Kenton’s sharp eyes couldn’t help noticing a brown lump lying against the curb in front of Mountain View Market. Must be trash someone threw out their car window, he mused. This isn’t the best part of town. Kenton turned his handlebars and leaned hard to the right at the Maple Circle intersection.
A few months before, Kenton had earned the Paper Route Carrier of the Year award. But that honor wasn’t warming his icy fingers as the February wind forced its way through his worn-out gloves. His lips felt like ice cubes. With a well-aimed toss, Kenton landed another copy of Thursday’s Union Tribune on a driveway as he rolled by. Only two more streets to go, he thought.
His mother had promised macaroni and cheese for dinner at home. However, the apartment he and his mom had moved into didn’t seem like home yet. But what he really couldn’t get used to was waking up three mornings a week with his mom gone. He understood that she needed a second job to make ends meet.
She had cried and said she was proud when Kenton told her he’d gotten a paper route to help bring some money to the family. She insisted he save part of it for a computer he’d been wanting. His dad had promised him one, but Kenton saw that promise evaporate when his father walked out of their life.
Something that had not changed since his father’s departure was having evening worships with his mom.
She always asked him and Brandon how their day had gone. They’d talk about how they’d handled problems during the day. Then his mom would say, “Before we pray, let’s talk a minute about how Jesus might have handled that situation.”
Kenton finished delivering the Maple Circle papers and turned back onto Mountain View Drive, heading toward the Century Circle intersection.
Mountain View Market and then only five more blocks. Looking ahead, he noticed the brown object he’d seen earlier. It looks bigger than it did before, Kenton thought.
The closer he pedaled, the more the “trash” looked like some kind of stuffed bag. Yes, a strange canvas bag about the size of a large loaf of bread. The icy drizzle around him couldn’t dampen Kenton’s growing curiosity.
Hopping off his bicycle, he propped it up on the kickstand and slowly walked along the gutter. The bag was obviously stuffed full of something. Should he risk touching it? Would it explode? Did it contain money?
That last thought did it! Quickly Kenton scooped the muddy bundle out of the gutter. In the headlight beams of an approaching car he could make out the black letters stenciled on the bag: “Mountain View Market.”
A quick look inside the cover revealed bundles of cash secured by rubber bands! Someone must have been taking the market’s money to the bank and dropped it! he thought.
With a racing heart Kenton tossed the bag of money into the empty newspaper basket on the rear of his bicycle and started pedaling for home. There’s a lot of money in that bag, he thought. Maybe I should keep it. After all, finders, keepers’right? The image of a new computer suddenly rose up out of the mists of his mind.
Then at that exact moment something blindsided Kenton. The words he’d heard his mom speak so often sliced sharply into his conscience. “Let’s talk a minute about how Jesus might have handled that situation.”
Kenton couldn’t escape the obvious answer: keeping money that wasn’t his would be dishonest. It was a choice Jesus would never make.
Jesus, he prayed silently, You know I want to keep this money for a new computer. But most of all, I want to be like You.
“OK,” said Kenton out loud to himself. “If I want to be like Jesus, my only choice is to return the money.”
A few minutes later Kenton placed the soggy canvas sack on the Mountain View Market checkout counter. Almost immediately a total stranger rushed over to hug and kiss him. Someone else pressed a $20 bill into his hand. Obviously, returning the money was making a lot of people very happy.
Later that evening Kenton ate macaroni and cheese while he described to his mom and Brandon what had happened. “The lady who gave me the money could’ve just said ‘Thank you.’ But,” he added with a grin, “it’s nice to be $20 closer to a new computer!”
“How much more do you have to save?” Brandon asked.
“Only about $1,000,” Kenton said, laughing.
The following afternoon Kenton wheeled his bicycle through the rain into the newspaper dispatch center to pick up his load of papers.
“Look at today’s cover story!” the route supervisor said to Kenton when the boy reported for work. As he unrolled one of his papers, Kenton was shocked to see his own face smiling back at him from the front page.
“It tells all about you,” the supervisor said. “Even says you’ve been saving for a computer.”
The next week the phone in Kenton’s house rang. “Kenton McDougal,” a serious-sounding voice said, “we need you and your mother to come down to the Union Tribune editor’s office at 3:00 today.” Kenton called his mom, and she made arrangements to be gone from work.
When they arrived at the newspaper office, five middle-aged men in business suits rose to face Kenton and his mom. A photographer began snapping pictures.
“Kenton,” said the newspaper editor, “these businessmen read about the choice you made to be honest, and they want you to know that somehow, in the end, honesty always pays.”
One of the businessmen stepped forward. “I’m Mr. Branner,” he said, shaking hands with Kenton and his mom. “I’m with Branner Appliances. I read that you’re saving for a computer. Here’s a check for $200.”
“I’m Mr. Hutchins from Central Office Supply,” said a shorter man. “Here’s another $200 toward your computer.”
And so it went down the line, until Kenton was holding checks totaling $1,000.
“By the way,” said the editor, who was now smiling broadly, “a lot of readers have been sending in donations for you too. It seems they want you to have a new desk to set your new computer on, along with enough software for you to have everything you need in your home school studies. I hope you don’t mind being on the front page one more time.”
Back in the car, Kenton and his mom leafed through all the checks. A note attached to one of the checks read: “Always keep in mind that you did the right thing.”
Another note stated: “What you did made my day. I’d kind of given up on kids today. You’ve helped me believe in them again.”
“Mom,” Kenton said with a chuckle, “I can’t believe I can now get a loaded computer with a printer and a big monitor and a CD-ROM drive.”
Then he grew serious. “And to think that all I did was ask Jesus to help me do what He would have done.”
Reprinted from the January 30, 1999, issue of Guide.
Illustrated by Joel D. Springer