At 10:00 in a morning in early June of 1998, Trisha McFarlane, age nine, was sitting in the backseat of her mother’s Dodge Caravan wearing her blue Boston Red Sox batting practice jersey and playing with her doll, Mona. By 10:30 she was lost in the woods. By 11:00, she was trying not to be terrified, trying not to think, “This is serious.” Trying not to think about how people who got lost in the woods got hurt. How sometimes they died.
That’s how author Stephen King begins his novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. With just a few lines, King nails what it feels like when you first realize you’re lost. Think back in your own life. The word itself causes that little flutter.
Director Ang Lee calls a movie’s emotional moment of being lost then suddenly found—that moment of the film when the hero rediscovers a long lost love or a lost treasure or the like—”the juice.” Lee says the juice is the thing that moves people. It’s almost untranslatable into words, the switch when the desperation of being lost suddenly gives way to the sheer jubilation of being found.
This beautiful “lost then found” language is exactly what Jesus uses to explain what we are like and what God is like. “If you have a hundred sheep and lose one of them. Of course,” Jesus says, “you go after the lost one, right?” Sounds reasonable? Well, no, it doesn’t. It doesn’t sound like a good idea at all. Economically the equation doesn’t add up, does it?
In the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 14, 1987, an 18-month old toddler named Jessica McClure removed a flower pot which covered a hole in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas, and fell through an eight inch wide opening into an abandoned well shaft. Bobby Jo Hall was a 32-year-old Midland police officer at the time. “I was the first officer at the scene,” Hall said. “I arrived at the same time as the paramedics. The mother met us at the front door and you can imagine her condition. We went over and looked down the hole, but I didn’t see anything. I called the baby’s name three or four times but there was no response. Finally I got a cry. We didn’t know how deep she was until we lowered a tape hooked onto a flashlight.”
Jessica was 22 feet under the ground.
"We started calling for the equipment,” Hall said. “We tore down fences; we tore down the clothesline—we tore down a lot of things. The backhoe the city brought in got down to about two or three feet and then it hit rock. It was hopeless…I was there 22 hours,” Hall remembered. “We’d tell her to sing. When she’d go quiet, we’d ask how does a kitten goes, and she’d respond.”
David Lilly worked for the United States Mine and Safety Health Administration in 1987. By Thursday evening, the oil rig equipment had been brought in. They’d already sunk a parallel shaft about 29 feet into the ground 30 inches wide and had started to drill a horizontal drift toward the well until they got close to where Jessica was. “Then we took a jack hammer with a tungsten bit,” Lilly said. “It was about an inch an hour—I’ve never seen more dedication or such drive in my whole life.”
The equation had changed.
A poet named Lucy Brock Broido wrote a poem called Jessica from the Well. It’s from little Jessica’s point of view, the point of view of someone lost and yearning to be found.
By midnight, I can hear my own heart thump against the well…
All night long my eyes widened to accommodate the lack of light…Big gangly, weeping, gamey men, sweethearts and insomniacs, keep prodding me to sing. And I sing. How does a kitten go? And I go like a kitten goes…
Bring me back alive. It was so simple to come down…
Wide eyed, now swaddled in white linens…This town knows how to drill…the church bells muscle against each other and the earth opens for me…divined by water, healed by air, luminescent, inconceivable, a prayer, a Jessica, I sing.
Was there anyone who begrudged the thousands of hours expended, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the equipment used to rescue a little Jessica. Maybe there was but if they did, they don’t know our God—for in this true story of a little girl lost, of rescue, of a sudden change in the equation, we human beings once whispered what God is like.
God—Find me when I’m lost. Amen.