About four years ago I was going through a transition that wasn’t easy to say the least. I was hurt, angry and extremely confused with who I was as a person and what my purpose was in life. This transition took a toll on my faith because I couldn’t understand “why” I was forced to go through such heartache. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point! Somewhere along the way I picked up ‘Lock and Key’ a novel by Sarah Dessen and I swear to you flipping through those pages is what helped me get up every morning.
Lock and Key taught me one of the most valuable lessons in life: a key can lock as well as open any door. Think of how you would feel if you walked down a neighborhood street and every single house had the front door wide open...of course you would be curious. But why aren’t we equally as curious when we walk down the street and all of the doors are closed?
This novel encouraged me to stop looking at things with one point of view. When things change, don’t look at what you’re leaving (and locking in the door behind you); instead look at what you’re gaining (and all of the possibilities that are ahead of the new door you’re about to unlock). I became so fascinated with keys I eventually got a tattoo of a skeleton key on my right wrist to remind me that when things change, look at the new door that’s unlocking instead of the one that I’ve already locked.
Fast forward about four years to June 2013…
About a week before I was leaving to do a study on female empowerment and teach journal writing to students in Uganda, Africa, one of my good friends sent me a letter of encouragement, along with a giving key that read the word faith. I thought the gesture was of course thoughtful and with my love for keys, I immediately hung it around my neck. Over the years my friends have given me key cards, key earrings, a lock and key Juicy necklace… I even scored a key bottle opener a few years back! But it wasn’t until this past June that keys once again changed the way I went about my every day life.
Before making our way to the St. Lawrence School in Migyera, we spent a few days in Nabbingo working with St. Josephs Primary School, which is where I had the opportunity to introduce journal writing to about twelve students. Prior to this experience, I had never taught to a group of students before so I really had no idea what I was doing. I started by passing out the journals and asked them to write their name and grade/class on the first page. After that, I asked them, “Now if I put my thumb over your name, what on this page would describe you?” This was not an easy task but eventually the students understood the concept and began to jot down the town they were born in, how many siblings they had, and so on.
I went down the row and showed the students the key I was wearing around my neck and explained why keys were so important to me. Surprisingly, they understood and loved the idea that a key doesn’t only lock a door, it also opens one. I continued by explaining how my key said "faith" and asked if they each had a key necklace, what word would they choose to have and why?
From St. Joseph’s School we traveled three hours to Migyera and stayed in the girl’s dormitory of St. Lawrence’s School. (I knew we would be staying with them before we left and I wanted to leave a parting gift behind, so I came prepared.) I introduced journal writing to about 50 kids at the second school and started with the same "key" exercise… the kids loved it.
Throughout my three week stay in Uganda with no electricity, plumbing, or communication to friends and family, I have to admit what got me through many nights was knowing I only had a few days left before returning home to a bed, a shower, and my puppy. Now being home for two months, my key of faith is what gets me through the day-to-day emptiness of what I left behind. Hearing stories about young girls in Africa is one thing, reading Half the Sky or watching lifetime movies are a few others, but sitting and listening to a 13 year old girl tell you what she has been through changes your heart forever. You’re not only listening to the stories but you’re putting a voice to these stories, a personality to these stories. You’re listening to a young girl who is beautiful inside and out, someone who has such an amazing outlook on life she inspires you, someone who deserves everything you have and more. This girl with big brown eyes and a wide smile of white teeth is sitting across from you telling you what she’s been through, and at this point you know what struggles she will soon have to go through and all you can do is listen. And for her, someone listening is something she has most likely never experienced before.
My first night staying in the girls’ dormitory I told the girls about my family; I have one mom, one dad, one brother and a bunch of animals. They were speechless… mostly because they come from families with high numbers, something along the lines of 10 brothers and 6 sisters. Imagine!?!?!
My last night in the dormitory, after spending every hour with them the past three weeks tucking in their shirts, holding their tiny hands and listening to their stories I dreaded saying goodbye. I explained to them how excited I was to get back home to my one brother but I was also heart broken to leave my 55 sisters. Their faces brought tears to my eyes! I thanked them for all they had taught me in our time together, and let them know how great of an impact they had on me.
I wanted them to know that they would always have a special place in my heart (as cliché as that may sound). I reminded them of the words they chose for their key when they wrote in their journals and how important it was to remember that there are so many doors waiting to be opened. I gave them each a key necklace (a friend of mine had bought 60 old house keys from home depot prior to departure) and asked them to wear their key every day to remind them that no matter what the situation, no matter how many odds are against them, they hold the key to their future. All they need is a little faith.
I came home still wearing my faith key and only took it off about a week ago when I passed it along to a friend and co-worker who I thought needed the reminder to keep on keepin' on. She is going through a challenging time constantly asking why and questioning her purpose in life. I gave her the key hoping it will remind her that there are many doors waiting to be unlocked. Each door she unlocks will be a milestone in her life and 80 years from now she will be able to answer her own question of "why."
My giving key is no longer around my neck but serves as a daily reminder for me and my 55 African sisters to have a little faith.