Of Keys, and Outhouses, and Little Boy’s Prayers

“Mom!”, shouted my oldest son, his feet pounding louder as he neared the campsite, “Alex is locked in the outhouse!”

It was already that kind of camping trip. We had come a day early into the weekend. Our favorite campsite on the Platte River was just 5 minutes from Kevin’s job, so we had come in the night before, and he had left that morning to work as usual on Friday, so I was now alone with the kids – all seven of them – beside the lazy river in September.

It was not really a real campground, so much as an area with possible campsites along the river, with a single concession to camping comfort – a solid concrete block double outhouse set upon a rise, just high enough to be above the high water line during the spring flood season. There were several short roads, with a nice broad area at the end of each, suitable for tents, tables, and chairs. Typically one or two other campers were on our end of the area, and a few fishers at the other end. It was frequently used, but not highly populated. We loved camping there, being able to swim on and off through the day, floating the quarter mile stretch of river near our campsite, and listening to the soft sounds of the river at night, and waking to squirrels chattering and birds chirping in the morning.

Friday evening, before dinner, I had worked on some writing using my computer in the front seat of the car. We had gone into the river, wading and floating on tubes, and I had not wanted to lose my keys if they fell out of my pocket, so I had tucked the car keys under the front seat. And forgot them. And locked the car right before bed. Like good campers we had put all of the food in the trunk of the car prior to shutting down for the night. (This was Wyoming, so not locking the car during the day was not a big deal, but it needed locked at night.)

It was morning before we figured out that the keys were securely locked up under the seat of the car. We did not have a cell phone. The nearest residence was about a mile down the road. Town (and Kevin’s set of keys) was five miles away. Prayer was our only resource, so I gathered the kids around, and we had a prayer together. We explained that our keys were locked in the car, we were hungry, and had no food, and had no practical way of getting help to unlock the car, and we asked that we know what to do to get our keys out of the car.

We finished the prayer, and Sean (oldest boy) decided to go around and ask the other campers there if anyone could help. Maybe a cell phone, or something.

Sean returned with a helpful handyman with a slimjim. One of the three other campers there had the very tool we needed to be able to get into the car. He quickly opened the car for us, we thanked him profusely, and he left smiling to return to his campsite.

We knew that had to be divine intervention. It was too unusual to be coincidence. We gathered again to say a prayer of thanks.

A little later, as we got ready to do something together, our next to youngest child was nowhere to be found. We called her name, and received no answer. So we gathered again, and said a prayer, and then hollered some more. Within a few more hollers, she came out of the trees, and said she had been down by the river washing up, and didn’t think she was gone that long. It wasn’t misbehavior, it was just my daughter, trying to take care of something she felt was important. But the answer to the prayer stuck.

Now, as I hurried down the road and up the small hill to the outhouse, I was already considering how one extracts a small boy from a solid block structure. I already knew it had a heavy metal door, with hinge pins that could not be removed without a blowtorch. The door closed with a 3/4 inch square metal bar slide lock. Heavy, and difficult to move, even for an adult. Sean routinely accompanied Alex to the outhouse, and stood outside, but Alex did not lock the door. I guess his six year old sense of independence was coming to the fore, because this time he locked it, and had been required to give it a good hard shove to get it to slide into place. Hard enough to get it well and truly stuck.

Alex was not the average six year old. We knew things were not right, but could not get a doctor to acknowledge it. He did not have the strength to ride a bike fast enough to get the training wheels off the ground. His arms and legs were stick thin, with far less muscle than they should have had, and he had an obvious curvature to his shin bones, in spite of being well fed. So it wasn’t just a six year old boy stuck in that outhouse. It was one who lacked the physical strength to even begin to help himself. (He was later diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, during treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 7.)

I reached the outhouse, let Alex know I was there, and looked it over. One tiny vent, up at the peak of the roof. Not quite big enough to let someone else in, or a small boy out, assuming he could even get up that high without falling into the pit trying. No, not really an option. I had visions in my head of having to call Wyoming Game and Fish Department to have them come and dismantle the outhouse to get him out. Prospective newspaper headlines danced in my head for a few moments. I quickly realized that our only option, again, was prayer.

I told Alex that he would have to do it. That we needed to say a prayer together, and he needed to ask Heavenly Father to make him strong enough to move that bolt.

Alex said a prayer on his side, and I said one on my side. Then he grabbed that bolt and yanked. Nothing happened. “Try again!” I encouraged. He threw his weight behind it and tugged again.

“Mom!” he cried excitedly, “It moved!”

“Good! Try again!” I answered. Sean cheered him on in the background, telling him he could do it.

He tried again, and it moved another fraction of an inch. And again, and again, bit by bit he worked that bolt far enough over that it finally slid free with a solid clank.

Alex came out of the outhouse and gave me a hug, and together we said a prayer of thanks. There was no doubt that the Lord had truly given him the strength to move the lock, because Alex simply could not do it himself. Ever since that day, this has been my favorite “God answers little boy’s prayers” story. I must have told it at least 50 times.

It proved to me that our Heavenly Parents do indeed hear the prayers of harried mothers who lock their keys in their cars, or have a child go missing, and little boys locked in outhouses. I have also imagined their kindly amusement as they  gave Alex the strength in his puny arms to move that great big stubborn bolt.

It was not until years later that I really put the whole thing together and realized that not only had God answered our prayers earlier that day, and Alex’s prayer later, but that there was a connection between the two. That the example earlier of my keys being locked in the car, and an unquestionable miracle in getting them out, and then and Betsy’s absence and return, had given Alex the confidence to know that God could indeed give him the strength to do what he knew he could not do. I can imagine Heavenly Father watching my son since we got to the river, with Alex eyeing that bolt every time he went to the bathroom, surely thinking, “Today, I MUST be big enough.”, and preparing my son for the disaster that was surely in the offing.

Locking my keys in my car had not just been a random event, it had been a vital part of delivering Alex from his smelly concrete prison later that same day. As to Betsy’s absence, I don’t want to encourage my kids to think going missing is a positive event, so I’ll not speculate where that falls, except that the prayer WAS answered.

God does indeed answer the prayers of little boys. Sometimes He starts answering them before little boys even know they are going to need help.

Someone suggested to me recently that their visions regarding my son’s fate, as they read this story for the first time, centered on wondering how one goes about taking care of a child locked in an outhouse, unable to get out. Pushing sandwiches through the vent, so he could grow strong enough to move that bolt.

And that sign in every outhouse… “Please do not put trash into the toilet, it is very difficult to remove.” No doubt. And little boys more so!

(A Forest Service worker has suggested that perhaps another sign in the outhouse could help. “Please do not lock your children in the outhouse, they are very difficult to remove.”)

THIS STORY and many more can be found on Amazon, for Kindle, in Laura’s storybook: A Little Romp Through Laura’s Storyland

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