I’ve been telling stories ever since I was a kid. You might already know where I’m going with this. I could tell a good story to get into trouble and tell another one to get out of it—at least with everybody except my mom. Here’s one of many examples:
One Sunday during church—when I was around 10 years old—I asked to go to the bathroom and found myself snooping around the church office that was right across from the bathrooms. Somebody not only left the small office unlocked but also forgot to completely close and lock the small safe that was up on a shelf.
(BACKSTORY 1: My dad had been the pastor of this church from before I was born up until I was 7 years old when he passed away. My brother and sisters and I had played hide-and-go-seek so many times in that church building that we knew every nook and cranny inside!)
I climbed up on the large desk, opened the safe, and pulled out a blue money bag. Unzipping it, I quickly removed two $20 bills from inside. They went straight into my pocket, the bag went back into the safe, the door went back to shut, and I went back into the sanctuary without ever having stepped foot in the bathroom.
About 30 minutes later, as my mom drove my little sister and I back home (I don’t remember my older brother and sister being in the car), I announced happily that I was going to buy a new bicycle.
“And how are you going to pay for it?”
“I got some money.”
“Well, how much do you have?”
“And where did you get that?” (STORYTIME!)
“You know how I’ve been working for Mr. Lowry, helping him put up a fence?”
(BACKSTORY 2: I’d already told my mom that I was working for Mr. Lowry on at least two previous Saturday afternoons so I could go across the street to my best friend’s house and watch HBO movies. I’d never met Mr. Lowry in person, but I’d sure seen him driving his white pickup truck up and down our street. Everyone knew him because he owned at least 30 acres of land down at the end of our road and he lived only one street over in a large house with a wrap-around porch and big yard. My friends and I loved to explore, hunt, and sometimes even camp out overnight on his land. We felt like we knew the guy. We felt like we kind of owned the place ourselves. It was easy for me to tell my mom that I was helping Mr. Lowry do some work on his land and she believed me. I’d already gotten to see two HBO movies that my mom never would have let me watch!)
“So Mr. Lowry paid you $40 for your help?”
“Interesting. That’s a lot of money.”
“Well, I’ve worked hard for him.” By this point, I’d started to believe my own story!
My mom drove slowly over the train tracks and down the hill into our neighborhood. She drove across the bridge above the creek that ran directly behind our house, but instead of turning onto our street she continued on and turned at the next corner.
“Where are we going?” I asked, the concern in my voice more obvious than I wanted.
“I want to stop by and talk to Mr. Lowry and thank him for giving you a job.”
“But mom, he’s a busy guy and kind of private.”
“Well, I actually met Mrs. Lowry at the supermarket the other day and she was really sweet and she invited me to come over sometime so I’m sure it’s okay if we just stop by for a minute.”
All I could hope for at that point was that Mr. Lowry wasn’t home. But as soon as we turned the corner, there was his white pick-up truck in the driveway.
We parked the car, got out, and walked up to the front door. Mom knocked on the door and then looked at me and smiled. Why had I opened my big mouth about the money in my pocket? I might have considered myself a good storyteller, but I was definitely horrible at keeping a secret.
Mrs. Lowry opened the door and was genuinely surprised and delighted to see my mom again. She invited us in and quickly offered us some refreshments. When my mom asked if Mr. Lowry was home, Mrs. Lowry walked us down a hallway and into a large office where Mr. Lowry sat behind a large desk with his cowboy hat on his head.
“Well, hello, neighbors!” He said with a smile as big as his wife’s.
“Hello, Mr. Lowry. It’s so nice to meet you,” my mom, replied. “You have a beautiful home.”
“Well, you can thank the Mrs. for that. I’m more likely to dirty it up than keep it clean.” He winked at me. And I liked the guy immediately. I honestly—and I’m not kidding here—thought I could persuade him to go along with my story. Why I thought that I have no idea.
“Mr. Lowry, my son told me something today that I want to thank you for.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, looking from my mother to me. “And what’s that?”
“You tell him, son.” (STORYTIME!)
I took a step forward so I could give him a wink without my mom seeing. The only problem was that I really couldn’t wink yet.
“Mr. Lowry. You know how I’ve been working for you on your land and helping you put up a new fence?”
I gotta give Mr. Lowry some credit here. He didn’t change his expression at all. He didn’t stand up or shout something like “What in the tarnation are you talking about?!” He just looked at me and then at my mom and said, “Son, how about you go and have one of Mrs. Lowry’s famous cookies and let me talk to your mom for a minute alone.”
“Take your sister,” my mom said, lifting up my sister’s hand for me to hold, and then Mrs. Lowry took my other hand and led us out. Had I pulled it off? Was Mr. Lowry going to cover for me?
After a cookie and some milk, my mom came walking into the kitchen and told me that Mr. Lowry wanted to speak with me alone.
I won’t bore you with the details of what Mr. Lowry told me, but it was something about the importance of honesty and your reputation and having a good name and being trustworthy—he covered just about everything. I do remember him saying “Good luck, son.” before sending me out and closing his office door behind me. “Good luck” could only mean one thing—Ken was already on his way. Ken Russell was a father of two and a close friend of my parents who became the first of many fill-in fathers for me after my dad’s death. And now that I think about it, I was the only kid in our family who seemed to ever need a fill-in father. Ken was my favorite even though he was by far the strongest of them all. Ken was military and no-nonsense, but he was also kind. He didn’t spank as hard as my dad had, but pretty close.
A week later and the $40 had been returned to the church and was probably back in the safe—a locked safe inside a locked office. I was made to stand up in front of the congregation (by my mom with the support of Ken and our pastor) and confess to the theft of the money and ask for everyone’s—literally every person in the sanctuary—forgiveness. Most heads nodded in support of my coming clean. I mostly got smiles from everyone, but there were a few frowns and scowls. I KNOW there was a lot of prayer going on for the preacher’s kid!
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the last time I’d stand in front of our congregation for confession and forgiveness. But that’s another story for another time.