Lost and Found
Rose. M. Jackson ©1997
When I was nine, one of my favorite books was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It’s about a family of tiny people who live under the kitchen floor in the house of an elderly lady. They’re called Borrowers because that’s their chief occupation: borrowing things from the larger folk in the house. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we must have Borrowers in our own house, because the oddest things keep getting lost, and no one has the slightest idea where they could have gone. I’m sure the fact that we are “savers” and have, admittedly, too much stuff under all the beds has nothing to do with our misplacing things.
Last year in early spring, though, I lost three things within three weeks. That’s a record even for me, and the unusual ways it happened lead me to believe those events carried a message for me. At least I’ve found a message in them – a message about losing things – that had a profound impact on my perception of loss.
The first incident occurred when I went to an allergist’s office for a scratch test on my back. Thinking I should take off my jewelry, I put in my shirt pocket the gold cross-within-a-fish necklace my mother-in-law had given me a few years earlier. I treasured it because of its unique design and because a jeweler friend of hers had made it specifically for me. After the test I put my shirt on, left the office, and ran an errand. When I returned home I realized I didn’t have my necklace. Horrified, I immediately called the doctor’s office and the store I’d stopped in on my way home. No one had turned in the necklace. My heart sank. How could I have been so careless?
In tears, I called my husband to admit my mistake. Instead of the anger I expected, he spoke with kindness, assuring me that he knew it was an accident. A week later he came home one evening carrying a red velvet box. Puzzled, I opened it and gasped. Inside was an exact replica of the necklace I’d lost! My husband had stopped at a jeweler’s on his way home from work the day I lost the cross. He’d drawn a picture of the necklace and had the jeweler recreate it for me. Tears streaming down my face, I wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck and sobbed for the beauty of his forgiving love. That necklace holds double meaning for me now, and I quickly tell the story any time someone asks where I got it.
The very next week I lost another item I treasured. I was feverishly working to finish a project by a rapidly-looming deadline, and as I shifted my gaze from the computer screen to the printer, I noticed a dark hole where the diamond should have been in my engagement ring. A hole. No diamond. Panic momentarily paralyzed me, and then my mind began to race. Where had I lost it? More to the point, when had I lost it? I had no clear idea of the last time I could say for certain that I knew the stone was in the ring.
That would mean the stone could be anywhere.
Just as quickly as the panic had come, though, a sense of certainty replaced it. Somehow I knew that this had happened for a purpose. I didn’t hear angelic voices, but I knew God had a reason behind this calamity, and I felt certain I would find the diamond.
I began to mentally check off all the things I’d done that morning which might have dislodged a loose stone. I’d put lotion on my hands, so I checked the bathroom sink, floor, and drawers: no stone. I reasoned that the stone might have come out when I changed my clothes, so I searched through the bed I’d just made and played bloodhound on the bedroom rug: lots of dust, but no diamond.
Now what? The immensity of the task of going through my actions of the previous day loomed on the edge of my consciousness, when I realized that I had re-potted a plant just an hour or so earlier. I had given up on an ailing ivy that I’d moved into the bathroom to recover, deciding to re-pot it in the large planter on the front porch to either pull through or die in the fresh air. Its root went much deeper in the pot than I suspected, and I’d had to dig at it a bit to loosen the ivy from its pot.
That was it. I was sure that’s what dislodged the diamond. But when exactly had it happened? I’d also moved a petunia to a different spot in the planter. Like Hercule Poirot, I set my little gray cells to computation. Did the stone fall out in (1) the pot from which I’d taken the ivy, (2) the hole in the planter where I placed the ivy, (3) the dirt I removed from that spot to make the hole, (4) the spot where I transplanted the petunia, or (5) the other planter where I’d tossed some of the extra potting soil from the original ivy pot?
Heartened by the confidence that I’d find the stone, I began what could possibly be a long search. Here is a good spot to interject that the stone I was looking for was not large. It was just 20 points, not even a quarter carat, but it had cost my husband just about every penny he had saved at the time he gave it to me. I could vividly remember choosing that stone from a tiny jumble of brilliance on a black velvet pouch nearly twenty-five years earlier. This was not going to be easy to find.
The truth of that came home to me as I scooped out the first cupful of potting soil left in the ivy’s pot and spilled it onto a sheet of newspaper. Have you ever really examined potting soil? I never realized that much of potting soil is actually tiny pebbles of quartz – most of which were bigger than my diamond! Finding my diamond was going to be literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. All I had going for me was the fact that my diamond wasn’t shaped like a lump of quartz.
Cup by cup, on my hands and knees, I painstaking sifted through the soil. I was not willing to let even an ounce of that soil go unsearched. The irony of looking for one rock amid hundreds occurred to me after twenty minutes of unfruitful sifting. What was it, after all, that made this one rock so valuable to me? It wasn’t the DeBeers family controlling the world supply and setting the price of diamonds. It wasn’t money at all, for our homeowners’ insurance would cover this loss.
I didn’t want a diamond. I wanted that diamond, my diamond. What made it valuable to me was the love for me that bought it. As I realized that, I sat back on my heels. What had I really lost? I still had the love that bought that stone. In fact, I know my husband loves me more now than he did twenty-five years ago. All I’d lost was a rock. The love I still had was worth more than the most priceless diamond.
At the same instant I realized something else, too. What makes me valuable to God is not what the world thinks – or what I think – I’m worth; what makes me valuable to God is the love that bought me. That love bore the cost of degradation, anguish and agony of death by crucifixion to buy me. The price Jesus paid for me makes me priceless to God my Father.
I sifted through all the dirt left in the pot, but found nothing. I went out to the planter box where I’d sprinkled some potting soil, scooped up as much as I could recover, and went through that dirt – snail castings and decomposing leaves and all – cup by cup, but found nothing. I uprooted the ivy and searched the soil around the roots, but there was no diamond. That left just two more places to search. I’d been looking fruitlessly for over an hour, but somehow I still felt the assurance that I’d find the stone. I scooped some loose potting soil from around the hole left by the now uprooted ivy, spread it out on the newspaper, and there, amid the quartz and vermiculite, was my diamond. I felt ecstatic, of course, that I had found that tiny stone Chip gave me, but I also felt the warmth of knowing I’d found something more than the diamond.
If I was willing to look so hard and diligently for the sake of what love bought me, how much harder and more diligently, I thought, does God look for each one of us who is “lost?” How relentless is his help in our searches when we’ve lost our hope or dreams? I knew beyond a doubt that God is good, and his goodness and love DO endure forever.
That knowledge was put to the test the next week in an equally remarkable incident. I frequently do my walking at a local mall early in the morning. Usually I remember to take my fanny pack instead of my purse, because it’s awkward to carry a purse and walk as fast as I like to. That day, though, I’d absent-mindedly taken my purse with me. Before I got out of my car, I put some tissues in my left pants pocket. I’d been carrying my watch in my purse, rather than wearing it, because of a rash on my left wrist. Now the thought came to me, quite distinctly and deliberately, “I’d better put my watch in my right-hand pocket so I don’t accidentally pull it out when I take out a tissue.” I put the watch in my right hand pocket, pocketed my car keys, did my usual two quick laps, returned to the car and went home to shower and write.
About two hours later I looked on the counter beside my purse for my watch, but it wasn’t there. I proceeded to scour the house for my watch, until it hit me: I had my keys in the same pocket as my watch, and I’d probably pulled the watch out of my pocket when I took the keys out on my way to the car. I sailed back to the same parking spot and re-traced my steps, but I couldn’t find my watch, nor had it been turned in to lost and found.
That watch had been a Christmas gift from my husband just a year earlier, and I felt sick when I realized I’d lost it. Then I felt angry. “What’s the deal here, God?” I cried. Why had that little voice told me to put the watch in the same pocket as my keys? At almost the same instant another question formed in my mind: “You can say God is good when you do find what you’d lost, but can you say God is good even when you don’t?”
God is still good, no matter what my circumstances are. I’d lost a watch, but the God who was with me and loved me when I found my diamond was the same God of love when I didn’t find my watch. In both losses it wasn’t what I’d lost, but what I had all along, that mattered. God’s character hadn’t changed; only my circumstances had. I’m not saying that God engineered both situations, but I do believe that God brought me good through both situations.
And that lesson meant the world to me when I lost my Dad – something profoundly more precious than the watch or diamond or the necklace – just a few weeks later. My father was a good man who loved God dearly and lived it every day of his life. Even so, this man who prayed for healing for others had to endure five years of the slow death of Alzheimer’s. We lost him little by little until he went home to be with his Savior. After his death, Dad’s attendants at the nursing home shared how much his kind and loving nature meant to them. How had they seen this in someone who hadn’t been able to speak for most of the two years he’d been there? It could only have been God’s Spirit in Dad, shining through in spite of his physical limitations. Though Dad’s strength faded and his brain cells diminished, his spirit stood strong and whole.
“Lost my Dad ” isn’t really the right phrase, for by the time Dad died I knew that it was what I still had – the love I’d known all those years, the godly heritage, example, and all the wonderful memories my father bequeathed to me – that mattered. If I filled my hands with anger over what had not been because of his illness, I couldn’t have held the precious treasure that was still mine. You can’t take hold of anything with a clenched fist. To hang on to our loss is to always feel lacking. To embrace what we have is to feel wealthy beyond words.
What I gained from watching Dad’s illness progress is the certainty that God’s Spirit never leaves our spirits. That certainty has given me freedom from fear. Even though my brother, sister, and I know that, thanks to heredity, we have a 50/50 chance of going the same route as Dad, in one wonderful way I’m not afraid of Alzheimer’s anymore. I know now that even if that’s what life has in store for me, even if my mind leaves me, my God won’t.
What I found and embraced that Easter season was the undying love of the living Jesus who paid the price for me and my Dad. His tireless love diligently searches for and finds us, even if we feel lost or valueless or no different from the dirt around us. He sees the jewel in us; this is the treasure that is securely ours. Jesus upholds us in his power and holds us safely to his heart when our strength fades and fails. He will not allow us to be lost. His unceasing, relentless love can transform even our deepest losses into immeasurable gain.