A lot of people turned out for the VBS festivities we attended with my sister's family last week, so I grew concerned when 2-year-old Emma slipped away from me. She played at my side as I was introduced to a friend of Jennifer's. We chatted for a few moments, and when I turned to face Emma she had disappeared into the crowd.
I knew she had probably taken off after her big sister, so I headed in the direction of the big water slide at the top of the hill. I found Mary Ashley standing in line, but there was no sign of Emma. "Have you seen your sister?" I asked. Mary Ashley shook her head no before jumping up and down excitedly. I could hear her giggling in the background as she waited her turn, but I couldn't focus on what she was saying.
I stood in line with Mary Ashley for a few minutes, scanning each booth in the area. My eyes finally settled on the woods at the edge of the church property, and I shuddered thinking Emma could have wandered that far. I knew in my heart that someone would have noticed if a child had broken away from the group to cross the field to the woods, but still my anxiety grew thinking of the possibilities. I watched the trees for a few moments. There was no sign of movement, so I turned to scan the crowd on the hillside below.
The area was mostly enclosed, so I knew that it was unlikely that Emma had left the carnival. But still, as more and more time passed, I grew increasingly uneasy. On the left side of the property, children played on a fenced-in playground. Swings and slides were occupied by boys and girls of all shapes and sizes, but I didn't see Emma in the group. From the playground fence on the left, hugging the church building wall and then spreading up the hill to the right, booths dotted the landscape. Water balloon toss, bean bag toss, ring toss. I surveyed each booth, looking for Emma's blond hair and smocked bathing suit, but I couldn't find her anywhere. People stood in line and milled about on the hill, but there was no sign of my 2-year-old weaving through the crowds.
Jennifer saw my worried look, and quickly found her husband when I told her I couldn't find Emma. David joined the search, and we asked the boys if they had seen her. Carson headed down the hill to look for Emma while the adults spread out to check the jump house, water slides and booths at the top of the hill. We looked for several minutes, then gathered at the top of the hill again. Jennifer, David and I scanned the crowd below, not sure where to look next. I just couldn't understand how she had gotten out of sight so quickly.
Then from the bottom of the hill, breaking through the crowd, was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. There was Emma rising above the crowd, happy as could be, carried on Carson's shoulders. He had found her playing on the playground slide. When he peered into the tunnel, she smiled brightly. "Hi Cah-Cah!" she said.
Emma had no idea in that moment that she was lost. As my worries grew, she remained blissfully unaware of the dangers around her. Giving no thought to strangers or the nearby parking lot and woods, she played happily until her big brother found her.
This incident reminds me of Matthew 18:12-14: "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." How beautiful it is to realize that the Good Shepherd loves us so much that He doesn't want any of us to be lost.
In those tense moments when I couldn't find Emma, I would have traded anything to know that my little lamb was safe. All of my worldly goods would have been a small price to pay to see her sweet smile and hold her again. Yet when I was a lost lamb, I was restored to the fold with an even greater price. The Good Shepherd reminds me, "[Y]ou were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19).
I will always treasure the photo below. I snapped this as Carson carried Emma up the hill to my outstretched arms. I remember the relief and joy I felt as a mother, knowing that my little one was safe. Yet I know that my human emotions pale in comparison to the love of the Good Shepherd, who rejoices when one of His little lambs is returned to the fold. I am so thankful that He is willing to pay the ultimate price to save even a lost little lamb like me.
It's a beautiful sight when a little lamb is returned to the fold.