My pace quickened, as I rushed the length of the porch, pushed open the screen door and burst inside. Words tumbled out, “Mom, did Blackie come home?' The look on Mom's face told the answer before she spoke. Blackie, my cat, had been missing three days. In my eleven-year-old mind, three days seemed like an eternity.

Blackie fulfilled his name with a slick, jet-black coat. There were only random white hairs under his chin and on his belly. Several years ago, I'd dressed him in doll clothes, rocked him on my lap and took him for rides in my doll buggy. He tolerated this for a few turns around the living and dining rooms before jumping free to pursue more cat-like activities. His wide face and loud voice betrayed some Siamese ancestry.

I hurriedly changed from my gingham school dress to faded jeans and a blouse that showed its age. I was determined to find Blackie. I stated my intention as I called over my shoulder on the way out the door. Mom cautioned, “Don't go too far”. I started through the backyard, systematically searching the bushes along the porch. I anxiously called his name. My search expanded down the alley and around several adjacent blocks.

Fears chased across my mind. Was Blackie injured? Had he been attacked by a dog? Would I find his broken body in the gutter? Never before had he been gone so long. Dejected and downcast, I trudged home.

That night, Mom tucked my kid brother Marvin and me in our bunk beds. She listened as we recited our traditional prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep;

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen

After the lights were out, anxieties about Blackie's fate filled my thoughts. Quiet tears spilled down my cheeks. In a whisper I told God that I understood that Blackie was just a small part of creation, but I loved him, missed him and wanted him to please come home.

In the calm that followed I felt a sure knowledge flood my heart. Blackie would be home not tomorrow, but the next day when I got home from school. Yes, indeed, Blackie was there to greet me just as promised. More than this, Blackie taught me that God listens to heartfelt prayers. Although Mom saw that we faithfully attended Sunday School and church, prior to this experience, prayer for me was limited to the bedtime recitation of “Now I lay me down to sleep….” and a two-couplet, mealtime prayer that thanked God for food, the world, the birds that sing and ended with “Thank you God for everything. Amen”.

There have been many trials and traumas in the intervening years. However, the assurance I experienced as a child has never faded—God is real and loves me.