You know the sound that telephones used to make? The ones that had the bell inside the handset? That high-pitched ringy-dingy sound? Yeah. That sound has been ringing in my ear for days. Every time I walk passed a computer that has an internet connection, every time I pick up my glorious iTouch, every time I feel bored, that’s the sound I here. I know who it is…it’s my muse. And she’s calling me, begging me to write. It has been nearly 11 months since I’ve written anything on my blog. My last post was on June 26, 2012. Late that night, I would learn that the 19 y/o daughter, Linnea, of a dear friend of mine, Craig Lomax, had walked away from an outpatient clinic and disappeared.
Initially, the reason I stopped writing because I was hip-deep in the search to help find her. I, along with hundreds of other family, friends, and strangers, were spending every spare moment turning over every rock this city has to offer. I was not able to join as often as I would have liked because of my search-for-work and my responsibilities as the youth pastor at church. I surrendered time that is usually reserved for my family to Craig and Maya in order that I might help them find their girl.
For hours on end, the volunteers would pound the streets, handing out and posting flyers (and eventually taking down the flyers in order to help her not feel hunted), ride the network of Light Rail trains that weave throughout the city, stake out restaurants we learned are friendly to the city’s homeless and gave them the uneaten food after closing, and ride the American River Bike Trail (ARBT), hoping to come across anyone who had seen her.
I woud be lying if I said that all of the time we were searching was an awful, gut-wrenching experience. What I found was that friendships were established or strengthened and, usually when a group of people went out together, laughter wasn’t far behind. One night, one of Linnea’s fellow UC Davis students and I were paired together. Our task was to patrol the 160/American River area of the city, known to be a homeless Mecca, then hide in the shadows around Sekou’s BBQ (being formerly homeless, Sekou understands the plight of the people and would serve up 5-10 meals a night to those in need). Because there was a lead that Linnea had been spotted in the area, we felt it might be smart to check it out. After alerting Sekou to what was happening around his restaurant, we ninjaed ourselves under bushes and into trees, virtually disappearing. Unless you knew we were there, you wouldn’t have seen us…unless you were a family of skunks out for an early evening stroll. Before we knew what was happening, there were seven skunks walking around us. Now, as we were being perfectly stealthy, they didn’t bother us a bit and eventually moved on. But I must say that until you’ve been cornered by a half-dozen skunks, you don’t know anticipatory fear.
Another light-hearted memory from the search was when I was put onto an early-morning bike ride down one of the branches of the ARBT. The trail had turned to dirt, perfect for the mountain bike I was riding, and I turned down a slightly-larger-than-a-rabbit-trail offshoot to see what there was to be seen. Over knolls, roots, and rocks, down an adrenaline-inducing decent to the river’s edge, and back up to the main trail, I found myself alone, with only dragonflies to keep me company. No one was around and it was just me and God. I dismounted my bike and just sat down to pray for Linnea and for Craig and Maya. I don’t know how long I sat there. The flow of the river, the calls of the birds, the occasional jumping of a fish was intoxicating. I can see why Linnea loved the river – it was alive on its own accord and breathed its own breath. I simply sat there and was touched by the Lord’s creation. I took a pic of it so that I could remember the moment and where I was.
It was shortly after that, though, that I started to take note of my own health. One of the thing that the Lomaxes have been working toward is a better understanding of people about the stigmas and attention given to mental health. At this point in my life, I had been dealing with depression for a little less than two years. It was starting to get better with the advent of working at the church, but I hadn’t “kicked it” yet. When Linnea disappeared and I saw the looks of anguish on her parents’ faces, and those of her close friends, I started to internalize what could be happening to her. I put my daughter, Katie, in her place and was horrified at the thoughts. Every CSI, Law & Order, and Without a Trace show suddenly flared into my mind. At that time, high on the list of things we’d routinely watch was Criminal Minds, where they delve into the psychoses of those who mean to do harm to people; often they get graphic with their descriptions and visualizations. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I had invested so much of myself into searching that I had forgotten to look after myself and my well-being. My wife, Sherilyn, actually noticed it first. When she brought it to my attention, I realized she was right. I had to back away and pray from afar. For weeks and weeks, that’s exactly what I did – I’d repost updates on Facebook, pray, watch the news, read the papers, stay in loose touch with those at the headquarters. Finally, on September 8, 2012, I felt good enough to go back and search for the evening.
When I arrived, armed with a boatload of food for the searchers who were coming off the shift, we were brought inside and told that they had found her. Her mom, who had prayed that very morning for Linnea to be brought home or for God to lead her to Linnea, was the one who found her, hanging from a tree not a 1/2 mile from where she was last officially seen.
As there was no search being conducted, we left the food for those who had not yet heard and come back in from their search fields. I was saddened, though, admittedly, not surprised. I think the most horrific and disheartening part was that it had been Maya who’d found her – I couldn’t even imagine.
My friend Jake was with me that night. Obviously, I wasn’t good company. but he stayed the course and took me to Starbucks so I could pillage their WiFi to let people who’d been praying know she’d been found. I knew I needed something to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. So I invented a drink that night. I asked for a grande hot chocolate with a plain glazed doughnut blended up in it. The baristas looked at me like I’d gown another head, but ultimately they complied and served the very first Hot Dough-Colate. You may think it sounds vile, but I will attest to the fact that it is delicious. Later, we were at a restaurant and the waitress says, “So, fellas, how’s your day going?”
“I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to answer that question honestly.”
“It couldn’t be that bad, sweetie! What happened?”
“Well, a friend of mine who was missing for a long time was found today. She passed away weeks ago, but they just found her. It’s been a rough afternoon.”
And then, what it is quite likely redefine idiocy and make all teachers who say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” eat their words, she opened up her mouth again.
She cocked her head sideways and said,
This is not exaggeration or hyperbole. This is the honest-to-goodness, wholehearted truth. At this point, I was barely able to think straight, much less vocalize any thoughts about my desire for a Dr. Pepper, so Jake ordered for me. That and wings with bleu cheese. I was absolutely dumbfounded.
Oddly enough, when she came back with our drinks, she said, “Well, guys, Kiera is going to finish up with you tonight because the boss wants me to clock off. Hope your night gets better!”
All in all, this was a saddening and enveloping season of my life. The ministry was still going strong, building, growing, reaching out, missioning, etc., my own children were happy and vibrant, as was my relationship with my wife, but it just got me down. I stepped away from the keyboard because time wouldn’t allow me to be there while searching for Linnea. I guess I’m coming back because I finally feel ready to move on with life and look for a brighter tomorrow.
PS…I apologize for the length of this post. Normally, they’re a lot shorter, but when one writes about a life-altering experience, I think it is natural to be long-winded about it in order to pay it the proper respect it has in your life.