Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost. – Luke 15:6
I called her Annie although she continually stated her preference for Elizabeth Anne. She insisted that her full name was more womanly, and at the age of seventeen I guess she was right. But still somehow “Annie” continued to ring from my lips, and with each call I perceived a glint in her eye that gave me continued permission beyond her numerous protests. Besides, Annie was a child’s name, and before she moved from youth to woman I hoped for her the experiences that only childhood and youthfulness could bring.
Annie had grown up fast and hard. Having been abandoned to an orphanage as a toddler, she had later moved through several foster homes and then on to live with her mother through three consecutive husbands and her father through two wives before being deposited with her grandmother. At the age of seventeen she had seen a lot, known a lot, and hurt a lot.
Her grandmother was a friend of mine. Having been thrown together by her disabling fleabites, through numerous visits we quickly moved from the pastor-parishioner relationship to very dear friends. I was her gently-smiling confidant when she moved so cautiously into “dating” at the age of seventy-one. I was honored to perform their wedding and later grief stricken to perform his funeral after their two years of marriage. When Annie re-appeared in her grandmother’s life we were three months into a heart wrenching discussion of cancer and chemotherapy. Love never comes cheap. Nor does it come to those who cannot stand the pain.
Everything about Annie cried out for help. I supposed it to be a weakness that I could not turn her away, but no one else stepped forward to help. She was too old for foster homes and too young to be left alone. Everything in me mourned for her – the lost childhood, the family she never had, school dances she had missed, and football games she had never yelled at. I wanted her to laugh. I wanted her to be a child, a youth, and a young lady. I wanted her to build memories of some good times.
When Marion came home from work she was excited to think I’d gotten a babysitter for some special outing. She was instantly shocked to be introduced to Annie, “who will be staying with us awhile.” Marion is most gallant when she’s shocked. I did my best to explain. She did her best to listen and adjust. And Annie unpacked.
During her seventeen years Annie had built walls of protection around herself with bricks of neglect, rejection, and pain. I had hoped so much for her. But even within the first few days I was sadly aware that all of my concern and good wishes couldn’t erase the marks from her years of hurt. After six weeks Annie’s grandmother and I moved her into a halfway house for teens. Giving Annie up was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For days I sat in a chair rocking, staring at nothingness. Occasionally I took walks in the hill country alone. Failure is the hardest thing I know.
I’ve never had any trouble understanding the shepherd leaving the flock in search of the lost lamb (Luke 15). And having experienced the anguish of the lost, I now know more about God’s joy over those who are found. I learned from Annie.
Prayer: Let me remember, Lord, that there is great joy when the lost is found. I seek that joy for myself, my family, my friends and my acquaintances. Amen.