Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Key Card Miracle

Kendra invited us to reflect on miracles today, so here goes!
Preface:
I did a dumb thing in 2012.   When we lived on a rural property where we thought we could do burn piles, I decided to burn all of my journals from 2003 onward.  I did this because I was tired of schlepping them around from house to house on all of our many moves, and because I was not sure I really wanted them to be around for posterity. So, in a fit of downsizing pique, I burned them.  It was somewhat cathartic, and most of the time I don't regret it…but now I wish I had taken the time to go through them and pull out some of the pages that were worth keeping to reflect on.  I wish I had kept the story of the Key Card Miracle.  I think I may even have it typed up…somewhere, on some flash drive, maybe.  It happened in 2003/2004ish, and I'm going to do my best to recount it.  

What a key card is:
At St. John's College, all students were issued small credit card-sized plastic key cards, which had our pictures on them, and these cards were waved in front of sensors on the doors of all the dorms and on the classroom buildings after hours.  They also were waved at the dining hall to keep track of our meal plan usage.  In short, if you lost it, you were in a bit of a bind until you could have a replacement made.  

The story:
It was during the winter of my sophomore year.  I don't remember if it was before or after winter break.  I woke up early to the sound of my alarm and shut it off, groaning about too little sleep the night before.  My alarm had gone off extra early because there was a gym workout for crew that morning, which I was expected to attend, even though this was the off-season.  I lay in bed, sleepily entertaining the tempting thought of "accidentally" sleeping through practice, when suddenly a very clear and coherent phrase came into my head.  "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."  Whaaa?  I recognized that it was a Bible verse, although it was not one that I had recently read.  The clarity of the thought and its appearance out of the blue startled me, and I wondered what it could mean.  Surely there was nothing terribly impressive and glorious to God about going to the gym at 7 AM to do a workout with my fellow crewbies.  But the phrase kept repeating itself in my head, so I got out of bed and prepared to head to the gym, all the while wondering what might come from being there.  
I don't remember--a decade later now--if anything marvelous happened that morning at crew practice.  I don't think anything did, but I came away feeling as though I had at least done the good work of showing up when I was supposed to instead of sleeping through it and then lying about it.  
Fast-forward to that evening.  It was, I think, a Thursday, because it was a seminar night.  At St. John's, Monday and Thursday nights from 8-10 everyone is in seminars by grade level.  As it happened, the sophomores had just begun reading excerpts from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, which I was really not enjoying.  We had started out with Question One, which deals a lot with whether or not theology is a science.  I think I felt that St. Thomas was too logical and scientific in his approach to thinking about God, and his way of setting out his arguments in such a flowchart fashion (as it seemed to me) really rubbed me the wrong way.  "Who does he think he is?" I remember thinking (and perhaps saying)  "Does he really think he can categorize everything there is to know about God so neatly?"  It ticked me off.  
After seminar my friends and I went to the "coffee shop" (such a grand name for such a small but useful purveyor of pizza, snacks, sodas, and coffee) in the basement of McDowell Hall and talked for some time about what we had discussed in seminar.  I shared with them the fine use to which I had put my brainpower during seminar, namely, writing a rap based on Question Two, Third Article: Whether God Exists?  I bet you all want to hear that rap, don't you?  Maybe at the end I'll share it.  
Anyway, after some good chats we all headed our separate ways and my friend and roommate Kat and I went back to the fourth floor of Pinkney. When I had gotten back to my room, I discovered that I had lost something important.  [Here is where I'm kicking myself for burning that journal, because I can't remember exactly what I had lost, but it was something that the loss of which agitated me greatly.  Wallet, perhaps?]  
I looked through my room in all the usual places: desk, backpack, bed, floor.  Not finding it, I decided the best thing to do would be to retrace my steps until I had found the lost item.  I went out and walked back, back, back.  It wasn't on the steps in Pinkney, nor was it in the coffee shop, nor was it on the ground outside.  I walked back until I got to Mellon Hall, the building in which my seminar room was located.  It was now probably close to 11 PM at this point, so I needed my key card to get in.  I swiped my keycard in front of the sensor pad and waited for the little red light to turn green and the door to unlatch.  
Nothing happened.  
I tried again.  Again, nothing happened.  I tried several times.  The key card had just worked to get into Pinkney…it had been working all day.  It had never NOT worked, as far as I could remember.  I tried every possible way to hold it.  I tried swiping it at different speeds.  I tried holding the door as I swiped it, hoping to force it open.  Nothing was working at all.  
By this point, I was near tears.  It was late, I had to get up early the next day, I still had homework to do, and my wallet (or phone, or whatever it was) was locked away in a classroom that I SHOULD be able to access if only my stupid key card was working.  I was so agitated, so mad about the whole thing.  And then, I suddenly had the thought, "You're doing the very thing you accused St. Thomas of doing…trying to control God, pin Him down, quantify Him and make Him do your logical bidding.  You can't control Him; you can't even control common objects like a key card."  I sighed.  "Okay, God," I said aloud.  "I can't control this door or this key card, and I don't know where the [lost thing] is.  But I know You can.  If it is your will, could you please make my key card work again so I can at least go and check in Mellon?"  
I swiped the keycard again.  The little green light went on and the door unlatched.  There was nothing I had done that was physically different in the action of swiping the card, but for some reason, it took.  I was spooked, but went inside.  I felt certain that I would find the missing thing…after all, God had seen fit to miraculously let me in, hadn't He?  But although the obstacle of the key card had been overcome, alas, my missing item was still missing.  I was pretty shaken up by the recent events.  I went back to my room.  As I sat at my desk, pondering the key card incident and wondering if there was a reasonable, scientific, logical explanation (ha, all those things I had been annoyed with St. Thomas for trying to employ!), I had another thought occur to look somewhere in the room [again, I can't remember the exact location]. I do remember that the thought seemed unreasonable, because I had already pawed through everything in my room…but the thought remained.  I silently prayed, "Okay, God, you provided a way to get the key card to work.  Now, can this please be where the [lost thing] is hiding?"  I looked in the place indicated by the thought and found the missing item.  
At this point I was just feeling all tingly with surprise and not a little bit of fear. I called Kat over from her side of the room (there was a partial wall dividing our double) and told her the whole story.  After telling her, I remembered the verse that had been on my mind when I woke up.  I looked it up in my Bible.  The phrase I had "heard" in my mind in the morning turned out to be John 15:8, and when I read the verses preceding it, everything got weirder:
John 15:5-8, NIV
Neither Kat (who was not a Christian but believed in some kind of higher power) nor I could get over the "ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you."  It seemed so relevant to both the key card not working and then suddenly working after I had prayed, and also with the lost thing being found after prayer.  I called my friend Jonathan over and told him the whole story.  The three of us marveled about it, and I think we even praised God in prayer.  It was a late night when I finally went to bed, but I felt like Mary, who "treasured up all of these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19).  Among the mundane events of the day, a miracle or two had occurred; of that I was certain. 
I still have the text of Summa Theologica excerpts, which I consulted in the writing of this post.  On the following week's reading, I wrote a margin note saying "keycards!" next to the passage which read, "As God works miracles in corporeal things, so also He does supernatural wonders above the common order, raising the minds of some living in the flesh, but who forego the use of the senses, even up to the vision of His own essence…" (Question 12, Article 11)

Conclusion: So, does this count as a miracle?  I think so, even though it is not nearly as dramatic as some others I know of.  But it affected me, and perhaps Kat and Jonathan on some level, and I still remember it with gratitude and awe.  It really did happen, and it really was a God thing.  A key card is a small, corporeal thing, and making it work was a means to an end…the end being softening my heart and teaching me something about God.  I'm thankful that it happened, and I'm thankful that there is nothing in this material realm beyond God's sovereign touch.  

Bonus Miracle Story: This one is more recent and falls again into that category of, "Hmm, it could just be a coincidence…or not."  I had emailed Kendra and asked her a question about saints and specifically patron saints.  I told her in the email that ever since reading St. Augustine's Confessions I had admired his mother St. Monica for her incredible tenacity in prayer.  She prayed passionately for her son's conversion for years before seeing him come to faith.  "If I were going to have a patron saint, I would pick Monica," I wrote.  A day or two later, Jennifer put up a random saint-of-the-year generator on her website.  "Hey, cool, let's see what I get," I thought.  I clicked the button, and the screen prompted me to ask God to direct me towards a saint who might have something to teach me in 2014, which I did.  I clicked the next button and who should appear on my screen but…St. Monica!  Out of 300 saints in the program Jennifer made, I got the very one that I had been thinking about!  [insert "Twilight Zone" music here.]  But it gets better!  I decided to see which saint Allen should learn from in 2014, and so I went through the process again on his behalf.  It came up with St. Joseph, who just happens to be the patron saint of fathers (of course, Allen is one) and carpenters…and Allen just started a carpentry apprenticeship in October!  [more "Twilight Zone" music, please, maestro.]  So yes, it could totally be coincidence.  I did the math…there was a 0.33% chance that I would get St. Monica.  Statistically possible, obviously, but highly unlikely.  Divine intervention?  I'd say so.  St. Monica is the patron of married women, which obviously fits!  I hope that I can emulate her faithfulness in prayer this year and her kindness, which was supposedly so great as to aid in the eventual conversion of her husband and mother-in-law (thankfully I don't have to convert my husband or mother-in-law).  
A final thought:

“If you have hitherto disbelieved in miracles, it is worth pausing a moment to consider whether this is not chiefly because you thought you had discovered what the story was really about?—that atoms, and time and space and economics and politics were the main plot? And is it certain you were right? It is easy to make mistakes in such matters.” 

― C.S. LewisMiracles

3 comments:

  1. What a cool story. Sometimes those seemingly mundane miracles have the biggest impact on us. Which is why it's so important to be listening all the time.

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  2. That's a great story! I love the tingly feeling part. Where even though there IS a natural explanation that could account for it, it just FEELS like more than that. Mysterious ways indeed.

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  3. I love the little miracles! I had a Saint Generator "miracle" in 2012. I was going to enter the church at the Easter Vigil that year and was determined that my confirmation saint would be St. Therese. In January when I did the generator I received St. Therese. I took it as a confirmation. Totally with you on that one!

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