In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells a group of tax collectors and “sinners” three parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.

Either one of the three had the potential of remaining lost. The sheep that had wandered away certainly could have met an untimely end from a wild beast. The lost coin could have been dropped somewhere and picked up by someone else. The prodigal son’s father could reasonably assume his son would never return.

However, in all three instances the lost was found.

Also, in all three instances there was great rejoicing after the lost was found.


A little over a week ago, my editor suggested the time had come for me to write another blog. I told her there was no thought or idea worthy of becoming a blog currently residing in my brain.

However, I planned to go on a hike the following day on a bike/hiking trail in the neighboring town. Perhaps a walk would shake something loose.

The bike path I walk is a level blacktop trail through trees, fields, and swamps. I often run or walk on it, as do Amish horses and buggies, hundreds of bicycles, and other hikers and runners.

The next day, I breathed a prayer to God for some thought or idea worthy of a blog, and determined to do a five-mile walk.

I had gone two and a half miles and started my return walk to my car. Still no thought worthy of a line here had made its appearance.

For reasons unknown to me, I paused on the trail and inspected my surroundings. On either side of me were swamps.

Again, for reasons unknown, I glanced down at the pavement. Directly beneath me on the trail lay a key. It looked like a post office key except that instead of the normal brass color, it was blackened. It blended in so well with the surface of the trail that the only way to see it was to be right over it.

I believed someone from that neighboring town might have dropped the key. I determined to take it to that post office the next day and turn it in.

You see, I had lost my own post office key two years ago. That was unusual, since I rarely misplace items. I carry my key in my front left pants pocket. I don’t like bulky key rings, so that method has served me well for many years.

One day two years ago, I arrived at the post office to retrieve my mail, and much to my chagrin, there was no key in that pocket.

I searched my house, much like the lady did in Luke 15, but with different results. Therefore, I could not invite my friends and neighbors to “rejoice with me, I have found my key.”

I also searched every crack and crevasse in my car, seeking where that key might be hiding.

I finally resorted to purchasing another key from the postmaster, but I still occasionally wondered what could possibly have happened to that key.

So I sympathized with whoever now was searching for their own key. I would turn it into the post office, and perhaps the great rejoicing that had eluded me would come to someone else.

When I arrived home that day, my mind was still on my discovery on the trail. I thought again of my own missing key from two years back. On a whim, I matched the found key to my current post office key. It almost looked like a match.

But there was no way possible that it could be my lost key.

Nevertheless, I took it along the next morning and inserted it into the lock on my mail box.

It fit perfectly. And what a shock when I turned it and my box opened.

Two days later, I was again walking on the trail when I heard a loud noise approaching. The trail maintainer was headed toward me with a tractor with a blower attached. Several times a month, he blows leaves and branches off to the side of the trail.

I flagged him down and showed him the key and told him the story. He was in disbelief and told me he has often plowed snow from the trail over the last two winters, and the blower itself should have blown that key into the swamp!

Apparently, I had received a phone call that day two years ago, and when I removed the phone from my pocket, the key must have fallen out.

How it remained on that spot over two winters and summers, being passed by perhaps thousands of bikers and hikers, holding its ground while snow plows and blowers passed over it, is a mystery to me.

Another mystery is what God was trying to teach me. Jesus often told parables that the disciples didn’t understand. They had to ask for explanations.

I’d like an explanation, too. Was God telling me that when people in our lives seem lost and unreachable, like the prodigal son, God never loses sight of where they are and can bring them back?

Perhaps God was just showing me what He can do?

Perhaps it was the most amazing coincidence in the history of coincidences?

How would you interpret the parable of the lost key?


The lost and the new, on the trail

What our lovely readers have said about it:

  1. Ed Fischer says:

    Paul what an amazing discovery in spite of the time that had passed and the surrounding circumstances. But it goes to show that God is faithful in the midst of life’s circumstances and time passed, He can restore that which was lost. This restoration could be symbolic of our own spiritual walk. Sometimes we lose that “first love” as we get caught up in the cares and tares of this life. But just as you found the lost key, God also calls each of us back into a closer walk with him. This restoration can remind us of God’s unending love for us and His desire to draw us closer to Him as we grow older as time passes.

  2. Alvin Kemper says:

    I think your interpretation is probably correct. Different people would see it different. Most, probably would not even think of God in the discovery. But he is telling you something. And, you are listening. That is an amazing thing to have happen. It seems almost impossible, But with God,all things are possible. And it helps to be a Christian, believer, or whatever we are. Anyone else would just scratch their heads and call it luck.

  3. Joe Emmett says:

    I interpreted this parable to show us the constancy of God – His steadfast, consistent , dependable, and firm control over all of creation. He is the key – the source, the answer, the need for all of mankind – yet many pass through this life without noticing, or even worse, refuse to acknowledge His majesty, love, the unlocking power of His Word, and His offer of salvation to those who would draw near.

    I also see the key as representing God’s immovable, unshakeable, constant place in creation. As we face life’s challenges – the valleys, the storms of life – as we struggle to understand why things happen in this world and how could God allow such pain and turmoil – why prayer isn’t answered in our time and to our satisfaction. We begin to blame Him and may even shake our fist at Him. We begin to doubt His goodness and control, we fall away, distancing ourselves from God, and then wonder why God is so distant. Only through repentance do we realize that He never moved – in fact, we are the one’s who strayed from Him. It is then that we can pick up that key and unlock the treasures of his grace, forgiveness, and commit to a renewal of spirit, and another chance to walk closer with Him.

  4. David Lee Stutzman says:

    Wow Paul, what a story, certainly worthy of a blog!

  5. Eva Ames-Poole says:

    Just watched the Sunday service from Walnut Creek Mennonite Church online. What a fun service. The church is truly blessed to have faithful servants dedicating their time to making sure their children grow into a deeper relationship with their Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus. I thought I’d check out your Website and found the latest blog. Isn’t our God amazing. He truly loves you and knows your love for Him. He knew long before you knew it, what a great story teller you are. Keep blogging, Sir.

  6. Your book “Hiking Through” improved my life the whole time I was reading it. It cheered me to learn that there are men like you and those you met who are learning how to live, eat flowers, save kittens, swim at every sparkling chance and hold your breath as a speckled fawn wobbles to its feet. Flute music touches me, too, although I’ve never heard it in the mountains. I have, however, heard Boston’s Handel and Hayden Society, twice, on their annual Columbus Day weekend outing in the presidentials. They sing 7- or 8-part harmony, and they were doing it at the top of Eisenhower, I think, just as we reached the top. Turns out they were staying like us at the one hut that stays open that late in the year, (Mizpah?) and after dinner one night they went outside to practice, crowding around a window, facing out, so they could read their sheet music by the gas lamp in the hut. Harmony floating in high places.
    My parents had a thirst for seeing the world and very little money, so we did a lot of family camping, pulling our little Apache tent trailer behind our VW bug. When we lived in Macon, Georgia, we were out camping, and we crossed the AT at the Fontana Dam. We stopped in a parking/picnic area right at the dam, where Mom pulled out the camp stove to make our breakfast. Pretty soon some thru-hikers came up the path exclaiming how good that smelled and were they real eggs, and pretty soon we were three wide-eyed little kids staring at the phenomenon of thru-hikers sitting on our camp stools inhaling plates of heaven. At least one had just finished med school. I still remember what he said after someone dropped a fork: “As the Surgeon General of the United States would say, ‘Oops.'”
    I am grateful for all my hiking experiences, which started with exploring dirt paths that always led from our campsite to little adventures. One morning, camping in Quebec when we lived on the island of Montreal, my siblings wouldn’t let me slug abed because they had come across a little patch of the tiniest, sweetest, jewel-like strawberries. Later as a junior Girl Scout in the St. Louis area, I did a backpacking day camp that prepped about five of us for a three-day trip. Then I tagged along on my brother’s Boy Scout backpacking trip that my Dad was leading, and I pulled a muscle trying to match the stride of an older boy. When we lived in the Philadelphia area, Dad took me on a section of the AT for my birthday. I slept so fitfully out in the open one night that it seemed like I had seen the moon cross every inch of sky. One morning we had to break the ice in our canteens. On another, Dad let me sleep in while he picked blueberries into his hat and made blueberry pancakes.
    I got to know the Whites and the huts with my second husband and sometimes his sons. We couldn’t believe the Canada grey jays would materialize when you got out your gorp, and they’d land on your hand. They would flick the peanuts right out of your mix to get at the cashews. Once we planned a weeklong hut-to-hut, carrying gear in case we couldn’t make it to the hut. Spent a windy July 4 in the concrete shell of a ski lift foundation on the way to Galehead. We could look out over the valley and see itty bitty fireworks displays popping from what must have been faraway towns.
    I had made trail food from a backpacking cookbook, but the humidity was so high at home in Rhode Island that my dried polenta cakes wouldn’t dry, and neither did the roasted vegetable patties. Most of our food just rotted in our packs. The only thing edible was the cashew butter I’d loaded into a tube, Ritz crackers and some overpriced cheese we picked up at a tourist trap. I got sick from heat exhaustion and left the trail, spending a night in the car and dining at the lodge cafeteria you mentioned. You could get as many refills as you wanted of ice-cold milk, and I still remember how good it tasted.
    I took the cog railway to the top of Washington that time, but we did it on foot another time, when I turned 40, and he was trying to get out of the marriage. The best part of that trip was stopping for lunch between Madison and Adams. We just sat down on boulders that formed the trail, took out our sandwiches and munched as rain lashed at our backs and streamed down our Gore-Tex hoods, jackets and snow pants. We were pretty comfy.
    My consolation prize for a husband seeking his escape was that I was alone in the alpine garden, and that year the weather had caused the early flowers to bloom late and the late flowers to bloom early, so they were ALL out, and I could take all the time I wanted being astonished and walking among them.
    One of the best gifts of climbing to the clouds is that sometimes in the city, you look up at high clouds and know how it feels and smells up there. Or if the city is socked in by fog, you can imagine you’re in the mountains again.
    Also, it’s good to have a deep appreciation for cool water. I’m pretty happy that I live on a rural road, close enough to a campground to smell the bacon cooking on Sunday mornings, and sometimes if I’ve just gone to fetch something out of my car at night, it feels exactly like I’m walking back to my tent from the bathroom building. Fresh night air, stars overhead, crunch of gravel underfoot and maybe a skittering in the undergrowth.
    Your book encouraged me in lots of ways and became a lovely place to live, although for too short a time. I’m so glad God had you to work with. Thank you for trusting Him.

  7. Ruth Tasgal says:

    Just finished reading, Hiking Through, and it was fun and thoughtfully written at the same time. After just completing my own thru-hike on the AT this year and having endured the challenges of the terrain and weather (although, I did not have as much rain in the north as you did) and having stayed at many of the same shelters, I can confirm the challenge physically, mentally, and emotionally and vouch that it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was spiritually enriching and I enjoyed the expansiveness with the solitude. The vulnerability that you expose is moving and refreshing. We are all on a pilgrimage and need the support of each other. Thanks for meeting with me this week over coffee–it was a pleasure. Let me know if I can be of any help in your upcoming project.

    The parable of the key is an interesting one. You no longer needed the old key, but seeing and believing that we are seeing, yet NOT seeing are so common, it is worthy of note. Pausing periodically to absorb life around us enhances our vision. Definitely, an improved ability “to see” is a gift I have received from The Trail.

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