He was on his fourth trip down to the water's edge with Ninja Turtle squirter-thing in hand.He filled it up with salt water for his castle-in-progress and for a moment was distracted by a seagull overhead. He took a few extra steps with his eyes on the sky and then turned to walk back towards me.
I didn't realize what was happening at first.
Unlike the previous three trips, his path this time led him to the back side of the umbrella where I was sitting. I saw him turn and begin walking in the opposite direction...away from me. For a couple of moments I thought he was following a crab because his steps were deliberate and his eyes searching. I watched from my chair but as he got further and further away I stood, book in hand, and began following him. There was a distance of about two car lengths between us. I finally discerned that he was not in hot pursuit of a crab, but I was still unsure what exactly he was doing...where he was headed with such purpose.
He looked slightly from side-to-side but never turned around. His gait remained the same, never hurried. The further we walked, the closer I came to believing that what he was in pursuit of...
We had been walking that way - together, yet alone - for the length of what had to be longer than a football field when I finally closed in. I picked up my pace until I was right behind him and said softly, questioningly, Oliver?
He turned and offered an expression not of surprise or panic, but of intensity that melted into relief. And then he spoke...
I never knew you were behind me.
What were you doing, buddy?
I was looking for you.
You didn't know where I was?
No, I was trying to find you.
Do you know how far away from our house you walked?
It was a long way, buddy. How much farther do you think you would have walked?
Until I found you.
He didn't run and grab on to my leg.
He didn't burst into tears at the sight of me.
He simply walked back to me and gently took the hand I offered as we turned to head home.
It took me all afternoon to process why that event was so profound for me...why I felt compelled to preserve it with words.
He was never worried about being separated from me.
Yes, he wanted to find me.
Yes, he was in unfamiliar territory.
Yes, he was wandering in the wrong direction
Yes, his misguided steps were actually taking him further away.
But despite all of that...despite the fact that he might have felt lost and alone...he knew I was there somewhere and so instead of panicking...he just kept looking.
That calm and patient searching is evidence of something...
I don't know that I could ever put my finger on what I have done, or not done, to establish that kind of relationship with my 4 year old son. It's probably mostly luck, but I'd like to believe there have been things I have said or done which led him to believe
that I would never leave him,
that if he just kept looking he would eventually see me again,
that if all his searching failed, I would find him
and that I was right there with my eye on him all along.
It's a precious thing when you can walk through the loneliest parts of life knowing that you aren't really alone.
When we feel lost in the crowd or stranded on a desert island we don't ever stop seeking His face.
Though we unknowingly walk in the opposite direction, He never stops pursuing us.
If we are unsure of the distance we have put between us, we can be sure that His eye is still on us.
Just because we can't feel, see, or touch Him, doesn't mean that He isn't standing right behind us ready to lead us home again.
If we listen, at the right moment, we hear our name whispered. And as we turn towards the voice suddenly our body and soul soften as we grab on to the hand stretched out to us.
Maybe no one seems to recognize you or care where you're headed.
Maybe you feel completely and utterly alone.
Maybe you've been wandering so long that you don't even know the way home anymore.
If so, I hope you'll be encouraged by a little wayward boy I know and remember this...
nothing can separate us from the One who loves us most.
be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid and do not panic. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.
As lonely and wandering as you may feel - you are never alone.
of knowing there is someone closer than you might have imagined waiting to lead you back home.