We spent ten or so days of our Christmas break with my family as part of a troupe assembled to welcome my niece into the world.
My boys brought their bedtime buddies. The local Golden Retriever, Mercy, wanted to practice her nurturing skills as she prepared to meet the new family member, and she especially liked to do so by trotting up to the beds of sleeping children and carrying off their bedtime buddies during the night. She didn't chew on them at all. She just loved on them.
James and Jonathan became accustomed to taking inventory each morning when they awoke, then traipsing sleepily to the living room to retrieve their bedtime buddies from the loving Retriever.
James could take inventory pretty quickly, having only brought two bedtime buddies: Max the Parasaurolophus and Little Joe the Puppy. Jonathan, however, had a harder time keeping track of all his buddies, beings as how he brought Fang the Snake, Guin the Penguin, Fiery the Dragon, Raulf the Dog Puppet, Teddy the Bear, and Blanky. His standard supporting cast.
We wanted to leave by 8am last Sunday to get home in time to watch the Seahawks game. (Go Seahawks!) We were a little concerned about getting over the icy, snowy pass, but we are hardy winter travelers and we thought we'd just take it slow. Plus, I had this idea that the earlier we left, the better, because the temperature would stay below freezing and we'd just have a nice, snow-packed road, dry, not slippery.
Around 9:30am, I was mostly packed, the temperature was still low, we would barely make it in time for kick-off, and we were almost out the door. But we hit a snag. Teddy was missing. At first, we all assumed Mercy had stashed him in a safe haven. But after over an hour of searching by four adults and two children, during which time the entire house was checked and rechecked, questions began to surface like, "Are we absolutely positive Teddy came with us to Yakima?" Yes, Jonathan was absolutely positive. "And have we checked through all of our luggage to make sure we didn't pack him already?" Yes, we checked and rechecked the luggage. And all the vehicles. And every nook and cranny of every closet and storage space in the house. And the garage.
Mid-search, a very distraught Jonathan asked me to pray with him. We bowed our heads and asked our Lord to help us find Teddy. "I know You know where Teddy is," I prayed, "that You will bring him back to us in Your time, and that You have a plan for Teddy and a plan for Jonathan."
Privately, I doubted my own prayer. What if God's plan included Jonathan never reuniting with Teddy?
Finally, around 10:45am, I sat a very distraught Jonathan down on the couch, put my arm around him, and told him we would have to leave Teddy. His aunt promised compassionately that she would be sure to mail Teddy back to us as soon as he surfaced.
Jonathan accepted his fate amidst a shower of alligator tears and headed disconsolately for the car. We all understood how he felt. My family knows about loss.
As soon as we got going, Jonathan texted his dad.
"AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Jonathan here. I sent the message. And I am freaking out!!!!"
"Why?" his dad replied.
"NO TEDDY!!!! :( :( :( :( :( :("
"Sorry, Pal. :( He'll turn up and come home. Just ask James about Max's extended visit at M's house."
"I remember it."
"It'll turn out ok in the end."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. God is sovereign in this right now. He loves you and will see you through."
I was so thankful for Jeff's texted guidance, even as I cringed with doubt again, silently wary of Jonathan being told about God's sovereignty, having learned by experience that telling people about God's sovereignty right after they've experienced a loss usually just enrages them.
Jonathan, however, was much comforted by this exchange. He cheered right up and enjoyed the drive, handily enabling me to refocus all of my anxiety on the road conditions.
Which turned out not to be a problem. As we ascended in elevation, I tuned the radio to 1610AM to hear about the pass, and the recorded voice told me, "The pass is bare and wet with slush in places."
Oh. So... I didn't need to have that anxiety attack after all?
As we neared the pass on completely thawed roads without even the slush the radio had mentioned, my sweet mama, who was driving, murmured quietly to me, "Now we know one of the reasons we spent time searching for Teddy. This would have been a solid sheet of ice if we'd left earlier."
We made it home in time to see most of the second quarter of the Seahawks game, including the comeback that brought the score to 13-14 at the half and propelled the Seahawks to their 24-14 win over the Redskins. (Yay Seahawks!) After the game, my brother texted and asked if we'd found Teddy at home. I told him we hadn't looked yet. But he had. They'd checked the entire house once more after we left. Bless them.
As bedtime neared, I knew we'd have more heartache over Teddy. And I knew I really ought to go through the luggage, but, you know... meh. I did make one effort at searching, however. Even though I thought I remembered seeing Teddy in Mercy's mouth at some point during our visit, I decided it wouldn't hurt to check Jonathan's bed, just in case.
So I heaved myself off the couch and trudged up the stairs with Jonathan to his bedroom. At first glance, I saw nothing. But then I pulled back the covers on the bed. And there, very anticlimactically, nestled between the mattress and the wall, lay Teddy.
I picked him up and handed him to Jonathan. He gasped, eyes wide, and ran out of the room, clutching his bear and shouting joyfully, "James!! Dad!! WE FOUND TEDDY!!!!! HE WAS HERE ALL THE TIME!!!"
He had missed our entire trip. I had never seen him in Mercy's mouth. Jonathan had not cuddled with him while we were away, even though he thought he had. And he had never been missed during the daily inventory checks.
I was slightly miffed. At God. I knew He'd allowed us to waste all that time searching, and I knew it had made our travel safer, but still. Sheesh.
Jonathan was not miffed at God. He bounded back to me, all smiles, Teddy in hand, and said, "Mom. Thank you prayer. It's time."
Humbled, I took both of Jonathan's hands in mine and bowed my head. Jonathan's simple prayer seared my heart.
"Dear Jesus, I was really sad that I lost Teddy, and You knew where he was, and thank You for helping me find him. And also, You did something else really cool. You made me think I had brought Teddy with us, and that way, I didn't have to be sad about missing him for ten days. And then on the day that I realized he was missing, I found him. Thank you for helping me only miss Teddy for one day. In Jesus' name, Amen."
A beautiful part of God's plan I hadn't even considered. He saved Jonathan ten days of heartache just because He loves him. Because He knows how much Jonathan loves Teddy.
Burning light flooded my heart as I saw again the truth. That God does not force His beloved children any more heartache than is absolutely necessary. That He does not allow evil for the sake of evil, but only for the sake of good. That He carefully controls the evil influences in our lives and puts parameters on them that do nothing less than propel us straight to Himself.
That even if we have just experienced a loss and it makes us cranky to hear it, He is indeed completely sovereign.
He loves us, and He will see us through.