As soon as the door shut, I knew what had happened. Our back sliding-door is a bit on the finicky side. It is easy to unlock it far enough to get outside, but not have the lock in the un-locked position. When the door is shut, it locks the door. This happened to me once a couple of months ago, but my wife was inside the house and able (and willing) to let me back in. This time was different. My wife went to Texas, and thought that it would be OK to leave me home alone (will she never learn?!?).
On Sunday evening around 7:00 PM I took the dog outside. I was surprised to find that the last time that I used the door I had not shut it all the way. I was wondering why I did that, and when I went outside I slid it firmly shut. In that instant I knew that I was locked outside! I was wearing my sweatpants, and didn’t have any keys on me. I tried the door, and my fear was confirmed. I then checked other doors and windows to see if anything was left unlocked. It turned out that I did a really good job locking up the house!
As Christians, do bad things ever happen to us? At each of my churches I liked to say that as a pastor nothing bad ever happened to me—only sermon illustrations happened! Evidently, this theory also applies to district newsletters. Over the years, I have talked to many new Christians who were surprised that bad, or difficult, things continued to happen to them. From my perspective, what changes when we become a Christian is how we respond to challenging situations (even the words we choose to use can start to change!).
One response is looking for the blessings in the situation. What kind of blessing can there be when we are locked out of the house while it is getting dark and cold? One blessing is that I live in Arizona, where our definition of cold is different than many places! Another blessing is that I had my phone in my pocket. My first call was to a friend who is a retired engineer. His team was just finishing winning a March Madness basketball game, so he was able to come over to help me. Together we looked at the options. My first plan was to break a window, but I’m pretty aware how expensive double-paned windows are. I also felt like there was a fair chance that I would cut myself on the glass, and end up in the hospital. My friend confirmed that a lock-smith was a better plan. It turns out that it is difficult to find a lock-smith on a Sunday evening in the Sahuarita/Green Valley area. This is when I started praying harder!
Using my phone, I found a lock-smith referral service that advertised being a 24 hour/7 day/week service. I called them, and they sent a lock-smith to me from Tucson. This is how I met Blake. It was a 35 minute trip for Blake to get to my house. He said that if I was locked out of my car, he probably wouldn’t have come. Then he said that when someone is locked out of their house, he always comes. After looking at a couple of different locks, Blake chose his target. It took him about 2 minutes to pick the lock and let me inside.
Another Christian response is to trust that God can use all things for good. How could my being locked out of the house on a cold, dark, Sunday evening be used for good? One way is that I was able to have a nice, long, visit with my friend. My friend mentioned to Blake that I’m a pastor. It’s a little bit harder to then explain to someone outside of our system what I do as a District Superintendent (come to think of it, it’s not always easy to explain what I do to someone within our system!). Right before Blake left is when the twist happened. Blake asked me where I attended church that morning, and said that he needed to start attending church again. He didn’t know anything about the United Methodist Church, but he did know that he misses being a part of a church. He said that it is hard to attend being an independent contractor who is always on call. I gave Blake one of my cards (since I could go inside again!), and told him that if he wants to go to church to call me. I’ll come into Tucson, and we can go together. That way he will have someone to sit with. I don’t know if Blake will ever call, though at that moment I felt sure that God was working out a plan that was bigger than anything I could come up with. I was also very grateful that Blake took credit cards, since I didn’t have enough cash to pay off my bill!
In the grand scheme of things, being locked out of the house is a small problem. These small problems, though, help to strengthen our faith so that we will be better prepared for the big problems. Even the huge problems appear different when we view them through our Christian lens.
Your brother on the journey, Mark