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Brenda Heist

I read a story the other day that chilled me.  I wasn’t going to write about it.  I can’t shake it, however.

Brenda Heist, missing for 11 years, turned up in the Florida Keys.  Rewind to 11 years ago.  She was 42 and living in Pennsylvania , going through an amicable divorce with her husband.  Dinner was defrosting.  Laundry had been started.

She dropped her kids off at school.  She snapped.  She got in her car.  She drove to a park.  Some strangers found her, distraught, and befriended her. This appears to reinforce the old “don’t talk to strangers” admonition.  She joined those folks on a month-long hitchhiking trip to Florida.  She lived with a man in a trailer for 7 years while there.  She was homeless, off and on, living in a tent community run by a social agency.

She was lost.

I don’t often think about being lost.  I remember running away from home when I was a little kid. I got lost.  I didn’t get far.  A kind neighbor lady drove me back home.  She knew I wouldn’t make it on my own, being about 7 and all.

I did get lost the other day on the way to a little girl’s birthday party.  I called my trusty husband, wonderful with directions, and he talked me through it.  I was not lost for long, despite accidentally finding a perfectly pleasant neighborhood.

Brenda was declared dead more than 2 years ago.  And here she is, alive and well.

But she still looks lost.  She looks much older than 54 in the above photo – more like 74.  Seems like she’s had a hard life anyway.  She feels bad for running away, she says, but she was overwhelmed.  She wasn’t going to be able to afford housing.  She jumped ship and ran.  She made a haphazard new life for herself.

Her kids, 8 and 11 at the time, want nothing to do with her now. They feel betrayed and abandoned, and rightfully so.   They’re glad she’s okay.  But she missed so much.  She missed baseball games.  She wasn’t there to hold the camera on excited, duded up guys and gals on their way to prom.  She didn’t clap while wiping away proud tears when they walked the stage at high school graduation.  Her family’s best solution, barring no information on what happened to her, was to declare her legally dead.

Brenda said the reason she’s turned herself in now is that she thought there were outstanding warrants on her.  She had no idea her family still cared about her.  She got tired of running.   She apologized and felt shame for what she did.

I remember reading about Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard.  Their families had looked for them and held onto a shred of hope that those girls were safe somewhere.

This is not that.  Brenda, despite initial appearances, was not kidnapped.  What she did seems deceptive, letting people believe she had been kidnapped or killed instead of at least owning up to the “I can’t take it anymore” she was experiencing.  I don’t know what will happen to Brenda and her family.  I pray that their can be reconciliation and as much restoration as our Father can bestow.  They need special grace right now, and compassion.

Many of us get overwhelmed in this life at one time or another.  Perhaps it’s a continuous season with no end in sight.  Hang on.  Don’t run.  It will pass.  Hit your knees.  Find the good and hold onto it.  Get whatever help you must.  Your family needs you. Do your best *not* to get lost.  If you do, find a way to turn yourself in.  You deserve to be found.