Stealing Takes More Than Money

The current environment of treating drug addiction as a criminal problem rather than a health issue means that, inevitably, addicts are driven to crime to satisfy their daily needs. Caleb was no different; except, for us, theft started even before the drugs.

In our heads, we could do the analysis. As a small child, he was stealing for some other reason than money, but it took years for him to be able to name the source. As the extent of thefts progressed, so did the impact upon the family until each instance felt like a grenade spreading shock and shrapnel to body and spirit.

His (adopted) mother endured many more hits than did we but our part was significant.

The Impact

I can still taste the anxiety that arose, like acid from the stomach, when parents or friends would visit. Even if I did not say the words out loud, my eyes constantly scanned, “where’s your purse? Did you have anything valuable in your coat or jacket?”

It became exhausting.

Our home soon devolved, with locks installed in every bedroom. To which the girls rightly protested.

Since we are a blended family, some chose, at various times, to live with the other parent full-time rather than alternate, which was our custom.

This was the closest our family came to rupturing.

So the decision was made to place Caleb into foster care.

We continued to see Caleb regularly but, after that, under much stricter conditions. The emotional bruises were dark and purple.

Family events, like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving developed a particular edge as we wondered whether Caleb would show up and, if so, what would be his condition. If clean and sober, he was wonderful (as always); if high, another reality altogether. Vigilance would be part of the gathering.

After being expelled from foster care, Caleb moved back home with his (adoptive) mother or us for a month or so at a time but then began a series of jail terms, release, the effort to find temporary housing, some rehab or halfway house arrangement, relapse, confinement.

Throughout, except for one ten-month period following a massive theft while we were on vacation, we have retained some contact. The period before the last relapse was, by far, the best.

On the surface, the thefts seem to be about money and possessions. But our loss went much deeper.

In Christian ethics, four principles are foundational - love, justice, order and freedom.

Stealing hammered cracks in each of those.

Stealing hammers cracks in basic principles of love, justice, order and freedom.

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To go into your bedroom, shed or office and find money and objects missing - many of which vital to school or work - immediately disrupts the sense of safety, which is an essential component of order. The feeling that someone has invaded my space, the place where I should feel free to be myself and taken things which have sentimental, as well as monetary value, is profoundly disrespectful. And since respect is a key manifestation of love, profoundly unloving.

Over the years it is interesting how Caleb’s understanding of respect has changed. Early on, when serving his first few prison terms, respect was non-negotiable among inmates. To disrespect another, even with a wrong look or phrase, could lead to a beating. In recent years, conversations about respect have switched from respect based in fear to respect arising from the desire to live in faithfulness to a tradition or the desire to live as an honourable Cree man.

The threat of theft constricts life (freedom). When one part of you is constantly scanning for invasion, it leads to physical manifestations like locks, security systems, emotional wariness and a fear of leaving the house “unguarded” for any length or predictable amount of time.

And, from the point of view of our girls, money and things being stolen from them, in their home, was simply not fair (justice).

During the early and teenage parts of Caleb’s life, our family did not have much money. Three of our girls started work at 14 years of age to buy their clothes, have spending money and contribute financially to school trips. To have their money, earned at or below minimum wage, ripped off had a deep impact.

As damaging as the stealing was to our core values - love, justice, order and freedom - the real damage was done to the foundation - trust.

The dominoes fall quickly. Stealing involves deception; deception involves a distortion or denial of the truth; lack of truth erodes trust.

Patrick Lencioni names five ingredients that are essential to the building and function of an effective team - trust, the ability deal with conflict, commitment, accountability and attention to results. The same criteria can be applied to the functioning of a vital family. Trust stands at the bottom of the pyramid. Everything else involved in healthy relationships is in peril when trust erodes.

(Patrick Lencioni, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team model. Graphic from: the

The rebuilding of trust is the current work of the family, of which these blogs are a part.

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