He must have been two, I think, when it happened: back when his cheeks still looked like he was storing up nuts for winter. The store’s fluorescent lights buzzed above, and it must have been the time of year that the air conditioning was running full-blast there in the South. I was pregnant with our third, and making one of those fly-bys mothers of young children perform in a store when they have to look at a rack before one of her kids starts crying, whining, distracting, throwing things out of the cart or into the cart–you get the idea. The store wasn’t busy. Which must have been the reason I lifted him out to explore for a moment.

 

But in just that span of time, he was also…gone.

 

My emotions first traded places, then collided–from annoyed to worried to angered to panicky as I called his name, ducked under each rack, peered around the corners. How fast could he run anyway?

 

Whispering over my shoulder after about five minutes were rumors of a recent kidnapping ring (the kind that land in email forwards and you have to look them up on Snopes.com, only a friend had relayed this one). They took a child to a restroom and changed his entire appearance before leaving the store. I began to call with a little more urgency, parting the clothes on the rack.

 

So it was with reluctance that I asked the fitting room attendant if she’d seen a two-year-old boy. I described the clothes he was wearing. I don’t remember if it was immediate or not, but I soon heard her call a “Code Adam” over the loudspeaker. The doors of the store locked. All attendants left their posts to look for my son.

 

We did find him. He’d had a potty accident and had hidden himself beneath a rack of dresses. A flutter of skirt caused by the overhead fans had made me wonder, Did I check that one? There he was, huddled beneath in that pudgy toddler crouch, silent and a little ashamed.

 

I gathered him in my arms, boggy pants and all, and breathed him in. I was simply so grateful to have the privilege of holding him close.

 

But what I remember from that day was the team of people and resources suddenly mobilized to locate my little boy, swiftly and intentionally. Something reminded me of the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15); of a shepherd fervent.

 

I think of this story with the new year turning its page in a matter of days. I suppose I’m writing to those of us who face a new year with some trepidation. Who feel a little lost. I think, Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

 

I hear, If you’re lost, I move heaven and earth to bring you close.

 

“Is it…dead?”

During our holiday travels, my daughter remarked how many trees around us were dead. Not dead, I said. Dormant. But then I thought. How can you tell the difference? I asked my husband. “Do you think you could tell a difference between a dormant tree and a dead one without cutting into one?”

 

Neither of us did. (My husband wisely suggested he would know a dead tree if, say, it was lying on the ground.) I thought of the new life curling within the trees, waiting for the perfect season to unfurl in that lemony green of a new spring.

 

Psalms says a righteous man “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (Psalm 1:3). Though it also says the tree’s leaf doesn’t wither–reaching the fingers of its roots deep for its water source–it still has a season that’s fruitful, and presumably a proper season where it doesn’t. Where it’s storing up its resources, looking a skeletal, exposed, and naked. When it’s winter, a season of its own peculiar, startling beauty.

 

So if this is you as you look to the next year, at the risk of mixing my metaphors: Your God knows where to find you. He longs to be gracious to you. He will flesh out your life in lush greenness–maybe not when and how you saw it going in your head, but just as it needs to happen. As Jonathan Edwards famously wrote,

All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sense; nothing can be needful that he withholds…

I’m not talking physical prosperity, per se. It’s more what Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess, called viriditas: greenness. The grace of God inherent in all living things. His flourishing; his life.

 

You may feel like that “inherent grace”, that viriditas, is too much of a trickle right now. I remember thinking something like that this past year. But the more God cast light on all those small graces, all the little ways he was keeping me afloat, all those little ways he had my name written on his hands–the more I realized I was standing in a flood. He’s a good, good Father.

 

This next year, as you wait for your spring, be encouraged that it is in fact coming. That he knows how to find you, and is fervent in bringing you near. 

 

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