She sighed and headed back to her car. Only one shark tooth in all that surf. Sure she unexpectantly got lots of conchs and olive shells she planned to paint and start hiding around town to encourage people as they slowly worked on getting their lives back together after the hurricane, but her goal every time she went to the beach was to find shark teeth. Usually she found at least three but today? One. She’d have stayed longer but the fading light of the sunset made identifying small black objects in moving water impossible.
“Well, that’s just as disappointing as this whole weekend has been,” she thought as she approached her car and began digging in her bag of shells for the smaller waterproof bag that kept her key and phone safe from splashing waves. Nothing she had done that weekend had had the result she wanted and this shortage of teeth fit right in. At least this time she wouldn’t lose the tooth like she did the last time she had gone to the beach. That time she had found six teeth, slipped them in her zippered pocket as always for safekeeping, then discovered later that the pocket had had a hole. After triple seaming that pocket, she knew the tooth in her pocket may be lonely but it wouldn’t be going anywhere.
She pulled out the key and slid it into the key hole on her car’s door. Or tried to. It wouldn’t fit. Must be upside down. She pulled it out, flipped it and tried again. Still didn’t go in. “Wait,” she thought slowly, a disturbing thought beginning to enter her weary mind. “My car key has matching sides so it doesn’t matter which way I insert it.” She looked closer at the key. Her house key! If her house key was here, then her car key would still be in the car! She must have taken the wrong one when she removed her car key from her key ring, not wanting to take the chance that the electronic key would get wet.
She stared at the key again. Now what was she going to do? The park was closing, her husband was at work about 30 minutes away. She had no spare keys hiding under her car. But, she did have her phone. And her adult son was at home. She quickly dug it out and called her son. No answer. She left a voice mail to call her back. Then she called her husband.
“I’ll try to get off work and be there as soon as I can.”
“OK,” she told him. “I’m going to walk to the front entrance where the gate is because you’re going to need the gate code to get in. Or I can just give it to you now… nooooo. The season pass with the gate code is in the car. I’ll have to walk to the front gate. Maybe there will be a ranger or someone who can give it to me.”
She hung up, put on her sandals, which just happened to be in the bag because she had uncharacteristically forgotten to leave them in the car when she had arrived hours earlier, and began walking. Fog was mixing with the growing darkness, making it even harder to see. With no street lights, she decided she might need to walk the mile to the front gate a little faster to get there before it got completely dark. Surely there would be lights at the ranger station there.
As she walked, she remembered the time she had seen an alligator on that same part of the road and wondered if there still alligators living in the swampy areas that bordered both sides of the road. She hadn’t seen one in years, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.
Suddenly a loud grunting sound came from the swamp on her left. What was that? Gator? Her husband had once told her that gators made grunting noises. Do gators chase people? Maybe, if they were hungry enough. And maybe their food source had been impacted by the hurricane last fall as most everything else had been. Her eyes big, her chest tightening, she picked up her pace.
Another grunting sound. Then another. It seemed to be keeping up with her as she walked. Was it following her? When she heard it the next time, it seemed a bit softer, further away. Good, maybe it had given up.
Just as she began to relax, a very loud grunt came from her left making her jump. She just knew it was almost on her! Or was that a different gator? How many gators were there?
She walked even faster, wanting to get to the comparative safety of the entrance booth and hoping the grunting things didn’t see her change in speed as a challenge. The grunts kept coming and she began listening for a splash to alert her that one had left the water to come after her. No, she thought. There wouldn’t be a splash. She had seen enough TV movies to know how silent they could be when stalking. And how fast. She also knew that turning around to look always ended in disaster in those movies, but she couldn’t help it. She had to turn around. She had to know if something was crawling up behind her.
A quick look brought relief. Nothing. But it was short lived as another grunt sounded nearby. Hurrying again, she thought God was here. God could protect her. But would He? He didn’t always intervene in natural events. And it was her fault she had locked her keys in the car. “God?” she prayed. “Will You keep me safe?” She felt no reassurance, heard no words of comfort. She wished, not for the first time, that she had more faith. She shouldn’t be worried. She should know God was in control and looking out for her. But knowing what she SHOULD be thinking didn’t help her feel better.
As she walked in the growing foggy dark, she racked her brain trying to think of someone else she could call. Someone closer. Someone who might know the gate code so her husband could get in when he got there. She DID NOT want to have to walk all the way back down that road to get her car. Then she remembered Connie! She lived just a few miles away and she camped there frequently so she must have the gate code. But a phone call and a text got no result. Giving up, she hurried on.
It was getting so dark now that she could barely see the road. The grunts seemed to have stopped and she thought they may have given up and gone after easier prey. But she didn’t slow her pace. She needed to get to the light at the entrance just in case a new gator got interested. The gate was a hundred yards from the swamp and she doubted a gator would go that far out of the water.
As she hurried, thoughts of falling entered her mind. What if she tripped over a crack or small branch or something? She could sprain her ankle and not be able to walk. Don’t hungry predators go after the injured? As if to answer her, another loud grunt filled the air. This one was so loud, and seemed so close, she forgot about being careful and began the fastest power walking she could. She knew her knees couldn’t handle running anymore. Neither could her lungs. She’d be out of breath within minutes! No, power walking was the best she could do.
Finally she saw the entrance light. As she left the swamp behind her and entered the light, she began relaxing. She had made it. At least she had made it this far. She still had to figure out how to get the bar blocking the entrance to rise so her husband’s car could get in when he got there. Waving at the infrared sensor didn’t work. She could partially lift it manually. That would have to do, she thought. Maybe when he got there she could force it just high enough to let his small car get through and hope she didn’t break it.
She walked around to the front of the entrance booth and was even more relieved to find two rangers still there. The park had been closed since dusk so they should have been long gone. She quickly went to the side window and knocked. Would they answer her or ignore her since it was after hours?
The second time she knocked got their attention. They told her they were just closing up but when she told them what had happened they were kind enough to take the time to write down the gate code for her. Good. She wouldn’t have to chance breaking the automatic gate bar. She also mentioned the grunts she had heard and asked if they were gators.
“No, probably not,” they answered. “They were probably deer.”
“Deer?” she questioned. “Deer make noises?”
“Yes. Just a minute,” the lady ranger at the window said as she opened her phone and tapped a few times. “Here, listen to this.”
A video of some deer came up along with a high pitched noise. “That’s a baby deer,” the ranger told her.
A slightly deeper sound came from the phone. It sounded a lot like what she had always thought were birds calls. “Nope, that’s an adult female deer.”
Then she heard the grunting. The same grunting that had chased her for almost a mile. “That’s an adult male looking for a mate.”
“Really? I had no idea deer even made sounds,” she told the ranger, feeling a little relieved that she hadn’t actually be stalked by gators. But not much, since deer can be dangerous too and deer were all around her at this park, even here at the gate.
She watched the rangers lock the booth door and drive away. She was alone. But at least she was in the light. She sat down and watched as mosquitoes began landing on her. She hoped none of them carried any of the diseases the city had warned everyone about earlier that morning. She wished she knew someone who was nearby besides Connie, who had not returned her call. She would feel better if she had company, and even better if she could wait in a car and not get eaten by mosquitoes. Then she remembered a small group of her friends who stayed busy delivering donations throughout the county. Maybe one of them was nearby. She texted them and got immediate responses. They couldn’t come but would find someone who could. Texting helped her not feel so alone and she was grateful they were so readily available but where was her husband? Was he able to get off work? Was he on his way?
And then he was there! She wasted no time punching in the code to lift the gate, getting in the car, and, settling back in the seat, finally breathing a sigh of relief. As they drove the mile back to her car, she told him about the noises and how spooky everything was. He was just as surprised to learn deer made such loud sounds and reassured her that he had prayed for her all his way there because he knew how spooky it would be for her.
Later, from the safety of her home, she contemplated her experience. She had prayed that God would keep her safe. And she had been safe. But would she have been safe even if she had not prayed? Probably. So where was God? He did not keep her from locking her key in her car. He had not flooded her with peace. He had not spoken reassuring words to her.
But He did…
… arrange for her sandals to be in her bag so she didn’t have to walk the mile barefooted.
… keep the rangers there long enough to give her the gate code
… prompt one ranger to take the time to share a video explaining the grunts
… show her the loyal support of her friends as they texted online
… gave her husband a job where family came first so he could easily get off to come rescue her
… keep her bladder quiet so she had no need to use a bathroom while she waited
“So,” she thought gratefully. “God was there all along.”
And then another thought hit her. “Oh no! How could I be so stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
When she had pulled her car key from her key ring that afternoon, she had taken her house key with her on the beach, locking her car key in the car. But it never dawned on her until just this moment that attached to her house key was the electronic key for her car! She had had a key to her car all along!
She didn’t know whether to cry, scream, or laugh! That was probably one of the stupidest things she had ever done. But God still loved her and was there for her anyway.
What would her husband say when she told him? Would he be upset having to take off work? For the needless trip? Maybe it’d be best not to tell him. No. She knew she had to tell him.
“Um, you know how I locked the car key in my car and took my house key with me down to the beach?” she began.
“Yes,” he answered.
“So… attached to that house key was my electronic key…”
“So you had a key all the time?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Yes,” she admitted, waiting for his reaction.
And then he laughed. “That’s funny!” he said.
“But I feel so stupid.”
“It was just a mistake. I bet God is laughing too!” he said.
Tears filled her eyes as she received his warm supportive words. “He’s not mad. He doesn’t think I’m stupid. Maybe God doesn’t think I’m stupid either. Maybe He let it happen because of everything He knew He could teach me through it.”
“Yes, My daughter. You don’t always have to feel Me or hear Me to know I am with you. It’s a fact, not a feeling. I let you go through this because you needed to be reminded. Walking through the foggy darkness, thinking something is out to get you, is a lot like how you feel navigating insurance and contractors. No matter how stupid you feel about some of the things you decide, I work all things for your good. I could have just told you, and I’ve tried, but an experience like this shows you in a much more powerful, unforgettable way. And remember, just as you had the key all along, you have Me whether you realize it at the time or not.”
And she could feel His delighted laughter rising in her heart, filling her anew with His amazing love.