The gears shrieked and the engine groaned as the U-Haul I was driving labored slowly up Parley’s Canyon, while other vehicles whizzed indignantly past. Finally Liz, my 16-year-old daughter following me in the family car, couldn’t take the sluggish pace any longer. Despite instructions to stay behind the truck, she pulled out into the left lane, stomped on the accelerator, and soon disappeared from sight.
Three reluctant children and I were moving from California to South Dakota to begin my first permanent job. Next to me in the cab of the overloaded U-Haul was Tom, age 11. Liz and 14-year-old Seth were following in the Toyota, with our long-suffering cat. But now they were gone.
We were in a year and an income bracket that precluded the use of cell phones, so I had no way to communicate with Liz. Still, at first I was more irritated than afraid, expecting momentarily to glimpse the elderly Camry pulled over on the shoulder, waiting for me to catch up. But as the miles rolled by and I entered Wyoming with no glimpse of the car, I began to worry. After an hour, I started to wonder if I should turn around and go back to the service station where we had last bought gas, thinking that perhaps Liz would return there looking for me. So I exited the freeway, turned around, and drove 50 miles back to the station, to ask the bored attendant at the cash register if he had seen a teenage girl in a white Toyota recently. I then used the pay phone to call my parents back in California, on the chance that Liz may have called them. I rang my former husband in Utah; had she perhaps contacted her father? Finally, having no results, I phoned the Highway Patrol, which was not interested in locating the vehicle unless it had been stolen. Discouraged, I realized the futility of my efforts, got back in the truck, and toiled once more along the highway toward South Dakota, craning my neck to view the cars both going and coming, and trying to control my panic.
After several hours, well into Wyoming, it became evident that I was not going to find my children before dark. Tom, hunched on the bench seat beside me, was aware of the tears rolling down my face and my lips moving in silent prayer, but said nothing. Whenever we passed a town, I exited the Interstate to make more phone calls, but no one had heard from Liz. She couldn’t drive indefinitely without filling up with gas. But where would she stop, and how was I to find her? She had never been to South Dakota. Even if she managed somehow to reach Rapid City, how could I ever locate her there?
At midnight, exhausted and heartsick, I knew there was no point in continuing to drive, so I steered off the highway at the town of Rock Springs and located a motel. It was late; only one room was available, with a king-sized bed. I accepted it, and Tom and I unloaded some suitcases and stumbled inside. I picked up the phone to make one last call to my ex-husband, and this time he had some information. “Liz just called collect,” he told me. “She was at a Taco Bell in Rock Springs, Wyoming, preparing to spend the night in the car.” With the receiver still at my ear, I glanced out the window, where across the vast parking lot there appeared a lighted Taco Bell sign. I jumped in the truck, drove over to the fast-food restaurant, and spotted my Toyota just as it was pulling out.
What a reunion we had! My relief and happiness were indescribable. The children and I were so glad to find one another that it didn’t matter that there was only one bed to sleep in. We all crowded gratefully together on that bed, even the cat, reassured by our closeness and overjoyed after the hours of fear to be together again.
Psychologists report that the loss of a child ranks #1 on the list of stress-producing life events. Although none of my children has died, I can attest that, for sheer terror, nothing can surpass the panic one feels upon losing track of a child, even momentarily. Most parents, like I, have experienced the racing heartbeat, churning stomach, and frantic dread felt when a toddler wanders off in a crowded Costco, a 5-year-old disappears from view at Marine World, or a teen fails to return home at night. Even now, occasionally I will awaken, sweating and with pounding pulse, from a nightmare where I was searching for a lost child. What relief I feel as, emerging into consciousness, I realize that my children are now grown and able to take care of themselves!
I am so grateful that a loving God, Himself probably distressed about lost children (as we know from the Prodigal Son parable), answered my prayers on that frantic day en route to South Dakota and mercifully provided for me to locate my missing ones.