…this son of mine was…lost and has been found. (Luke 15:24)
I once had a job recruiting community members to be volunteer advocates for people who have disabilities. At monthly Board meetings, I would report on the people I had met who needed advocates.
Ellen was thirteen years old when I met her, and she lived in a group home
Her parents lived in the town where I worked, and I called her mother and told her I was going to recruit an advocate for Ellen. The mother told me how Ellen had become severely disabled as a young child; she agreed it would be good for Ellen to have someone in her life.
When Ellen’s name appeared in my monthly report, a board member asked if she was related to a family he knew with the same last name.
“Yes,” I said, “she is their daughter.”
“No,” he replied, and he named Ellen’s parents.
“Yes,” I repeated,” she is their daughter.”
“That’s not possible,” he declared and explained that he and his family knew this family very well. “They have two daughters,” he insisted.
“No,” I said, “they have three daughters.” In that moment, I realized that I had just exposed a family secret.
Ellen’s mother was quite upset with me after that. Prickly was how I described her. “I was just doing my job,” I declared defensively, but my heart broke for her as I imagined how I would feel if someone had inadvertently revealed something I had kept secret.
I started to avoid Ellen’s mother whenever I saw her, crossing the street or ducking into a shop.
A young woman named Geri became Ellen’s advocate and they formed a deep bond.
About ten years after I had left that job, I drove past Ellen’s condo one day and wondered if Geri was still involved.
Just days later, Ellen’s mother attended a fund-raiser for my current work. When I saw her walk in, I hid behind a pillar. What is she doing here? I silently shrieked, a knot forming in my stomach.
Fortunately, the venue and the crowd were large enough that I was able to avoid her.
When it was time for me to speak about my work, and as I was waiting for a final microphone check, the crowd seemed to part and Ellen’s mother walked straight toward me. Oh, God, no, I prayed. Not now. I had no place to hide.
I smiled, said hello and told her how I had recently driven past Ellen’s condo and wondered if Geri was still involved.
“Yes, she is,” Ellen’s mother said. She went on to explain that watching Geri with Ellen and seeing how Geri saw Ellen changed how she saw her daughter. She told me that Geri and Ellen had become an integral part of their family. “You gave me back my daughter,” she said, “and I want to thank you.”
Tears filled my eyes as she hugged me.
Have you ever been lost or found?