“Empty Can,” Friend, June 1999, 2
I had been admiring the new baseball glove in the sporting goods store for weeks, hoping that some day it would be mine. Every day on my way home from school, I took the long way and stopped at the store to look and wish. There were lots of other mitts there, but only one that was just right for me. That was the one I grabbed each day. I pulled it onto my hand, pounded my fist into it, and pretended I was in left field, waiting for that long fly ball.
Each time I walked into the store, I crept down the last aisle, almost afraid to look, for fear someone had already bought it.
I already had a baseball glove, but one of the seams was coming loose, and it was worn and scuffed. I was planning to make the Little League all-star team, and I figured that I needed the best mitt possible.
My birthday was coming up. I’d hinted to Mom and Dad a hundred times that it would sure be nice to have that mitt at the sporting goods store. They nodded and smiled, but they didn’t make any promises. I even took my dad into the store and showed him what a great glove it was. He agreed with me, but the morning of my birthday, the glove was still there.
After my birthday dinner, Mom brought in my presents and set them before me. Right away I could see that my baseball glove wasn’t there. I tried not to be disappointed, but it was hard. And then I got a real surprise. Brother Tice came back from his vacation early and paid me twenty dollars for taking care of his dog and mail and mowing his lawn and stuff. I had already saved nineteen dollars, so with Brother Tice’s money, I had enough to buy my glove now!
As soon as I finished the last of my cake and ice cream, I raced to the sporting goods store. The man was just getting ready to put the CLOSED sign in the window, when I burst in and grabbed the glove.
I had eighty cents left over, so on the way home I stopped at the drugstore and bought a half pound of cinnamon bears.
I left with three cents in my pocket, my new glove on one hand, and my sack of cinnamon bears in the other. I couldn’t have been happier.
That night, I propped up my new glove on the dresser so that it would be the last thing I saw before I went to sleep and the first thing I saw when I got up in the morning. And all night long I dreamed of playing in the all-star game.
The next morning was Saturday, and no one had to wake me. As soon as the first bits of light streaked across my room, I was up and getting dressed. I snatched my glove and bounded for the door, knocking half the stuff off my dresser. That’s when I saw my tithing can. My empty tithing can.
Suddenly I got a sick feeling inside. Mom and Dad had always told me to pay my tithing before I used my money for anything else. I had always remembered to do that—until yesterday! Yesterday the only thing I had had on my mind was getting my baseball glove.
I looked down at it. I looked over at the paper sack that had only three cinnamon bears left inside. I swallowed hard and figured out how much money I had stolen from the Lord. I’d received twenty dollars from Brother Tice, so I owed the Lord two dollars. Two dollars! Where would I ever get two dollars before Sunday?
Clutching my glove, I promised myself that the next time I had two dollars I’d give it all for tithing. I sneaked out of the house and tried to forget about everything except the all-star game.
When I reached the park and showed my teammates my new glove, they all said that they were sure that I’d be able to catch any ball that came to me. But the first time Rodney hit a fly ball in my direction, I missed it. When Charlie knocked a grounder my way, it slipped right past me. The guys said that I just wasn’t used to playing with a new glove, but I knew that that wasn’t the reason. I couldn’t stop thinking of the two dollars I owed the Lord.
While the other guys kept playing, I headed for home, dragged myself to my room, dropped my glove on the bed, and stared at my empty tithing can. Finally I got on my knees and said a little prayer, telling the Lord that I was sorry for taking His tithing and using it for my glove, and that I would pay Him back as soon as I could. But I still had that sick feeling inside.
Slowly I set my baseball glove on the dresser and pushed it way back. Then I set my tithing can in front of the mitt.
“Mom,” I asked as I walked into the kitchen, “do you have any work I could do?”
She was making bread at the kitchen table and looked up at me like I might be feeling sick. “I thought you were playing baseball with your new mitt.”
“I went,” I muttered, hanging my head down, “but I need to earn a little money.”
“You need more money?”
“Well,” I stammered, “I owe somebody else some money, and I forgot about paying up before I spent it all.”
Mom thought for a minute. “The garage needs cleaning. I suppose if you did a really good job there I could give you fifty cents.”
Fifty cents wasn’t a lot of money, especially considering how much work was to be done in the garage, but I didn’t care. I needed to square myself with the Lord.
For the rest of the morning I worked in the garage. I stacked all the boxes, straightened all the tools, swept the floor, and hauled out the trash. I’d cleaned the garage before, but never as well as I did then. When Mom inspected my work, her eyes got big. “Well, Justin,” she exclaimed, “I’ve never seen the garage look so good. I think that’s worth at least seventy-five cents.”
“Brother Tuckfield,” I asked my neighbor across the street, “do you have any work a guy could do?” Brother Tuckfield was digging in his flower bed. He looked up and wiped a big drop of sweat from his nose.
“I’m trying to earn a little money,” I explained. “I’ll work hard. And I don’t charge much.”
“Well, there are some weeds along the ditch bank in my backyard. If you’d chop those down for me, I could pay you twenty-five or fifty cents.”
There was a jungle of weeds along Brother Tuckfield’s ditch. I worked for over an hour, pulling and chopping and digging. Before I quit, there wasn’t a single weed left along that ditch bank. Brother Tuckfield gave me fifty cents, and I went down the street still looking for work.
Sister Caldwell needed trash hauled out to the curb. That was another ten cents. Sister Hadfield wanted the grass raked in her front yard. That was worth twenty-five cents. Brother Henderson let me pull the weeds in his rose bushes. I ended up with scratched hands and arms, but I earned twenty-five cents there, too.
I stopped by Brother Raymond’s home and helped him weed his garden. It was about the hardest work I’d done all day. I had to get down on my hands and knees and pick the tiny weeds among the carrots and the radishes. It was worth it when Brother Raymond pulled two quarters out of his pocket and dropped them into my hand. I’d finally earned enough money to make things right with the Lord!
When I finally headed for home, I was too tired and sore to do more than drag my feet over the hot sidewalk. I was thirsty and had two big blisters on my hand.
I passed the park. All the guys had gone home long ago, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t thinking of baseball and the all-star game anymore.
I made my way to my room. The tithing can was waiting on the dresser, still empty. I poured my two dollars and thirty-five cents into the can, grabbed my new ball glove—the mitt that was honestly mine, now—and pounded my blistered fist into it with a satisfied smile.