Tuesday, March 23, 2010

He Showed Me The Way I Should Go

On the evening of October 3, 2004 around 75 friends and family members gathered in Fresno on the southwest corner of Blackstone and Shaw avenues to hold a prayer vigil for a missing 16-year old girl. 

I’d seen these vigils on the news many times before – friends holding pictures of a smiling face, Mom crying as she begs for information or help, candles lighting up the dark night, and volunteers passing out flyers to anyone who would take one. But this time, I wasn’t watching the scene unfold on the 6:00 news, the face on the flyer belonged to my daughter, and I was the crying mom.

Giana—we call her Gia—had been missing for 2 ½ weeks, but for me it felt like a year! I hadn’t slept, I’d barely eaten, and I’d cried more than my weight in tears. Although I couldn’t stop working, I’d still managed to canvas most of the city with “Missing Child” flyers. My little girl’s bright smile and big blue eyes jumped off the page, and in the bottom left-hand corner was a picture of the person she’d last been seen with—an older married man with children of his own. I’ll call him “Guy”.

A 17 year-old girlfriend of Gia’s had disappeared from her college dorm on the same night, and though the girls had been seen together in the first two days of this ordeal, the friend had turned up safe and sound in Stockton on the fourth day. When her mom called me to report the good news, I wanted to know what she could tell us about Gia, but the teen offered very little information.

My husband Tom and I had watched our daughter slip further and further from us and deeper and deeper into the dark world of drug addiction. We’d gone through this with her older brother and we couldn’t believe we were in this darkness with another one of our children. Their drug of choice was Meth, and like thousands of other San Joaquin Valley teens, they were loosing their lives and souls to the insidious drug. The more we learned, the better they got at hiding the truth. We’d had no choice but to evict our son from our home and onto the streets, and now I feared we’d lost our daughter.

That night, at the vigil, I personally thanked each person for showing up and helping out. They took turns handing flyers to the passing motorists and talking with the people who stopped to get more information. We sang songs and prayed for our daughter’s safe return. As I was chatting with someone, a tiny young woman walked up behind me, and in a barely audible voice she said, “Liz?” “Yes”, I replied. “I’m Guy’s wife.” Though I’d never met her, I’d talked with her on the phone. At times she’d been angry—with me, with her husband and with our daughter. Other times she would cry with worry, as she had young children and now an uncertain future. I hugged her. I asked her if we could pray for her, and in a small voice she said, “I guess so”. I gathered the 75 people together, and a pastor friend of mine prayed for Guy’s wife, his children, and for Guy and Gia. The scared young mom stayed that evening and I’ll never forget watching her little girl hand out flyers and talking to people. “Have you seen my daddy?” she’d ask the passers-by. “We’re looking for my daddy.”

I went home that night, curled up on the couch and cried. “She’s not here”, I told my husband. “Gia's not in Fresno anymore.” “We’ll find her”, Tom assured me. I told Tom I thought she might have gone to Santa Cruz (she’d taken the family car the night she disappeared), but Tom knew she didn’t have any money and couldn’t imagine that she’d left town.

The next morning we did what we’d done every morning since our daughter went missing, we called the cell phone company to see if Gia had used her phone. The answer had always been the same, “No activity.” But today was different. She had used her phone in the wee hours of that morning and had called a phone in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz! We called the number, but the woman who answered claimed to not know what we were talking about. I got dressed, rented a truck, picked up a friend of mine for support, and took off to Santa Cruz. I had no idea what my plan was—I just knew I had to follow the clue. We’d had other clues, and we’d followed other trails, but they had all ended the same—no Gia. Still, I had to try.

When we got to Santa Cruz, my friend and I talked with police officers and to homeless men and women. We passed out flyers. Our family had spent many a vacation in Santa Cruz, so I drove to all our favorite vacation spots hoping to find Gia, or to catch a glimpse of our car. We walked the Boardwalk, drove around a familiar campground in Soquel, and searched the beaches. There was no sign of my daughter. I checked the homeless shelters and at around 5:30 that evening a police officer told me they tried to get all the homeless people off the streets by 6:00pm. So, he warned, if I hadn’t found Gia by then, I might want to try again the next day.

Meanwhile, back at home, a private investigator was working with the Santa Cruz number Gia had called and was trying to get more information from the woman who belonged to the number. I talked with Tom a couple of times throughout the day and he reported there had been no new information. My last contact with him had been around 4:00.

I was on my way to check out the last shelter for the day when I saw the sign, “Harvey West Park” with an arrow pointing left. I decided to follow the sign—it was now 5:45. I saw another sign and another arrow. I told my friend, “God has put these signs here for me. They will lead me to my daughter.” “Don’t get your hopes up”, she gently warned. When we finally drove into the park, we saw families playing baseball, dogs catching Frisbees, and joggers getting their evening exercise. This did not look like a place where homeless people hung out, but we drove on. It was 5:55. Then, in the last corner of the park, in the last parking spot, I saw it—our car! Sitting on the hood of the car was Gia!

My heart leapt from my chest, and the words shot out of my mouth, “there she is!” I didn’t want Gia to see me, as I was afraid she might run (that’s why I’d rented the truck). My friend grabbed the cell phone, but she was excited and it jumped out of her hands and into the air. It was downright comical as I was reached for the phone mid-air, the silly thing dancing between us! I caught the phone, called 911 and asked the police to come help me secure my child and get her home. I called Tom. “I found her!” I yelled. “I’m looking right at her!” Tom said, “Liz, the private investigator finally got the woman with the phone number to tell us the truth. Gia is with her!” The woman had agreed to keep Gia at Harvey West Park, but only until 6:00. Tom had been trying to call me for over an hour, but service had been spotty and there had been no signal and he hadn’t been able to get a hold of me. God HAD put those signs there to lead me to my daughter!

That was just one of many miracles I’ve seen over the past 5 years. Psalm 143:8 says, Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. That morning, October 4, 2004 I trusted God to lead me to my lost child, and He showed me the way. God wants to lead you to a miracle today!

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