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You Have Keys


"God hides in plain sight in your right-now life." --Sarah Bessey

We are more cared-for than we think we are; we have resources we don't know we have. We are not as close to disaster as we suppose ourselves to be. Whatever locked room we think we're in, we have keys. Whatever your current struggle, the answer is probably within sight--it just doesn't look like an answer.

We're in a tunnel called Time, and when we see that the next step is not clear we panic. I'm writing this because I'm facing a life issue I've dodged (successfully, I might add) for decades, and I am tempted to think I won't manage to get through it. So I'm reminding myself of how it worked out before.


Here goes:

Twelve years ago, I was newly-divorced and big-time scared. A friend told me she'd had a dream: I was hanging over a cliff by my fingernails--and the ground was only six inches below my dangling feet. And I had no idea it was near. I lettered out the song lyrics below because they seem to me to speak to that same reality.

When I first faced divorce, people who had been through that passage came out of the woodwork. They told me stories they only tell to the divorced. (People will share their appendectomies without qualm to a room full of people with no history of illness or surgery. But you only hear divorce stories if you ask for them, or if you're about to generate your own.) No two stories were the same. The most helpful came from the lady who decorated cakes at Kroger. She said that after her divorce, she sat down on the courthouse steps "and cried and cried. And it was like those tears washed twelve years of a bad marriage right off of me."

The stories I listened to with the most eagerness were the "how I go to the other side and my life came out okay" stories. I started out listening eagerly then subsided into polite impatience, over and over again. Everybody, it seemed to me, had something I didn't. A college degree. An established career (as a nurse, no less!), a rich uncle, a new boyfriend. An ace in the hole, to my way of thinking. How, I wondered, drumming my fingers, would any of that apply to me, a self-employed artist with no savings or job or fall-back plan? And I was so scared.

But after a while, and after a number of the How-I-Made-It-Through stories, the English major in me kicked in. No author, I realized, would throw a string of dissimilar stories into the novel without doing it to make a point. The very dissimilarity of the these deliverances was the point: for each of them, there had been a way, and just as sure as sunrise tomorrow, there would be a way for me. As a believer in Jesus who is the Way, I began to hope.

I did not acquire a nursing degree or a rich uncle. I ended up walking through a string of miracles: buying a house, getting a job, moving, going to Europe, publishing the book I'd worked on for a decade, and even (to my astonishment) re-marrying. A string of happenings that I would call miracles saw me through. My house came with signs that it was mine--someone who'd met me only once saw it and exclaimed, "This is Mary's house!"--it came with a cane beside the fireplace, like in Miracle on 34th Street--the previous owner left behind antique dishes that matched my antique dishes--I could go on, but won't.

My job--gosh, my job--fell into my lap because, while still in Ohio, I gave antique sheet music to a part-time musician who turned out to be a full-time career development director in the city I was moving to. He gave me a link to send a resume to a business owner who called me just as I drove into town. I bopped over for an interview and started work three days later, in a job I held for seven years and one day.

So maybe you're drumming your fingers and thinking, how does any of this apply to me? I realize citing miracles is annoying--what guarantee is there that you'll have yours? I would answer, there's no shortage. There are not now fewer jobs to send down from heaven because I got one. God is not now tired and taking a nap because He helped me. My friends with degrees and rich uncles needed their own miracles in different places.

But you have keys. I have keys. All God's chillun got keys. And, here's the thing: many times your keys have more to do with your weaknesses than your strengths. My tendency to be needy was the key to getting help, because I didn't have much of an internal barrier to asking for it. Through a passage like divorce, I needed help, asked for it, got it. My tendency to amass unnecessary antiques was a key in both the stories I cited above.

My tendency to shy away from involvement goes back to childhood. And it's not a good thing. But... I had a moment of clarity at age seven: I took a look at my parents and thought: "Smoking and drinking is gonna be expensive, and fattening." That was my reasoning, as was this: "...and I'm not gonna do it." So my odd detachment saw me through a substance-free high school and college, then became a key to pretty good health. Through twelve years with no health insurance I neither saw a doctor, nor needed to. Looking back, I'm so thankful. At the time, I think I took it for granted.

The strengths that I keep in the shop window--being articulate, funny, artsy--weren't at all what got me through. In this life passage, those qualities were largely irrelevant. If any of my strengths were of use, they were the non-flashy ones: I'm persistent, I'm pleasant, I'm punctual. Usually. Nothing in that list is gonna win a Pulitzer or land me in a hall of fame. Nonetheless, they were among my keys.

We are all in a tunnel called Time. There's a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone, and no one lives outside the tunnel. It's a tunnel because we only get one moment at a time. And in that moment, we just need the next thing. We can't wear thirty pairs of jeans at once, or eat three suppers at one sitting. We tend to think that if we won the lottery, we'd have the keys to life. But lottery winners only wear one pair of pants and eat one meal, and need their next one thing as much as you and me. A friend in crisis once called a friend, who walked him through the scary spot in his tunnel-of-the-moment: "Is there food in your refrigerator right now? Is there gas in your car right now? Do your kids like you right now?" Yes, yes, and yes. The keys we need are many times already in the door, and all we need to do is open it and walk through.

We do some strange math when we compare ourselves with others. We compare our worst with their best and are surprised we come up short. When all the while, we had our keys. And, put in the locks of our particular prison, the keys we have feel wildly inadequate. When I look back on my case, I can't make the numbers add up. It feels like loaves and fishes, to tell the truth--huge outcomes from minuscule inputs. How it worked out is out of all proportion to the resources I brought to it. I think God is tickled to use unlikely and insufficient means to achieve big, BIG results. But He doesn't ask any of us to do it without giving us something, however tiny, to work with.

We all have keys.



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