“Uh-oh, where are they? Daddy? Mommy?” Twisting my skinny, six year-old body around to look back down the shoreline, I peer at the footprints scrambled in the sand. I squint to see if I can pick out the ones that are mine and will point me back to my family’s blanket. No, they all look alike.
I shade my eyes against the noonday sun and look up hoping to spot a familiar adult face. I don’t. The only thing in front of me is a forest of big people legs.
Panic laps at my feet like the wave that crashes onto the shore and creeps inland, overtaking my toes. Then it recedes back towards the ocean, pulling with it my self-confidence — the same self-assurance that pushed me into thinking I was big enough to explore alone.
The towel I carried like a princess cape winged out from either side of my back now droops about my shoulders. They slump forward as prickles of fear inch up my spine. I search up and down the beach for my mother’s white swimsuit with the single teardrop pearl adorning the front. Nothing. I look for my dad’s sky blue trunks and the cowgirl tattooed on his leg and who winks at me from the side of his calf. I can’t find her anywhere.
I retrace my path. Still no sight of mommy, daddy or the passel of relatives who came with us to the beach. Only a sea of laughing, sunbathing strangers. Maybe I already passed by them, so I turn again and head the other direction, frantically scanning the crowds for family.
“Where are they?” I scream into the breeze when he grabs my arm and whirls me around.
“Daddy!” I don’t even care that he swats my bottom for wandering away.
Minutes later Daddy plants me on a corner of the beach blanket. He tells me not to move and think about what I did. Here is what I think. I’m the oldest but not old enough. I’m a big sister but not big enough. I think I can go it alone but not always. Like today, when I wandered away without paying attention to where I was going.
Then, I realize something huge. If I do get lost, Daddy searches until he tracks me down. He still loves me even though I disobeyed by drifting out of sight. I know because I saw relief in his eyes when he found me. I imagine it’s the same relief and joy as when the shepherd found his lost sheep.
So, I walk over to where Daddy sits in a lounge chair. I rest my head on his shoulder and throw my arms around his neck. “I’m sorry, Daddy. Thank you for finding me.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it. And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (Luke 15:3-5, NIV)