“May I please get out?”

At my request my two-and-a-half year old had rephrased “I want to get out”, as in, of the shopping cart. I hefted him to the floor as I did the three-children-means-three-seconds glance at the shirt I’d seen on sale, trying to pick the right color. “Stay where I can see you,” I said firmly. He started moving a little too fast, so I asked him to stop and look at me. “Stay where I can see you.” Another glance at the shirt.

And that’s how long it literally took. A glance. I looked up. He was gone.

I dropped the shirt, called his name. Walked. Walked faster. Checked my infant still seated in the cart. My oldest, too, began to call his brother’s name. With my eyes, I thoroughly covered the entire department of the huge retail store in seconds. I bent down, looking beneath the racks. He knew to answer when I called him. My chest pounded as my brain simultaneously sorted through options of where he could be, of what to do.

I began to ask. “Have you seen a little boy with curly brown hair, about this tall?” Don’t seem hysterical, but let them know you’re serious. He couldn’t have gone that far. … But also in my head were those emails — you know, the forwards someone sends you: Be careful. This could happen to your kid. I was praying, my hand pressed over my mouth. Lord, you know where he is. … The dilemma: Stay in the department so he can find me, or make a beeline for Customer Service?

At the urging of the ladies at the fitting rooms, I speed-walked to the service desk, my oldest son running behind. The attendant asked for my son’s description, and then I turned back to the department. The loudspeaker: “Code M, I repeat, Code M. We are looking for a two-year-old boy with brown curly hair.” Repeated twice. I saw attendants around me drop pricing guns and the clothes they were sorting to look through their aisles. A part of me wanted to be humiliated, but I was far beyond that. My concern for my son was eons beyond my humiliation.

Back in the department, I swept the area for the fourth or fifth time. A rack of long dresses, five feet from where I was standing, fluttered in the air conditioning that batted every other shirt. I moved them anyway.

And there he was, crouched just steps from where I’d been. He’d had a potty accident … not feeling well … and was covered. I now knew why he’d hidden, why he hadn’t answered. And I didn’t really care about his smell, the fact that he was dripping on my shirt choices on the bottom rack (well, I guess I know what color I’m picking now ... ). He was there with me. Safe.

Lately I’ve had a few people I love deeply begin to wander from the God they’d so closely walked with, to question His goodness. The fear that grips my heart for them is at times dark and strong. Yet, though I think my anticipation of the sinfulness of the human heart is well-placed—left on their own, my friends will never come back—my faith in the power and love of God is always well-placed. The night I heard of this and wrestled with its reality, He brought me again to Luke 15: stories of a shepherd who seeks out his lost sheep, of a woman who calls her friends after finding a lost coin, and of a father who runs to his returning prodigal son.

And that’s when I remembered my search for my own son. If I loved my son that much and would do everything in my very limited power to keep him safe, to find him, no matter what people thought of me, no matter what state he was in, wouldn’t God? Unlike me, God knows what “rack” my loved ones are hiding in, and why they’re there. He’s used a large fish, a talking donkey, and certainly His own Son’s death to get His children’s attention. His “Code M” moves heaven and earth to find His precious ones.

May His fierce love quiet and comfort you today. I’m going to go hug my son, who’s snuggled asleep in his bed.