When Noah was 5, I experienced every mom's worst nightmare. I lost him in the shopping mall. One minute he was whining while I looked at kids' clothes in JCPenney, and the next he was nowhere to be found.
I began to check under clothes racks, and then I scanned the toy department. When there was still no sign of him after five minutes, I began to get those fluttering feelings of panic in my belly that any mother who's ever lost a child can imagine.
I alerted a store clerk, who in turn alerted mall security. I tried not to cry as they put out Noah's description and began a check, store by store: blond, blue eyes, 5 years old, wearing a striped green and white shirt and jeans.
After an agonizing 20 minutes, a cashier in a small shop recognized him. But not because he was crying, looking lost, or asking for help. In fact, he was diligently walking down the length of the mall, patiently peering into store after store, looking for me.
When we were reunited, I grabbed him, hugged him, and tearfully exclaimed, "You must have been so scared!"
He squirmed loose, explaining that he wasn't scared at all. He was never really lost. He just couldn't find me.
That's Noah for you.
These days, at 17, he's not exactly worried about losing sight of me. In fact, you might say that this has become the goal. At age 5, you want to know where your mother is. When you're 10, you aren't terribly worried about it. When you're 17, separation from her is a main objective.
I've never liked the word "lost" when used in the Christian sense. Calling people "lost" seems insulting, even if they are "lost" in that they don't know Jesus. And calling my teenager lost is not something I do to his face. But it is how I might describe him these days. Lost--in the sense that he can't stay off pot without weekly drug tests. Lost--in the sense that he doesn't know who he is or where he's going.
Almost every mom has momentarily lost her child in a store. But what we don't realize is that the feelings of panic will be repeated, with equal if not greater intensity, during the teen years.
Of course, Noah doesn't think he's "lost" at all. He'd say to be truly lost, you'd have to be trying to get somewhere specific and sense you've made wrong turns.
Maybe he's right. Maybe it's me that's lost. After all, I'm the one that had an ideal destination in mind for my children and thought I knew how to get there. Naively, I imagined that if I raised Noah in a Christian home, he'd be equipped and inspired to avoid drugs. But instead, Noah imagines the drugs, "made by God," actually help him to experience God more. And now it's me who feels spun around and blindfolded, no longer certain where Noah is headed or where I went wrong.
Last night, Noah went out with some friends who seem to be alternately Christians and ruffians, depending on the weekend. Unlike them, Noah is being tested for drug use every Monday. This way, he has no choice, no temptation, no dilemma. Deep down, I think he likes it that way.
While doing the breakfast dishes this morning, I asked Noah how it went last night, what they did. He said it was OK. Except for the part where everybody else smoked pot before the movie and then again after the movie while he waited outside the car.
I told him I was sorry. And that I'm proud of him.
"But God spoke to me," he announced.
"Really?" (This is not typical.)
"Yeah," he said. "While I was standing around outside waiting for those guys to get high, I saw a double rainbow."
He wasn't really able to articulate what God was saying through the double rainbow, but I wasn't going to push. I reached up to ruffled his hair, and surprisingly he let me. Then he trotted off to the shower, a little boy inside a man-size body.
I kept thinking about that double rainbow all day. Maybe it was God's way of saying to Noah, "Hey, you. Look at this cool double rainbow. There's beauty in life I don't want you to miss. And no amount of dope will make it more beautiful."
And maybe Noah's telling me about it was God's way of saying to me: "Remember my promises. No matter how far he wanders away from you, he's never out of my sight."
Today my little boy still feels lost to me. And often I feel lost as well. But I take comfort in knowing that lost is not the same as hopeless. Lost is not the same as gone forever. Lost is simply what you are on your way to being found.