Can someone lead communion? My daughter is lost.
This was a text I sent the elders at 11:09 a.m. on Celebration Sunday (Oct. 31). There had been a whole team of people helping me look for her. A team of devoted friends, co-workers, and members that sprung into action when I started frantically searching for my 6-year-old daughter, Sawyer. I noticed them. It was about the only thing I noticed during the 30 minutes when I thought my daughter was lost.
I had helped in the beginning of the service, and as soon as I came off the stage, Sawyer ran up to me and said, “Daddy, I want to stay with you.” We went out to the foyer area, and I asked a friend to keep an eye on her while I went to count folks in the service. About 5 minutes later he popped his head into the service to say, “I’m sorry... I turned around and I don’t see her anymore.”
I assumed she had embarked on an adventure to the balcony because she had asked me about it. I started opening doors and exploring the dark, empty building. I was worried, but I know my independent daughter. I expected to find her in a random room branding her name on the wall or trying to get some chips from the vending machine.
Others began to help me look. We searched everywhere. Most of the building was dark and empty, and it was disorienting trying to navigate which doors were locked vs. unlocked. My concern was growing …
Then, my worry turned into terror as I thought, “I’ve looked everywhere. I’ve traversed through every possible variation of a route to the balcony, and I can’t find her. Did someone take her?” The question that haunts every parent was like a dagger to the heart. My heart started pounding, my brisk walk turned into frantic running from room to room, and I started yelling “Sawyer!” My mind was racing.
What could I do?
What would I tell Mary?
Would I ever see my daughter again?
The fear was too much. I couldn’t feel all of it at once because it would consume me. The emotion seemed to be chasing after me.
Then I got a text: Sawyer is with your parents. I was relieved, but skeptical. I had to confirm it with my own eyes. I went to go see for myself. All the elders were in the back waiting to receive people for prayer, and my parents were right near the back.
Then I saw her. She was coloring on the ground, oblivious to my gripping fear.
I immediately turned to run to an empty room to cry my eyes out, but something happened. Kyle Porter hugged me. Actually, it was more like he grabbed me like a middle linebacker tackles a running back. And I wept as the tidal wave of fear overwhelmed me.
You see, there’s a bigger story here. I’ve been in a season of processing some painful memories when I was literally lost or abandoned as a boy. It’s been scary and disorienting, but good.
But alongside these big memories, I have recurring memories of running to my room to cry my eyes out to pray as a literal cry to God for help. Since this was before my “rebellious” years, I’ve always wondered about those prayers. Did God hear them? Did He care?
What I realize is that when I am scared or sad, or I need to weep, I do that alone. I was on my way when Kyle tackled me. He embraced me, comforted me and calmed my terrified heart.
Now, I have experienced the Father’s love in prayer, silence, and solitude, and I have a pretty deep understanding of his love, but I’ve never experienced the Father’s love in my body as another person comforts me in my tears. It was a holy moment, one I will never forget.
I felt the Father say, “I was there, John. I’m here, and I love you.”
God surprised me on Celebration Sunday. In fact, my daughter was never lost. She had just gone back to sit with my parents, but was sitting on the ground so I couldn’t see her. Yet, in some strange, redemptive way, I realize that I was the child that was lost.
A question has always lived in the back of my heart: Did God abandon me? Did He hear those prayers? He fathered me by answering that question powerfully: “I was there. I’m here, and I love you.”
I can’t explain to you how vulnerable and exposed I felt as a pastor weeping in the arms of another pastor during an invitation to respond to the gospel. It was scary, but I also can’t explain to you how powerful that day was for me and my healing.
I love you, Mosaic Church,