Arriving home late from work, my wife rewarded me by spinning me around toward the garage where my children were waiting to go to Wal-Mart.

“The kids need school supplies.”

Pitching my voice into hubby whine, I relied, “I don’t know what they want.”

“They have a list,” she retorted.

To be honest, my fear was that this would be a very uninteresting trip, but we all have to confront our fears.Hopefully the fear was worse than the reality would be.

“Fine, I said, with a twinkle of mischievous revenge in my eye, “I have my own list.”So, arriving at Wal-Mart we each took our lists to our separate corners – kids to school supply and me to the electronics section!

Filled with amps, volts, watts and gigabytes, this section is filled with geek testosterone. In this audiovisual heaven, wallpapered with HDTVs, I fall into a trance, but TV news jerked me back to reality. Remains were being recovered of two missing 13-year-old Oregon girls.

My anxiety meter just shot up 10 points – time to find my 13-year-old son and his sister.Returning to the scene of the spending spree, I found empty shelves and floors carpeted with erasers, rulers, and pens. Yup, they had been there, but not anymore.

I quickly found my 15-year-old because I knew where to look. It’s a phenomenon not unlike a horse that loses its rider, it returns to the ranch.When a teenage daughter loses her father in a department store, she returns to cosmetics.

First, I doubled back to the electronic department hoping to confirm the adage, “Like father, like son.”Nope.Nowhere.Another news story was coming on. The story was about the recent guilty verdict given the killer of the Yosemite teenagers.

My breathing grew shallow and my pace quickened. I was praying that this fear I was feeling was going to the worst thing of my day and reality would soon bring relief. Where was he? Perhaps the outdoor department? No, not there.

Walking again toward the front of the store, I asked the cashier in Electronics to page again.”This time use his last name,” I requested.Nothing will get a 13-year-old boy out of his hiding place better than public humiliation.

Five minutes later, no response. A third news story erupted from the dozens of screens plastering that department.Closed caption told me what I could not hear over the pounding panic in my ears. They were sentencing a child killer in southern California .

The fear came closer to the surface now.A Wal-Mart trip was turning quickly into a Search and Rescue Mission. My panic was showing no logic, but I was starting to wonder at what point one calls the police.By now my daughter and I were combing every inch of the store.With each cashier I passed, “Can you page again, please?” Five times I made this request.

Then, doubling my anxiety, my pager went off.The special care nursery was requesting a prayer for a baby before they removed the breathing machines.

“I’ll be there within the hour,” I replied, trying to conceal my mounting fear that was blocking any concern I might muster for another child.

“Page him once more and please speak louder.” Twenty minutes had passed since the first page. Then, uneventfully, my son strolled up to the customer service.He had been in the bathroom.

Losing a kid in Wal-Mart cannot compare to the unspeakable tragedies that parents have known in these news stories.However, the tragic thing is that parental fear is now on a “hair trigger.”A misplaced kid in the grocery store now sends fear soaring to the surface.

Jesus told a parable about a man whose son broke free of parental ties to go on his own shopping spree. The father gave his son his rightful inheritance and allowed him to depart for another country.Once there, he spent his inheritance on “riotous living.”

Yet even before his son grew penniless and repentant from eating hog slop, the father left home to look for his son- this was the remarkable thing.His father was not sitting on the front porch (or at the customer service counter) waiting – he was actively involved in the search for his lost son.

This has been a year punctuated with the aftershock tremors of 9/11.When you add to that the unspeakable crimes that have been perpetuated on children, the level of fear that seeks to overwhelm our reality is enormous.While we are well advised to seek God, we need to heed the lesson this parable makes clear – that God first sought us and is still seeking us.

He seeks us so that he might demonstrate, in the midst of our loss, that we can find a time and place where we can know that we have not lost everything we love.There is still much love remaining in the world to hold and by which to be held.Let us not focus so much on what we lost that we are unable to visualize and remember the love of what we have remaining.

When I returned home, my son figured he would be grounded for the length of his natural life, but instead he got a hug he didn’t quite understand.

As for my daughter, she had a request.

“Mom,” she begged, “Can you take us shopping next time?Dad gets too uptight.”