These are familiar images before us now: the shepherd and his sheep, the woman and her coin. In both examples we are reminded of the persistent love of the seeker. As I sit with them again I am reminded of a story from early in my childhood.
We were on a week-end camping trip with a group from our congregation at a Lutheran Church Camp a few hours from home. Some families had brought their tents and campers. Others were renting space in the nearby cabins. Meals were communal, with everyone pitching in. I carry wonderful memories of those annual week-ends for that informal time away was a gift in terms of forming new friendships and cementing old ones.
The story I remember now is one of being lost and found. It was Saturday afternoon and we were playing with others down at the beach. There were lots of children there and it was clearly no easy task for my folks to keep track of the four of us: ranging between the age of two and a half and six. Somewhere in the midst of building sand castles almost three year old Sarah took off. In that instant, no one saw her go.
Within moments my mother knew she was not there. I’ll never forget the lifeguard clearing the lake as he and other volunteers walked the edges of the piers looking for her. I may have been only six, but the fear that gripped me then stays with me still.
It felt like hours but was surely only minutes later that Norma crested the hill, with Sarah in her arms. My little sister had wandered back to the campsite, weeping as she walked, and Norma, recognizing her as one of the group, scooped her up and carried her back to her mother. The lost had been found.
Norma became not only a family friend. She was our church secretary (back when we called them that) at my home congregation for forty years. Through at least four pastors, forty program years, countless weddings and funerals, and thousands of Sunday bulletins, she answered the phones, kept track of the calendar and held close the secrets of many. I can remember when I was in confirmation class on Saturday mornings, waiting for my ride home and passing the time watching her as she copied the Sunday bulletin on an old mimeograph machine. What I especially remember most about that time was that she would listen and answer and go deeper with me about whatever it was we had learned in class that morning. There are a lot of people whose influence factors into one heeding the call to become a pastor. Norma was certainly one of those for me.
I know that I am blessed to serve not so far from home for I have the chance sometimes, still, to connect with those I knew when I was young. I especially knew it this last Saturday morning for Norma’s son called me up to ask my thoughts about nursing home options here. Both of their parents’ health are failing and her Alzheimer’s Disease, in particular, is making this next move necessary.
Sunday afternoon I went to see Norma. I sat down next to her daughter and we visited a while. I don’t know for sure if she really remembered me or not, but her smile was as radiant as it ever was. Before I left, I asked if I could pray with her. She placed her hand palm down on the tray table in front of her. I put my hand on top of hers and her daughter put her hand on top of mine. I prayed simply and briefly — asking for God’s protection and strength and peace. When Norma took her hand back, she wiped her eyes for those words had somehow broken through. She may only have pretended to remember me, but still she knows somehow that God remembers her. Slowly but surely the disease that is erasing her memory will not finally erase what matters most. In some ways, she may seem ‘lost’ to those who have loved her, but she is not lost to God. I expect, or at least I hope, that in that moment she knew God’s persistent love embracing her once more. ‘Found’ once more, I hope her comprehension of God’s tender love for her never leaves her.
- What explanation do you have for the fact that often people with dementia and other degenerative brain diseases often still remember the words to hymns and prayers when they seem to remember little else?
- What stories of ‘lost and found’ come to mind when you hear the story of the shepherd and his ship and the woman and her coin?
- What do the shepherd and the woman have in common? Who do you know who demonstrates those characteristics? What characteristics do they share with God?