In fact, I didn't have many friends at all. But I wanted to have friends! So I was happy when a group of "popular" people asked me to accompany them on a bike ride to go "shopping".
What they really planned to do was go shop-lift-ing. I wanted to "prove" that I could be "one of the group". I wanted to be "popular", too.
So we rode our bicycles 10 miles to the next town and walked into an old store filled with rocks and minerals -- the kind you see on display at county fairs. Racks and racks of gemstones, geodes and crystals.
I walked to the back of that dingy store and, when the old man wasn't looking, slipped a chunk of amethyst into my clothing...which was kind of hard to do, since I was wearing only a tee shirt and swim shorts...with no pockets! (Use your imagination.) It was also hard to ride a bicycle with that spiky, purple stone in my "special hiding place"! But somehow I got it home.
I added this crystal to my growing collection and "showed it off" to everyone who came to visit. "Here's smokey quartz," I said, pointing to one rock. "There's galena," I said, pointing to another. "Here's iron pyrite. And there's the rock I stole...."
Actually, what I said was "there's amethyst." But in my mind I heard "there's the rock I stole". Year after year I took pride in that collection. And every time I did, I reminded myself that I was a thief.
One day I displayed my collection to a group of cub scouts. I was now a man. When I got to that purple gemstone I heard my own mind say, once again, "there's the rock I stole".
I had had enough!
I determined to repent.
I got back on my bike (now a motorcycle) and returned to that same store. When I entered, I saw everything had changed. The old man was gone. In his place stood a beautiful woman. Racks of dusty rocks had been replaced with gleaming counters and precious stones under glass.
I asked her: "Miss, can you tell me how much this rock is worth?" I set the crystal on the counter.
"Oh, no," she said, "I'm not the appraiser. You'd have to ask him."
"Well, can you give me an idea of what it's worth?"
"Oh, I don't know...maybe...a hundred dollars?"
I knew it was worth $3.75 when I stole it.
"Are you sure it's worth that much? I asked.
"Let me get the manager." She left and soon returned with a man.
"Sir, six years ago I came into this store and stole that rock", I said, pointing to the counter. "I want to pay for it."
"Oh, son, you don't need to do that! That old man got paid in full years ago! You don't owe me anything!"
"No, sir," I said. "I need to pay for it. Can you tell me what it's worth?"
"Oh, I'd say...maybe $20?"
"Could it be worth $10?" That's all the money I had.
"Ya, I guess so...."
I laid the money on the counter and turned to walk out. When I reached the door, the man called out to me.
"Hey, you forgot your rock!"
"No, sir," I said, "that's not my rock."
When I got back on my bike that afternoon, my backpack was light, but my heart was lighter. That amethyst crystal was no longer the rock I stole. And I was no longer a thief.
The price I paid for that rock that was never mine is incomparable to the joy and happiness I have felt ever since I became that day an honest man.