One of my earliest money stories involves shame and restoration – the theme that we explored in worship this past week and in our weekly Money Stories discussion group. I hadn’t thought about this story in a long time, even though I can remember it in great detail.
I was probably 5 years old. My older sister had just started 1st grade, so she wasn’t at home on the morning that my mother took me with her to the small neighborhood grocery store to pick up a few things. While she filled the basket, I stood mesmerized in front of a large display of small bottles of mercurochrome.
I don’t recall seeing mercurochrome any time recently, but I can promise you that this stacked display of small bottles, filled with orange liquid and a small wand applicator, called to me like the Greek sirens. I wanted one of those bottles. I could see myself painting my hand orange. I could see my siblings being jealous of this treasure I could show them.
I remember standing there for a long, long time. And then I took a bottle and put it in my pocket, went home with my mother and put it in a dresser drawer. As soon as my sister arrived home from school, I motioned her to the bedroom where I showed her my new treasure, whispering warnings of keeping it a secret and we could both use it. It took about 3 minutes for her to run to the kitchen to tell my parents that I had STOLEN something!
The thing is, I knew taking the mercurochrome was stealing. I knew it was wrong. Being exposed to my parents was humiliating, but the worst was yet to come. I don’t remember what my parents said to me, but I know they didn’t yell. What they did do was make me go to the store with my father, personally apologize to the store manager and hand him the money for the bottle I took. This memory is etched in my psyche in great detail. I remember my eye sight line was only slightly higher than the manager’s knees. I remember that I was sobbing. I remember that my father held my hand and didn’t let go, and both he and the manager waited patiently until I could stutter out, “I’m sorry I took your medicine,” and hold out my hand that held the coins I had been given by my parents. As we walked back to the car, my father still holding my hand, he quietly said, “I love you, Ann.” The relief I felt was instantaneous.
I had taken something that wasn’t mine to take. I had faced the person I had wronged and apologized. And I had not lost my father’s love because of the wrongs that I had done. I was scared to death as we got in the car to go to the store; barely able to get out my apology in my shame. But my parents’ insistence that I make right this wrong, and their love which was never withheld because of it, turned this into a moment of relief and joy that I can still feel at 69 years old.
In her sermon on Sunday, Carla pointed out that the scriptures that focused on restoration relative to our money stories were, at their heart, stories about right relationships. My small personal money story reflects that truth. The cost of that bottle of mercurochrome was small. But the effort to right the way I had wronged a store owner, and to live in the way of love my parents showed me, was priceless. Living into God’s story of restoration – for me and for all God’s people – is a story I want to continue to be able to tell in the ways that I live my life and use the gifts of money that Bob and I have been given.
Longtime member Ann Knox serves with our Session's finance committee and has helped shepherd the Money Stories on our blog. Thank you, Ann!