This story happened several years back when my daughter, Sydney, was probably about five years old. I had stopped at the mall with her and my other two daughters for a quick look at some exercise equipment in the sporting goods store that was at the end of one of the “arms” of the mall. Since we were just going to be there for a few minutes, I left my cell phone in the car and off we went. In the sporting goods store, we quickly looked at some of the treadmills and moved on to the workout clothing, when suddenly I realized that Sydney was no longer trailing behind me. I re-traced my steps with my other two daughters, expecting to find Sydney still looking at something we had already passed, but she wasn’t there. In fact, I couldn’t find her ANYWHERE.
If you’re a parent, you can imagine what was going through my mind — every story I’d ever heard of every child abduction and all the ways that this could end really badly. Very calmly but firmly, I asked for the manager to come right away because I had a missing child. The manager seemed willing to help but uninformed as to what to do, so I calmly asked him to post security people at each of the entrances/exits from the building. I waited, but there were no reports of having found her. I had them check the bathrooms and the changing rooms, and those were also reported to be clear. Other store personnel were fanning out across both floors of the store, but they were coming up empty.
This simply could NOT be happening. I felt the fear really beginning to rise now, although I was fighting it. I knew I needed prayer…but my phone was in the car. I had no way in that moment to reach out to my prayer warrior friends or to ask people to come to the mall and help me find my daughter. WHY had I left my phone in the car??? Meanwhile, I was still directing the search for Sydney with the help of the store manager. I was standing at the entryway to and from the mall “arm”, scanning everywhere for the light brown curls of Sydney’s hair as I clutched the shoulder of Sydney’s twin sister.
Fear threatened to turn to outright panic. I prayed hard. Seconds felt like minutes…minutes felt like hours. I said to the store manager that he needed to lock the store down and call in the police if she weren’t found in the next minute or two. I saw the indecision on his face and was preparing to convince him, when suddenly a young man walked up to me and said, “Are you missing a little girl?” HOPE sprang up in my heart. “Yes,” I said, and I described her to him. He said he thought he had seen her down the “arm” of the mall and asked if I wanted to come see if it was her. I did, but I also didn’t want to leave the store I was in, afraid that they would stop the search for her and that I would never again see my precious girl. The young man saw my dilemma and asked instead if I would rather he go check and see if it was, in fact, my daughter. With gratitude beyond anything I could measure, I said, “Yes, please.” He jogged off down the mall.
Tick. Tick. Tick. So much time had passed. Where was she? Was she okay? Was this going to work out all right? I prayed fervently.
Finally, I saw the young man returning to where I stood, a huge smile on his face. Just behind him was a concerned-looking woman holding the hand of my precious daughter. A cry of relief sprang from my lips as I ran to her, my arms open wide, with a quick, “Thank you SO MUCH” to the young man. He was my hero for sure. As I hugged Sydney, the woman with her explained that she worked at the pretzel place in the middle of the mall and that it was her habit to watch for lost kids. When she spotted Sydney, she brought her into the safety of the pretzel stand and they tried to call me, not knowing where I was. Again, I mentally kicked myself for not bringing in my phone on this “quick trip” that had almost turned into a nightmare…but the most important thing was that I had my Sydney back safely again, thanks to these two heroes — the woman who found her and the young man who recognized the look of anguish on my face and put it together with a missing child. There is nothing that I wouldn’t have done to repay these two heroes for returning my daughter safely to me.
It struck me later that day that this is how the Father feels about His lost children. His heart breaks because they are apart from Him, and He searches and searches. “Have you seen My son? Have you seen My daughter?” Every now and then, one of us gets to help one of these lost children find their way home. We get to tell them about the love that the Father has for them, how He longs to hold them close and tell them how precious they are. Then, we get to knock on the door of Heaven and ask the Father, “Is this him? Is this her? Is this the one for whom You’ve been searching?” Then we get to put the child’s hand in the hand of the Father, and His heart is overwhelmed with gratitude and love.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10