He and Emily emerged from the lake trail and made their way to the fire pit. The others joined them there.
“Has anyone seen Rylan today?” Ranger Hicks asked the group.
He was greeted with several “no’s” and worried head shakes. He could feel Emily shaking next to him. He had to fight to control his own growing concern. He had been sure Rylan was at the church camp.
“Has anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary today?” The ranger addressed the group again.
Deanna spoke up, “I heard quite a bit of meowing this morning.”
“Do you know about what time and which direction the meowing occurred?” The ranger questioned.
Deanna carefully thought back, “it was sometime after breakfast. Really not that long ago. Hard to say which direction it was coming from.”
Sally spoke to Ranger Hicks, “I remember the meowing, too, I think it came from the lake trail. It was just before you walked through on your rounds.”
“That must have been what made Rylan run off, she loves cats!” Emily started to rush back down the lake trail. Michael grabbed her arm to stop her.
“You need to stay at your tent in case Rylan comes back,” he told her firmly. “I’ll get Ranger Ogle to sit with you so we can send radio updates.”
“We‘ll turn our radio on, too,” Lavonne assured Emily. “If Rylan comes through here, we’ll call.”
“God is in control,” Dusty said. He immediately began to pray.
Ranger Hicks took off down the lake trail. It wound around the entire lake perimeter, past Emily’s tent and to the RV section. Several of the church members fanned out to search the woods and the base camp trail.
Deanna and Joann followed Emily back to her campsite. They didn’t want her to be alone during such a difficult time. Ranger Ogle joined them within minutes.
Deanna tried to break the tension, “Does anyone want hot tea? I’ve got a few bags in my satchel.”
“Tea would be nice,” Joann agreed.
“I’ll get the fire started,” Ranger Ogle offered. He stood up to find some wood.
“I’ll help,” Emily sniffled. She hadn’t stopped crying since she discovered Rylan wasn’t at the church camp.
“No, no, you rest here,” Deanna told her. She was worried about the young mother.
“I don’t want to rest!” Emily bursted. “I just want to find my little girl!” She doubled over and dug her nails into the dirt.
Joann knelt down beside her and rubbed her back. “You did help,” she whispered to Emily. “You did.”
“That’s right,” Deanna added, making sure her tone was soft. “You knew she would follow the cat meowing.”
“And Rylan will be so happy to see you here at the tent when she gets back,” Joann assured her.
Emily composed herself a bit and tried to think of Rylan being back in her arms. She might come bouncing through the woods any second. Emily clung to that image.
“I wish I had never left her alone,” Emily whimpered.
Deanna stoked the fire Nathen had just built and put a kettle on. “That does seem out of character for you, what happened?”
“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” Emily admitted. “Rylan wanted to play a treasure hunt game. I was trying to figure out how to go about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about work. My phone rang early this morning and I was afraid there was a problem at the office. I slipped away to check my messages and when I got back she was gone.”
“You have a stressful job, don’t you?” Joann said sympathetically.
“It isn’t my dream job and it does require some overtime, but I mostly enjoy it.” Emily answered. “The message I listened to was actually from my boss. She told me I might get a promotion.”
Deanna’s face was full of concern, “Won’t a promotion mean even longer hours?”
“Maybe,” Emily felt defensive. “I haven’t been told the specifics yet. But if there’s more money involved, I could do so much more for Rylan.”
“But you don’t know if you’d have the time to do more for her,” Deanna reminded her.
Joann recalled her own days of labor, “I used to try working my way to happiness. It was difficult to find a good balance.”
“You’ve got to save time for God and family,” Deanna agreed.
“We can fit some time in for God now,” Ranger Ogle offered. “I’ve got my bible right here.” He pulled out a worn, leather pocket bible. He hoped reading some scripture would calm everyone’s nerves.
“What do workers gain from all their hard work? I have observed the task that God has given human beings. God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. I know that whatever God does will last forever; it’s impossible to add to it or take away from it. God has done this so that people are reverent before him. Whatever happens has already happened, and whatever will happen has already happened before. And God looks after what is driven away.”
Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 CEB
Emily wasn’t listening. She felt so beaten. Rylan was missing, the church ladies were questioning her promotion, and now the ranger wanted to do bible study. Perhaps, if Emily had opened her heart and mind she would have received comfort, but that was not the case this day.
“I don’t think I’m in the right frame of mind for bible study,” Emily turned towards the lake and wished the others would leave her alone.
“That’s exactly when you need God the most,” Joann told her.
“Talking to God is the only way I can get calmed down,” Deanna put in.
Ranger Ogle wasn’t ready to give up, he turned to Mathew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
“Bible study doesn’t work for me,” Emily insisted.
“Maybe you just need to get to know God a little better,” Ranger Ogle rested his hand on his bible. He was all too familiar with people not having faith in God. “Sometimes he works in our lives differently than we expect.”
Joann thought of her own faith journey, “I used to think God wasn’t answering my prayers. Then I realized he was guiding me right where I needed to be, even though I had some heartache.”
“That’s right,” Deanna couldn’t hide her own tears anymore. “God brought me to his peace and church family by putting me through some heart ache. I had to experience his amazing grace to finally understand the truth.”
Emily was moved by the tearful display. She decided to give the Bible study a chance.
Ranger Ogle began reading again and the ladies joined hands.
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
II Corinthians 12:9-10 NKJV