“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?Psalm 30:9
When I was eleven years old, I was looking for change! Literally! I was constantly on the lookout for pennies, nickels, and dimes. The year was 1976. The Bicentennial Celebration was happening and Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were on their way to accept their party nominations. “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings dominated the airwaves and “The Gong Show” made its debut on NBC. “Rocky” was killing it in theaters and the Milwaukee Brewers were in the last place in the American League standings.
Of course, I didn’t care about any of that. My two biggest concerns were getting out of the house and finding something exciting to do! I wanted out of the house due to the fact that my family of seven lived in technically a two-bedroom house. I use the word technically because we added a room in the basement and converted part of the living room into a small bedroom as well. Still, privacy and peace were a rare commodity in our house and was usually acquired outside.
In the summer of 1976, I became obsessed with comic books. I would go to great lengths to secure and read the latest actions of my favorite superheroes. Up until age eleven, if I wanted a comic book, I would need to beg and whine in the checkout line at the grocery store with Mom. This seldom worked and when it did, there wasn’t much time to pick which issue I wanted to get.
But when I was eleven, a whole new world opened up to me due to the fact that I now could ride a bike. Due to my disability, I really couldn’t ride a bike until I was ten and it was still another year until I was crash-free and could travel in a straight line for more than 25 feet.
About a mile away from our house was a little strip mall – Bradley Village, on the corner of 43rd and Bradley Road in the Village of Brown Deer. The centerpiece of the development was the Red Owl grocery store, surrounded by several smaller Mom and Pop shops. On the east end of the mall was Altman’s Pharmacy, which my family always referred to as simply, “The Drug Store”
Owned by Mr. Altman, a pharmacist, the “Drug Store” seemed like a magical place. Operating in a space about the size of a rental storage unit, the store held a variety of items that would rival a Wal-mart today. In addition to prescription and over the counter medicines, it held every tobacco product known to man, every candy bar configuration known to children, and every possible cosmetic, beauty accessory, and household cleaning supply known to housewives.
In the back, was a huge rack of magazines. Next to that was a spindle that contained – Comic Books. There were at least twenty different issues at any one time. DC, Marvel, Archie, and Richie Rich co-existed on that spindle. There was a homemade sign written on an index card that stated firmly – THIS IS NOT A LIBRARY! I always thought that was obvious since there was nowhere to sit and the other customers were much too loud!
Once a week new comics would arrive and I felt it my obligation to greet them. Every Wednesday (they usually came on Tuesday but not placed in the spindle until Wednesday morning) I began what I fondly remember as the “Great Coin Hunt”.
In 1976, the adventures of Superman, Spider-man, and the likes cost 20 cents apiece. Candy Bars were a dime and a soda was about a quarter. A good afternoon consisted of five comics, two candy bars, and a soda – about $1.50 with tax. I usually started off with fifty cents that I earned from doing my chores, so I began the quest for the rest.
The washing machine was usually good for another quarter and under the couch cushions could produce a couple of pennies and nickels. On a good day, I was halfway to my goal without leaving the house. Next, I began to scour the neighborhood. Riding my bike with a bag draped over the handlebars, I carefully made my way around the village of Brown Deer, looking for change and soda bottles.
Red Owl, like many grocery stores, made customers pay a nickel deposit on every soda bottle they sold. Afterward, when you return the bottles, you would get a refund. Fortunately for me, many people either forgot about their deposit or simply couldn’t be bothered with the process.
The high school baseball diamonds and football fields held the greatest number but many were smashed or chipped. Algonquin Park was another hangout of the teenage crowd and you could find a few among the beer bottles and cigarette butts. Schieble’s Gas station was good for a couple plus a quick check of their outside payphone would cough up a nickel or a dime as did the JOLLY GOOD soda vending machine. Wherever kids hung out at night, I prowled during the day. When I had a combination of coins and bottles that equaled my target, I stopped the hunt and proceeded to the RED OWL.
Bottles needed to be brought to a separate counter in the back of the store. I was always afraid that I would be questioned as to how a scrawny little boy could have so many bottles, sometimes as many as twenty, but I was never asked where I got them. One by one, the bottles were put into cardboard cases. When the counting was done, the clerk handed me a green slip of paper with the word REDEEM printed across the top and the number of bottles and the total amount due handwritten in the correct lines on the form. The clerk then signed and stamped the slip, as formally as one would any official government document.
The slip could not be redeemed as straight cash, you had to purchase something. I would usually purchase a couple of candy bars from them and pocket the change, careful to buy enough to use the slip but still have enough for my comic books. Picking up my bike, I walked it on the sidewalk past the travel Agency and the Barber Shop. I laid my bike on the sidewalks and went in. After making my selections, I exited the store, hopped on my bike, and raced back home. If the weather was nice, I would climb the willow tree in the back yard and sit crosslegged on the wooden deck we had built halfway up. If the weather was not cooperating (a usual occurrence in Wisconsin), I would sit in the garage on an old lawn chair with that hard plastic webbing that was so frayed, it threatened to break if you exceeded 98 lbs (I was 75lbs, so I had no fear). In both places you could be left alone since the only time the garage was occupied was when Dad was working on the car on the weekend and the others in the family seemed to ignore that tree that summer.
Those summer days were highly enjoyable and I think of them often whenever I see an actual comic book from that era. Eventually, I started working small jobs such as newspaper delivery and caddying at the local county club but I never forgot the determination I had when searching for those precious coins or the joy of acquiring my prize!
“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?– Psalm 30:9
David, the writer of Psalm 30, laments to God about how hard is life is now. He has many enemies, foreign and domestic, even members of his own family trying to kill him. In this verse, David is trying to make a bargain with God. He knows his sin has consequences but he argues with God that he, David, is God’s number one fan and his chosen King for Israel. He pleads with God that he should not be discarded, like the empty soda bottle on the side of the road because he still has value!
Like an empty soda bottle, David asked God to redeem him the same way. David was empty and discarded by his family. Many thought he was useless at this point and indicated that it might be better for Israel if he was no longer King. In essence, Many wanted David to die because of his sins and actions against the people of God. David pleads with God in essence stating that “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, meaning his story, starting with him killing Goliath with a sling and a stone to becoming King of Israel is remarkable! It would be the biggest anti-climax in history if, after enduring all that, he would be taken down by something as common illness and domestic squabbles. He insists, on the other hand, if God “redeems” him, fills up that empty bottle, and restore him to his former glory, which would make a better story that speaks to the saving power of God.
David can then share that story with others around him, possibly allowing them the chance to turn their lives around. The redemption of David’s life is a testimony of the grace and mercy that God has for his children.
We are just like those empty soda bottles and scattered coins. Individually, we are not worth much. We can be overlooked like change in a couch cushion or on top of a washing machine. Especially now, we are scattered and divided, but God acts the same way I did back then. He searches for those of us who are lost, discarded, or simply forgotten. Like me, he knew that those bits and scraps could serve a greater purpose. Determine to have patience and thoroughness in searching for us.
And like the bottle or the coin, we are returned to Jesus and given to him. Jesus knows our value! He knows what we can still be! He sees how empty we are but are capable of being filled up again and reused, over and over. He knows that alone, like pennies and nickels, not much can be accomplished but if enough of us our gathered for his purpose, a little change can add up quickly into something big!
Dear Jesus, Thank you for searching and finding me. Although I was empty, I praise you for filling me up and using me over and over to serve others in your kingdom. May I forever praise you for my redemption!
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