Finding Car Keys: Who's Finding Who?

It started as a crappy day.

No, seriously.

It literally started as a crappy day.

I went to bed the night before with Tums still stuck in my back teeth and I woke up with an incredible urge to use the bathroom.

It was the last day of church camp. I was a cabin sponsor in charge of 6 teenagers and a younger one. The cabin was decorated in the Finding Dory theme with fish hanging from the ceiling, green streamers for seaweed, sand toys, sand we got from the actual ocean on our way there, Dory posters, Dory bags, and chalk drawings of Dory and Squirt on the cabin some. 

Artwork by Mary Elias

Between our late night giggle fests (myself most definitely included in them), plenty of crying, and a large amount of walking each day, I was tired, sleepy, and exhausted, not to mention the fact that I woke up several times during the night with my stomach aching. When I awoke with my stomach still giving me trouble, I must admit that I have never been more grateful for the nearby porta-potty in all my life.

I locked myself in, sat down, and 5 days of camp food finally released its fury.

I couldn't complain, though; the porta-potty had been cleaned the day before, so it didn't smell bad and it was mostly empty. So empty, in fact, that I could amuse myself by counting the seconds between delivery and time of impact. And the backfire was too far down to reach me. Best place to have diarrhea, if you ask me.

Breakfast was off the menu for the day.

We had a strict timeline. One of my cabin girls had to be back home in time to perform her play. I had instructed everyone to pack quickly because we were leaving at 10am, earlier if we could. My helpful crew packed, cleaned, and assisted me in loading the car. We all piled in and at 10am exactly...a feat even I was surprised and proud to have managed...I reached into my pocket for my keys.

No keys.

In my grumpy exhaustion, I got annoyed and started digging my backpack out of the tightly packed car.

No keys.

Sweatshirt? Purse? Cup holder?

No keys.

I sighed and pulled out my suitcase, causing our tightly-packed belongings to spread themselves out. Perhaps they were in my pajama pockets.


And so I went through every pair of pants pockets in my suitcase - the clean, the dirty, and even the pockletless. Still no keys.

All the kids piled out of our car and began looking all over camp. I was stressing about how I was going to get the actress to her performance and forming Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C in my head as we all looked for the keys.

Fellow campers, who were just as eager to get home, came around and started searching, checking lost and found, asking camp staff for help, and brainstorming places that the keys might be.

A friend took our actress with her as I worked out Plan B for her. I felt much better once I knew she was going to be taken care of, but completely over camp and ready to go home.

Eventually, I knew what we had to do.

"Kids, we need to unpack the car and go through all the bags."

We all groaned, but we all wanted to get home, so out came the bags--the stinky socks, the disturbingly clean underwear, and all of our Dory paraphernalia.

We made calls, we walked, we searched, and we found nothing. I finally told the other campers to go home.

As I retraced my steps one last time from the last time I had my keys, I thought about my porta-potty party that morning. The thought had been turning around in my brain for a couple hours, what if they fell in? Would I be willing to fish them out? Would I be able to stomach the search? Was it even worth it? It had been hours of fruitless effort and I was ready to accept the inevitability of this last, desperate attempt at finding my keys.

I grabbed a stick and started digging.

With camp staff cleaning cabins behind me, I gave new meaning to the term "swirly" as I humbly swirled that stick through Ground Zero of that morning's storm. I found things that should never be seen twice. I poked, I swirled, I fished, but never saw my keys.

I had to be like Survivor and admit that the search was over.

A kind staff member, Tad, had been helping me all afternoon.  He was a very kind, selfless man. First, he prayed for me. Then, he researched our options to see what our cheapest route would be. He even called people I had already called to see if he could get a better price or information because he was a man and less likely to be taken advantage of. Tad had such a kind spirit and never made me feel bad for putting him out. Instead, he just kept offering to help more. It was humbling and difficult for me to accept and I couldn't help but hear the words in my head from one of the sermons, "We cannot do life alone."

Once the search was fully over, he used up one of his AAA calls to have my car towed to the local locksmith to save me $140 and even followed behind the tow truck with my remaining crew that wouldn't fit in the tow truck so that I wouldn't have to drive the 30 minutes back to get them.

Before leaving us, he told us that he has 4 daughters and he hopes that should they ever get stranded, some other kind person will help them the way he helped us. I wish the same for them and if God orchestrates that in response to this one man's kindness, it will be well deserved. I asked him what I could pray for him about and then said a prayer right there in the parking lot. When I lifted my head after the amen, he proceeded to pray for us again. Truly, this was a very kind man.

Two hours later, we had a new key in hand. Our 10am departure time from camp had turned into a 6pm departure from a locksmith. It was a long day, but we were finally heading home and glad to get on the road at last.

As the back seat fell silent and the kids slept, I began to contemplate the events of the day. I have been struggling with Christianity as a religion for some time now. I have questioned every tradition and belief I grew up with and have become increasingly uncomfortable with many of them. Wanting to be genuine, I have avoided Christian catch phrases and avoided public prayer whenever possible. I've put a wall up between myself and most other Christians - sometimes just a few bricks, sometimes quite a few - in order to avoid the sting of emotionally triggering Bible verses and the us vs. them mentality. Anything that resembled the religion I grew up in was especially suspect and, to be honest, I've been carrying around a lot of fear.

I had just spent 5 days immersed in sermons and lessons, all from people in the denomination of my childhood religion where I had encountered years of spiritual abuse and legalism...and my defenses were solidly in place.

Even so, when this kind staff member asked if he could pray with me, I found myself a willing and grateful participant. I was surprised by my subsequent desire to pray for him - in a public parking lot, no less.  Why did this feel so natural again all of the sudden?

While I have struggled with Christianity, I have struggled with my childhood religion most. I still attend church in this denomination with my family and I guard my heart very closely. Nearly every sermon triggers my emotions with some phrase that represents the spiritual abuse I have encountered in my life.

To think that I fell into public prayer naturally and without fear surprised me. I was at church camp where my fear was being triggered all day and night, and yet I found public prayer comforting when it came from Tad.

Tad was not from my childhood denomination.

I began to see that, despite my best attempts not to, I was having difficulty separating my negative experiences in my denomination from that of Christianity as a whole. The anger and hurt I have had with my childhood denomination has spilled into every aspect of my current religious experience. I've sung the words, "I'm no longer a slave to fear," as I've felt the relief of currently not being a member of the church I attend with my family, but I have still been in bondage. Without feeling guilt, I took a moment to contemplate how my bad experiences were souring my Christian experience as a whole.

I thought about how I've seen others do the same and how I had judged them, wondering why they couldn't see it. Contemplating my own experience, I also realized that religion is complicated and that their experience might not actually be anything like mine...and I really had no business analyzing them, anyway.

I also reflected on some of the spiritual highlights of the week and realized that there is still some good here.

Do I still have issues with Christianity? Definitely. There is much I will still avoid. Do I still feel fear thinking about walking into church this Sunday, knowing that something will trigger my fear and anger? Absolutely. But my heart opened a bit more and I discovered once again that God's perfect love casts out fear... little bit by little bit.

Though my car keys were never found, I found a little bit more of God that day. I learned more about myself and took one more step toward healing from spiritual abuse. I was honest with myself without condemning myself, something that I was surprised to experience. I was at peace and I had less fear.

All in all, I suppose that's not such a bad trade for a set of keys.

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