Last month, my wife, Becky, and I were moving into our new home in Auburn, California, when Becky’s sister, Melissa, stopped by to help us unpack. A few hours into the job, Becky put down her boxes and started making sandwiches for us.

“Hey,” she said to me, “I think the neighbors down the street are getting ready for a garage sale. Go see if you can find the yard tools we’re going to need.”

I peered out the window at our barren one-third of an acre. “What yard?”

“Go,” she ordered.

I blinked. Given the opportunity to escape the tedium of unpacking, I needn’t be told twice. I grabbed my car keys and suggested that Melissa follow.

A few minutes later, we pulled into an empty driveway where I couldn’t believe my eyes. These were quality products, yet oddly enough, there were no customers. Stranger still, the homeowners were also absent.

“I wonder where they are,” Melissa said as we got out.

“Probably inside taking a break from the heat.” I shrugged. “I’d rather shop without the seller barking prices every time I touch something anyway.”

She agreed and picked up a pair of Keen sandals. “Hey, I think these are a fit.”

“Nice,” I said. “How much?

“I don’t know.” She turned her attention to a bag of bedding. “They haven’t priced anything yet.”

We shopped for another five minutes before I decided to give the door a light knock, then reported back. “No answer.”

Continuing our search, Melissa put aside the sandals to hide them from the mob we were expecting.

My eyes quickly fell upon a nice selection of yard tools — Home Depot on a blanket.

“Wow, this is everything I need. Rakes, pruning sheers and even a leaf-blower.” I laid aside the best and returned to the front door to make a lowball offer.

I gave the doorbell an aggressive ring. This time, the dogs erupted with barking. I paused expecting human footsteps. Nothing.

I returned to my pile of tools, spouting the old garage-sale cliché, “No price tags, no bodies, so it must be free.”

Melissa pointed to a small pile of sweepings at the edge of the garage. “Norris, I don’t think this a garage sale. I think we’ve interrupted a garage cleaning.″

“That must mean …” My voice trailed.

“We’re trespassing!” Melissa said.

Just then the house curtains jostled, either by canine snout or human hand.

I dropped the tools, and before anyone gave chase, we beat feet to the car.

The garage sale gaffe brought to mind three common platitudes.

First, the familiar triteness that says, “If the shoe fits, wear it,” isn’t necessarily true.

It only seems true because there are a lot of folks who’ll force their images upon us trying to match their assumptions of us. They insist that the shoe fits us, so we chain ourselves to their preconceived impression.

Just because the proverbial shoe may fit, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear it or own it. If you don’t see yourself in the shoe, then drop the shoe.

The second platitude encourages us to pray that God will open doors for us. Well, the chaplain is here to testify that just because a door is open doesn’t mean that God opened it. We need to ask God to help us discern whether the opening is a welcome pathway or a trap door. In other words, stay out of unmarked doors.

Finally, you can’t buy what people ain’t selling. At least that seems to be the pesky thought behind the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house … your neighbor’s wife, or … or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17 NIV).

When Melissa and I returned to report our failed grand-theft attempt, my diplomatic wife profusely apologized for her erroneous tip — at least that’s what I think she said in the midst of her hysterical laughter.

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