She sat across from me with tears in her eyes, her story slowly taking the form of words and painting a picture in my mind. I’d heard it before, but never in such detail or feeling. This time was different. This time, it meant something.
We weren’t intentionally going to share our deepest and most painful experiences. Our gathering was so I could help her with writing a story for school, but as I picked through clothes and clutter of my room in preparation for college, I began sharing the events of the last week with her. How I’d cried when my two best friends left for college. How I’ve stayed up until three a.m. or later because I’ve been texting them and seeking their validation. She listened well. She always does.
As my story came to a close, I sat on the end stool of a chair in my room and faced her. We looked at her laptop and realized I took up an hour telling her my struggles. It was time to refocus.
Neither of us realized in that moment, however, how significant my rawness had been. Neither of us could have anticipated where the night would lead.
The rawness was a door for her tragedy to be made beautiful. For her to be honest, to trust again. To share with someone else what’s happened to her.
I’m never afraid when I’m with her. I’m not afraid to be myself or say what I want to. There’s a freedom with her, a freedom to encourage her without being told I can’t, to speak words of truth and life and hope over her and know she’ll fully accept them. I have friends I feel uncomfortable encouraging or saying they are loved and celebrated and accepted. Why? Maybe because in them I seek my validation and don’t feel confident in myself to say much. I’m not really sure.
But she. She has always been different. I’d forgotten until yesterday how we first started talking. She was closing that night at work, and I had stayed behind because the rest of the group was going to Waffle House afterwards. Somehow I wound up in the dining room where she was cleaning tables, and I started telling her about my story from the last eight months of my life and the end of high school. A friend had already told me about her, told me about everything that’d happened to her and how she became someone she was not. But I wanted to hear it from her lips now.
And slowly, she opened up. She didn’t tell me much that first night, but she told me enough to give me an opportunity to speak truth into her. I told her she was loved and that that situation didn’t define her. I told her she was worthy, she was good, she was accepted. She broke into tears and couldn’t keep cleaning, so she stood with the broom propping her up as she gripped onto it and gripped onto every one of my words.
I realized in that moment how powerful words are, how you can either let them tear other people down, use them to speak clichés, or use them to speak truth. That’s something that’s always bothered me about people, when someone deeply needs encouragement and instead we try to give them a quick fix or something to sustain them since we ourselves know we cannot handle their problems. The thing is, we aren’t supposed to handle their problems. We’re supposed to be beacons of hope. Life-bringers. Grace-givers. Our words should fill their minds with the truth of who they are, not reminders of their mistakes or degrading who they are as human beings.
I used to know someone who took pleasure in tearing people down when someone wronged them. They saw another person’s flaws and would magnify them to whoever was around, and they weren’t afraid to talk trash about them, to their face or behind their back. I hate people like that because they forget that they’re talking to or about someone who is just like them, someone who experiences life and wants acceptance just as much as the person trash-talking.
I knew people had condemned my sweet friend, and it made me all the angrier. Looking at my friend as she sobbed in the dining room, as the words of hate and darkness choked her with fear, I decided to become her voice, to become her shield and defender. She had lost her confidence and her strength, and I had been created for that moment to be what she needed most: love.
And so on the night she shared with me the entire story that changed the whole game, the one I looked directly into her eyes and told her, “You have a beautiful story”, on that night, I gave my key away.
For eight months, I have worn a Giving Key. It’s an organization that promotes telling your story at some point with someone and then giving the key away. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter when, so long as you share your story. I’m not sure if it’s a Christian organization, but it definitely has Christian undertones, and besides, I’m a storyteller. I like stories. I like details. I like ironies.
I bought my key at the Passion Conference this past January, and I remember the fervor at which I prayed God would bring someone into my life I could give my key to. I had trouble keeping faith in Him as the year moved on because my life began to take a turn as well. I was changing. I no longer wanted anything to do with God, and I reached a point where I was not afraid to say I was either going to follow Him or I was walking away. I wanted authenticity, I needed authenticity. But I still wore my key. At that point, it was for jewelry purposes, but I would still touch it and grip on to it.
I always said that key has seen everything and been everywhere with me.
The key has been a constant. It’s my story in a tangible symbol. And I had lost hope on ever finding someone worthy enough to give it to.
I don’t remember the exact words I was saying when I realized she was the one, but I was in the middle of a sentence when I felt my spirit stir. And I knew. Immediately, without hesitation. It all made sense. She was the one who was meant to have my key. All the months of encountering people, whether strangers or friends, and questioning if they were the one, finally climaxed at this moment and I knew all along, she was the one to have this key. I just never knew it.
Without hesitation, the tears started falling, as I stood up and grabbed my key and realized I would never wear it again. I walked over to her, and in a trembling voice began telling what the key was and why it was significant. Her tears came too.
She had felt so unworthy, and yet she was the most worthy of them all to carry my story.
In the quietness of my bedroom, our stories of toxicity and dysfunction hanging in the air above us, I gave my key to her. I told her it was a reminder that I survived these last eight months of drama, and that there is still hope. She is entering her senior year scared and hopeless because someone stole her hope. But in the key, I told her she could find life again. I was able to share God’s love with her too and told her how much He loved her. She listened intently, and even though she didn’t respond and say she wanted to follow Jesus, I knew without a doubt she’d taken the words to heart because we’d built a relationship of trust.
And I realize I never would have had this opportunity had these hard things not happened. That’s what this all hinges on. My story would not have been able to impact hers had I not been hurt. So this whole time, from the moment I received my key and started praying over it, God knew this would happen because two months after everything climaxed and died down, I would meet someone who needed my key.
I saw her the next day and we said our official goodbyes before I leave for college. She was wearing the key. I have no doubt she’s going to wear it. It’s hard, I’ll be honest, because I reach up to grab it only to find it’s not there anymore and I won’t have a key for a while. I want another key, absolutely. Who knows when I’ll get one again, though. We’ll see.
But I don’t regret it. Not at all. She, the most unworthy of them all, was worthy. She was worthy of the key, worthy of all love and truth and hope. She was enough. She is enough. And I hope with all of my heart that this year will be a turn around for her, that she will meet people who pour grace into her heart and fill her mind with true things about her, not lies. I hope she won’t seek validation in the wrong crowd like I did. I hope she will be fearless to stand up for herself, to make decisions that may seem hard in the moment but so worth it.
She’s going to be okay. I have faith in God He will provide for her and what He began in her will be completed and it will be a good plan. It is a good plan already, a rocky road sprinkled in grace. (that was not supposed to sound like a commercial for ice cream…) I have faith because He did the same for me. He was faithful to me this year, even when I wasn’t, and He gave me all the more grace (James 4:6). He’s going to do the same for her.
The key is proof of that. The key is proof of His grace and faithfulness. My story is attached to it, and now she’s going to have a story too. And it’s going to be so good.
For more information on the Giving Keys organization: