Since February, three friends of mine have been diagnosed with…
1.Rob a Townie
I remember stealing only once. It was not the sort of thing a God-fearing girl would normally do. Stealing would set my seven-year-old soul in danger of the Hell fire promised to me every week by Sunday School teachers and weeping pastors pacing the pulpit, raising their Bibles and shaking their heads at the shame of it all. I coveted blue Dinos aur Cheryl Smar t 108 something deeply though which I knew was a violation of the Ten Commandments and would surely be my doom, but since I had coveted already, why not go ahead and take what I wanted? I had already broken one of the Commandments with just my want. There was never any mention that Hell would be hotter the more Commandments I violated. Only one would suffice.
2. A How-To Guide:
I robbed a townie. I argued to God that it was fair anyway because townies had everything. Farm kids had nothing but dirt. Sometimes food grew out of it and we ate. Sometimes it didn’t and we got a little hungry now and again. Hunger for nourishment is easier to stifle than the hunger for another life. Never satisfied was my desire to have what other children had. I wanted new jackets and shoes instead of those that were handed down God knows how many times. I wanted clothing that was not handmade by my mother, even though I knew what she created with love and skill, cutting and sewing fabric late into the night, was far superior to anything the townies could order from the Sears & Roebuck catalog. I wanted candy. I wanted toys. I wanted a red skateboard in spite of the reality that there was only dirt and grass and a small concrete porch to scoot it across. I wanted what belonged to my second grade classmate, a dark-haired boy with fair skin and laughing eyes.
On this rainy spring day when I was to become a thief, recess was held indoors. Some of us played Duck-Duck-Goose or I-Spy, some read books, and a few of us gathered around the dark-haired boy as he retrieved a bag of plastic dinosaurs from his backpack. He let the dinosaurs fall onto the mottled grey and blue commercial carpeting that covered a portion of our classroom, and we all began playing with them. They were unnaturally colored things, bright red and green, yellow and blue. We made dinosaur sounds and dying noises when theTyrannosaurus Rex killed the smaller dinosaurs. The owner of the dinosaurs made it clear that he was in charge of the T-Rex.
“They’re my dinosaurs,” he said, “This one is my favorite, but I will share the others.”
That was all right with me because I felt a special connection with a blue Stegosaurus that had been cast to the side. I was the only girl in the dinosaur group. The boys shunned my dinosaur noise and play. Even the boy in charge would not use the T-Rex to eat my Stegosaurus although he ate all the other dinosaurs. The boys forgot all about me and the blue Stegosaurus so he and I drifted off into our own dinosaur land, eating grass and chasing imaginary Pterodactyls. All too soon our teacher, Mrs. Clifft, called for clean-up as recess would be over in five minutes. This set us all in gear to be back in our seats on time as Mrs. Clifft was a tyrant, as terrifying as any of those dinosaurs on the floor should they have taken up life in their true forms and began tromping around our classroom crushing victims. Mrs. Clifft crushed victims all the time. With her words. And with a long, thick wooden paddle that lifted me off the floor from the force of it every time she swung it. My petite body suspended itself on tiptoes, and then rocked back onto my heels, only to be raised up again in the next moment by another whack. Sometimes, Mrs. Clifft grabbed my arm and held me in place for paddlings because I was too small to ground and brace myself. I tiptoed, rocked back, stumbled forward. I was all over the place. She learned she could hit me better if she helped me be still for it.
The boys in our group dropped the dinosaurs where they were and left the owner of them to scoop them up on his own. As he deposited them into the clear plastic bag from whence they had come, there was a brief moment the good in me tried to drop the dinosaur into the pile with the others. But my hunger to have it proved too great. I palmed the dinosaur into my hand, walked away, and with all the stealth a fledgling bandit can 110 have, deposited the thing into the slide-out cubby of my desk. I glanced back at my classmate just as he was shoving the other dinosaurs into his backpack, fully expecting that he had noticed the missing stegosaurus and was about to name me a thief to our teacher. That didn’t happen. It was easy enough for me to slip my prize into my book satchel at the end of the day. I kept my hand inside my satchel the entire hour-long bus ride home, gripping the toy dinosaur just to be sure of it, not daring to bring it out into the open for any of the other poor kids to claim as I had done. I wrapped my hand tightly around the blue dinosaur, feeling the ridges along its back and the spikes on its tail. I marveled that it was mine.
3. The Drawbacks:
When the bus dropped my sister and me at our stop, I ambled along behind her on our walk home, leaving enough space between us so I could enjoy my treasure privately. The sun peaked out from behind a cloud and sparked the auburn highlights of her long, wavy hair. I longed for her dark tresses instead of my own limp, stringy dishwater-colored strands. Come summer, I would at least enjoy the blonde streaks that allowed me to pretend I was a California girl. I envied my sister’s beauty. But in that moment, my walk was a little prouder than hers, a little richer, because I had a new friend. We trekked a half-mile down, down, down the curvy gravel drive that became worse for the wear the closer it snaked toward our farmhouse. The portion of the road owned by the county was well-maintained, with healthy amounts of gravel and properly graded. The road became our actual driveway at the end of it however and those parts were much less rocky, more narrow, and more to the liking of a proper farm girl. I liked the sound and crunch of gravel under my feet.
I walked the gravel road with the blue dinosaur in my hand, as happy as I ever remember being as a child. He and I played dinosaur games all afternoon outside until the sun went down. I imagine feeding the dinosaur bits of turnip greens underneath the table at suppertime, and that being the last bit of our fun together. When dusk settled in, I began to feel the weight of the blue dinosaur. I can feel the weight of it now nearly forty years later.
By bedtime, I felt as heavy as any sinner could feel. I had kept the blue dinosaur with me the whole evening, tucking it into my pants pocket or hiding it inside my small fist whenever my sister or mother came near. No one knew I was a thief. My sister was only a few feet from me in the room we shared as I lay on my back in bed, twirling the dinosaur around and around between my thieving fingers. I was sad the toy had lost its magic. I didn’t want to hold the dinosaur anymore or even to look at it. I tucked the thing underneath my mattress and felt the burden of it much like Hans Christian Anderson’s princess felt the queen’s pea. But never a princess was I. It wasn’t the weight of the object that burdened me, but the weight of my sin in taking it. I wanted the blue dinosaur gone. I wanted to hide my sin and shame and never look at it again. I felt the eyes of God on me like I would imagine Adam and Eve must have felt when they had sinned and in realizing it, covered their nakedness before the Almighty. I wanted to cover myself, too. And I wanted to cover the dinosaur and the sin of it forever. I decided to make a holy sacrifice to God of the thing I had coveted and stolen.
4. A Righteous Sacrifice:
The next day was a Saturday and at first light, I went outside to make an offering of repentance to the Lord. I told God I was sorry and knowing that He could see straight into my heart, I knew He could see it was true. I buried the tiny, blue dinosaur under the wild cherry tree at the Northwest corner of our farmhouse. My disgrace moved me to hide the thing there in the dirt, as did my desire to never again be tempted by the sight of it. Yet greater than those motivators was the longing for a righteous sacrifice. Even as a child, I knew once a holy sacrifice was offered to God, the thing sacrificed should never be touched by human hands again because to do so would taint the offering.
As far as I know, my sacrifice is still there in the ground underneath the wild cherry tree, along with the piece of myself I offered up to the Lord that spring morning, the piece that begged forgiveness and promised to be an honest girl from then on. The piece that said I wish I hadn’t taken the blue dinosaur and broken God’s loving commandments. Say what you will about the Lord. But whatever I put into the ground that day, and whatever my heart lifted up to the heavens must have been a powerful thing. The blue dinosaur. It’s the only sin I’ve ever buried. I’m a prolific sinner. I’ve sinned wide open all my days. It’s not the honest transgressions that swallow you up. It’s the hidden ones, the dishonest ones. Those are the kind of sins that rattle the devil.