God Set Me Up

1978.

I am walking through the aisles at Kmart.  My grandparents are around somewhere, but I have wandered off, growing bored following them around.

There was a time I was deathly afraid of being alone in a store, but that was at least two years ago.  I am older now.  I am not afraid – sort of.

Hmmm….candy.

I don’t have any money.  In my family, kids don’t have money.  If we want something, we have to ask our parents or grandparents.  Then, if the stars and planets are aligned just right, they may buy what we want.  It is a pretty lousy system I think.  I mean they have tons of that stuff.  They are always buying stuff – clothes, books, magazines, food.  It kinda stinks that they are so stingy with it all the time.  It seems like every time I ask for something, I get the same answers.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees…”

“Well, if you are good this week…”

“As soon as you get your grades up…”

I would like to see their report card for a change.  Don’t they know how hard school is?  No of course they don’t.  They don’t go to school.  They go away in the morning, to some building they call “work”, then come home with a bunch of money they won’t share with me.  Again, a pretty lousy system.  I have been to that building Dad goes to a couple of times.  It didn’t seem like his job was all that hard – shuffling papers around from one place to another.  I mean, how hard is it really to do what he does all day?

I see all the cool candy now.  Maybe I will ask my grandmother to get me some candy.  She is usually pretty good about that stuff, except this week I  got into a fight with my brother so I am not sure.

Wait.

One of the bags is open.

Before I can think too hard about it, I am reaching for some of the candy in the open bag.  Tootsie Rolls are my favorite. I grab a few, sticking them in my pocket….

“Hey!  What are you doing?!”

I freeze.  The manager comes around the corner, and he catches me with Tootsie Rolls in hand.  How stupid could I be?

“They were…were… open…I just…”

I am shaking now as he approaches…

“Come with me!  Right now!”

I follow him as he approaches the front of the store, and leads me out of the store.  I tell him my grandparents are with me, and he tells me I can wait for them outside.  He tells me not to go back into the store.

I am terrified, shaking like a leaf.  I am a thief.  I am a criminal.  My short life of freedom is over.  Once my grandparents find out, they will tell my parents, and the whole city will find out.  Before you know it, I will be shamed.  They will affix a big “L” on my forehead that stands for “LOSER”.  I will never get a job.  This will definitely go on my permanent record, the one they talk about in school that determines everything.

I am doomed.

After a few minutes, my grandparents find me outside.  They were worried and were looking all over the store for me.  They ask me what I was doing outside.  During my long wait, I had devised a scheme, I had determined to tell them something other than what had really happened, in the hopes of salvaging my future hopes, my future dreams.

What did I tell them?

The truth.

I spilled my guts.  I started crying, telling them I saw the open bag of candy, and I just wanted to try them.  I told them I was sorry a million times.  I guess they saw my pitiful look and realized I had already punished myself enough.  They lectured me all they way home in the car, telling me how wrong it was to steal, the consequences if I did it again.  They told me that if I really wanted something, I should ask them and they would buy it if they could.  I did not go to jail that day.  As far as I know, nothing was entered into my permanent record at school or anywhere else.  I was able to land a job with no problem when the time came.

I am convinced the open candy was placed there on purpose.  It was a setup, placed there to lure unsuspecting children with low morals.  Or maybe it was just my rotten timing.  A few minutes earlier or later, and that manager would not have seen me. I am glad he caught me.  The embarrassment served as a lesson for me, one I carried for the rest of my childhood.  I won’t tell you that I was never tempted to shop lift again. Of course I was. But I always thought, in the back of my mind, that the manager was just around the corner.

I think it is interesting how moments like that can shape our lives.  Sometimes our entire future can be influenced by moments that seem so small.  I have come to believe that God chooses to make an impact in our lives in ways we simply don’t realize until much later.  How many times have we sat back and thought that God simply doesn’t answer our prayers, doesn’t show up, when in reality, He shows up in ways we simply miss?

I know God was there that day.  And I know He has been there in many ways throughout my life, slowly nudging me here or there.  Sometimes I have made the right decisions.  Sometimes, even though he has knocked on my door or tapped me on the shoulder, I have chosen to ignore it.  Such is the case with free will.  We have a choice in which direction we take with our lives, but God will be there for us regardless of our choices.  He loves us that much.

God set me up that day.

Has God ever set you up?

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