It was the most afraid I've ever been. I was halfway through a first time appointment with a teenage client and his mom. They had lots to be concerned about. I was in full people helper mode. Six thirty in the evening. Nobody else left in the office, very few people still in the five story building. My seven o'clock appointment would be in the waiting room soon. Before that however, I would experience the longest twenty-five minutes of my life.
The knock on the waiting room door was loud and rare. So rare that I ignored it the first time. My new client was expressing a desire to end his life and his mother was looking to me to do something, anything, to change his mind. As he spoke, her eyes begged, "Please make my son want to live his life again." The next knock was louder, longer. As though somebody was coming through the wall. I apologized and told them I'd be right back. It was six-forty p.m. when I left the room.
When I got to the waiting room I found our former office manager, who still worked downstairs in the building. She looked concerned, apologized, and said, "You need to call Jerrad right now." Jerrad is my husband, who as far as I knew was at home with our twenty-two month old daughter. Except now, because he is the least reactive person I know, I knew he wasn't. I didn't return to my office. I stepped around to the receptionist area and called him. He answered the phone with the words, "I can't find her."
Marie is our first and only child. She was a footling breech at birth, which basically means she was standing up inside of me so the doctor had to go in and get her. She hadn't sat down since. She is active. Very active! And now she was gone! My husband ,who is usually so calm it's maddening, was in a panic. He is also completely night blind. It was December at dusk. They had been playing outside and he turned around for a few minutes and she was gone. I immediately pictured our creek, our pond, livestock, ravines, woods, darkness, cold, and the highway that is not far from our property. "She is gone," he repeated. I told him to call all the neighbors, stop people on the road, and go to the bar on the highway and get anybody to help. "Get more eyes. Eyes that can see at night. Anybody. Everybody." We hung up the phone.
I had seconds to make a decision. I could leave the mama in my office with her kid who was suicidal and race forty-five minutes home to help my husband find our daughter, or I could stay. I could stay and do the work that has been entrusted to me and give this family twenty more minutes of guidance while desperately hoping for different news at seven, when I would absolutely head home if she wasn't found. It was six forty-three when I sat back down in my office. Three minutes I'd been gone. I said nothing about the information that I had received during the interruption and simply apologized again. I was as present as I could be while I was busy in my mind battling fear and trying to find faith.
I had waited forty years to be a mom and in that moment I found myself whispering to God "I know this can't be how it ends." I have to think that the mom in my office was whispering the same thing about her child. "I know this can't be how it ends." Her son was communicating horrific and tragic thoughts. The visuals that came into my mind while I sat there listening were equally as horrifying and tragic. My baby is lost! Then it struck me that she couldn't find her child either. Although he was right in front of us, he was lost too. I prayed that while I was attempting to be part of her search party, somebody, anybody, was joining my husband in his. Six forty-four, six forty-eight, six fifty-one, the clock in my office had never moved so slowly. I had my daughter dead and rescued in more scenarios than you can possibly imagine in those minutes. All the while I was attempting to be attentive. My actual attention was with my lost toddler who was an hour from my arms. My ongoing plea with God was that He please have her in His. Six fifty-four, six fifty-six, six fifty-eight….my anxiety grew as I imagined what my next phone call with Jerrad would be. I knew I was three minutes from a conversation that could change my life, my entire existence. My next conversation with my husband could alter my heart and test my faith more than anybody ever wants their faith tested.
I rescheduled my new client and told them that I thought I could be helpful, though in that moment I knew that might not be true. Two minutes after seven. I apologized to my seven o'clock client for running late and told him that I needed a minute or two before we could get started. I stepped into my office with the full realization of how many different directions my life could go with this one phone call. We've all had those moments. The ones that when they come they either leave you with a huge, deep emotional relief or they take every breath of air you ever thought about breathing. I was about to experience one of those moments and I dreaded it.
When I hung up the phone at six forty-three and went back to my office, Jerrad continued to call every neighbor he had a phone number for. He reached two men who live at opposite ends of our road. When he said, "Please help me I've lost my baby," they both jumped in their pickups and headed toward our house. My strong, immensely capable husband had found his limit. He couldn't see four feet in front of him and his baby girl was lost alone by herself on fifty acres of land. Or worse, not on our property at all and in the woods, on the road, or headed toward the highway. Nightmare. He was living a nightmare. The kind of nightmare where you scream but nothing comes out, or run and your legs don't work. A helpless nightmare.
At three after seven when I called him back, he answered with the words, "I have her." Oh, Sweet Jesus! My moment got to be one of deep breathing relief! It easily could have gone the other way. I breathed so gratefully deep it might as well have been the only breath I'd ever taken. "Thank you, Lord," I muttered. Jerrad concurred. Our neighbor found her in our pasture a half mile from our house. I made him cookies the next day. I'll give him a kidney or bone marrow if he ever needs them. Thankfully, Marie didn't know she was lost. She had followed her puppy on an adventure. For forty-five minutes she had been lost and didn't know it. Playing. Happily playing in the dark with her dog. Her parents were the only ones traumatized on this day. Traumatized and changed. Because that's what trauma does, it changes us.
We held her and each other a little tighter after that. We watched her more closely and loved her more intentionally. The way you do after you have thoughts that you might never get to do it again. I love her more mindfully now. When life gets busy and I'm not paying the attention I should, I've asked God to remind me that I could always be one second away from one of those moments, When He does, I hold her longer to express how thankful I am to not be in one now. I am reminded that so many people actually are in one now. I breathe deeper, I watch her play longer, I kiss her face more tenderly, and I don't wipe the muddy fingerprints off the window. I value the little stuff when He reminds me to do so. I rest in the only comfort I have as a parent which is knowing that no matter where she is in proximity to my arms, she will always and forever be in the the embrace of His.