The October picnic ended with a backyard softball competition between the relatives and in-laws. Outfield was the row of dense hemlocks along the lane, and late into the eighth inning, Junior hit one straight into this thicket.
Billy dove into the crisp accumulation of oak and maple leaves. He failed to notice the ball had bounced off one trunk and lodged into a depression next to another. The family rummaged through the leaves and twigs for the new softball, but dusk concealed it well. After five minutes of looking and wanting to just get the game over and the kids home and cleaned up for school, they gave up.
I found it last week, right where it was lost.
Since moving into our house in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., in November 2020, we’ve found a lot of things that were lost, and now found.
There was a plastic bubble pipe and gold dentures under the bathroom cabinet we ripped out during remodeling.
A broken mirror was found under an accumulation of leaves in the side yard, along with a collapsible shovel, two automobile rotors, a brake line, bags of trash, kitchen knife, golf ball and green water holding tank that could pass for a bomb if not for the galvanized pipe protruding from it.
I even found the plastic head of a dismembered baby doll whose face was encrusted with mud and moss. Creepy.
All were lost, now found.
I have no idea if the softball, remarkedly well preserved, was lost in the manner described. The nature of lost things is they do not come with an explanation of their lostness. The stray dog that shows up at our doorstep without a collar arrives without a story attached, yet there is an explanation. Nothing simply goes lost. We forget where we put it. It falls out of our pocket while hiking. We loan it to a relative and it grows legs.
Sometimes, we purposely lose things out of convenience or sheer laziness. We leave that bag of trash in the leaves, we treat an overgrown area on our property as a landfill. We tell the stuff to “get lost,” actually believing “out of sight, out of mind.”
Lost stuff eventually gets found. That’s one of the adventures that comes with buying a property that was the stage for raising children, fixing cars, family gatherings and life. Stuff gets misplaced, left behind in the excitement or pressures of the moment. We forget to go back for it, or something better replaces it. We don’t bother to scour the nooks and crannies when we move. “I’ve lived this long without it, I’m not going to look for it any further. We got enough stuff to move.”
The next person will find it. And we do. Finders keepers, worthless car parts and gold, plastic dentures alike. The stories are left to our imaginations; one is as good as another.
As we move from property to property, from life stage to life stage, we lose things for others to find and find things that were never ours to lose. We do the same with relationships; we struggle to recall the name of that best friend in high school or that best man in our brother’s wedding. We work beside a person 10 hours a day for 10 years and hug and cry when she moves on to a better job. A couple of years later, reminiscing with old co-workers around coffee, we recall her only by her quirks and sloppy work habits. We say we “lost track” of her, but the losing is more a matter of discard than misplacement.
People get lost, they drop through the cracks of our lives and memories like the tarnished religious “good luck” token I found under the old flooring we tore up. Someone once held it closely in his pocket, but then it became lost through carelessness or its relative worthlessness. That which is held loosely is lost easily.
Being lost is as much an emotion as a state of being. It’s a yucky feeling, unsettling, even scary. Being found, whether by the previous owner or someone who cherishes us even more, is bliss. The reunion of a lost dog with his distraught owner is a sweet sight.
Good preachers are like those folks who find a lost dog and then use every means possible to find its owner. They recognize that dogs and people alike get lost chasing cars and skunks. Yes, even good Christian folks get lost—they drop through the cracks, they get tangled up with deceivers and soon become forgotten by the brothers and sisters they once broke bread with and served alongside in God’s work. Once held closely, soon forgotten because of sin or indifference, they are lost. I’ve seen it many times, good church folks focusing on the stories of lostness rather the effort of finding and restoration.
All of the Christian churches I’ve attended talk about “the lost” as a category of people stumbling through life like sheep without a shepherd. “I once was lost, but now I am found,” is a familiar line from “Amazing Grace,” the hymn that speaks to the wonder of found-ness, being “saved.”
Most folks don’t know they are lost until an evangelist explains it to them in a fiery sermon or they are left behind when the party relocates. They realize their value was so small it was not worth their friends’ and lovers’ trouble to include them in the move. I have known that kind of lostness. Five years ago, I felt like that dismembered doll with tears of mud and the moss of lostness spreading its filaments around my head. I have been discarded and forgotten, and, regrettably, I, too, have discarded and tried to forget.
Like it or not, we all get lost, tossed aside. We are made to be mirrors, reflecting the light of our Creator, but we get cracked or tarnished through sin or deception; the blows of life break off little pieces of us until we no longer fit properly in society’s frames. We are discarded, lost and buried under mud, dead leaves and moss, waiting to be found by the next occupant of this land; to be claimed, cleaned and polished.
That’s God’s work, the story of redemption. Lost and found.