Sneaking up to the corner of the house, the scrawny eight year-old boy carefully peered around it into the carport. His lips, perpetually separated by buckteeth, broke into a grin as he saw the car was gone and the object of his desire was where he knew it would be. Sitting there on the step by the door, magnified into lobster-sized proportions by both the afternoon sun shining through the water in the mayonnaise jar and his own imagination, was the crawlfish. His barefeet slapped across the concrete as he hurried over to the jar, picked it up with its glorious contents, and replaced it with a jam jar bearing a crawlfish less than half its size. The guilty pangs that arose as he took off around the corner were surpressed by the thought of how Terry had practically stolen it from him in the first place.
The thin boy had caught the crawlfish earlier that day. He and his older friend by four years, Terry, had spent that morning as they often did, hunting for crawlfish in the two creeks that ran down the borders of the boy’s yard and joined into a Y to form a larger creek as the water left his property. He had lifted a large rock and, after the few seconds it had taken for the silt from the creek bed to be carried away by the stream, had almost dropped the rock in amazement. Lying there, its claws raised menacingly, was the largest crawlfish he had ever seen. He had quickly thrown the rock aside on the bank, moved his hand behind the head of the crustacean, and quickly darted down and squeezed his fingers and thumb around its midsection. Like a fisherman who has finally landed the prize-winning catch, the boy had lifted the crawlfish triumphantly, the claws arching back toward his hand making him a bit nervous, and called excitedly to Terry to come and see.
Soon Terry and the other boys in the neighborhood had joined him at the picnic table in his backyard. As the boy held the four-inch crawlfish, again somewhat scared of its pincers waving erratically in the air, they confirmed that he had caught the granddaddy of them all. Terry, older and more wily, sensed the fear of the younger boy. Holding up a smaller, lighter crawlfish next to the boy’s dark, large one, he angled in for the trade.
“Yers may be bigger, but yer pert ‘nuf half-scared of that thang, and besides, mine could lick yers cause it’s so much faster.”
“Un-unh. Ain’t either,” said the boy, as he defended his champion crawlfish but did not deny the fear.
“Is too. Put it in this here bowl of water and see for yerself.”
As the boys dropped their crawlfish in the bowl, it became clear to the boy Terry was correct. The larger crawlfish lumbered clumsily around the bottom while the small one, provoked by Terry sticking his finger in the water in front of its face, shot backwards with its tail, often banging into the larger crawlfish and knocking it sideways. With the other boys joining Terry’s side, before long he had pulled a Tom Sawyer on the younger boy and made him see how good it would be to trade for a crawlfish “more suited for yer size.”
After Terry had walked off with the crawlfish and the day had progressed, the other boys had continued to talk about how big “Terry’s crawlfish” was. The boy had begun to regret the trade. This frustration led then to the crawlfish switch, and also brought on the inevitable confrontation.
That same evening, Terry returned to find the trick played on him by his young neighbor. Across the creek the following verbal volley ensued.
“You stole my crawlfish!”
“Ain’t yers. I just was lettin’ ya borrow it.”
“You traded it, fair and square, for that little’un.”
“Wuzn’t no fair trade.”
Funny how memories, like a dandelion seed on a summer breeze, can come floating across our minds. Though my buckteeth were corrected years ago by the pull of braces, and my thieving heart by the grace of God and restraint of His law, the above childhood memory came back to me recently. This in turn stirred other thoughts of how God actually used my stealing ways (my word to give the crawlfish to Terry should have been honored) to make me sick of sin and seek Christ:
- Like when I shoved the Hostess fruit pie down the front of my pants at Crawford’s Corner Store after school one day. Just like the Proverb says, the stolen bread was sweet at first but then turned to gravel in my mouth because of the guilt. Years later, after our family had moved from North Carolina to Michigan, we were driving back to NC for a visit and had stopped on eastbound US 40 to help a motorist with a flat tire. Another car, going westbound, also pulled over to help. Who should the man be who crossed the highway and median to help but Mr. Crawford? Only God could orchestrate that! When he peeked into the car window to say hi to us kids, I just slunk down in the back seat like the guilty sinner I was.
- Or like when I stole the Gale Sayers football card from Tad when he went to use the bathroom during a trading session (I justified it then because Sayers was my favorite receiver, Tad had three of them after all, and he was being unfair not to trade). I kept that card for years, yet like Frodo’s ring the weight of carrying it around seemed to increase over time. So one day I simply destroyed it to be relieved of the burden.
- Or like when I broke the dormitory window as a freshman at the University of Michigan while throwing snowballs at my friends, then lied about it when asked by the campus police. Jesus came to me in that same dormitory and saved me from my sin. It took some time (okay about five years!) but eventually my conscience would not let me go on without contacting them to apologize, determine the cost of replacement, then sending the money plus 20% (see Leviticus 6:1-5).
As Augustine said in his Confessions as he recalled stealing the pears of his neighbors, “But now, O Lord my God, I seek out what was in that theft to give me delight, and lo, there is no loveliness in it.” I do not know where these folks are anymore, but in the advent you might read this blog: Mr. Crawford, forgive me for taking advantage of all the kindness you showed, and I would love to treat you to a fruit pie; Terry, sorry about the crawlfish and about all I can offer you is dinner at Red Lobster; Tad, I’ll get you a new card if you would like, as I see grown-up kids are selling them on e-Bay.
But better yet, let me tell you about One who can take all our debts away – yours and mine – and promises treasures in heaven in return.