The tents are up.
The sleeping bags are strewn along the ground.
The smoke from the last few embers is still billowing up from the fire.
The campsite is empty.
I can see it. The scene sits perfectly undisturbed in my mind.
As I came upon it my heart was racing. My feet were moving quickly. My eyes were laser-focused. I moved with purpose.
To be candid, I was surprised and disappointed when the others I came upon near this makeshift campsite in a huge front yard were spending time hugging rather than searching.
Why were the officers positioned around the massive fleet with flashing lights standing? Shouldn’t they be running?
Where was the urgency? The drive? The hope? The determination?
One of our boys was missing.
One of our boys.
Then in the distance I could see his father. His eyes met mine and we both headed toward each other.
His eyes. I will never forget them as long as I live. Sometimes you can look in someone’s eyes and see everything they are thinking and feeling.
His were full of tears. In them I saw heartbreak. Desperation. Immeasurable loss.
As we stood and embraced and he sobbed my eyes remained dry. His resignation was not a feeling I shared. I told him that I could have hundreds of people from the church we both attend here within minutes to search for his son if he would allow it.
He declined and said he needed to show me the footprints.
Over the next few minutes he walked me along his expansive property and showed me where his boy had made his way through a hole in the fence and up the hill on the adjoining property to a large canal that brings drinking water from the mountains to the desert. Then, on the banks of the canal he showed me the displaced dirt where he believed his son had sat down and scurried his way into the water.
This father pointed to where he had retrieved the family dog from the water. And, he told me of his boy’s love for his dog. How inseparable they were.
He spoke of how he, his wife, and the scouts who had spent the night in his yard had desperately and unsuccessfully searched for his son.
Now, divers from the police department were putting on their scuba gear.
As the father was pulled away by a police officer I walked away to be alone. I was discouraged but not convinced. Wasn’t a larger search needed? What if he hadn’t gone in the water? I felt the weight of being the person on scene responsible for deciding whether to mobilize thousands of members of my church. Didn’t this boy deserve it?
I found a spot on the dirt road next to the canal. And prayed.
In an instant and totally contrary to my mindset at the moment I felt urgency give way to peace. And suddenly a scripture dominated my thinking.
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
My phone rang. My oldest son called from the car my wife was driving. He wanted to know where our family could join the search. I found myself telling them to turn around and head home.
“Now, upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came upon the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
He is not here, but is risen.”
This evening I will walk by the casket of one of our boys.
I, along with hundreds of others, will pause for a moment to pay respect to this innocent, energetic, happy, and friendly young man.
I will be thinking about his parents. Like I have been all week.
Near the site where those tents used to stand I stood quietly watching these parents in the hours immediately after the divers recovered their son’s body.
I watched as a steady stream of moms with children parked their cars and with limited confidence made their way onto this family’s property. They meekly approached the parents bearing flowers or baked goods to express love and loss.
Without fail these compassionate visitors who came to express support instead found themselves sobbing as they were embraced by the parents. Those who came to lift were instead the ones being buoyed up.
As I stood there in the moonlight watching this happen I realized why God picked these two people to raise and care for Carvel Scott Jackson Udall.
We promise to honor your memory, CJ. We promise to work hard to have our lives reflect the lessons you tried to teach us.
We’ll smile more. We’ll laugh more. We’ll have more energy. We’ll work to be a friend to everyone. We’ll care less about what others think about us. We’ll try to unite others. We’ll stand more frequently to declare what we believe.
We’ll try to be more inseparable from those we love.
We’ll explore more.