I am feeling the need to capture and share this story.
Two days ago on Sunday, our 19 year old daughter, Leesa came home from college in Roseville to come to church, have lunch with us and take a quick nap. We had a great quick connection as it’s always great to have your kids want to hang out and fill you in on their lives. She gave us hugs and said good- bye around 2:30, heading off to college to get homework done.
At 6:20 that night, Eric and I were working on some financial things and I needed to ask Leesa a question so I called her. She was breathing hard when she answered. “I’m out running near Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It was such a nice day, I decided to take a break from studying.” She told me she parked at a park near them and was maybe going to stop in and say hi to them when she was done running.
Several initial thoughts and feelings ran through me when I hung up. One was, ”hmm, she is inspiring me to get off the sofa and go for a walk”. The second thought was,” how nice of her to want to go stop in at her grandparents”. My third fleeting motherly thought was, “I don’t like the thought of her running alone on some of those remote paths through the woods. She is very cute and young, you know.”
At 8:15 that night, I texted her to see if she had truly stopped by her grandparent’s house. No response. If any of you have teenagers, you know that feeling of “ what’s wrong, why aren’t they calling or texting me back?, even though we constantly tell them not to be on their phones so much. “She must be back at school and showering after her run” I told myself. When she didn’t respond and didn’t answer her phone 15 minutes later, I called my mom to find out if she had stopped there. My mom was excited to tell me how she had stopped in unexpectedly and the nice visit they had. “So, she got in her car and was heading back to the dorm?”, I asked. “No, she said her car was at a park and she was going to do some more running and then head back”.
I started to get a little bit concerned at not hearing from her and again thinking of her running alone in some of those areas. I called her roommate who told me she had not seen her and it was obvious that she had not returned to the dorm room after running. She told me she knew she had plans to hang out with a guy friend but that guy didn’t answer his phone so we didn’t know if she ever did or not. I thought, “ if she was sweaty from running, she would have gone back and changed first.” Her roommate agreed to look around campus to see if her car was there. She called me back, “no, her car is definitely not on campus”.
I started to get more concerned. It was now 8:45. Being an extra cautious mom, I called my dad and asked if he would mind just driving by the park to assure me that her car was not sitting there. He was more than glad to. We all assumed we knew which park she had parked at but none of us knew for sure and there are several within running distance of my parent’s house. At 9:00, my dad had not called back and I thought it was odd, as it would only take minutes to drive to the park. I called my mom to check in and at that same moment, Eric’s phone rang and it was my dad. “Does her car have a sticker that says “hunting girl?, my mom asked me and my dad asked Eric at the same time. “It’s parked in the parking lot at the nature center parking lot on Dale St.”.
I can’t even begin to tell you what happened in this mother’s heart at that moment. All of those worst nightmare fears came rushing upon me in such an incredible wave of emotion. I was paralyzed and mobilized all in one swoop. We shouted instructions to my dad to call 911. Eric and I ran around the house like crazy people. He grabbed flashlights (some of which he proceeded to forget in the front entry way. I grabbed Leesa’s picture off the mantle, a sweatshirt, bottle of water and a phone charger. We let the dog out as we had no idea when we would be returning home. Neither of us had the common sense to grab the extra set of keys to her car.
We were out the door in a flash and flustered that the main route to Roseville, 35 W North was shut down for the weekend. As Eric planned the quickest course, I began to make phone calls and pray out loud calling on angels to be with Leesa and yelling at Satan all at the same time. Images of her being forced into a car against her will, taken off into those back woods, out running and tripping and falling and being knocked out. What could possibly be the reason her car was still left in this remote parking lot after dark????? The news had been filled with stories of 2 missing college students. Would my daughter be the next one? I called her roommate and asked for her to mobilize a search team of students. Her volleyball coach came to my mind next to call and ask her to send out a united plea for prayer. I only got her voicemail but I left a message, which I am sure sounded emotional and desperate. I called my sister to call our family and was starting to call someone from our church to send out a prayer chain when at 9:16, I got a text from her roommate, “She is with___ (name of guy friend)” is all it said. She was alive and safe and there was a reasonable story to be told.
She was so enjoying the amazing great fall day and was aware there was not much daylight left so she suggested to her friend that she would drive back to college and swing in and pick him up and they could drive back over near her grandparents to a park her grandma had told her about. She wouldn’t bother to change as the sun would go down soon. They parked and went walking, found a bench and chatted as they saw deer walk by and the stars etc. She intentionally left her phone in the car as she was tired of constant texts and wanted a break from it. Being back in a nature area, her friend’s phone had no cell coverage. Imagine Leesa’s surprise to walk out and discover her grandparent’s in the parking lot extremely emotional to see her!
15 minutes is all it was, but they might possibly be the most terrifying 15 minutes of my life. It was such an intense feeling of being out of control, fear, confusion, grief, the unknowns and the what-ifs absolutely gut wrenching. But my daughter was safe and well and we had a good ending to our story.
My heart just breaks for those parents whose stories do not have a good ending, like the NDSU student just found today. I weep for them and hold them in prayer. May many surround them to carry them in love and grace in the days ahead.
I have also been struck in a profound way of a deeper sense of the Father heart of God who seeks and saves those who are lost. The desperation we read about in the Bible in searching for the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son, for you and for me. In a small way I understand that desperation a little bit more. There are so many lost people that we pass every single day that desperately need the saving grace of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that God would give me that same desperation to call out the search parties and the prayer warriors to bring those people home to a similar reunion of love and celebration!