“Kinley?! Kinley Jane where are you!?”
“Baby! Kinley come here where are you?!”

8 seconds.
It happened so fast.
Turned to look at something on the shelf.
As a parent there is no greater fear.
That moment your child vanishes from your care like an unexpected David Blaine trick.
I wasn’t laughing.
There was no applauding.
Amusement was the last thing going through my head.

I ran down the aisle of the toy section searching.
Our older daughters heard me and came running.
“Daddy, where’s Kinley?!” our oldest asked with eyes worried with fear.
The look on her face in that moment screamed, “You’re the one that was supposed to keep us safe! You had one job daddy! ONE JOB! Where’s my sister!?”
Frantic would’ve been a welcome feeling in this moment.
I felt like dying.
Where was my little baby girl?

“Daddee! Daddee! I HERE!”
It came from a few aisles over.
“Dear God thank you and I’m sorry,” I remember thinking as I ran towards the little voice.

I’ve never wanted to hug and spank a child so badly all at the same time.
I scooped her up and kissed her in one fell swoop.
“Baby, don’t you ever walk away from daddy. You stay close to me.”
“I RUN!” she replied so proud and also correct me for saying she simply walked.
I wasn’t proud of her.
I was glad she wasn’t lost.
I was angry at myself.
She wandered and I shouldn’t have let it happen.

The whole episode lasted about 120 seconds.
120 seconds too long.
It’s happened with each of our kids.
Chloe was 3 years old and it was at a grocery store.
Roxy was 4 years old and it was 3 states away at a theme park.

Those moments are etched into my brain forever.
I can never forget the times my children disappeared.
They left and wandered off.
It was heart-wrenching.

Those moments as a father, they left a mark because I care so deeply for them. My wife Carrie and I want nothing more for them to grow up to be healthy, loving individuals who honor God and care for others. We know the best way for that to happen is for them to be close to us and under our care.  If they wander off, we cannot have that kind of impact on their lives. We don’t want to lose them. But the reality is this more than likely won’t be the last time they wander.

You and I do this to God too.

We don’t call it wandering.
We don’t call it walking away from God.
But, we do it.

“I have a busy schedule and Sundays are my only day to relax.”
“God understands that I have a lot going on.”
“I can get into this relationship and it won’t change my life with God.”
“________ used to have control of me, but I know what I’m doing now.”
“I am introverted and so I worship God in my own way.”
“I would go to small group, but I keep my life private and don’t need people helping me.”
“___________ is overwhelming me. I need to take a break from God/church to get my head together.”
“My life is pretty wrecked. I cannot be a part of church because they’ll know I’m a phony.”
“God, I know this friend isn’t great for me, but I won’t fall into the traps I have in the past. They won’t influence me.”
“My spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t really feeling the ‘church thing’ so I am not going to go by myself.”
“God will never love me because of the things I’m doing right now. I seriously cannot be a part of a church anymore because I am so ashamed.”

I get it.
Mainly because I’ve said, thought, or felt many of things too.
Yes, a pastor thinks of making excuses.
I’m no different from you.
Carrie and I have days where we “aren’t feeling it” for God.
The Biblical account is jam-packed full of people who weren’t “feeling it.”
Actually, they ran, hid, laughed, made excuses, and cursed God as they wandered away.
All the while God’s love never changed for them.
But, God also doesn’t settle at simply letting us wander.

Jesus was talking with some people and shared this story:
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.” Luke 15:4-7

You have value in the eyes of God.
It’s the only place you find value and worth.
Not in your job.
Not in your relationship.
Not in your possessions.
All of those things are great, but they can go as easily as they come.
God never changes and never stops loving us.
Like a father frantically searching the toy section for his child, God passionately desires a close relationship with you. not of do’s and dont’s, but of learning, growing and becoming a person of love and grace.

But it’s easy to wander.
We’re all prone to it.
Like one of my favorite songs recites…

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the one I love,
Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.”
– Come Thou Fount by Page CXVI (video below)

If you are a member of Forefront Church, live in the greater Hampton Roads area, are close enough to be a part of our community, or you’re out there reading this and know a church community where you can get connected and live out your faith with others…

I’m praying you fight against your propensity to wander.
He hasn’t stopped moving through the aisles for you.
God loves you and believes in you.
And I do too.