors, nail clippers, maps, Bible, suntan lotion (no sunscreen back then), pens, pencils, notepad. . .Well, you get the idea.
The object she carried by the thousands though (or more than twenty–whichever), was a round silver thing with ridges around the circumference. That red-headed lady who raised me carried plenty of quarters for any eventuality.
Lunch money? Get a couple of quarters. Sunday School offering? Pull out a quarter. A stop at the gas station for a few gallons of gas? Four of them would put four gallons in the tank, enough to get around town for another week.
Mom carried quarters. The gargantuan purse’s weight without them? I have no idea. It would have felt feather-light to her if it had ever happened. It never did.
I knew better than to dig through Mom’s purse on my own. If a dig through was called for, she did it herself. I never took a quarter from Mom’s purse. Never.
Did I also mention she kept thousands of quarters on her dresser in her bedroom? No? She did. I think they were the reinforcements for the purse, should it ever feel lighter than normal.
Is it pretty clear where this is headed? Well, let me get right to the point.
I am a thief.
Again and again–I cringe as I write the words–and again, I crept into my parent’s bedroom at times when I was sure their attention was on other things–preparing dinner, hanging laundry on the line, changing the oil in the car–and I slipped a quarter into my pocket. A quarter bought a coke in those days. Or, even a play on the pinball machine in the convenience store. Important stuff.
Never more than one at a time did I steal. I convinced myself that it was not as bad as taking two. Or four. Or ten.
No mention was ever made of the missing money. None. But, the red-headed woman knew. She knew.
It was fifty years ago. And still I know myself to be a thief.
In the present day, I would never steal from anyone knowingly. Folks leave items at my business–nice things–and I find ways to contact them. I realize a customer has been overcharged and I make sure they get their money back. To a fault, I ensure unhappy folks are compensated. I never want to cheat or steal from a single person again.
I’m not sure how we manage to convince ourselves, but we can certainly fool ourselves, can’t we? I’m not a thief anymore! With Tolkien’s Faramir, I can say, “Not if I found it on the highway would I take it!”
You see, stealing is about recognizing who the proper owner of anything is and not taking that thing for ourselves.
This is not the time for me to make a list of the things I have stolen just in the last 24 hours. The reader will probably find enough to make his or her own list. It may or may not be longer than mine.
The man limped out of the rain and into my store this morning. I had work to do and was already behind schedule. He needed to talk about important things. Needed to. I grudgingly gave him five minutes of my time and sent him on his way with my variation of go in peace; be warm and be fed.
Recently, I wrote boldly of knowing that nothing I have is my own. The opportunity to serve was not my own. The time was not my own. I am a thief.
My Creator has, in His bag, thousands of such opportunities. How many have I sneaked in and stolen, to waste on myself? How many minutes, one at a time, have I slipped into my own pocket?
Let me be clear. I am not legalistically suggesting we cannot have leisure time. It is clear we were created in such a way that rest and recreation is a prerequisite for physical and spiritual health.
The minutes and opportunities I am suggesting have been stolen and squandered do not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit into the category of leisure time.
I knew when I hurried the man out the door, I had not fulfilled my responsibility to him. I knew, and I sent him away. I am a thief.
Ah! But, grace. . .
“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
Luke 23: 42, 43 ~ NIV)
“Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.”
(J.K.Rowling ~ British novelist)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.