In past devotionals I’ve touched on some of the unfortunate items I find in my yard during my daily “sweep.” Some items have been admittedly comical (a jacket, tie, shirt, pants, and shoes were once draped on my bushes). Some reflected desperation (hypodermic needles, condoms, dime bags, etc.) Sometimes, it was just plain gross (rats, diapers, combinations of rats and diapers). Inevitably, these items have always told a story, and typically an unfortunate one. Recently, for the first time, I scored. Granted, I always double-check the used scratch-off lottery tickets in hopes that someone overlooked a winner (I’ve never found a winner) but this one particular day, I found a phone. A good one. The phone’s battery was depleted, so I ordered a charger and a few days later I fired it up. Locked. I searched the internet for ways to unlock the phone in order to discover the owner, but it was no use; I couldn’t crack it. I considered the ethical dilemma and considered taking it to the police station, but I was confident the phone would not likely find its rightful owner if I turned it in. Truth be told, I wanted the phone.
I had been praying about finances because I’m releasing a new record, and every penny counts when it comes to mixing, mastering, graphic design, duplication, and publicity, and to be transparent, I needed a few extra hundred duckets. So I scrubbed the phone, put it on ebay, and the bidding surpassed $200 within a matter of hours. Yes. I convinced myself that this was God’s providence, and that I was finally being “rewarded” for my years of care taking of this previously dilapidated property and my commitment to caring for a neglected neighborhood.
I justified my actions and came out a “winner” when the phone reached bids surpassing $250. My heart, however, continued to tell me otherwise.
Honestly, I was tired of it all. The constant upkeep. Picking up my neighbors’ trash. Taking on the role of street bureaucrat when the tenants repeatedly reported their landlord’s negligence. I had taken him to task so many times; I even called the city inspector on several occasions due to excessive garbage, abandoned furniture, and rodents. There was even a flood in his basement that cut off their hot water for a week, to which he replied, “Take cold showers.” He didn’t care about his tenants, and in turn, they didn’t care about his property. I was always, inevitably, the one who picked up the pieces, and yet, nothing changed. The trash problem remained, the neglect continued. I considered the phone my “prize” for my faithfulness, but this was, clearly, a justification of my actions.
I had a pretty good idea who owned the phone. Not the individual, but the “profile” of the owner. See, my neighbor’s fence fell to the ground a couple of years ago, and said negligent landlord refused to replace it. Since my home is on a busy corner, this gave passers-by a cut-through to the next street, and it made the back of my house a prime location for wrongdoing (easy escapes). I once chased a pimp and two prostitutes off with a baseball bat because they decided my yard made a good hub for recruiting Johns. The person who dropped their phone, I decided, was lazy and likely up to no good. If they didn’t have the decency to utilize the sidewalk, and instead insisted on cutting the corner, through my property, leaving their trash along the way, then they didn’t deserve their phone. I recalled last winter when someone put a brick through my car window for no apparent reason, other than the fact that they were cutting through my yard and found a brick. That phone was mine; I “earned” it.
Yet, the Holy Spirit continued to work on me, and He impressed upon me the truth that the phone was not mine; it belonged to someone else. I was petitioning God for His blessings, and I knew in my heart that this was not how He wanted me to raise up my needed funding. I, in fact, was “cutting a corner.” The irony. I ended the ebay auction prematurely, and prayed about the next steps in discovering the phone’s rightful owner. My wife, being the sleuth that she is, began exploring the phone’s various features, and viola, a clue! Despite my “expert” scrubbing, the phone’s photo library remained, and she began to browse. One picture after another began to reveal a story of loss, as I recognized the young children from the neighborhood and several photos indicating that this phone’s owner was desperate. Then a shot of a utility bill gave me a partial address in a large housing project around the corner, but still no name. What to do? In all reality, the phone had likely already been replaced and was long forgotten. Regardless, we pressed in and prayed about an opportunity to reflect the love of Christ to the owner, and continued to search.
A week later, my wife sent me a text. She was attending the second service at church; I had attended first service and was working an afternoon shift at my weekend job. It read “the person from the pictures in the phone is sitting in front of me at church.” I got chills. Returning the phone was such a seemingly insignificant gesture in the grand scheme of things, but for us, it was a lesson in faithfulness. If we expect God’s blessings, then we, in turn, needed to be faithful in the small things. We successfully returned the phone to its rightful owner via a pastor in the church (we didn’t want the owner to feel embarrassed due to some of the sensitive content we had discovered.) I don’t know if this person is continuing to seek God, but I do know that we had to show her Christ through our small gesture of love. God requires wholeheartedness. He will always take care of us.
By the way, a credit card refund check for, you guessed it, $250, showed up in the mail a day later. God provides. We should never, under any circumstances, cut corners.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12 NIV)