Monday, August 26, 2013

5 minutes of desperation

In 5 short minutes the Richardson's went from a calm and happy family to the most desperate and frightened family at the Wilson County Fair.

It all started about 4 or so years ago at the Florida State Fair.  On that day, Michelle and I were walking along with Rebekah, Ben, and Hannah looking around at all of the sights, sounds, and people.  I wrongly assumed that Michelle was pushing Hannah in the stroller and she wrongly assumed that I was holding her hand.  In one instant, Hannah (then about 2) had completely vanished.  We took off in each direction running through a mass of people who were walking in every direction.  In about 60 seconds, I spotted her standing alone inside of an exhibit.  60 seconds is a long time to live in regret and hopelessness!

Now fast forward to Saturday.  And let me set the stage to demonstrate how easily complacency can kick in.  Walking into the fair (and if you've never been to the Wilson County Fair, let me just say it is HUGE, maybe as big as the Florida State Fair!) we were all aware of our previous incident in losing Hannah.  So much so, that we made a point to verbally remind one another to stay together and especially to keep an eye on Hannah.

For some reason, Hannah is our dawdler.  She likes to walk slow and she likes to walk directly behind me, thereby escaping my peripheral vision.  And since I usually bring up the back of the pack, I'm always reminding her to stay with us.  In fact, because of this tendency, I find myself saying multiple times a day, "Where's Hannah?"  And as I say this, I usually do a quick 360 spin to make sure she is with us.

Walking into the fair, we knew this, we prepared for this, we experienced this as I did a few 360 spins throughout the day.

But complacency doesn't take long to kick in.  You know it too.  Things can sneak up on you, even when you think you're prepared for it.  Tax day, important meetings, balloon payments, work deadlines, even death.  We all assume we're always ready for anything.  Are you?

To further show you how easy it is to be lulled into complacency, even if for just a few seconds, we went to a vendor to buy some sweet tea.  She said these actual words to us, "How many kids do you have?  You look so calm and peaceful.  I don't know how you do it."  While deflecting this praise because deep down we know the whole truth, still something probably stroked my ego a little and I could imagine myself quoting this lady and putting it on my Facebook status for the world to see.

And why not?  After all, we just walked by another family whose kids were fighting and running wild, we walked by older women who were scantily clad thinking that they could recapture their youth, we walked by a vendor who was selling thong underwear with the rebel flag on it, and we walked by numerous people with evil things printed on their clothes and skin.  If that's my competition, then you better believe we're doing a great job!  But that's not my measure, is it?

At one point, I saw another dad with his kid on a leash who would barely unhook his kid so that he could ride the little race cars around in circles.  Somewhere deep inside I smirked and arrogantly dismissed him as a rookie.

So there you see, the scene was set for complacency.  I was doing my job.  I was aware and made my whole family aware to keep an eye on Hannah.  Others were noticing our orderliness and calm.  Compared to others around me, I was on my toes.  And everything was set up just right......for God to demonstrate that He alone is our Rock!

Now onto the incident:  We all get hungry and stop to eat pizza.  After eating, we get up to walk towards another less ADHD part of the fair.  We've got 2 kids in the stroller, 2 big kids in the front with mom, and me in the back with Hannah.  We walk along the path for about 5 minutes and I notice that Hannah is not in my periphery so I do my 360 move with a quick, "Where's Hannah?"  I had already done this many times this day, but this time as everyone turned around to verify that Hannah was right behind me, all of our faces dropped when she was nowhere to be found.

First thought....Is this real?  2 seconds later....Surely she's just a few steps away from us.  10 seconds later.....You know there are a lot of people here heading in different directions and it would not take long for an adult to get lost, let alone a 6 yr old.  I tell Michelle to wait and take off retracing my route, slightly panicked but somewhat confident that she will be within eye or earshot of this route.  I make it all the way back to the table we ate at and ....NO HANNAH!!!

Now I'm completely scared, paranoid, helpless, frantic, and unsure of what to do.  I run back to Michelle and she's fully expecting me to have Hannah, but when I return without her, I see her motherly eyes well up with tears and panic.  Michelle takes off to look in one direction and I go the other, leaving the big kids in a central spot.  All I could think to do was to alert every fair worker there that my daughter is missing.

Only they don't seem to grasp my sense of urgency.  They ask me all kinds of questions that I don't know, like what was she wearing.  Thankfully, my son remembers every detail (he has been blessed with a great memory).  So a few of them start off to look and I again go a different direction.

Now I'm thinking, "no kid can get that lost THAT fast.  If she wandered away, she wouldn't go THAT far.  She might have been taken!"  I could never forgive myself if that were the case.

Then, I start to yell Hannah's name everywhere I run.  I am cognizant of people looking at me knowing that they know that I've lost my child.  And I am somewhat resentful that they are not jumping up to help, but are rather content to watch me panic as they eat their fried food on a stick.  It's almost like I'm part of the entertainment.

And the biggest regret I have and the thing I wonder most, even to this moment is, WHY DIDN'T I YELL AT THE VERY TOP OF MY LUNGS!!!  I mean, really!  If there ever was a time to throw caution to the wind and belt it out, it was now.  And yet, I didn't.  I ran and yelled for her, but not as I should have.  I am completely ashamed that my voice didn't turn every single head there!

Finally, I see a woman on a cart having a conversation with another man.  And I unapologetically interrupt them and ask her to drive me around so that I can look for my daughter faster. As we start to go, I see one of the workers walking towards my big kids with the sweetest little sad package I ever received.  It was Hannah, with her fingers in her mouth and tears streaming down her face!  My baby!  Soon, her mom finds us and we cover her with kisses and hugs.

The people around us are still watching the show, sitting on benches and eating their fried oreos, watching as if we were a sitcom that just wrapped up with a happy ending.  And I was resentful at their complacency.  And I was angry at my complacency.  Why didn't I yell louder?!!!!  I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  That question still haunts me.

Complacency can take many forms and it doesn't take long to anesthetize you.  You assume everything is fine and will stay fine.  You assume you can control everything.  You assume you don't really need God.  Oh yes, He is a fine accessory to bring with you, but I only will bring him into my family whenever something drastic happens.

Well, you know what?  There's an attribute of His I desired at that moment...Omnipresence.  I wanted to be everywhere and see everything, yet I couldn't.  I was helpless.  But He never is!  I am grateful that my kind and loving omnipresent Father watched this whole thing and chose to bring her back to me.  I am grateful that a stranger at the fair saw a crying little girl and asked her if she was ok.  And that he led her to one of the workers.  And the worker brought her back to me.  But this was not all a coincidence.  It was orchestrated!  And what did the Conductor teach me through this scary and melancholy song?

  1. That He is good.  He can be trusted to do what's right with my daughter, even if I'm not there.  
  2. That He is able.  He never panicked.  He knew exactly where Hannah was and exactly how long to keep her away from me so that I would cling to Him as my kind and loving Father even tighter.  
  3. That He seeks.  Remember the prodigal son?  The father in that parable represents how God seeks us when we're lost and how He runs towards us to embrace us.  I relate to that love more now.  God says that "while we were sinners, Christ died for us".  Not only does He run towards us in love, but He pursues us even while we don't acknowledge that we've wandered away.  We stray farther and farther from Him and God pursues and seeks and saves that which was lost.  Hannah's tears alerted a stranger that she knew she needed help.  In much the same way, our tears of repentance flow and they agree with God (confess) that we too need to be saved.  
  4. Give it all to God....YELL!!!!!  This was a lesson of discipline for me.  I should have yelled louder.  God brought her back anyway and wasn't dependent on my volume.  But in reflection, He continues to show me that the times we live in are perilous.  And people are walking around this earth with a death sentence.  They will die today.  They will die tomorrow.  They are near me and you every day.  YELL!!!!!!  Yell as if their life depended on does!  They need to hear the Gospel call.  They need to be awakened from their slumber.  They need something to counteract the anesthesia of sin.  They need to break with the law!  They need God to grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.  Then they need to see the lights of the Gospel leading them out of their darkness and into the glorious light!  YELL!!!!!  YELL!!!! YELL!!!!!!   Precious seconds are ticking away!!!!!
And when this life is over, and your voice is hoarse, and you are spent from running to and fro seeking the lost.  He will say, "Well done my good and faithful servant.  Come and enter your rest.  You will never....CAN never be lost again!"

Thank you God for my Hannah!  Thank you God for my Jesus!  Kill my complacency more every day!

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