When I was seven years old my mother had saved, over the period of several months, books and books of Green Stamps to redeem for tickets so that our family could go to Six Flags over Texas. As our parents described the roller coaster rides, the chair lifts, the spinning teacups, the giant Ferris wheel and the submarines, our eyes grew large as Frisbees. We had never ever seen or heard of anything so other worldly.
Like the long hand on the clock in our kitchen, time crept by in anticipation of the day of our trip to Fort Worth, Texas. When we arrived at the park on that hot summer day I remember being impressed that it was so large that when we parked our station wagon in the parking lot we had to get on a shuttle to take us the quarter mile or so to the park entrance. We felt like country kids visiting the big city for the first time. Glad we wore our shoes.
There were balloon vendors, with giant bouquets of colors being sold for 5 cents a balloon. The salty smell of popcorn and sweet smells of cotton candy made my mouth water. Somewhere a miniature train whistle blew, hundreds and hundreds of children were running, laughing and screaming. It was a hot kaleidoscope of colors, movement, smells and sounds.
Just inside the entrance there was a huge oval water fountain with six giant flags flapping in the wind. My parents gathered us in a circle and said, “This is a big place. If any of you gets lost or separated from us look for the flags and come straight back to this fountain and wait for us here.”
With the safety and security questions answered, off we went for a wild day of fun. I shot at moving tin ducks in an arcade and never ruffled a feather. We rode the spinning red clam shells and I got sick. Rode a roller coaster and screamed like a girl. Sat through a confusing puppet show about European clockmaker. Ate some pastel cotton candy that melted in our mouth and turned our lips blue. All five senses were red-lining before noon. Thanks Green Stamp redemption!
After lunch all five of us went into a spooky, cave-like exhibit. It was dark with twists and turns and tunnels splitting off here and there. It was supposed to be scary, but I don’t remember being scared. I came out into the sunlight at the other end of the mine or cave…alone. No brother, sister, mom or dad.
No worries, I sat down and waited for them to come out the same exit. I waited and waited for what seemed to a 7 year old like a half an hour but was probably only a few minutes. I walked around the exhibit and saw no one familiar. My blue tinged mouth got dry. My heart began to beat a little faster. Where were they? I went through the exhibit again and came out the other end alone again.
All I could hear was the voice of my mom echoing like a broken record in my ears, “Never talk to strangers, never talk to strangers.” I was surrounded by strangers. The only people I knew by name were lost.
Then I remembered another set of instructions. Newer ones. Just hours old. I decided to go back to the water fountain at the park entrance and wait for them there.
I felt small. Untethered. The concrete felt hot and hard under my Keds shoes.
I sat down on the smooth concrete wall circling the fountain and waited. The mist from the fountain rising and falling drifted on the breeze to the back of my neck and felt good in the hot Texas sun. I waited and waited. I watched large cartoon characters walk by with oversized heads. Eeyore waved at me. Several pimple-faced teenagers swept up cigarette butts. I waited and waited.
I could feel my chest tighten each minute I sat alone at that fountain. Fear was slowly squeezing me like a giant snake I had seen on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
I quit looking at the swirling mass of people and turned to the fountain.
The water felt good on my fingers as I traced circles in the water and started counting the coins in the fountain and imagined how rich I would be if I just grabbed the ones close to the wall. Probably three or four dollars in silver right there within arm’s reach. I was about to reach for the silver when I heard someone call my name.
The snake of fear uncoiled from around my chest and slithered back to some dark place.
I looked up and my mom and dad were walking at a fast pace towards me and had a large smile and look of relief on their faces. My brother and sister looked disappointed, however.
They hugged me and congratulated me that I had done what I was told to do. They said they had been looking and looking for me everywhere when it dawned on them that I might have actually done what I was told if we got separated. That is when they decided to go back to the fountain.
My parents chastised themselves right there in front of me by saying that they should have realized right away that I would have been at the fountain. How silly it was of them to chase around looking for me when I was right where I was supposed to be all along, they said.
We enjoyed the rest of the day in the park. I got to pilot the river boat and safely navigated away from falling trees, angry Hippos and menacing crocodiles. I was a hero; both of the river and the family. I felt “grown up.” I had made a good decision in a sketchy situation.
I was taller.
Every parent might know the deep pain and panic of losing a child if only imagined. There is evil in this world that is attracted to the weak and innocent like iron filings to a magnet. It is a great fear.
It is one thing to lose your son, but the pain and panic elevates to whole new level when that son is also the God of the Universe.
Mary and Joseph made their annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem for Passover and on the return to Nazareth they lost Jesus. After a frantic three day search they, finally go to the temple. They go, not to search but to pray.
There they find Jesus confounding the religious professionals of his day. His parents scold twelve-year-old Jesus and he replies,
“Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:50
Mary and Joseph never looked at Jesus in the same way after this. He was taller now. Bigger. Something shifted.
What would your life look like if you loved Jesus the way Mary and Joseph did? What if you looked for him like you would look for a lost child? What if a lump grew in your throat at the idea of spending a day without speaking to Him. What if your eyes burned with tears at the mere mention of His name…Jesus?
Redemption is a wonderful thing. It allows small-town families to enjoy adventures in the big city at an amusement park. It allows a world to have access to the God of the Universe.
Have you lost Jesus? He is right where He is supposed to be. You might try looking in his Father’s house.