Time to tell a little story of integrity.
My family and I recently moved into a new home. Well, it isn’t brand new, but it’s new to us. Somehow we ended up closing just 10 days before Christmas. The holidays were full of chaos and excitement.
My daughter spent a few days in the hospital. Our new furniture was delayed and delivered on the afternoon of December 24th. Many of our possessions are still in storage as we enjoy the new home and settle into our new surroundings. Waking up in our new beds for the first time to Christmas morning was quite an event.
Now it was also a hard time for the sellers. They had to pack all of their belongings just before Christmas and stay with family for a few weeks before they could move into their new home.
In their rush they left behind a lot of little things—nothing of great value and nothing they said they wanted any more—just some cleaning supplies and nick-knacks.
So this is the story of two families in a bit of positive chaos, one coming and one going. But there’s a really interesting intersection that happened on Monday.
As I was packing the car for a business trip, I reached into an upper cabinet to pull down a water bottle. It was by itself on the high top shelf, one that I can barely reach and that my wife certainly cannot without a chair. I grabbed the bottle and noticed something else tucked up against the side of the cabinet.
It was a wad of cash folded in half. All I could see was a $20 bill on the outside of the stack, and my first thought was that my wife had hidden away some Christmas money so the kids wouldn’t get it.
Not wanting to blow her secret stash while my kids were watching, I asked her if she’d put anything up in the cabinet. She said no.
I asked again slowly if she put any money up there. Again she said no.
So I pulled it down and we were all surprised. I opened the folded bills to find Benjamin Franklin looking back at me…eight times. Andrew Jackson was there eight times, too. I was holding a total of $960 in cold, hard cash. Though as Zig Ziglar says, it wasn’t cold or hard…it was warm and soft!
My son’s eyes were huge, reacting exactly the way you’d expect from a seven year old. My eleven year old daughter had a wide smile on her face, no doubt imagining the pre-teen shopping spree she could go on.
But I knew in an instant where the money had come from (so did my wife). The prior owners had built the house. They were the only ones who’d ever lived here. The money wasn’t ours. It belonged to them. And I quickly told my kids just that.
Now I’m not telling this story to brag about myself or present myself as perfect. I’m telling it because I believe it’s a powerful lesson for my kids.
Remember when you were a kid? Remember how $960 was an almost infinite amount of money? And here was boring old Dad throwing it away. My son actually believed our family trip to Disney would be cancelled, even though I told him the vacation money is already in our savings account!
I want my kids to behave. I want to be able to instill values in them. I want them to know right from wrong and to make the right choices in life.
I can talk to them about it. I can tell them great stories from the Bible and popular history and even my own stories. And while those discussions are good, I don’t think anything will stick in their minds as well as seeing their parents return someone else’s lost treasure. They didn’t hear a story…they saw it play before their eyes.
I’ve been asked if there was any temptation to keep it. No, not really. And it would have been easy to justify: Finders keepers! They sold the house “as-is”. They told us we could keep anything they left behind. It would have been so easy!
But it would have been wrong and it would have been the wrong example. I wouldn’t be able to rest well.
So we gave it back. They heard us say it. They heard me call the prior owners to tell them. And they know the money is gone.
In appreciation, the prior homeowners gave us a gift card for a local restaurant.
Know this: when we go to dinner there, we will retell this story and remind them. Because I want them to remember every time they see that restaurant. I want them to remember every time they open a kitchen cabinet. I want them to remember when they see their parents. And most of all, I want them to do the same thing one day. To act with integrity and to act with appreciation when it is shown to them.
PS – I’ve been a liar and a thief and a cheat in my 38 years on Earth, too. This story describes the high expectation I have of myself and sets that expectation for my children. Thank God for His grace and mercy as we try and do the right thing…and sometimes fail.