“Retrace your steps,” my wife told me. See, I had lost the key ring that held my car key and the house key. It happened over the weekend. Sunday, I was sure. I’d been out for a bike ride with my biker pants on, the ones that have no pockets just spandex. I was getting ready to work around the yard, when I remembered my teenaged daughter wanted to operate the riding lawnmower. It helps prepare her for driving a car and she enjoys it.
I yelled for Jess to come out and she joined me in the garage. I thought my car was parked outside that garage door, so I took my key to move it. When we opened the garage door, the exit was clear. Key not needed.
I tucked it in to the waist band of the spandex shorts and jumped on the mower to help launch her grass cutting journey. After a minute or so she was on her way, proudly cutting stripes across the backyard. I wandered around, keeping a paternal eye on her. I weeded here and there. Picked some tomatoes from our September garden. Basically I just puttered around for her benefit. I wound up in the fish pond, cleaning the pump intake to restore the water flow. After a while I went back inside and showered off the sweat and dust and fishpond gunk. It did not dawn on me that my keys were not in the waistline of my spandex biker shorts.
Not till the next day did it matter. I was leaving the house for work and checked my usual spots for key deposits. No luck. I was not concerned. Maybe my wife picked them up and put them in her bottomless purse. No worries. The house would be unlocked when I got home and I was going to drive the other car all week anyway. I would delay any further search till that night.
As it turned out, I wound up at home earlier than expected while my wife and daughter were delayed in town later than expected. No problem. I checked the doors and knew that one of my available cars had a garage door opener. Nope. Why, I wondered, did my wife have both garage door openers? Or was one sitting impotently inside awaiting a new battery? I was not going to be bothered. I did need to use the bathroom, but I could get by till they came home.
I put the trash at the curb as usual and walked down our street and back. I avoided our moody cat who wanted some lap time as I settled into the Adironack chair on the back deck. The sun was setting sooner than it had all summer long. I thought about getting another house key cut and hiding it under a brick. No, that’s where the toads and slugs sleep during the day. It could be really nasty if my hidden key were covered in slug slime or toad poop. No bother, really, I just needed to use the bathroom and it was too light out to pee in the field behind our house. You know, neighbors. Indecency laws.
I surprised my wife and daughter when I greeted them in work clothes. I explained the deal and changed over into my usual garb. I checked pants pockets and again went over my usual key depositories. No luck. I looked in the vehicles on the off chance that I had tossed the keys in one of them unconsciously. Nope, nope, nope.
Well, I could solve this with the garage door opener, but I forgot to do that till it was the next morning and my wife was gone again. I left the back door unlocked when I left.
It was Tuesday morning now. I had not seen my keys since Sunday afternoon. Where could they be? In the meantime I’m leaving my house unlocked. Something was not right about this deal.
Tuesday went as usual. I got home as the sun was setting and inquired if my wife was hoarding the keys in her bottomless purse. No. We went for a walk just as the sky grew dark in a lifeless lilac shade peculiar to early fall. A nice foggy full moon smiled down on us like a keyhole. Damn it! I needed to solve the key issue. I wound up having to explain my key saga to Sara. She is very commonsensical. She asked if I had looked in the yard. “I’m sure you’ll find them there,” she said, like she knew, like she had seen me drop them. I couldn’t imagine. I told her there was no way the spandex would release those keys and there was no way they would slip by the skin tight legbands at the bottom of the biker shorts. Yeah, I was sure of that. Biker shorts can actually hold up to a gallon of water before they burst.
I could almost imagine peeling off the biker shorts and setting the keys on the sink countertop next to our bathroom. The problem was that I knew I hadn’t done this.
Where were the dang keys?
Wednesday morning was bright and sunny. I took care of my normal routine duties, even fed the moody cat. As I left the house and felt the door lock behind me, I thought Sara had to be right. The keys never made it back to the house. I had been bent over for a while as I pulled weeds on Sunday. Why not retrace my steps? What would it hurt?
After all I had found her gold bracelet that she’d lost two summers back in among the daylilies. And last year I had found her father’s WWII dog tags in the burn pile long after we had burned some old boxes and paper. And then our daughter Jessi had found a gold ring Sara had lost once. Why not my keys?
I began walking through the dew laden grass that had just been cut on Saturday. It was already over my shoes in two and a half days. My shoes were getting wet until I came into the sunny half of the yard. There is where our humble garden is situated, at the back of our half acre lot. I walked around the fenced off garden, looking for a flash of metal, one chrome and black key, one brass key on a silver ring. I thought of getting a big magnet to sweep over the ground, but I knew if the keys were there they would be easy to spot.
I walked over my weeding path twice. A groundhog silently scurried back into his hole just behind the garden. I thought briefly of my need for a .22 rifle to eliminate the varmint. I remembered also that Jesus loves animals. I shook off those conflicting thoughts. “I’m sure Jesus would shoot groundhogs,” I thought to myself, resolving any moral conflict I might have. No luck on the keys, though. I wonder if the groundhog picked them up and took them along into his burrow. No, that’s too much of a stretch.
But I know ferrets do that sort of thing with shiny objects. Arrrgggh.
I chuckled to myself and said a tiny prayer. “Lord, help me find these keys. I know it’s a miniscule thing, but I am asking you because I believe in you. I am trying to be obedient here and humble.” No luck. So I started back up the yard toward my car in the driveway.
Keys are so small, you know?, and yet they are powerful. I thought about the symbolism of keys in faith. Keys to the Kingdom. Keys of authority. Key to the Highway, one of my favorite Eric Clapton songs. (Okay, off topic.) My keys were not so grand, but dang it, I needed them to get into my house and to drive my car. They were getting more important in their absence than I ever gave them credit for in their presence.
I made a quick look around the deck and near the fishpond flower garden where I had pulled a lot of weeds. Nothing. Then I had a goofy thought, like the groundhog thought: I wondered if I could have dropped the keys while I stood in the fishpond. They would have made no sound, no clink of metal on ground. Just a ‘tooook’ dip into the murky water. I could get in the pond and search blindly by touch near where I had stood. But I was only in there for a few minutes. Surely, of all places my keys would not be in the fishpond or in the groundhog hole. Right?
I started to pick up my pace and there beneath me I saw my keys, wet with dew in the shady grass. I laughed out loud. “Ha…Lord, you are good and funny. I needed to retrace my steps. Yes, indeed. When one is lost or has lost something, he needs to repent… to turn around and scour the trail. Go back to the record and start again where things made sense.” I kept pondering this lesson as I drove to work in the beautiful autumn sun.
My little key journey made quite an impression on me. I told myself to write it down so I would not forget God’s message to me this dewy morning. He knows what I need. He has what I need, even if I have lost it. I need to ask humbly… still search, yes, and wait faithfully on the Lord. And listen to my wife.