Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lost and Found

When we moved to KC, we were looking forward to experiencing some wonderful events that we hadn't been able to do in Nebraska. One of the joys we experienced was our first MLB games with the kids. The Royals may not have been playing that well, but that didn't matter to a 5 year old girl who was going to her first game. (Our son was just 1 and a half years old; he was only along for the juice and crackers.)

We went with a group of friends from church on a Family Fun Night at the stadium. It only cost $5 to get in the game, and all the hot dogs and Cokes were only a buck each. Big bonus for a family on a limited budget. We were going to make the most of that night.

I went to go get some food for everyone, and my daughter begged to come with me to help. Why not? It was her first experience and she wanted to get as much out of it too. I gave her the whole "stay right by me, don't wander off, it's a big, crowded place" spiel that every mom utters in those kind of environments, making sure she understood every word. She indicated that she understood, grabbed my hand and then we were off!

We waited in line, talked with those other parents/kids all around us and finally we got our food. I turned to my daughter and asked if she wanted ketchup or mustard on her hot dog; she said yes, so we moved to the condiment stand. I turned to ask her to carry the napkins... and she was gone.

Gone. No where in site. Could not be seen. Out of my line of vision. Disappeared.

My heart stopped. My mouth didn't.

"Daughter!" (Obviously I used her name then; I just choose not to do so here.) "Daughter!" I scanned all around the consession stand. I looked down the corridor leading to the stands. I kept yelling her name. She wasn't where I told her to be - right by my side.

Others just stared at me, offering no help. I couldn't see a security guard anywhere.

Oh God, please help me find my daughter. Please bring her back to me. Please give me your eyes to see through the crowd to find my little girl. Please let a nice person help my daughter right now- a nice person who will do her no harm. Please give me sense to stay calm enough to think clearly. Help me God. Help me!

Not knowing what else to do, I ran back to our seats while carrying all that food, crying and yelled to Mr. Right, "Come down here right now! I can't find Daughter!" Someone in our church group immediately grabbed our son, and Mr. Right and a couple of friends came running down from the nosebleed seats. I explained what happened while one of them unloaded my arms, answered all the questions about what she was wearing; then I told them that while they were going to find a security guard, I was going back to the concession stand to see if I could find her there. You'd better believe that I kept a continual uttering of those frantic prayers from the moment of not seeing her beside me. Pray without ceasing never became so clear to me as in that moment.

I waited. It was an eternity. I kept calling out her name, turning and looking everywhere, praying with such earnest belief that God would lead me to her. Suddenly I started to walk down all the corridors between the concession stands and our corridor - there were 4 in all.

Down the second one, I heard a woman saying, "Don't worry, Sweetie. Your mom will be here in a minute. She's looking for you too." And there before me was a woman who was standing with my crying daughter at the head of the stairs, scanning the area.

Thank you, God! Oh thank you for helping me to find her.

I ran up to the woman, grateful for God's answer that a nice person found my daughter and stayed with her until she could be found. I kept thanking her over and over as I hugged the breath out of my daughter. If I had some kind of reward to give her, I would have handed it over to her without a moment's pause...

When we were walking down the corridor back to the hallway, I asked my daughter what happened, why she left my side, why she didn't listen to my directions. She replied that she was just looking for our seats and she thought I was with her.

Mr. Right, our friend and Security was coming up the walkway. They must have thought that my daughter was still lost with all my crying, but it became clear immediately that everything was all right, that I was leaking tears of joy. I thanked the Security man, who said that I did a great job of describing her and did right by dressing her uniquely. (She was wearing a Cracker Jacks t-shirt and shorts.) I think he was trying to help me redeem some dignity and mothering skills at that moment.

Believe it or not, neither Mr. Right nor I badgered our daughter about what had happened. We did give her the "See why you need to listen to us!" speech on the way back to our seats, but that was it. We were so happy to have her back, safe and sound. And trust me, lukewarm hotdogs and watered down drinks never tasted so good. My daughter, who may have stayed just a tad bit closer to us than normal still laughed a lot, ate a lot of peanuts, asked a lot of questions, bossed her little brother around and enjoyed the fireworks at the end of the game. It was a great night had by all.

Now, years later, I can look at this terrible moment and see it in new light. Several ideas come to mind about how it can apply to us spiritually.

  1. I think I can imagine how God feels when we return to him on one of our self-induced wandering. Even though he knows exactly where we are and what we're doing, I imagine that he still has that sense of relief when we return from our straying. He holds us close, glad to have us back where we belong - in the safety of him and his protection.
  2. He doesn't quit "looking" for us when we've wandered away. He calls and calls and calls our name, wanting us to hear his voice and to come back.
  3. He asks us why we didn't listen to his instruction. He knows that with his words of wisdom or instructions comes safety and protection.
  4. Even though we chose to not listen to his words of warning that would keep us from sin, he doesn't lecture us to death about not listening. He says he won't remember our sins when we repent, and he means it. We get a fresh clean slate with him so that we can start enjoying life again.
  5. He wants us to stay close to him when we realize how scary life is when we walk away from him. He wants to hold us, love us and to let us enjoy the blessings that still come our way. I imagine him pulling us into his lap and snuggling with us just a little longer so that we can rest assure in his love. He wants us to remember how awful life is when we don't listen to his instructions.
  6. He takes special care to show that we are still his children. He gives us back the family seal; he doesn't make us feel as if we're not good enough to be back in his care. He tells us from the first moment that we will always be a part of his family - loved, welcomed and included.
  7. He'll start the entire process over if we wander away again. He loves us without ceasing and his patience knows no end.

Although I would never want to go through that awful experience again, I love that I have a new understanding of the prodigal son parable. I seem to know it inside-out from the son's point of view. I am that wandering sinner. I even have been able to empathize with the brother who stayed home, doing everything the father asked. (And I can't tell you how many "It's not fair!" moments I've had with God.)

But this time, I think I have a better understanding of what it means to be the father, on the search for his child. And the joy that comes when all our family is safe at home. No wonder the dad gave the son gifts and threw such a huge party. He was happy beyond belief and relieved beyond measure, and he just wanted to get jiggy with it to share his excitement, encouraging others to take pleasure in his joy.

The same way that I smiled at everyone for the rest of that game.

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