By Rote: Keys to the Kingdom

Bringing (Daily) Life to Scripture Memorization

It was one of those little hassles that had evolved into a significant source of stress: a missing car key.  We had just bought a used Prius, but at the time of purchase, the dealership couldn’t find the second, very expensive, fob. No worries, said the salesman. They’d find it and mail it to us within the next couple of days.


Days passed. Then weeks. Phone calls from my husband went unreturned until he finally pulled out a threat—the big guns of bad Yelp reviews—to get the dealer to agree to make us a new key. But we had to drive 60 miles down there to get it.

To lend a bit of purpose to an otherwise wasted day on congested Chicago tollways, I applied a temporary scripture tattoo to my wrist. I chose it from an envelope and applied it without looking, as I’ve gotten in the habit of doing, peeling off the backing to reveal the following:

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ ”  (Col. 2:2 NIV).

It’s a fine enough verse, but I had hoped for something about patience or suffering or persecution, words to vindicate and comfort me as I drove through two counties to get what those shysters owed me.

But the day ended up being about much more than the key.

It’s a fine enough verse, but I had hoped for something about patience or suffering or persecution, words to vindicate and comfort me.

Because I already had to drive south, I decided to visit Melissa, a friend on hospital bed rest for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and a host of other health challenges that kept her and her baby of 33 weeks under constant watch. I headed down I-94 and I-294, glancing at my wrist when traffic slowed. Encouraged in heart and united in love. Encouraged in heart and united in love. Admittedly, my scripture plan for the day seemed forced.

I stopped by a Mediterranean restaurant before navigating a parking garage and winding obstetrics hallways to knock tentatively on Melissa’s door, a bag of falafel in hand. I found her lying on her side wearing a Bears shirt, her hair in a messy bun that still managed to look fashionable. Monitors crisscrossed her belly.

“Hey,” she said, with the exhaustion of a mother raising three adolescents, a mother who had survived stage-four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma several years ago and now found herself pregnant—surprise!—but joyfully so.

“Want some food?” I plopped a carryout container onto her tray.

“Later, maybe. I can’t sit up with all these straps on me.”

Melissa told me the story of her bed rest, how she’d been taken by ambulance from her work to the hospital after showing signs of distress, then had gotten transferred to a different hospital equipped with a high-level NICU department.

Before long, though, we arrived on the subject of children already walking, or more accurately, stomping, the earth: teenagers. We compared experiences of our girls’ struggles with anxiety, depression, and friends—how middle school wrings them out to dry.

“Hang on,” she said. “High school gets better. You’ll both make it.”

Over the past several months of trying to memorize Scripture, I’ve discovered the power of single words to move me, even when my memory fails.

As I sat there, able-bodied and well rested, eating my hummus (I couldn't wait), my friend encouraged me when all along I thought I’d be the one playing the role of pastoral counselor. I glanced at the inside of my wrist again. I had yet to memorize the whole verse, but key words were already starting to work their way in: encouraged, heart, united, love, riches, understanding, mystery, Christ. Over the past several months of trying to memorize Scripture, I’ve discovered the power of single words to move me, even when my memory fails.

I told Melissa about the saga of the missing key, how I had to put my life on hold to drive 60 miles to retrieve it. She understood. Life can be a challenge sometimes, the cancer-surviving, full-time working wife of a gang-outreach minister, and soon-to-be-mother of four assured me. The small things can be the worst.

As I plunged a stuffed grape leaf into the hummus, a doctor knocked perfunctorily before swinging open the door and wheeling in an ultrasound machine. “Time to get a look,” he said.

“I get to see him?” I asked.

“Yep,” Melissa smiled, and laughed as the doctor squeezed blue gelin the shape of a smiley face on her tummy.

“There’s his foot,” he said, moving the probe around. “And another one. There are the four chambers of the heart. Let’s check the fluids.”

After determining that everything was looking fine, the doctor treated us to a slow, onscreen journey from eyeball to nose to upper and lower lip. The heartbeat swooshed and waved across the bottom of the monitor. I felt my body grow warm and heavy as I watched the baby boy float there, relaxed because he knew no better.

This was the moment when the mystery of Christ entered my day. Not the “miracle of life,” wondrous as that is, but the peace that comes when I least expect it, an awareness of events and lives that will grow and go on, mercifully, without me.

This spring day of missing keys and lost productivity would vanish into the grace of eternity. My friend and her baby and I would unite in love over broken pita. As I understood richly, all would be well.


Art by Jeff Gregory

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2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself,

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