The commons area outside of the sanctuary was overflowing as the second service released, all those in Sunday school classrooms joined in search of coffee and conversation, the 3rd service attendees entered the building. A normal 11:00 site except that I was missing Plum, a miscommunication between Chef and the teachers in Plum’s crowded classroom area allowed him to be released into the larger church area without Chef really knowing. Plum tried to follow Chef but lost sight of him so he took his handful of newly crafted tissue paper flowers and colored bible verses into the sanctuary to lay on the seats we always choose. Seeing the chance to escape, he took the opportunity to hit the senior high room where video games awaited. Meanwhile, Chef sat chatting with coffee in hand, wondering when Plum would be released. Chef never picks him up, his class usually runs longer and chatting happens in the hallway after. I am the one who picks up, I linger in the commons during the second service and chat and tend to ministries and wait for them both to be done with classes. I know eye contact with the teacher above the many rushing children and seeking parents means “I am here, I will take my grandson now.” The number of children, the crowded space by the door require that some of us stand further back. I look, she looks, I wait. That is our signal. We haven’t discussed this, it is honed from weeks and weeks of crowd control and successful connections. I haven’t discussed our method with Chef. One of the many conversations that don’t take place, considered unnecessary as we all play our parts, cogs in the machine. One added move, a change in the order, though, and we have a grandma frantically searching the crowded narthex for a little boy, a frenzied search that grows ever more so with each passing second.
Suddenly the sea of people who were mostly all friends became barriers, they were hindering me, I needed them all to MOVE OUT OF MY WAY. Friends turned into strangers who I feared, I wanted to scream above the din. Cursing the circular design of the church as I wondered if Plum was going left while I went right. I stationed someone at the doors, hollered over the masses to Chef that our Plum was missing, gave the one sentence to Janet as I passed her in a hallway that every mother understands, “I can’t find Plum.” Trusted community mobilized, panic spiraling into terror with each passing second, spying Janet through windows as she searched left, right. Rounding the hallways, afraid to move too far from the front doors, right, left, back into the sanctuary, around the commons, repeat. I could barely breathe. In my fear, it didn’t occur to me to check the one room that holds the most appeal: the video game and couch luring Plum into Chef’s Sunday school room. Another sweep through the halls and I heard voices first, “Found Him!” I arrived to see Chef, Janet and Chef’s co-leader all converged on this room, around a Plum who was slightly frustrated that he couldn’t keep up with his grandpa, a Plum who knew he would be found, didn’t even know he was lost. Mustering the tiny bit of self-control I had left, I sank into a nearby chair and allowed them all to handle the first line of questions. I really wanted to push through even these most trusted friends and grab this child, hold on until my breathing was restored. When I summoned him to me, a necessary act that meant I didn’t doing any grabbing, I tried to find the balance between expressing how important it is to stay with trusted adults and not scaring him. Time will tell if I achieved that, I think a second conversation may be necessary. I want him to feel safe at church, safe with all of those adults, in the hallways, away from my eyesight. I want to feel safe with him more than a step away from me as well.
I tell Plum all the time he is my favorite. As of this writing, he is the only male grandchild so I am safe in this designator. This child has seen some horror in his life already, is feeling the pain of two critical but disconnected relationships, still is mostly well adjusted. He is my treasure. I reflected all day on Jesus’s parable of the lost sheep, leaving the 99 to search for that one who left the fold. I can only imagine the panic in God’s heart as He watches us wander off, as He sends out the search party to bring us back to the sanctuary. Oh my God, I am so sorry for those times I have wandered beyond the hallways that circle your altar, the times I ignored the calls of those trying to find me. That I have caused that terror in His heart while I played games, I could just cry again. Still, how comforting to know that just as I would never stop searching for my Plum, my God will pursue me, will stay after my soul. I am his treasure. So are you. Can you hear His frantic calls for us to return? Is He asking you to join a search party for a lost sheep?
My heart still quickens at possibilities yesterday. When I told mama what happened, admitting up front that we had a “bit of an issue,” her response was calming. “Pretty safe place to get lost, at church.” I too get lost there almost every time I visit, lost in His mercy, lost in His grace. I am keeping my eye out for others who feel frantic, who feel lost or that something is missing. As God’s favorite, I need to be ready to join the search party. Today though, I mostly need to remember what was found and let go of the panic that still threatens to paralyze me. Plum was safe all along and he knew it. So am I. God is always pursuing us, even more than a crazed gran after her favorite.