The Lost Sheep

With hearts racing we're spread out through the woods. Long shadows play on last autumn's leaves piled thick on the forest floor. We catch glimpses of each other through the trees, faces full of concern, and when we can't see each other, we can hear each one calling out, "Washington!"

The minutes seem like hours as we continue calling his name over and over until finally Matt hollers out, "I see orange!" We all race to converge on that far off flash of color hidden behind fallen trees and ancient barbed wire fencing, still hollering his name, anxious hearts, full of hope.

We had started off Saturday morning with great plans to head to the wooded portion of our property where a recent storm had upended some prize fire wood trees. We would spend the day splitting, stacking, and carting home a good supply for countless future nights around the fire pit stuffing ourselves with s'mores and making memories.

Washington is already bundled in a thick grey hoodie, but I wonder if he needs more layers as a blast of chilly wind hits. Matt is standing on the deck and looks down. There was Washington's winter coat. That favorite coat of his with its bright orange accents is oddly just lying outside even though none of us had gotten it out of the closet and brought it outside. We shrug off the oddity as Matt tucks Washington inside the brightly colored coat hoping to add another layer of warmth from the biting wind and we proceed on our parade of kids, hand tools, and cart out to the woods. 

We get to work on the fallen trees, Matt with the chainsaw and the kids and I on branch duty, sorting and stacking. We make great headway so we decide to split up and I take some of the kids with me deep into the woods on a recon mission to see how the spring storms and flooding have affected our trail.

Matt has another group of kids stay with him to finish the wood stacking. That's the moment it happened. The pivotal moment you look back on in hindsight and realize that was when it all could have been changed.

I'm not watching the time as my efforts are buried in clearing debris and fallen branches from our trail, my team of helpers donned in leather work gloves pitching in. It's work, but fun. We talk, make jokes, take notes of where our trail needs work and slowly make our way around and back to the trailhead.

Matt meets us at the wood line, rows of neatly stacked wood and proud little men sweaty from hard work ready to hear how the trail has faired the storms. Matt asks if Washington has loved helping clear the trail.

I freeze with these words. My heart pauses and then I nervously laugh. He's joking, my heart starts pounding. I reason internally, Washington stayed to help with the wood.

Washington is the hardest working toddler I've ever met. He is always upping his previous record of the heaviest thing he can carry. He never shirks from a challenge.
For these reasons I know he stayed behind to help with the wood. I know it. I say it again because saying it will make it true.

But as I do I see Matt's eyes mirror the realization I'm trying to deny. Washington is lost. The woods are thick. The time has been uncounted.

'And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.'
This verse saturates what happens next.

In a moment of what should be fear, panic, and desperation; only perfect peace settles around our hearts. The six of us exchange looks and then only a miracle of the Spirit guides our minds and hearts.

As one truly disciplined team we each spring into action, like we had been trained for this moment, without Matt or I needing to give direction.
Jeff takes Madison's hand; they are a team and will be safe together. Harrison teams with Wils and they immediately, without hesitation, race down the trail calling their baby brother's name. Matt  takes off with a memory of where he remembers last seeing Washington.

I pray. I pray over my lost child, I pray for his heart and for his peace and safety. I pray over each of my other brave babies, racing deep into the forest loudly calling their brother's name, over and over. Hearing their faint voices is a reassurance and their calls match my own. I'd go hoarse yelling that name.

"Washington!!!" echoes all around through the woods.

 The shadows seem to grow and time seems frozen. I see nothing but fallen trees, thorns, and piles of dead leaves. How long has it been since Matt's eyes locked with mine and the truth gutted us. How long since our little boy had wondered away? What was he feeling? Was he hurt?

"I see orange!" Matt's voice is shaky but sure and Jeff and Madison appear at my side, racing as fast as I am trying to catch a glimpse of that bright color somewhere in the woods ahead.

Finally, behind a fallen tree, tucked up beside rusted old barbed wire fencing from the farm this land had been decades before, is our precious son, head hanging down, tear stained cheeks, dirty, scratched, and beautiful.

Matt's strong arms scoop up that baby and hold him tightly. I can't get there fast enough to get my own arms around him. His brothers and sister are eager to get as close to him as they can; kisses, hugging, crying, laughing, holding.

We had found our lost sheep.

In the 24 hours we've had to ponder and process what happened our emotions have swung from tears to 'what ifs', fear to joy.

But as we each reflect on what happened Matt and I couldn't be more proud our kids, and nor can we see anything but the hand of God.

Washington says he called 'momma!' really loud and was scared, but that God helped him. 

Jefferson innately grabbed onto Madison as they began searching knowing she needed care and a protector as she was worried for her baby brother but could easily get lost herself during the search.

 Harrison and Wilson had gone searching the opposite direction but had stopped to pray together hand in hand for their little brother and our search efforts. 

Matt and I worked to search for our son without panic and fear, a feat only accomplished by the peace of God, guarding our hearts and minds. 

And that winter coat, that just "happened" to be already lying outside? God knew that orange needed to be on our child, a beacon in the dark.

All six of us dropped everything to race to find our missing son and brother. Nothing but his well being mattered to any of us. 

We dropped hand tools and chain saws on the forest floor abandoning any and everything because of one missing. 

We acted. 

We searched. 

We yelled his name over and over. 

Branches scratched, thorns tore, and we were each a muddy mess of a search party but it didn't matter, and it didn't matter how long it would take. 

Each one of us willingly searched and would have continued until the lost one was found. 

The ninety-nine are in the fold. But praise Jesus for that precious one. 

We can only feel a fraction of what our Heavenly Father's heart holds for his passion of the 'the one'. 

But we now have a closer understanding of that stop-at-nothing intensity of His search for His lost child. 

We rejoice with our fold full and safely secured tonight, all seven of us at peace. 

Washington is well and unhurt and has told us bits and pieces of his adventure. 

The winter coat is hanging back in the closet, a memorial of God's goodness. 

Our amazing children, we couldn't be more proud of, the team that loves fiercely and loyally. 

And Matt and I stand in awe at the entire series of events. Introspective, subdued, holding our baby tightly, and deeply grateful; 
for our Father's love, 
our brave babies,
 our found child, 
and an orange winter coat. 


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