Laurie Coombs is a passionate writer and speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and the hope found in Jesus. She is the author of Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness, an incredible true story of grace, mercy, and the redemptive power of God. Her story was featured in Billy Graham’s film, Heaven, as well as on many other national and regional radio and television programs. She is a contributor to Zondervan’s NIV Bible for Women and writes at LaurieCoombs.org. Laurie and her husband, Travis, make their home in Nevada along with their three daughters.
Jesus often taught through stories. He spoke in parables––stories intended to teach a spiritual truth––to the crowds gathered to see Him. Scripture tells us that Jesus "told them many things in parables" (Matthew 13:13). All throughout the gospels, we read words like, "He put another parable before them... He told them another parable...." (Matthew 13:24, 33).
While He walked the earth, Jesus frequently illustrated truth through the use of story, but I don't think God's use of story ended with Jesus' ascent to Heaven. I believe God continues to speak through story today. Now of course, the Word of God is complete––nothing can be added or taken away from it. It's inspired by God, and so all things are not only subject to it but must be measured by it. But I do believe Jesus still whispers truth––truth confirmed by scripture––through the stories of our lives.
A Little Background
My girlfriend Sarah and I experienced one of these moments together a couple weeks ago. Now just to give you a little background, both Sarah and I have been in difficult seasons lately. God has called us both to step out in faith. To follow Him into the unknown. To lay down our will and do His. He's called us on two separate paths that always seem to run parallel. Sarah has been called to something completely different than I, but we both have recently found ourselves in a place of resistance.
Though it seems I'm finally raising above some of these trials, I must admit that life has just been a bit hard lately. And I suppose that's okay. I mean I have to be honest, I would like to skip this part. I'd like to avoid the trials of this life, but life just doesn't work that way. Without resistance, we would never grow stronger. Without the trials, we'd be like a tree sheltered from the elements that is destroyed by the first big wind it's exposed to. And so I've come to accept this season, and others like it, for what it is, as I realign my attention to God's purpose in my storms and the strength it will inevitably yield. (I've also come to know that resistance always comes before God is about to do something BIG! But I'll save that topic for another post.)
The Lost Keys
There's a place called Apple Hill that's about a two and a half hour drive from my house, and I must say, I absolutely love Apple Hill. It's a place that's all about celebrating the fall harvest season. There are orchards, vineyards, and pumpkin patches throughout this hilly region of Northern California where you can eat pie and caramel apples, pick pumpkins, and get your fill of all things apple.
Sarah and I have taken our kids there every October for the last several years, and this year was no exception. We arrived at our first stop a little after lunch time and decided to have a picnic at one of the orchards, down by a little pond. This stop was intended to be a quick one. The kids had already eaten on the way in the car, and so it was only Sarah and I who needed to get something in our bellies before we began our day. The kids played while we ate––running up and down a red dirt ravine, checking out the fish and ducks in the pond, rolling down a grassy knoll––and then we packed up. But as we started toward our cars, Sarah noticed something––her keys, previously clipped to her water bottle, were missing. I think we both hoped we'd find them quickly, but after looking around for quite some time, talking to management, and saying many prayers, we realized that this problem wasn't going to go away. The keys were gone. We had no idea where they were. We were two and a half hours away from home. And to make matters a bit worse, Sarah's phone and wallet were locked in her car.
Now, I certainly realize that there are much worse things that can happen––on the scale of life's problems, lost keys at Apple Hill measures very low, but at this point, we had a choice to make. We could let our circumstances ruin our day, or we could all pile into my car, double seat belt a few kids (eek!), and make the best of what we had while we figured out what we ought to do. Now I don't always react this way, but this time, both Sarah and I chose joy in the midst of our little storm. We packed up the kids and went about our day. The kids, by the way, were amazing during the whole thing. It honesty felt like we had little birds chirping God's whispers to our hearts. They said things like, "This whole thing is going to work out just fine." And "Jesus is going to fix this, don't worry." They're all so incredibly cute!
Anyway, we continued on. We made our next stop with the specific purpose of getting the kids carmel apples. After that, we found ourselves in the enormous pumpkin patch in search of the perfect pumpkin (the kids love this part!). We saw a real Johnny Appleseed tree there as well and got to pick some apples. And then we visited the orchard that I had gone to each year as a child. The one that has the best frozen unbaked apple pies you can imagine, pies that you can bake at home to have a homemade apple pie anytime you want.
"What should we do now?" I asked Sarah, after that. At this point, we had done all we wanted to do. Sarah's incredible husband T was on his way with a spare key, but he was still two hours away.
"Let's go back to the first place to make sure my car's still there." And we did.
I parked next to Sarah's car. We all piled out and headed down to buy the kids a honey stick. We had originally taken a path down to our picnic spot. A path that ran along a white graveled area. When we looked for the keys at the beginning of the day, we searched that entire area and found nothing. But now, as we walked along that same path, we saw something black off in the distance, and that black thing turned out to be Sarah's keys. But those keys were not there earlier that day. We had walked that section several times, and in fact, there was a milk cap positioned right next to those keys. We had seen that cap earlier, and those keys were not there.
Now here's the thing, we had looked all over that orchard for those keys before we left, and they were nowhere to be found. We had prayed. We had asked God to show us where those keys were, but He had not delivered them to us. Several weeks before this, my husband Travis had lost his keys at our daughter's soccer game. There were people everywhere, and we were far away from where we had originally been by the time he squatted down to rummage through the soccer bag in search of our keys. I said a little prayer, and not moments later, a man walked up to us, held out our keys, and asked, "Are you looking for these?" It was amazing. God had quite literally directed that man to us to give us our keys. And so I knew that God could give us Sarah's keys when we first lost them, but He chose not to. He chose not to remove this "trial," so to speak. And what's more is that we were given these keys the moment we actually needed them to go home.
What Was That All About?
I knew God had His purposes in this day, but I wondered what they were. Why was it that God hid those keys from us all that time when He was more than capable of giving them to us in the beginning? What was God trying to teach Sarah and me? This day was a parable, something intended to give us greater spiritual understanding. I knew it, but I didn't know what the lesson was. What was God trying to show us? I wondered.
On the way home, I silently prayed, What was that all about, Jesus? And then I sort of just left it alone. I knew there was something to this day, but I honestly didn't have the energy to seek after God's intent. I was weary enough with the other trials in my life, and so I figured God would show me if He intended that I know. And sure enough, it took the whole drive, but as I drove up and over the hill into Reno, it struck me.
God had allowed a trial to enter our day. He could have removed it, but He didn't. He had a purpose in it. He allowed that trial to stay with us throughout the day. We could have chosen to keep our eye on our circumstances instead of God. We could have allowed the waves of the storm to distract us from our mission. We could have let it ruin our day. But by the grace of God we didn't. We chose joy in the midst of trial. And at just the right time, God chose to remove it. He made all things right at just the right time. The moment we were ready to go home, God gave us our keys. He removed our trial.
"I get it," I said.
God had given both Sarah and I a parable for how to live our lives through the storms we were currently living. We were right where God wanted us. But we needed to take our eyes off of our circumstances. We needed to place our attention on Jesus. We needed to endure the storm. And not only endure, but to chose to receive joy and peace from God in the midst of it. And at just the right time, God would remove it. He would redeem it. He would use it for our good and His glory. It would strengthen us. It would allow us to grow in our relationship with Jesus. To reflect our Lord and Savior just a bit more.
There is purpose in the storms of this life. Hold onto that. And remember who your God is. Remember that He is for you. That He love you. That He only allows that which He intends to use for your good in your life. Our God is a redeemer. Trust Him in your storms. Press in. Hold on. And in the right time, He will more assuredly bring you to the other side.