By Gary Sledge
On a family vacation in Santa Rosa, Florida, earlier this year, Erika and her brother were sitting on a strip of warm white sand, having a serious conversation about faith. Children were splashing in the waves and playing on the shore. Just then, they heard a woman screaming, "Rob is missing!" The woman's husband ran toward the sea and began scanning the waves. Erika asked him to describe the child, but he seemed in shock and only gestured with his hand at a height just above his knee. She turned to the mother and asked the same question. "He has curly blond hair," the mother said, "and he's wearing a bright orange shirt. He's afraid of the water."
Bystanders came running to the shore from all over. For some reason, Erika found herself pulled in the opposite direction, toward a group of people sitting farther up the beach. "Have you seen a little boy in an orange shirt?" They shook their heads.
Erika began to pray. Her mind was open, peaceful, working fast. Orange shirt, not seen, afraid of water. Instantly she had an image of a hole in the sand. She scanned the beach. A few feet from where the missing boy's mother stood on the smooth white sand was a slight depression.
Erika fell on her knees and started digging. Handful after handful of hard, dry, drifting sand. Three inches, six inches. A foot down, her fingers tangled in something different, soft and fine. Strands of blond hair. She called out, "I think I found him!"
Five minutes had elapsed from the time Rob's parents realized he was gone. Apparently he'd crawled into a hole other kids had shoveled, and the sides collapsed, completely covering him. By now, others had run up to help. As they dug, the sides shifted around the buried boy like sand sliding down an hourglass.
Lifeguards arrived to perform CPR. The crowd brushed back enough sand so that Rob's father was able to grasp him under his arms and hoist him free.
The boy's eyes opened. Sand stuck to his face, arms and body, dusting even his eyelids and the creases of his mouth. Yet the look on his face was absolutely peaceful. He didn't cough or cry. His mother took him into her arms and sat sobbing on the warm, sunny beach, thinking something miraculous had happened.
Snow continues to fall outside Erika's window. She looks down at the Christmas card she's started and begins to write, "Dear Rob."