You should have told her about your prayer. The guilty feelings crept up again. It had been a month since my failed witnessing opportunity, but I couldn’t let go of how lousy I felt about the moment of hesitancy that had led to a lost opportunity. I felt like Peter denying Christ.
It had been an unusually beautiful Sabbath afternoon. The parking lot for our chosen walkway was full, revealing that we weren’t the only family wanting to go for a stroll. With a tinge of disappointment we headed to the other side of the path, where parking was more ample and crowds surrounded us on what we had hoped would be an isolated outing.
Several minutes into our walk my 15-year-old daughter noticed some keys on the ground next to the path. My heart filled with appreciation for my observant daughter and concern for whoever had lost the keys.
“Even if they come back looking for them, they might not see them amid the leaves,” I commented. “What can we do?”
My husband suggested hanging them on the hook where lender dog leashes were kept near the beginning of the path. This seemed like our best option. I picked up the keys and put them in my pocket before our family turned around. The further we walked, the more I began to worry. Will the owner think to look on the hook? What if they don’t retrace their steps that far? Are we making things worse rather than better?
Dear God, I prayed, please help us find the owner!
I searched my surroundings for anyone who looked as though they had lost something. Just as the dog leash post came into view, my daughter asked, “Mom, do the keys say what kind of car they belong to?”
I pulled the keys out. “Yes, they’re for a Kia. Why?”
“Is that a Kia?” she pointed toward the parking lot where a woman stood talking on her cell phone behind a car.
Finally determining that the car was a Kia and that the woman looked like she might be missing keys, we veered off course to talk to her.
“Excuse me,” I asked timidly. “Are these your keys?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed as I handed her the keys.
I was praying I would find you, my mind prompted me to say. But I hesitated, and too quickly the moment was gone.
For weeks afterward I wondered about the woman. God had orchestrated so many things to help us find both her keys and her. Did she need to know how much God cared for her? Had my shyness prevented her from receiving the message He had intended?
Like a recurring nightmare, these thoughts kept returning. I prayed for forgiveness, but could not let go of my feeling of guilt. Finally one day, as the thoughts returned, I prayed, God, please forgive me, and help me remember this experience the next time an opportunity presents itself to speak for You. With that prayer the guilt finally vanished.
It wasn’t long until my opportunity arose, but it first presented itself as a disappointment.
“We’re going to need to postpone your surgery until May,” the voice on the other end of the phone said. “Is that OK?”
I sank into a dining room chair. No, it’s not OK. How can she even ask that?
My voice shook. “Oh . . . my pain has been getting so much worse. I d-d-don’t know if I can wait that long.”
The woman sounded compassionate as she said, “I’ll call our scheduling center and see what we can do. But I doubt we’ll be able to do anything. I’ll let you know on Tuesday.”
I felt more hope than those words should have triggered. After all, how many miracle stories had I heard that began with situations apparently more impossible? I began praying.
That weekend I prayed with my family, and on Monday I told my coworkers of my need. They joined me in praying.
It was two weeks until my originally scheduled surgery date. Even two weeks felt like too long, but I didn’t dare pray for an earlier date. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one praying.
“God, if it’s Your will, help this surgery to be scheduled even sooner than planned,” my coworker pleaded as she stood at the corner of my desk with her head bowed. I admired her faith in praying for the impossible.
Then the impossible happened. I answered my phone to recognize the same voice that had given me bad news a few days earlier. “I have good news,” she said joyfully as my heart skipped a beat. “We can get you in for next week if you can come in for a pre-op visit today.”
My mind became a hurricane of happy thoughts. Gratitude for my praying coworkers, amazement that my schedule had cleared itself for the day even though I’d originally had two conflicts that should have kept me from making the last-minute pre-op appointment, relief that my pain would soon be taken care of. Suddenly, amid the jumble of thoughts, a picture broke through and flashed itself in my mind more prominently than the rest.
As I was expressing my joy to the upbeat voice on the phone, I saw in my mind the woman accepting keys from me. I relived the feeling of knowing a brief window of opportunity had passed, and I knew I wasn’t going to do it again.
“This is an answer to prayer,” I blurted. “I’ve had several people praying for me.”
“Oh!” the voice on the other end of the phone went up an octave. “I’m so happy to hear that. I’m so glad you told me!”
I know nothing about the woman on the phone. Is she a believer who needed some inspiration? Is she a skeptic who needed evidence of a caring God? These are questions that will probably not be answered in this life. One thing I do know. Like Peter, I’d had a chance to redeem myself. The feeling I had of knowing I’d spoken up for my Lord and shared His goodness to a total stranger was almost as good as the feeling of knowing God cares enough for me to schedule my surgery for earlier than planned.
Lori Futcher is the editor of Guide magazine.