Spare Keys

Last Friday started early for me. I work part time at a publishing house, but to pay rent I also work as a barista at a coffee shop in town. I love the work; it’s fun, fairly mindless and mostly low-stress. It also gives me an opportunity to drink free coffee three days a week. Most of my days at the coffee shop are pretty rehearsed—we keep a steady pace of business with a few rushes here and there at random times.

But on Friday of last week, the morning shift that I was working was absolutely crazy. Everyone and their mom was leaving to go on vacation before the kids went back to school, and apparently, every parent needed a caffeine boost before getting on the road.

The line was almost out the door into the summer heat, we were all working like mad to keep drinks coming from behind the counter. Coffee grinds were flying, espresso shots were being pulled and I was trying to keep the line of people moving at the register.

Smile, take order, take money, give receipt. Smile, take order, take money, give receipt. The pattern was mind numbing and the faces started blurring together. Even the customers that I knew, like Greta and Tom, didn’t stand out. I had to ask Greta twice what drink she was ordering, when I have known for four months that she never fails to order a medium skim latte with whip cream. After about twenty exhausting minutes of the same pace, the line started to thin out.

Into my vision came Mr. Suspenders, a short, balding man in a smart ensemble of gray slacks and a crisp baby-blue button-down Oxford. His red tie was flanked by two red suspenders. I had never seen him in the store before, and he was obviously out of his comfort zone. He not only ordered a juice, he looked me in the eyes. I tried to start a conversation.

“Good morning!” I said cheerily. “How a—”

“Morning.” He started fumbling with his wallet, searching for some one dollar bills in the pile of fifties I could see peeking out.

I tried again. “How are you today?”

“Horrible actually.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. My car broke down this morning so I got dropped off. The coworker I met here has her car in the shop, too. We were both expecting the other person to drive and so now we have to be across town in ten minutes and the cab won’t get here for thirty.”

“Do you want to borrow my car?” What?!? My hand flew to my mouth in shock and I had to pretend to cough. Did those words just come out of my mouth?

Without flinching, Mr. Suspenders nodded. “Yes.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card, scribbling his cell phone number on it. I reached into my pocket and handed him my car key.

“It’s the red one, two rows over.” I pointed toward the left. “I get off at noon, so—”

“We’ll be back in an hour and a half. Thanks.”

And that was it. In the span of two minutes I had offered my car to a total stranger and then given him my keys. He drove off with a woman in a black suit and I watched my car turn onto the main highway by our shop. I started to think that maybe I had made a mistake. He could have given me a bogus card, slapped down any number that came to mind. How fast can the police track a stolen car? He couldn’t change my license plate that fast, could he?

Dan looked at me incredulously. “Are you kidding me?”

“Do you know him?” Jen asked.

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I shook my head. “No.” The store had quieted down. Jen was a Christian, I knew. “I just felt that nudge, you know? I felt like Jesus probably would have offered the guy his car, and the words just came out of my mouth before I could think about it.”

“Cool.” Jen turned to make some more coffee. Dan was still shaking his head.

“He’ll come back, right?” I was getting worried again. The fear came in little waves.

“Of course he will.” Jen handed me a filter.

Making another pot of coffee, I was reminded of a similar event that took place last summer when I was backpacking around Europe with some friends. In Marseilles, France, we met a New Zealand couple who was short on cash. I felt that same nudge, and so I offered to loan them fifty euros. They were very grateful and promised to meet me the next morning by the fish market to repay me after cashing a traveler’s cheque. The next day at the fish market, the couple was no where to be found. I waited for over an hour, but in my gut I knew that they had ripped me off. I started praying, asking the Lord to somehow restore the money that I had given away in faith, because I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the rest of our nine-week journey without that money.

Three weeks later in Florence, I was walking down an empty side street with my friend Michelle. It was a windy day, and it felt like rain was coming. As we were walking, I spotted a twenty euro note literally stuck on the ground, unaffected by the rising wind. Looking around, I saw no one else on the street. I turned to Michelle and asked her what she thought we should do with it. She picked up the money and placed it in my hand, reminding me of the prayers that I had almost forgotten about. It wasn’t exactly what I had given away, but it was just as much as I needed.

Starting the timer on the coffee, I pulled Mr. Suspender’s business card out of my pocket. His name was Frank. Well, I mused, if Frank didn’t bring the car back I guess I would just wait on God and see what He would bring back to me. Maybe it would be a bike or a skateboard or something.

At 11:30 on the dot, Mr. Suspenders rolled back into the parking lot with Ms. Business Suit and made his way into the store. He shook my hand and thanked me for the use of my vehicle, insisting that I take the $20 bill he was shoving into my palm. I thanked him and then introduced myself. “Frank.” He said in return. “I’ll see you around.”

I’m still not sure why I was supposed to offer that man the use of my car—it wasn’t some great evangelistic opportunity or anything like that. Mostly, I think it was just obedience to the One that gave me the car, an opportunity for me to release my death grip on one of the things in my life. Newly married, my husband and I are short on money, so losing a car would have been a big blow to us financially. But I guess losing a chance to be obedient might have been worse. Thankfully, I didn’t have to figure that out this time. In the future I might have to, although I’m not going to make it a practice of loaning my cars to complete strangers. At least, I don’t think so. But who knows. Another crazy morning at the coffee shop just might give me the opportunity again.

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