I had come to the State Fair with my friend, Katie, part of a YMCA youth group trip. The fairgrounds, massive and glittering on a summer July morning, represented both a new experience and a bit of anxiety.
Although almost twelve years old and in the eighth grade, I had never attended an all day outing without my parents. I was also, as it turned out, woefully unprepared for the unexpected. Still, being parent-less lent a certain thrill to the event.
We exited the bus in pairs, with one directive: be back well before 10:00 pm because the bus would depart promptly. The day at the fair laid before us with the promise of carnival rides, exhibits, food and pleasures untold.
The crowds, the smells and the myriad of booths covering the fairgrounds overwhelmed the senses. Then in a moment’s time, it happened. I turned around and I lost complete sight of Katie. Behind me were two doors, one on either end of a building that housed the Women’s Restroom, and at first I thought that’s where she had gone. I waited five minutes, ten minutes and suddenly 45 minutes had passed and no Katie.
After almost an hour and a half, I decided to walk around and look for her, but my unfamiliarity with crowds created feelings of fear. Panic set it. It may be difficult to imagine, but in the days before cellphones, options were limited. I continued to wander and search for her.
In the late afternoon, I decided to go into the fairgrounds police station, which I had passed many times. Not wanting to appear frightened, I asked if anyone had been looking for me. The rather large, harried woman behind the desk glanced my way and ordered, “Just go keep looking, I am sure you’ll find her.”
But exactly who was lost, I wondered? Her or me?
Panic led to fear, then anger. Afraid to stop searching I didn’t eat or drink anything except water and kept wandering the grounds looking for anyone who looked familiar. When I found no one, I tried not to cry, but as the summer dusk settled in, I became more scared and upset. I made my way back to the bus.
As I approached, in disbelief I saw Katie, talking and laughing with some of the other girls. She glanced up at me briefly and then went back to her conversation. I approached her, struggling to contain my anger.
“Where were you? I looked for you all day!” My voice quivered with emotion and I felt hot tears come into my eyes.
“I thought you found some other friends and then I ran into these guys and we had a blast!” She turned her back to me and boarded the bus with the other girls without so much as a glance my way.
As I stumbled on the bus behind them, numb from this news I wanted to scream, “I spent the whole day looking for you, why weren’t you looking for me?” Instead, I sat alone, holding tears back – glad for the dark once the bus began moving toward home.
I had the worst imaginable time at the fair, but I learned a valuable lesson. Although Katie forgot all about me, I never stopped looking for her. I sacrificed my own good time out of concern for her. Isn’t that what a true friend would do?
And the lesson in that? No matter how much I ignore God, he never forgets about me. He never stops watching out for me, caring for me. Yes, human friends will make mistakes and may forget about me, but what a friend I have in Jesus.