"Honey, have you seen Bethany?" I asked my husband, Keith. "I thought she was in her room, but when I looked, she wasn't in there. I was going to call her so we could hang up her stocking." When Bethany was born four years ago, we started the tradition of hanging up the stockings on Christmas Eve. This year, she was finally old enough to understand and enjoy it more.
"Did you look in the basement?"
"No, not yet." I ran down the stairs. "Bethany? Are you down there? Bethany?" Panic seeped through my veins. "She's not down there, and she's not in her room. It's been a long time since I've heard her. And now that I think about it, I haven't seen Stella either."
Stella, our new puppy, and Bethany were inseparable.
"Calm down, honey. They're probably just hiding from us."
"You're right. You take the kitchen, family room, and dining room, and I'll take the bedrooms, bathrooms, and downstairs."
We began our search lightheartedly, as though we were playing hide-and-go-seek.
"Maybe she's under the bed!" I exclaimed, while lifting up the dust ruffle. As the minutes passed, I grew more desperate. "Bethany, this isn't funny anymore. Please come out. Daddy and I are getting worried."
After what seemed like hours of searching, we had to come to the realization she wasn't in the house. My mind raced, as I thought of the possibilities. Snapshots of the last few hours ran though my head. "Oh no."
"What's wrong, honey?"
"Bethany. She asked me something while I was working on the bills. I wasn't paying attention, and I said 'yes.' Something about.... Outside!" I yelled, as I grabbed my coat and ran out the door into the snow covered yard.
Keith found the flashlights and followed behind me.
"Bethany? Stella? Where are you? Please come inside. It's cold out here. And you don't want to get sick on Christmas. Bethany? Stella?
"Lord?" the unfinished request dissipated as quickly as my breath. I looked down. Paw prints. And could it be? Shoe prints!
"Keith! Over here!"
We followed the tracks, calling their names. Neighbors soon joined the search, but the snow was falling harder, obscuring the already faint tracks from view.
I was hoarse, and fell to my knees in anguish, as I attempted to finish my earlier prayer. "Lord? My little girl. She's out there."
"But Lord, how can I be still? She's out there, and I don't know how long she's been out there, or if she has a coat, or..."
Be still, and know that I am God. Listen, my child.
The whistling winter wind died down, as I heard a faint whine.
I whispered a quick praise, then turned my attention to the sound.
"Stella?" I said with expectation. "Bethany?" I strained my ears, and this time the whine was followed by a child's whimper.
"Everyone, come over here," I yelled, with newfound energy. "I heard something."
We stood in a huddled silence, and heard it again.
"That way," a neighbor pointed. We yelled their names, pausing in between to redirect ourselves as we drew closer to the sound.
"I'm over here, Mommy. Under the tree."
I searched the trees, and found one with a deep crevasse at the base. Two figures crouched in the back.
"I found her!" I cried out.
"My foot. It's stucked. I'm sorry Mommy. Stella went under here, and she wouldn’t come out. Then when I tried to get her, my foot got stucked. I'm cold."
I reached my arm into the hole and groped for the root that was entrapping Bethany's shoe. I grabbed her show and wiggled it out. She crawled out, and we hugged each other tight.
"Oh, honey. I was so worried abut you. Were you scared?"
"A little bit. But Stella stayed by me, I asked Jesus to help you find me and help me be brave."
"You were very brave."
The four of us walked back to the house. "We've got to put your stocking up," I told her. "It's almost Christmas."
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