Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!!!
When I was only three years old, on a yardwork Saturday, I wandered away from our backyard in Fresno to go shopping for popcorn. I managed to travel on foot a little less than a mile from my home across the busiest street in Fresno, and into a Payless Drug Store where I went shopping. By the time I had shoplifted a bag of unpopped corn and made my way out of the store, I realized I was lost and began to cry. A kind person took me to store management where I was treated to an ice cream soda. Later I was picked up by the police, taken across the street to the Winchell’s Donut shop for a delicious sprinkled treat, and then given a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum for the journey in a police car home, but without my popcorn.
In my child mind, other than the crying in the parking lot, I had a pretty good day and eventful journey. It wasn’t until I was escorted to my mother in the quiet and privacy of her bathroom where I found her swollen eyed and weeping, that I realized anything was wrong at all. She thought she had lost me. I do not remember this part, but my older siblings have told me that I was tied to a chair for the remainder of that workday. What I have never forgotten about that experience is the reaction of my sweet mother. I never want to see Mommy in wrecked sorrow and tears like that again. She should not lose a single one of her lambs.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son has always held great meaning for me, and most especially on one spring Sunday of 2019 when I was serving as bishop of a church ward. Shortly before sacrament services I headed to my seat on the rostrum of the chapel, seated between my counselors in reverent view of the entire congregation. There is no pomp and circumstance in the matter, nevertheless, in church etiquette the presiding high priest (bishop of the ward) during sacrament meeting normally remains seated in view of and viewing the 250 to 300 congregants throughout the entire service. In the culture of the church the bishop comes into the room a few minutes before the sacrament meeting, sits down on the stand, and unless he is conducting remains in his seat until the conclusion of the meeting. It is the norm and what is expected. I have lived in the church my entire life, and I can perhaps count on only two hands the number of times I have seen a bishop leave the rostrum during sacrament meeting. So, you can imagine when a bishop gets up and leaves the stand it is something that does not go without curious notice, so it is just not done with any frequency. There is always a later time to take care of a matter, or someone else who can handle a situation without the bishop getting up, and drawing undo attention to himself.
On that Sunday my counselor Bishop David Farley arose to conduct the service. No sooner did he open the meeting when I looked to the far back corner of the room and saw a familiar face that I had missed for some time. A dear friend of mine who I had worried about for several months, who I had tried to contact to no avail, to whom I had sent messages but received no satisfactory response, was sitting in the room. This is a good friend who I came to know when he returned to activity in the church after more than a decade of absence, and had been missed sorely by me. We had spent countless hours together in helping him to return and become fully restored to the kingdom from whence he had once wandered. Imagine my joy. My heart leapt for joy when I saw him.
I thought nothing of accepted meeting etiquette, only about the man in the back of the room, my good friend who I had missed and worried for so much. My counselor was a few words into his opening remarks, and without hesitation or word I arose and walked all the way to the back of the room, bent down and placed a loving hand on his shoulder and neck, and told him how much I loved him and missed him. His eyes moistened, a humble smile came to the corner of his mouth and he expressed joy in his return with a simple glance of gratitude. We exchanged a few warm and sincere words, including an invitation and acceptance to visit later in the day, and then I returned to my seat on the rostrum. For the rest of the meeting my heart was filled with the Spirit, and my eyes were wet with joy, for my friend who was lost was found and he had returned to us.
You can say that I understand the joy of the good father in the parable of the prodigal son. I do. Oh how great the joy must be with our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ, when one of us return to them, after painful trial, ready to humbly re-join their presence. One can never underestimate the importance of the ninety-nine, but the one is as important as each of the other ninety-nine, and therefore is worthy of search and rescue even if it takes all of our days.
Later that day when we sat and visited, in tears this brother told me that he was afraid to come back because he had felt that he had let us down. He had committed no grievous sins except for the error of not being present with us, nevertheless he felt that as he had let us down he was not worthy to be with us. He expressed that when I rushed to his side upon seeing him that it was not what he expected, that it was the exact opposite of what he expected, and for this cause he was joyful, and felt welcome at his return, more so than he could have imagined.
It is as the Lord taught in parable, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7).
In December of 2010 my oldest son Danny II completed two years of missionary service in South Korea. Monica and I wanted to see the land and meet the people Danny served, so we determined to travel with our younger ten children and visit Korea before his journey home. At that point, it was the biggest trip we had ever taken as a family. We had a wonderful time and came to know the beautiful Korean people and their deep rich culture. While most all of our experiences were extremely rewarding and pleasant, there were some challenges as one could expect traveling with so many, so young.
One such trial took place as we were in a very crowded and unfamiliar shopping district of Seoul called Dongdaemun. We loved shopping in Korea. The clothing is so beautiful and the people so helpful that we became very relaxed in an environment where the density of shops and merchandise is much higher than we are accustom. If one is not careful, it would be very easy to get lost in such a place, especially with language barriers. With our son Danny, the only one who could speak and read Korean, there were thirteen Malcolms, three of whom had to be carried most everywhere at ages three, two and six months. We were in a multi-level collection of shops. We were using escalators to get from a very high floor down to the bottom. In the process our little six year-old Lucy was separated from us. She must have missed the switch from escalators at one of the floor levels and disappeared into crowds and merchandise without notice. When we arrived on the ground floor we immediately recognized that she was missing.
Can you imagine being in a place so unfamiliar, so foreign, and losing a dear precious lamb in our care? We were stricken with fear, our minds wandering to the very worst case scenarios. I took Monica and the rest of the kids to a fountain area immediately outside the building, gathered the remainder of our children safely around her. I recorded in my mind’s eye the dreadful look of panic and dismay, mingled with tears, on Monica’s face, as Danny and I went back into the shopping center.
With Danny’s language skills I sent him immediately to security officials, while I ran up escalators and in and out of every path of every floor of the building, calling out in desperation, “Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!” With every moment my heart grew heavier, but I prayed to God to help me find my little lost girl, to extend her comfort, and give me another chance to keep her in my care and trust. “Oh, please restore her to me.” I do not know how long this went on. It seemed like hours but I am sure it was only minutes, then to our joy she was found and restored to us.
When Danny and I brought our little Lucy outside to her desperately awaiting mother and siblings, all eyes were filled with tears, and Monica, seated with her face in her hands, wrecked and defeated for a moment in utter fear and dismay, but grateful for restoration. Her’s was like my mother’s face of an earlier time which I would never forget. There would be no more wandering, as repentant we would not risk losing a one. Like her younger sisters, Lucy’s feet would not much grace the ground for the rest of that vacation. But, we rejoiced, for our daughter “was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32).
We must shepherd our flock. We must help them to know our voice, His voice, and we must know their’s. And when one goes astray, when one wanders from us and the ninety-nine, we must go to the rescue. We must find them. And when we have found them, or they have found us, great should be our rejoicing and warm should be our welcoming. Having experience I can guarantee you, that joy and warmth will come naturally, because it is real. May our dear mothers’ face, Monica’s face, no mother’s face ever suffer, ever fear, for the loss of her’s. Search, find, and welcome, even the one, especially the one. Let there be rejoicing in heaven with our mothers, with our Lord, and with our Father which art in Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.