The phone call came just at dusk. My friend's twelve year old grandson was missing. He was upset over his grades and left a note saying he just couldn't take it anymore, and he left. When I heard the news, he had been missing over three hours. She asked for prayer, so I went to my handy dandy message machine and blitzed all of our mutual acquaintances with a request to pray for the safe return of this beautiful, and vulnerable, little boy.
I was dazed by the news, and more or less in a fog as I wandered around picking up napkins and glasses from a meeting that had just ended. Another friend called, and insisted that we had to do something. She was coming to get me and we would help look. Ever the cynic, I went, but had little faith that our efforts would produce much. It was getting darker, and as we rode down Poplar Avenue toward the area where the child was last seen, it was evident that if he wanted to hide, there would be little hope of finding him. There were just too many places to disappear in the maze of businesses and churches. We scanned the sidewalk constantly, peered into the windows of nearly empty fast food joints, and drove and drove and drove.
Soon we linked up with the grandmother in the parking lot of a large office campus where he had last been seen. This looked even more hopeless. There were woody areas, vast parking garages, and a million places for a kid to disappear. We spread out again, armed with flyers with the angelic looking boy's picture. Just seeing it made me feel ill. The few clues they had gotten made me feel even more ill. He had been in a Walgreen's about two hours earlier. He had given a homeless man ten dollars. He had a kind heart. The only hopeful sign was that it appeared that he had changed directions and seemed to be heading back home. But it was still a long, dangerous route.
A few minutes later, the call came. The child had spotted his family at a nearby bus kiosk handing out posters and walked up to them. He sheepishly admitted that he had gotten scared as darkness fell, and had been sitting in a Burger King, trying to figure out what to do. His grandmother called me later to confirm that he had indeed given a homeless man ten dollars. He had a good heart.
Many, maybe most of us, have experienced that gutteral fear of having a child or grandchild missing, at least for a brief period. We have seen the television coverage of missing kids. I wonder what we might do to give our kids the confidence that nothing, absolutely nothing, they can do is worse than just disappearing.
I hope our little runaway will have some long and productive talks with his parents and professionals as needed. I hope we'll all realize how vulnerable our children are to our criticism and serve it sparingly. I hope that coping with disappointment and criticism in a positive manner becomes part of what every kid learns before he becomes brave enough to run away because of it.