One of the things that I had been really looking forward to during our family vacation to Minnesota (although my wife has NO idea why), was a backpacking trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior. So last Wednesday I got all packed and ready to go and was ready by about 10:30 am. My mother-in-law had dutifully made sure I had EVERYTHING I needed and then my Father-in-law handed me the key to the Honda Civic. He had decided (after much consideration) that he TRUSTED me with the Honda so that the family could use the larger van to haul the kids around. It sounded all good to me, although I DID catch the import of his words as he handed the key to me and emphatically indicated that I had better take care NOT to loose that key. He WASN’T going to give me another one. I told him not to worry. I told him that if he gave me two I was sure to loose one of them, but if I just had one I would be careful and not loose it. With that I drove away very excited about my new adventure.
I arrived in Two Harbors, bought the map of where exactly I wanted to hike, convinced a Lutheran pastor named Brian to drive me 20 miles up to the Split Rock Lighthouse, and was happily hiking by 5 pm into an absolutely gorgeous evening. A couple hours later I arrived at camp site and was totally thrilled to settle down for the evening in the absolute silence of the forest to sing hymns, read the scriptures and pray. God and me – and no one else!
The next day I was hiking by 7 am and was blessed no end with wildflowers and scenery and glorious weather. I bounded from rock to rock, taking pictures around every corner, and covered about 15 miles by 3 pm, making it early to the town of Silver Bay. I hung out at the LCMS church there for a couple hours waiting for my good Pastor friend Keith Blom to drive down from Thunder Bay, Ontario to finish the hike with me. It was great getting to know the pastor in Silver Bay and a couple members of the church as I waited. I made arrangements for the elder to come and pick us up the next day when we finished our hike at hwy. 1.
Keith arrived in Silver Bay a bit early and we were on the trail again by 6 pm for a couple hour hike to a camp site. We pitched out tents and even made a fire as we chatted and reflected about our recent life journeys into the evening. Friday dawn broke gloriously for us and we were thrilled to set off down the trail again, making great time (I wasn’t taking so many pictures to slow the progress). We saw lots of fresh bear droppings, but we never had to wrestle with them for the Raspberries, Blueberries and June berries along the way. We arrived at our destination by 1:30 and our ride came and brought us back to Silver Bay – just as we had planned.
It had all been FABULOUS! Except for a couple toes, I felt like a million bucks! Keith brought me to the highway and in my happiness I hauled my backpack out of his back seat, gave him a big handshake and sent him on his way north back home. I then stood at the edge of the highway and flashed a $20 bill trying to catch a ride with someone down to Two Harbors and the car parked in the Lutheran Church’s parking lot. Five cars passed me by but the sixth stopped. A nice young fellow named Brian was glad to give me a ride and he was thrilled that I was even paying him.
It was at THIS point that this parable takes on some meaning!
Into the back of the car I piled my backpack, my hat, my …. “Oh SHIT” I muttered under my breath (Brian didn’t KNOW I was a pastor)… “MY CAMERA! WHERE IS MY CAMERA?!!!” I looked around desperately… The camera bag was no where to be seen. I checked again in disbelief. I thought about calling Keith and having him come back… he must have it in the back of his car! But there was no way to contact him! I didn’t have his cell number! Well… There wasn’t anything to do… I resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to get my camera until he could send it back to me… OK… I breathed deeply… “I can handle the disappointment…” I got into the car and down the highway we drove, chatting amiably about life on the North Shore.
The downward spiral then continues for this poor Pastor of Disaster…
Just as we were pulling into Two Harbors I started thinking about the car and the drive home… All of a sudden my heart started beating quite a bit faster as I tried to think about where I put that key… the one my Father-in-law told me specifically NOT to loose, the same Father-in-law that mows twice a week and knows where each blade of his lawn grass is. I could NOT in fact remember WHERE I put the key. The only thing I could remember was trying to decide which place to put the key: in one of the backpack pockets… or in my camera bag.
Brian left me off at the car. I opened every pocket on the pack and searched them twice, then three times. There was simply NO key. My worst fears had come true. The key was in the camera bag! Life was definitely going from bad to worse, lurching from one disaster to another.
But somehow, I thought: “I can still get through this…” It was only 2:30 or so… I have a couple hours before things shut down for the weekend and I have Allstate Roadside assistance! Thankfully I still had some juice left on the cell phone and I called. The towing company fellow seemed to think that I could find someone to get a key made and get me on the road again. Cool. There is HOPE. No need to panic. I did call home to let them know what was happening. I knew it wouldn’t sound very good at all. I braved the backlash and assured my wife that everything would be OK.
Well… not everything turned out OK…
As I waited for the tow truck, with the power bar on my phone dipping ever further into the red, I desperately called locksmith after locksmith to see if one of them could help me. It soon became very evident that my Mother-in-law’s car key was not just a normal key. Oh, no! My mother-in-law is a very special person and deserves a very special key: one that has a chip in it, one that no one except a Honda dealer could duplicate – and one even the Honda dealer would not duplicate without the car’s title IN HAND.
So, there I was. Finally. Towed to the parking lot of Thompson’s Towing Service on the south side of Duluth – right next to a Kwik Mart gas station. I sat next to the car. The exuberance of my hike thoroughly smashed and broken into a thousand pieces. I had not the faintest idea what to do next. Next day mail was impossible at this hour. The last bus into the Twin Cities was long gone. My wife at this point had little sympathy for me as she hadn’t wanted me to go in the first place. I felt I couldn’t ask any member of the family to drive up the two plus hours up and then back with an extra key for me. It was definitely my mistake and it was definitely my responsibility to get myself out of the jam. But there was no way for me to do that. It was one of those times when you just feel so much shame. How could I let something like that happen? The darkness started to fall and it laughed at me. All I could think about was never going home again! I had my tent. I would just pitch it and live there by this car I couldn’t open… I would sweep the parking lot for a couple dollars a day and just live out of the KwikMart and the kindness of the store patrons… Maybe I could wash windshields or something… I didn’t want to go home… I didn’t want to face my wife or kids or family… I most certainly didn’t want to face my Father in Law who would NEVER ever do such a foolish thing.
AND WHO BEVIEVES IN MIRACLES?
Luckily during the ride in the tow truck I had a chance to power my phone again. Sitting there with nothing to do I decided I just wanted to check with Keith to make sure he had the camera. I called his house just ten minutes after he got home. Yes, he had just discovered he had my camera. He looked in the case… but… THERE WAS NO KEY!!!!
But where could the key be? Yes, my heart skipped and then beat faster… Immediately I began tearing my pack apart one more time – this time ALL the way… Nothing in the pockets again… so out came the tent and the sleeping bag and the food bag, the garbage bag, the trail book, and the mattress…
EVERYTHING was out and searched. No key. And then finally, one more time, I reached down into the very bottom of the pack. And it was there that my hand touched the long slender key – the one key that could not be duplicated, the one key that would get me home!
BUT… WAIT… You might think that I was really happy to have found the key. But there was no joy at all! What AM I going to say to my family? I actually looked MORE foolish now that I knew that I had the key all along.
But there was just no option. I had to admit to my foolishness… Facing up to the perfect Father-in-law and wife and being home and with family was a whole lot better than the Kwikmart parking lot and growing a white beard living next to a rusted out old car with no key.
I had two hours of Interstate 35 to think and pray about it.
In the end it turned out that my Father in Law and my wife actually were happy to see me again. My kids even still loved me. They didn’t make fun of me. I will get my camera back next week. By God’s Grace and Mercy the world did not come to an end for me.
And so every Lutheran asks: “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”
Disasters are good for me. This one included. The car ride home made me stop and realize once again that I have lost more than just the key to a car. I have lost the key of my God given innocence – the one he told me not to loose. In my striving after the pleasures of this world, in big and small ways, I find myself often stranded in a foreign land – unable to find my way home. My perfect and Holy Father who knows every hair on my head, the who loves me so very much, seems so very far away. Like the Prodigal Son I am full of shame that I have been so very foolish so many times in my life. Because of this I am actually fearful of going home. Even though I yearn for it with my whole heart, I know I don’t deserve it.
But the Key of my salvation is here, present wherever I go, no matter how lost I might seem to be, no matter my fears and tremblings in my heart, no matter how cluttered and confused my life is, however forgotten and buried His name is in my life. His blood shed for me flows unabated, His life stands for me, His Call on my life in my baptism and His forgiveness of my sins aims to thrill my life and lift it to heaven.
There is no Savior like Jesus. There is no Father more compassionate and loving than the one we call “Abba”. There is no God more powerful and active in our lives than the one revealed in Scripture as Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the one who redeemed Israel from slavery, the one who is the “I AM” of the universe. There are many pretenders, but no one can duplicate Him. No other key can get us home. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Hebrews 12:1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
These are the confessions of a very blessed “Pastor of Disaster.” If the sun is setting on your life at the moment. If your sin is large and you are lost and far from home without a key, let this account be a reminder that your one and only and true Key to life is with you. Unload your pack and everything that would keep you from knowing your beautiful Lord and Savior. The cost might seem great for you, but the reward is greater. You are His Joy set before Him. It is for you He scorned the Cross. It is for you He rose again and perfected your faith! It is for you He still Reigns on High. It is for you that He will Come Again to take you Home.
Glory be to Jesus!