"I am forced to restore what I did not steal." Psalm 69: 4
This caught my attention this morning from my Psalm of the day. I've never registered these words before, but today they kindled a sharp memory that isn't altogether pleasant. And I keep returning to it as I've moved on with my day. So what am I to do but write it out and see what the Holy Spirit behind my hands might help me make of it--might help me make of that time in my life.?
I was a baby Christian. Fourteen years old and still wearing diapers in the faith. Drinking milk, as Paul puts it. And straddling worlds, I suppose you might say. I'd begun attending Young Life and Campaigners (the Bible Study/Discipleship groups for believers) but my two closest friends were those from before coming to Christ. We were headed in different directions, but one of them, Janet, had been my best friend from grade school. It was hard to let go of such an old friend, even if her influence wasn't always good.
One day in early winter, the other friend, Karen, and I were at the Student Bookstore, the 'Bookie,' on the University campus in our hometown. And there was a purse she really wanted. By wanted, I mean she wanted to steal it. Apparently, she and Janet were not new to shoplifting, though I hadn't even been a part of that activity with them. Until that day. Karen decided that I should put the purse under my coat because my coat was bulkier than hers so mine could hide the purse. And, because I'd always been easily led and wanted approval, I did as she asked, even knowing how wrong it was, even so scared I was shivering in my boots and coat and hating what I was doing. We got out of the store easily, without a hitch. And walked smack-dab into a hitch, er, a Young Life leader. That purse under my coat began to burn like a coal. I thought my heart would burst from my chest. I could hardly speak. It was like God Himself showed up to confront me with my terrible crime. I doubt the Young Life leader had a clue why I was so quiet (since even then I was not a quiet person). We didn't talk long...and got back to Karen's house, where she stowed the purse under her bed.
I was disquieted, though.Very convicted, you might say. I remember how poorly I slept that night. The very next day, I took the rest of my lunch money and went back up to the Bookie, and bought the exact same purse. It cost 8 whole dollars. I remember the precise amount. I remember that I was going to have to go without lunch for the rest of the month so that my parents didn't know (I must have already spent my allowance!). After I bought the purse, I went back to the shelves, looked around carefully and replaced the purse. This is where I didn't think completely clearly because then I walked out of the store with the empty bag and tossed it in the trash with the receipt inside. I didn't want anyone to know what I'd done. I just wanted it all to be square. Made right. Later I realized it would have been better to have kept the receipt...
Because, a few weeks later, Janet ran away from home. This was the first of several times she ran away during our high school years. But this was the only time I was involved in her story. With our parents, Karen and I had a a meeting at Janet's house to talk about where Janet might be. It was a horrible night. Upset, worried parents, upset, angry parents, upset girls. Yep, a whole lot of upset in that house. I had very little to offer. I wasn't that close to either of them at that point, for one thing. The purse was the final straw for me. "Bad company corrupts good morals," Paul says in 1 Corinthians, and it was instinctive in me to pull away. But Janet's parents had searched her room for clues and discovered many things she'd clearly stolen, so it all came tumbling out about that purse, and my involvement. Karen pointed the finger at me because, after all, I had been the one to take it, though she did admit it was under her bed. I told them about the second purse...but there was no way to prove it. No receipt, nothing but my word. And my parents weren't inclined to believe me. With good reason, I admit. They'd lived with me my whole life--how could they have known I'd been changed?
So there was third trip up to the Bookie, this time with my father. And this time, I had to speak to the store manager, admit what I'd done, return the purse (which had been retrieved from beneath Karen's bed)--and pay for it--again. It was all rather excruciating. The store manager was more kind than I had any right to expect (but I think I looked younger than my age, which might have helped) but I was shaking in my boots that day, too. It took more money that I had to work off, though I can't remember what I had to do to pay it back.
And that's the story of my paying 16+ dollars for a purse I never owned.
Quite a lesson.
It did the trick, of course. I never stole anything again.
Of course, I'd already learned that lesson.
God had been ahead of my parents in teaching me that.
But I think that was the beginning of when my heart really began to awaken to Him. That is, when I was young, and thought like a child, the most important thing was not getting caught. And I'd lie if I had to in order to avoid it. I was really quite a liar as a child. More than I like to admit. It was my 'besetting sin,' I'd say, in my pre-Christian years. And I think that sin is what made my parents not believe me. But Christ did change me. He changed even that. And I saw that my second action was still a form of a lie. It was that incident that He used to change my heart about lying. Sure there were missteps along the way, but these days, I get in more trouble for telling the truth than lying. And coming from where I came from, I call that a victory.
But that's a story for another day.