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Finding Joshua in Vegas

Arbonne’s yearly Global Training Conference (GTC). My friend, Sharon Metzgar, who is a co-worker with me in the company, twisted my arm to enter. Despite a long bout of laryngitis and complications, I agreed to audition with the song “Dare To Dream”, written by my sister. Making it into the top five of Arbonne’s Got Talent, earned me the opportunity to sing on stage at the MGM Grand as part of the Saturday night finale. While feeling honored to be included, I wondered why an “old school” gal like me would be in the final lineup, given all the other great talent from which Arbonne had to choose. Convinced that God had a bigger plan, I continued to believe that my obedience was being tested and time would tell the whole story. Producers of the program were adamant that a popular, well known song would be a sure audience-pleaser. I originally gave in to their wishes and chose a different song for competition, while still believing that "Dare To Dream" was a better song for me. I’ve been with Arbonne for 17 years, so this opportunity wasn’t about winning, rather about delivering the message of the song to my fellow colleagues.

Dare to dream, keep on reaching for the sky.

Dare to dream, oh baby you can fly.

There’s nothing you can’t do, when it’s in your heart God will see it through.

There’s a treasure deep within, don’t give up don’t give in. Dare to dream.

Let’s go back to the week before Vegas. I was in Kentucky, ministering at a women's weekend retreat called Tres Dias. My sister Suzanne, writer of "Dare To Dream", was my special guest. Saturday morning, I got the final word that I would be allowed to compete with her song. This decision came after a lot of back-and-forth with the powers-that-be at, and I considered the phone call to be extremely good news. I informed Suzanne and a celebration ensued. Word quickly spread throughout the retreat, as many ladies agreed to cover my efforts in prayer. The question on their minds was: Would Suzanne, as the writer of the song, be able to make the trip too? After all, the song would be heard by over 9,000 Arbonne attendees, and this would be a huge honor for her. Regretfully, the possibility of her being present for the event was not in the affirmative. As badly as we both felt about this unfortunate reality, we knew it would require a miracle for her to go. The sheer cost of a last minute ticket made this dream seem to be out of reach.

Unbeknown to us, God was moving in the heart of Shannon, one of the team members at the retreat. As strange as it may sound, she had been compelled to tuck in $1000 cash as she was preparing for the weekend. This was money that she had purposely set aside for a vacation with her husband. Sunday morning, she came up to me after the chapel service and handed me ten, crisp $100 bills. “Take your sister to Vegas.” This is where the story gets good! Within a few minutes the whole retreat knew that Suzanne was indeed be going to Las Vegas with me. Any other obstacle would pale in comparison to this huge financial blessing. God had spoken and a sense of destiny was in the air. Shannon’s act of obedience would soon prove to be another important part of master plan find a young man named Joshua.

Over the past couple of days the buzz of Las Vegas had been on the lips of many interested women at Tres Dias, however, for one of the women there that weekend it was personal.

Unbeknown to me, Joanna, another team member at Tres Dias, had shared with Suzanne the painful fact that her son was lost and living on the streets of that Nevada city. Suzanne began boldly prophesying to Joanna that her son was coming home. Over and over, she declared, “Nothing is impossible, and only God knows how the miracle will unfold. But he will be home shortly!”

Upon hearing the news of the $1,000, Suzanne burst into tears. “Cindy I’m going for you…but there is more to this trip than you can imagine. I know that I must also find a lost boy named Joshua and bring him home to his Mother, Joanna.” This was the first I’d heard of this lost son, and I could literally feel the broken heart of my friend. Little did I know this would change my life...change so many lives forever. The ladies, freshly charged by the presence of the Lord at Tres Dias, were full of faith for the impossible. They began to pray like never before for the return of Joshua. From that day forward, Suzanne’s mind and thoughts were established and she did not waver.

Tres Dias women began putting action to their faith…praying with conviction, writing checks, handing us money. “Find Joshua... this is for Joshua...bring him home...I am praying for you.” One lady even offered to buy his plane ticket back to Nashville. It seemed that everybody had an uncanny knowing that we would find this boy...but how?

Sharon, my Arbonne friend who had coaxed me into entering the vocal competition, had also invited me to stay over with her at the MGM Grand for a couple of days after the convention. My plan was to check out of my room on Sunday and move over to her suite for a time of rest and relaxation. The thoughts of a little reprieve after a hectic weekend danced merrily in our weary heads. Suzanne knew she could stay with me in my room, but would have to trust God for the additional two days lodging to look as her agenda was a clear convection to fulfill a promise to look for Joshua. Seeing the potential for a vacation spoiler, I was content to hold this as a matter of prayer believing God would make a way.

Arbonne’s vocal competition was the catalyst that got the ball rolling, but a much bigger story was taking shape. God loves people more than awards. He saw a Mother’s tears; He heard her cry; He sensed the sweet aroma of the saint’s prayers; He is ever touched with our infirmities; Most of all, He had the answer to the question, “Where is Joshua?” The son hadn't been heard from in months. The last word was that he’d been working on the Las Vegas strip handing out fliers. With no phone, no known address, no names of friends…who could reach him...where would we even start? Is Joshua still in Las Vegas... is he still alive?

I arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday and Suzanne joined me on Friday. Much to my surprise, my amazing husband Mark had flown out with her. Their return tickets were for Sunday, but we knew Suzanne’s ticket could be changed. The mandate to find Joshua was weighing heavy on both of our hearts now, as there was NO way she could pursue the search alone. Meanwhile, God was growing faith in so many willing hearts of Arbonne co-harts. I urged Suzanne, to tell everybody!...and she did.

This young man in the shadows, somewhere on the streets of “Sin City” was soon to become the topic of conversation among many friends attending GTC. My phone was blowing up with calls and inquiring texts, “Found him yet?" replaced “hello” as the story spread and captured imaginations of all who learned of it. Earlier in the week, Mom Joanna wittingly decided to overnight copies of Joshua's most recent pictures and, as God would have it, she even tucked in his driver’s license. Ironically, he had left it behind when he fled so long ago. Joanna knew the airlines would never let him fly without a driver’s license. It was obvious that God was in control and there would be no missteps here. The tragic journey of a modern day “Parodical Son” story was being written before our very eyes.

Back in Vegas, I had finished my onstage rehearsals for the evening of competition, the three of us decided to take a walk down the famous Vegas strip. Mark followed Suzanne and me as our bodyguard. With Joshua’s picture in hand, we walked from the MGM to the Bellagio Hotel and back, scanning the faces of every passing brown skin young man that we encountered. We were probably thought to be interested in finding a ‘fella’, but we were looking for a specific fella. They were too tall; too short; or too old. Either not his nose; not his lips; or not his eyes. Friday night proved to be nothing more than a warm-up search and we returned to the hotel empty handed.

Back in the room, Mark gave us some good advice as he was undoubtedly filled with concern for us. If nothing else, this evening would be a huge reality check for just how daunting this endeavor could be. We were reminded just how many people were in this city and finding one lone person in a sea of faces would have to be God. Unshaken in our determination, we talked through our possibilities and rehearsed the time-line of our plan to find Joshua. “We weren't supposed to find him tonight,” Suzanne confidently stated. “What would we do with him if we’d found him tonight anyway?” In prayer, she felt that Joshua would be still when he surfaced. “He is setting on steps and even slumped over as to be intoxicated. He will come to us…right into our arms. I believe he will be looking for us, too. God will show him our faces in a dream...prepare him in some way…feel a connection.”

Saturday was the day of competition, leaving no time to search. However, Joshua was always on our minds. God awoke Suzanne early with a strong urge to look at his driver’s license. Could it be an accident…this Arbonne convention had been planned for over a year and today…April 22nd…was Joshua's birthday? With that news, we began praising God. Suzanne prayed, “God, draw him out of his hole to celebrate and party with friends today. Let him get arrested or draw attention to himself today. Deliver him into our hands.” There’s power in agreement…so we agreed together and repeated these prayers throughout the next morning, we were feeling the weight of this massive undertaking. It was bigger than two willing women with limited time and means. We simply turned Joshua over to the God who made him…the God who loved him more than we could comprehend…the God whose eyes had never left him. Surely, He was able to complete what He’d started. So for that day, Suzanne gave me her full attention. We slept late, had a fabulous lunch, and spent time doing vocal warm ups, and preparing for the big night on stage at the MGM. That evening, “Dare To Dream” was heard by thousands of enthusiastic attendees and celebrity judges. I felt blessed for the opportunity to be in the top five of the competition. Winning the competition was not what God had planned for me that night. It’s been said, “Obedience is better than sacrifice." Still uncertain if Suzanne would be able to extend her stay beyond the wait…but understanding can.” I was satisfied that I was where God wanted me to be… I had been obedient. God never makes a mistake. So many events surrounding our adventure had been nothing short of miracles, but the best ones had yet been told.

Finally, the conference was history and a group of us headed up to Sharon’s suite to munch down on leftovers from Maggiano’s. Fully aware of Suzanne’s dilemma of needing to extend her time in Vegas, Sharon motioned for me to follow her into the bedroom. “What’s the deal with Suzanne…looking for this boy, Joshua? Do you want her to stay with us? I’ll go along with it if it’s what you want.” I replied, “Yep…I know it sounds crazy, and it changes our plans, I so many but I believe this is a God-thing.” We emerged from our private conversation and Sharon invited Suzanne to stay with us. At that point Sharon was totally convinced that the entire search would take up precious time and be about as fruitless as standing on the balcony and yelling Joshua!!! Hey, Joshua!!! Where are you Joshua!!! She reluctantly became a player in the search. This expletive describes her initial feelings. “Well SHOOT…Looks like we're going have to go find Joshua. I won’t be running up and down the streets, but ya’ll can if you want to.”

As if our shoes were on fire, Suzanne and I said our niceties, bade Sharon “good night”, and hurried back to our room. Mark quickly got online to change Suzanne’s ticket. Joshua’s search was now in full swing.

A few days prior a friend texted me, asking if there was anything she could do from her vantage point in Nashville. Cheryl had been a part of the Tres Dias weekend and was also praying for this miracle. Knowing that she is an avid researcher, I felt that she could possibly be the missing link. In a flash it came to me that she could run his name through databases available online. Exploring the possibility of his being incarcerated, checking local jails, hospitals, shelters and even death records would certainly be a big undertaking that would be ongoing for the duration of the search. Yes, we needed her help! Sure enough, there were a couple of hits on his name. A Joshua Mack, age 23, had been arrested twice within the past year for minor infractions such as jaywalking and trespassing. In both cases they had used the same ID number, indicating it was the same person. Late on Friday night, after being on dozens of websites and dreadful of chasing rabbits down trails, Cheryl signed up for a free service that promised to notify her if this case number reappeared in the system in the future. Proceeding with curiosity, Cheryl continued looking for clues.

Early Sunday morning, an alert appeared from the website. Cheryl suspected the communication was a solicitation for a $29.99 upgrade on their service. In actuality it was a notification that this case number had new activity. I'd like to tell you that I jumped up and read in. In reality, I had failed to plug it in the charger so my phone was somewhere across a dark room and I figured whoever was texting this early in the morning had to be unaware that I was in a different time zone. If it’s one of our kids, they’ll call their dads phone…and at that I rolled over and went back to sleep. Mark’s alarm went off around 7:00 a.m. He jumped in the shower and started getting ready to head to the airport. I stumbled to the bathroom, opened a bottle of water, and finally got around to checking messages on my phone. Still half asleep I read the following message: April 29, 2012 5:28 am I think I may have located Joshua. Please stand by for information. Pray it’s him. I must have read Cheryl's text a dozen times. A quick phone call would reveal that he had been picked up at 3:18 Sunday morning for sleeping in public.

Could it be...on his birthday Joshua partied with his friends, got drunk and passed out on the street, only to be arrested? Isn't that exactly what we had prayed for? The post on Cheryl’s computer showed him to be 24 years of age, reflecting he had had a birthday since his two previous arrests. Joshua...our Joshua was currently in the Clark County Detention Center, 6.4 miles from MGM Hotel. Armed with this news, Suzanne and I began throwing our clothes on and zipping up suitcases. Within an hour we had dropped our luggage at the bellman's desk, jumped into a cab and were headed to the jail. We told every breathing human about Joshua…the bellman, the cab driver, the officer who scanned our purses at the entrance of the jail, and finely the officer inside, behind the glass enclosure. According to their computer he was currently being processed for release. The officer gave instructions, “Go out the front door, around to the left, down the block, take another left until you’re at the back of the building. There, you will find a gray door with no handle and a sign that says NO LOITERING. Tongue in cheek Suzanne responded, “Please don’t arrest us, ‘cause we’re about to start loitering.” Catching the humor, the officer laughed and replied, “Well, okay then.” It's a good thing we were wearing flats…‘cause we took off running around corners ‘til we finally found the right door. There we would wait for the next two hours. Not alone, we were eventually joined by several interesting characters. The first one we encountered back there was a woman named Jeanie…who’d been waiting for several days for her husband’s release. They were from out of town and she had no money, no car and no place to go. We made friends with Jeannie and eventually were able to pray for her and her husband still inside. A car with three dangerous looking hooligans, obviously up to no good, circled the block several times before parking their vehicle. Their demeanor was ominous and we silently prayed them away.

Jeanie said, “When they let ‘um out…females go first.” Sure enough, the gals started coming out of the gray by one. One young male slipped through and bolted so fast that we couldn't see his face. “Joshua…Joshua is that you!” The boy never broke stride. Suzanne instantly knew, “It's not him.” Most likely, he was running from his hoodlum friends. A couple of females who were obviously hookers came out with their clothes in a paper bag and dressed right there on the street. Questions flooded our senses as we pondered the plight of these souls existing in the shadows of society. Whose children were they? Were their mothers somewhere at home praying for them too? God was right there with doubt about it. Neither one of us could have done this alone…gone to this unfamiliar place to search for a total stranger. Then, like a slow motion movie, a thin, unshaven young man wearing a ball cap and dirty clothes stumbled out the door as if he was pushed. There he stood. “Joshua...Joshua Earl?” We repeated his name in unison. Startled and confused, he stopped walking. Trying not to scare him, we kept calmly saying, “We’re here to tell you a story.” “My name is Jason...Jason,” he insisted. Over my shoulder Jeannie’s voice could be heard, “Check his release form. His name will be on his pink release form.” He denied having such a paper at first, but we kept smiling…full of the love of Jesus. The joy of the Lord was overflowing like a well springing up in the hearts of two happy sisters, right there in the midst of the devil’s ruins. Realizing he didn't stand a chance against these crazy ladies from Tennessee, Joshua reluctantly pulled the pink paper out of his back pocket. Joshua Mack…as plain as day…no doubt we had found our guy. I looked back at Jeanie and she was grinning from ear to hear. She knew! I often pray for her as her face is still before me today.

With Suzanne on one arm and me on the other, we started walking in the direction we were facing. We walked and talked and told him the story…over and over again. Still a little hung over from the night before, Joshua needed to go slow and rest every few feet. The McDonald’s a few blocks away was our immediate destination. Joshua was confused and started asking questions. We retold the story, maybe a dozen times, over the next few hours. Believing it would help to sober him up…we lead Joshua through the sinner’s prayer sitting there at the table. A nice man sitting at a nearby table couldn’t help overhearing our conversation and was moved to tears. Before leaving he came over, patted Joshua on the shoulder and said, “This is a great thing you are doing right here.” In turn, we asked him to remember us in prayer. He replied, “I sure will.” My constant exposure to the homeless in downtown Nashville definitely came in handy. Joshua’s behavior never surprised me. Aware of onlookers, he sometimes became cagey and slumped over when others even looked our direction. Suzanne and I didn’t exactly blend into the environment and I’m sure it was a bit strange when we so enthusiastically sang Amazing Grace in two part harmony right there in the restaurant. Picking up on that, I assured him that it was okay to be visible… nothing bad was going to happen. We constantly affirmed the fact that God is good and we have nothing to fear.

While still eating at McDonalds, a seedy looking female walked in. Twice, Joshua raised his hand to wave. I inquired if he knew her. “No,” he answered. “We'll buy her some food if you know her.” He was only half way finished with his burger at that point, but closed the box and pushed it away. I noted that he looked back at her as he dropped his half eaten food in the trash, as if to say, “I’ll share it with you.” Joshua never left our sight. When he used the toilet, we stood outside the door. Looking back, I believe he was comforted by our concern. At one point, I needed to go to the bathroom, and he said, “Do you want me to go with you?” “No, you can stay here with Susie.” The name “Susie” has a special significance at this was the name of his Granny. Just saying the name of one of his family members made him smile. Several time throughout the day he would say that remembered us from his past. He must have questioned me ten times as to where he would have seen me sing? “You have never seen me sing” I would reply. Finely, we informed him that he must have dreamed us, as there was no other way for him to have ever known us at all. Again and again, conformations kept coming as from Suzanne’s prayers were being answered and prophecies being fulfilled.

Constant texts were flying back and forth from me to Cheryl, who was always is contact with Mom, Joanna. In the messages there were hints that Joanna was preparing herself and us, that her son might not fly home. I finally sent word to Cheryl to tell Joanna “stop worrying…God’s got this”. For several hours Joshua did resist the idea of flying back home. Before leaving that morning, Mark had warned us not to allow Joshua to draw us back to a different location; not to let him pick up anything or hook up with anybody. After all, we didn't know exactly what we were dealing with, what he was capable of, or his issues.

Before Mark left on his flight, he informed me that the only other nonstop flight into Nashville left at 6:15 p.m. We knew that we couldn't house him in our hotel and we couldn't let him go back to where he had been staying. So, we had to get him on that flight. Cheryl was able to confirm availability on that flight, so she went ahead and booked the ticket. Now all we had to do was get him one it!

At one point, Suzanne looked him right in the face and said, “Joshua, look at me! I came out here to find you on a leap of faith. Now it's your turn to take a leap of faith and get on that airplane. I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted God. You may not know what to expect back home, but you’ll have to trust God!” We assured him that whatever he ran away from or anything he was afraid of was not a surprise to God. God loved him so much that He delivered him into our hands. With that, he finally agreed. We hailed a cab back to the MGM. Needing a stiff cup of coffee, Suzanne and I headed straight for a Starbucks inside the hotel casino. As Suzanne stood in line to order, Joshua and I grabbed a table and I began sharing a story out of the Bible. I said, “You remind me of Jonah. God wanted Jonah to go to a certain place and do a certain job. But, Jonah had other plans. He ran in the opposite direction as hard as he could. Joshua, when you started drinking last night, were you alone or with friends?” “With friends” he answered. “Well, at some point you got so loaded that they dumped you on the street and left you for dead. As far as they know, you did die.” I continued, “Jonah had some no good friends, too. When they saw how messed up Jonah was, they threw him over the side of the boat to drown. However, God had an intervention planned for him. Jonah was swallowed up by a big old whale and dumped out on the beach where he was supposed to be in the first place. Your intervention is no less of a miracle. You were scooped up by Susie and me, and we are going to place you in the belly of a big old airplane that’s going to deliver you back to your destiny… back to where you were supposed to be all along.” Each time something hit home or touched his heart…Joshua would smile and laugh.

Sharon soon found us. I had kept her in the loop all morning. She hadn't stopped crying since I called her on the way to the jail. Needless to say, “finding Joshua” had already impacted her life in a way she had not expected. Joshua would soon be heading home about three hours, so we three girls thought it was time to do a little shopping. I’m sure people thought we were filming a hidden camera/ambush makeover/TV show. We were grabbing toiletries, clothes, snacks, backpack and other goodies as fast as we could. We pushed him into the men’s room…and walla…out comes the new and improved Joshua. Anything to make flight and transition a little smoother. His mom had prayed for this day for many months, so we wanted him to look nice.

Saying a quick goodbye to Sharon, Joshua, Suzanne and I jumped in a cab heading to the airport. My phone, as you remember, had not been charged in two days and after dozens of texts that had been going back and forth from Cheryl and me, I was starting to panic big time. The one last, big text yet to come through would contain the flight information for his ticket home.

The cab let us out at the curb, and we quickly got in line at a Southwest kiosk right inside the door. Never taking my eyes off my phone, I continued watching for Cheryl’s text as we the line became shorter. Making it all the way to the front…it was finely our turn. With Suzanne and Joshua peering over my shoulder, I froze. How ironic, I know! God had been with us each step of the way in finding the needle in the haystack, still I felt anxious that my stupid phone might die.

With no messages yet, others in line behind us grew restless so we gracelessly allowed them to step up, again putting us in the back of the line. With no pin or paper to write the number down…I was literally holding my breath for this all to work. A few more minutes passed as I nervously stepped up to the kiosk for the second time. As if my final step triggered some sort of activation button…the text popped up…I punched in the code…confirmed his name…number of bags…and out came Joshua’s boarding pass!

We jumped on the long escalator and headed for security. OOPS! What were we thinking? The person named on the ticket is the only one permitted past security. So we turn ourselves around and headed back down to do some tall talking. No way was our prize getting out of our sight. It had already been a long day and nothing…no government regulation or airport authority was about to stop us from our objective of seeing this boy get on that plane bound for Nashville.

We got back in yet another line to speak to a ticket agent about our dilemma. Suzanne and I felt 10 feet tall and bullet proof! “BRING IT” best describes our confident attitude. Looking over 20 or more agents, I spotted the oldest one and made a hasty decision that would be my first pick. Bing! We’re next and we get the youngest one of the bunch. Right when we walked up I caught a glimpse of his nametag. I said, “Noah, we need you to rescue us today…can you do that?” Through a big smile, “What can I do for you?” I continued, “Noah, do you see this guy right here? We just got him out of jail this morning and he needs to be on a plane back to his mother who’ll be waiting at the other end of this non-stop flight to Nashville. My sister and I need escort passes to get him to his gate.” Noah slowly shook his head from side to side. “I’m sorry, but unless he’s a miner or in a wheelchair, I can’t help you out. Sorry.” Undeterred, I persisted, “Noah! See this guy right here to my left?” (I looked back and Joshua’s not as much as moving a single muscle and Susie has a furrowed brow and shaking her head in agreement.) Let’s try this one more time…we just got him out of jail…okay? We promised his Mom we would see to it that he gets on this plane. Now, we can’t let him out of our sight, so we need two of those companion passes right now.” Realizing I had no problem repeating this story until Jesus returned, Noah’s next words were, “Can I see your ID’s?” Lickady split…we were heading back up the escalator with Joshua following right along. Once at the gate, I spotted a great friend and Arbonne co-worker, Kerry. She was also scheduled to be on that flight. God knew that Joshua needed a loving companion to be guided all the way back home. Too many variables could possibly overwhelm him. God had graciously provided us with the perfect one.

“Boarding A1-30,” and on it went to the C’s. Kerry rushed onto the plane to save a seat. As Joshua left our care and headed down the gangplank, I felt as if he were a baby learning to walk. Soon a text came from Kerry, “He’s sitting between me and a Christian guy named Mike.” That’s the moment we could breathe again….Hallelujah! Joshua was on his way home. Spontaneously turning toward each other, Suzanne and I embraced as we jumped up and down, tears of joy streaming down our faces.

Suzanne and I are honored to have a small part in finding a lost treasure in the dark debris of Las Vegas’ bright lights. We are ever changed by our encounter with a young man who touched our lives in a profound way by his gentle spirit. Joshua Earl Mack will walk no longer in artificial light, but in the eternal light of the Savior who sought and found us all, because of His unfailing love.

Dare to dream, keep on reaching for the sky.

Dare to dream, oh baby you can fly.

There’s nothing you can’t do, when it’s your heart God will see it through.

There’s a treasure deep within, don’t give up don’t give in.

Keep on searching for your rainbow, dare to dream.

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