When the lost are found (and found again)

She gripped the hand of a stranger as tears streamed down her face. Her name had just been announced over the PA system. She was lost. Looking for her mother.

And I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

My son and I were in the petting zoo at the fair, just feet from where she stood. I, too, began looking for someone, anyone, to claim her.

Minutes passed. Too many minutes, I thought.

Was she part of a school group?

Did anyone know she was missing?

My son was tugging my hand to move on, but I wanted to know how it ended.

I had to know she was going to be found.

Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus.”

It was one of the first Bible verses to ever “speak” to me. philippians16

I was a new Christian, not unlike the little girl, lost and alone in a big, scary world, looking for someone to save me. I looked in a few wrong places before I found the Savior.

I used to think it was He who found me, but when I think about it like that, it sounds like He didn’t know where I was.

He always knew.

It was me who didn’t know I was lost.

But being found was just the beginning.

A second announcement over the loudspeaker for the lost little girl. The fear in her eyes was building.

What if no one comes for her?

I thought of my daughter, a kindergartener, who knows her name and address and her parents’ names. This girl was younger. She knew her first name, but what if they needed more information?

My mother’s heart began to worry. One of my fears is my kids being separated from me. I was grateful for the two women who left what they were doing to stand with the girl while they waited for someone to claim her. I hoped I would do the same thing if the need ever arose.

 I wanted to do something. But everything they could do was being done.

I’m a quick learner. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I catch on quickly. In school, I could give you the “right” answer faster than anyone else in the class, even if I never learned a thing. I sped through homework and tests just to get them done, hardly recalling the information I regurgitated onto the page.

I learned quickly, too, that in some Christian circles, there are right and wrong answers, right and wrong ways to live. And even though I was new to this world, I quickly caught on to the “right” way of doing things. I voted the way I “should.” I believed what I was told. I listened to the (unofficially) approved teachings of popular pastors. I got rid of all my “secular” music. After all, I was a new creation, and my life needed to reflect that.

It wasn’t until many years later that I would realize that all of those efforts left me empty. When life didn’t turn out like I thought it would. When I didn’t change in the ways I thought I should. When I felt guilty for wanting more than what I had in life. Hadn’t I been found? What was I doing wrong?

My son and I were just about to move on to the exhibits inside the tent when I heard the good news. A cowboy-type gentleman came running over to the little girl and said, “Come with me. I’ve found your mom.” The girl hesitated, but he gently persisted.

Then I saw her.

The mom.

She was running as fast as her legs could carry her with a baby backpack strapped to her. She wiped tears of relief from her face as she scooped up her daughter and hugged her.

I looked away lest I start swimming in my own pool of tears. I took one more look and everyone was smiling. The women who had held her hand. The mom. The little girl. A smile found its way to my mouth, and my heart lifted.

What was lost was found.

If you’re ever separated from your family, stay in one place.

I still think about this advice when I’m out with my family or friends. I’m prone to wander. Even as an adult, I don’t stay in one place very well. Sometimes we split up to keep the kids occupied. Or to take one of them to the bathroom. And I’m forever fearful of being left behind. (I would be the worst field trip chaperone, but I still want to go to the zoo with my daughter’s class.)

I don’t know how the little girl became separated from her mother. Maybe she got really interested in one of the animals when it was time to move on and didn’t notice her mother leaving.

I was captivated by my new faith, so busy watching and learning about the “right” way to live that I didn’t realize it was time to move on.

Like the lost little girl, the familiar was gone and I was standing with strangers, desperately wanting to be found again.

Time passed painfully slowly, and I wondered if God had given up on me. Did He even know I was lost?

I thought about going to search for Him but remembered another piece of advice: When you don’t know what to do next, do the last thing God said.

So, I waited. Even when it felt like I was stuck.

And I barely dared to hope when others would say: “He’s right over there! Come with me!”

But they were right. Like a mother frantically searching for her lost child, God found me again.

Right in the place where I lost Him.

My son and I wandered through a tent full of exhibits and spotted a collection of antique tractors outside. We separated from our group to walk past each one and snap a few pictures. “For Papa,” my son said.

corban tractor

We were coming up the final row when I caught a glimpse of blond hair. I turned and saw the little girl who had been lost, sitting on a blanket with her mom, eating a sandwich. They looked like a happy family enjoying a picnic lunch. No one passing by knew the trauma of their separation, less than an hour earlier.

But I would guess it’s something neither of them will quickly forget.

So it is with me.

Lost. Found. Wandering. Found again.

I do not doubt my relationship to Jesus, but I can’t say for certain that I won’t lose my way, in some way, again. I am so easily distracted. So easily led astray. So eager to do the right thing. So sure of the path.

I am a sheep in need of a shepherd.

The word I heard all those years ago, that God would complete His work, is speaking to me still.

What He started, He will finish. And it will take time.

I remember what it is to be lost.

I remember what it is to be found.

Lord, have mercy, if I ever forget.

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