Unlocked, p.1

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Unlocked


  KAREN

  KINGSBURY

  UNLOCKED

  DEDICATION

  To Donald, my Prince Charming …

  I love that for now we can still see fall as the beginning of a new year. Summer is over, and everything wonderful about the changing of seasons is upon us. You and the boys have been working hard at football camp and now the leaves are a brilliant bouquet of golds and reds. The kids are back to school, but here’s the thing: we only have so many falls like this left, so many years when back to school actually applies to us. And how can that be, when just yesterday we were bringing Kelsey home? I remember the nurse asking if we knew how to buckle her seat belt into the backseat, and you and I looked at each other. It was sort of that, “Yikes! Here we go!” sort of look, because where was the manual? The Bible… that was the only manual then, and it’s the only one now. God walked us through the baby stage and the walking stage, He walked us through the off-to-school stage and now, somehow, He’ll walk us through the years of letting go. All I know for sure is that I want to go through it with you, my love. I still can’t believe you had a stroke nearly a year ago, or how different our lives might be if God hadn’t so graciously given us a miracle back then. You are here and whole, and the heartbeat of our lives goes on. But we don’t ever take a minute for granted. Play hard this fall, win big, and every now and then look for me up in the stands. I’ll be taking a million mental pictures, saving every moment for that all-too-soon day when the fall isn’t marked by the guttural shouts of teenage football players or the scattering of backpacks across our kitchen counter. The quiet days lie ahead, but for now, my love, hold my hand and let’s run the journey together. You and our boys, making memories together. Isn’t this what we always dreamed of? I love sitting back this time and letting you and God figure it out. I’ll always be here—cheering for you and the team from the bleachers. But God’s taught me a thing or two about being a coach’s wife. He’s so good that way. It’s fitting that you would find varsity coaching again now—after twenty-two years of marriage. Hard to believe that as you read this, our twenty-second anniversary has come and gone. I look at you and still see the blond, blue-eyed guy who would ride his bike to my house and read the Bible with me before a movie date. You stuck with me back then and you stand by me now—when I need you more than ever. I love you, my husband, my best friend, my Prince Charming. Stay with me, by my side, and let’s watch our children take wing. Always and always … The ride is breathtakingly beautiful. I pray it lasts far into our twilight years. Until then, I’ll enjoy not always knowing where I end and you begin. I love you always and forever.

  To Kelsey, my precious daughter …

  How is it possible that you are twenty-one, my precious little girl? I still see you dancing in circles around your daddy, and carefully applying lipstick from a purse you got for Christmas when you were four. I remember listening to songs about letting kids grow up and watching them leave home and thinking, “Dear God, I’ll never make it …” But there was some comfort back then, because your childhood spread before us like one long endless summer of laughter and loving and days that seemed like they’d last forever. But this fall every line of every leaving song will come rushing back as we take you to college in Southern California. Sometimes when I think about the season ahead I struggle to draw a full breath. These times will redefine for me what missing someone really means. But you, sweet girl, were created to perform for Jesus. All through your childhood you would find a stage and hold your chin high, and you’d sing to whoever was listening. Well, sweetheart, more people are listening now. I’m so proud of you, and all you’ve become… all you stand for. Every prayer we prayed for you, God has answered. You have stood firm, holding tight to God’s truth and His promises, and I know the answers will become clearer with each passing year. Remember that God walks every step of this life with us, and for those who love Him, the best is always yet to be. This fall we will watch you take wing, having worked hard to reach this point in your education. We believe in you, sweetheart, and we will be cheering for you every day. No matter where this year takes you, you’ll never really leave our family. You’ll always be our little girl, Kelsey. And you’ll always be part of this family. Forever and ever. I’m so proud of the strength you’ve found. You are beautiful inside and out, and I am more convinced than ever that God has great, wonderful plans for you. Take your talents and go find your platform for Him! In the meantime, you’ll be in my heart every moment. And we’ll leave the porch light on. I love you, sweetheart.

  To Tyler, my lasting song …

  My heart skips a beat when I think about you being a senior this year. I thought about this time as far back as you’ve been a part of our life, and always it seemed so far away. Even last year, I couldn’t really imagine you as a senior. But here we are, right? This is where the Ferris wheel slows down; this is where you get off and make your way down the path, following God to the next season in your life. But here’s the amazing part—we will always have a front row seat! This fall your first single will debut on the Unlocked CD, and the dreams you’ve had for the past couple of years will start to come true. I know God has a future in music for you, because I’ve seen your passion in singing and writing music for Him. I love how the music is in you, Ty… and how you seem complete when you are caught up in the process of creating. I sometimes think about your papa, and how proud he would be to watch the young man you’ve become. I still see him there in his favorite chair—the one by the fireplace, closest to the piano. He couldn’t listen to you play and sing without getting tears in his eyes, and I can’t, either. So even though I’m sad that you’ve reached your senior year, I’m excited too. Because this is the time of your life you’ve been waiting for. The world is your stage, Ty! Go stop the world for Jesus, and let your very bright light touch the lives of everyone who needs it. Thank you for the hours of joy you bring our family, and as you head into a year of lasts, I promise to stop and listen a little longer when I hear you singing. Your dad and I are proud of you, Ty. We’re proud of your talent and your compassion for people and your place in our family. However your dreams unfold, we’ll be in the front row to watch them happen. Hold on to Jesus, son. I love you.

  To Sean, my happy sunshine …

  What a thrill it is watching you—a strapping, young sophomore—take on varsity football again this year! You’ve worked so hard in the off season, and now you’re truly ready—ready to take on the challenge of being the best receiver on the field! I’ll never forget what you did last year right before the season started. You came to me and asked if I could find custom wristbands for the team. “I want them to say Philippians 4:13,” you told me. You’d seen Florida University’s Timmy Tebow donning that verse on his eye black before a Gator game, and now you wanted to have a similar show of faith. A week passed and another, and every few days you asked until finally I set everything aside and ordered them for the whole team. I’ll never see that verse without seeing the sincerity in your eyes, the desperation, almost, that if you were going to play football, you needed to always remind yourself of the truth. You can do everything through Christ who gives you strength. And you can, Sean. You proved that this year by being the team’s leading receiver. Oh, and one of the best tacklers on the team. You remain a bright sunbeam, bringing warmth to everyone around you. And now you are an example of faith as well. I’m proud of you, Sean. I love you so much. I pray God will use your dependence on Him to always make a difference in the lives around you. You’re a precious gift, son. Keep smiling and keep seeking God’s best for your life.

  To Josh, my tenderhearted perfectionist …

  You promised to work hard in the off season, and you have. Now we are here, at the beginning of your sophomore year in high school and you are
ready for the challenges that face you. I don’t know which records will fall or how the public will come along to see your feats on the field, but I do know this: it’s so much more important that you have grown just as much in your faith. When God gives us talents, we must always remember where they come from. Who they come from. You have done this, dear son, and now you are ready to take on the world. Well, maybe not quite yet. But you’re ready to take on the season, and give God the glory along the way. Josh, one memory stands out from the past year. The earthquake hit in Haiti, and you were the only one of our kids with family still in Port-au-Prince—your birth mother, Marie. At this point, we still have not heard from her and we assume that maybe she is watching you from heaven now. Maybe seated somewhere next to Papa, cheering you on. I remember you coming to me, quietly, in your unassuming way, and asking me how much money was in your birthday account. This was money you’d saved for the past eight years, and when I told you the amount you nodded and told me to send virtually all of it to World Vision. “At least then I’ll know that if she’s alive, and if she needs something, someone will get it to her.” Yes, Josh, you may laugh a lot and tease a lot, but we know your heart and we are so proud of what we see. We have no doubt that someday we’ll see your name in headlines and that—if God allows it—you’ll make it to a major college team. You’re that good, and everyone around you says so. Now flash back to that single moment in a broken-down Haitian orphanage. There I was meeting Sean and EJ for the first time when you walked up. You reached up with your small fingers, brushed back my bangs, and said, “Hi, Mommy. I love you.” It might’ve taken six months of paperwork, but I knew as you said those words that you belonged with us. The picture becomes clearer all the time. Keep being a leader on the field and off. One day people will say, “Hmmm. Karen Kingsbury? Isn’t she Josh’s mom?” I can’t wait for the day. You have an unlimited future ahead of you, son, and I’ll forever be cheering on the sidelines. Keep God first in your life. I love you always.

  To EJ, my chosen one …

  EJ, my jokester, you are in high school! I can’t believe how fast time has flown for you and for us. The journey started a decade ago when we saw one little face on an Internet photolisting of kids up for adoption. That face was yours, but the blessing of the journey has been ours. God has brought you so far, EJ, and now you stand on the brink of becoming everything He has planned for you to become. At our Christian school you have found friends and a deeper faith, and a fire for pursuing the talents God has given you. All the things we have prayed for you! As you start high school, you are one of our top students, and we couldn’t be more proud of you, EJ. But even beyond your grades and your natural way of leading your peers in the right path, we are blessed to have you in our family for so many reasons. You are wonderful with our pets—always the first to feed them and pet them and look out for them—and you are a willing worker when it comes to chores. Besides all that, you make us laugh—oftentimes right out loud. I’ve always believed that getting through life’s little difficulties and challenges requires a lot of laughter—and I thank you for bringing that to our home. You’re a wonderful boy, son, a child with such potential. I’m amazed because you’re so talented in so many ways, but all of them pale in comparison to your desire to truly live for the Lord. I’m praying you’ll have a strong passion to use your gifts for God as you enter high school in the fall. Because, EJ, God has great plans for you, and we want to be the first to congratulate you as you work to discover those. Thanks for your giving heart, EJ. I love you so.

  To Austin, my miracle boy …

  Seventh grade, and already you look like a tenth-grader! I remember this past year when you would walk up to me on your tiptoes and look me in the eyes. “It happened, Mom! I’m taller than you!” You’d celebrate a little only to realize that I was in bare feet and you were in tennis shoes. “Not quite,” I’d tell you. “You’re still shorter than me.” But now that is no longer true. You don’t walk up on your tiptoes any more because you don’t have to. God has graced you with tremendous size and strength, Austin. I look at you and I see a young Timmy Tebow, a kid with an ocean of determination and leadership ability, a young man who is the first to thank his coach, the first to shake the hand of the ref, and the last one to leave the classroom because you’re so busy cleaning up and expressing your gratitude to your teacher. Sure, you still struggle in a few areas, and sometimes your competitive drive can get you in trouble with your brothers. But truly, Austin, there isn’t a thing you can’t do as long as you keep God first. I believe you have the chance to go all the way with your dreams of playing sports, and I’m grateful to have a front-row seat. Play hard and don’t ever give up, and always remember where you came from. I know I do: that hospital room when you were three weeks old and the surgeon was giving us a few minutes to say good-bye. Not every infant who goes in for emergency heart surgery comes back out again. But even then, through our tears, we were certain we’d see you somewhere—here or there. The fact that God has blessed us with the here and now is proof that He has amazing plans for you. How great that you are seizing them with everything inside you, with every breath. Keep on, precious son. We are here for you, praying for you, cheering for you. No one believes more than we do. I’ve said it before, and it’s true: heaven has windows, and I’m convinced Papa’s still cheering for you, son. Especially this season. As you soar toward your teenage years, please don’t forget that or him. You’re my youngest, my last, Austin. I’m holding on to every moment, for sure. Thanks for giving me so many wonderful reasons to treasure today. I thank God for you, for the miracle of your life. I love you, Austin.

  And to God Almighty, the Author of Life, who has—for now—blessed me with these.

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  DEDICATION

  PROLOGUE

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Twenty-Five

  Twenty-Six

  Twenty-Seven

  Twenty-Eight

  Twenty-Nine

  Thirty

  Thirty-One

  READER LETTER

  DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  FOREVER IN FICTION

  WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT KAREN KINGSBURY’S BOOKS

  Other Life-Changing Fiction™ by Karen Kingsbury

  ABOVE THE LINE SERIES

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Share Your Thoughts

  PROLOGUE

  TRACY HARRIS ADJUSTED HER BLUE WALMART APRON AND checked her watch. Five minutes until her shift was up. She stood a little straighter, ignoring the dull ache in her back. A smiling young mom steered her cart into Tracy’s checkout lane. The customer’s attention was completely taken by her toddler-age son swinging his legs from his seat in the top of the cart. Tracy let her gaze linger on the little boy, the familiar way he had about him. Then she glanced at the cart. Not too many items. This would be her last customer of the day.

  “Play with me when we get home, okay, Mommy?”

  The boy was maybe three, three and a half. He had sandy brown hair and he held tight to a bright yellow and blue Nerf football. His face shone, full of life.

  The woman used one hand to unload her shopping cart, while she placed the other gently alongside the boy’s chubby cheek. “It’s a deal.” She leaned close and touched her forehead to his. “But you have to eat your vegetables first.”

  “Mommy
” He shrugged his shoulders. “I like cookies. Daddy says he likes cookies.”

  “I’ll bet he does.” She chuckled lightly, freely —the unfettered laugh of a woman whose child was healthy and vibrant and whole.

  The sound of their joy splashed a sunbeam across Tracy’s afternoon. She waited until the woman turned happy eyes in her direction. “Your son … he’s darling.”

  “Thanks.” She blew at a wisp of her bangs. “He never stops talking.”

  Holden used to be like that, Tracy thought. She stuffed the memory into its heart’s hiding place and found her smile. “Did you find everything you needed?”

  “Yes.” She grinned. “All except the extra three hours I need each day, but that’s okay.” She lifted the last items from her cart onto the belt. “Walmart’s good … but that’s a lot to ask of any store.”

  As she entered her credit card information, the woman chatted about finding the right cabinet knobs for the cupboards they were building in their garage, and the perfect set of sheets for their guest bedroom. All the while, her son ran a sort of color commentary. “Sheets, mommy!” The boy looked right at his mother, straight into her eyes. Clear, sharp eyes the way Holden’s used to look. The child pointed at the bedding. “Pretty sheets for Grandma!”

  “Yes, baby.” She grinned and the two locked eyes. Tracy tried not to stare. The boy was exactly like Holden used to be.

  “Cocoa Pebbles!” He raised the football over his head and giggled as two boxes of cereal slid past him toward the register. He was bright and alert, aware of every nuance his mother made, taking stock of each item she lifted from the cart. He tucked the football close against his middle. “Football after lunch, Mommy! I can jump so high … higher than you!”

 
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