One of my twins loves, absolutely loves “baby” stuffed animals. Every day, it seems, he locates yet another one from the depths of his room and produces it for me saying “Mama, this is my baby.” He will bring the baby to the car, hug it close (meanwhile making a little squeaky sound that sounds like he is trying to stuff the love he feels through the exterior lining and right into the stuffing of said animal), and then hand it to me saying “Mama, will you place my baby in the house. I have kissed my baby goodbye so he is ready to go back in for the day.” Perplexed, I will look at him wondering why I am the one tasked with putting his “baby” somewhere in the house, but usually I oblige. Admittedly, the “babies” end up unceremoniously wherever is closest to the back door only to be rediscovered with pomp and circumstance and tightly squeezed by him when he returns from school. One or more “babies” also make it into his bed each night, and he holds each one of them close making sure that they have adequate space on his pillow and a piece of his blanket to keep warm. And as I turn off the light and exit his room, he inevitably says: “But mama, you did not kiss my baby goodnight.”
The love of soft, comforting objects whether they be stuffed animals or special blankets is quite a thing to witness in young children. They hug them tight, they kiss them, they cry uncontrollably sometimes (okay, often) in their absence, and they welcome them with utter joy when they return. As a parent, I can sometimes (okay, often) grumble at the process of locating said special object before bedtime. I do not always understand why the objects get lost so darn frequently or why they are so hard to find. I also do not always understand the utter despair from my little ones if I can not find the object in a timely fashion. But I am also always surprised at the movements in my heart when I see the tears disappear and the joy return when the object is safely back in the loving embrace of its caretaker.
I imagine the Lord loves us in much the same way as my son loves his “babies”. He graces us with love and affection when we are near, making sure we have all we need in order to be sent off on our way. He, in the way that only He can, holds our hand and hugs us tight when it is dark and we are afraid. And, I imagine, He is sad when we are distant, and the tears fall uncontrollably down His face when we wander too far from His sight and He fears we may be gone forever. I imagine that, unlike me, Christ has some understanding of why we get lost so frequently and why we are so hard to find. He knows us beyond our outer lining, loving us to the depths of the stuffing inside each of us. And He longs for us with the passion of a child for their favorite object. And, like that same child, His tears disappear and the smile returns triumphantly to His face the instant we are found. Every time we are found.
The Gospel reading for this Fourth Sunday of Easter reminds us of the relationship the Lord has with each one of us. He is the shepherd and we are His sheep. If one of us is missing, He will spend all night searching for us mourning our loss until we are found. And then He will hold on tight to us for all eternity.
This past week, I imagine the Lord welcomed many people into His embrace including people we were inspired by like Rachel Held Evans and Jean Vanier… and many more people we have never met or heard about before their death like Kendrick Castillo who died earlier this week saving his classmates from a gunman… and many others whose names did not grace the paper but who graced our world nonetheless. Like my son’s many many many “babies”… the Lord rejoices as each and every one of us returns to His embrace and He holds each of us tight, letting His love seep into the depths of us.
May we shepherd one another and love one another this week with the deep, gratuitous love of a child… with the deep, gratuitous love of the Lord.