Today I want to tell you about church, and the awesome, and heartbreaking story I heard, based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Please bear with me and read entirely through, I promise it's worth it. My faith won't be a common theme, but a theme in my life none-the-less.
My pastor ended his sermon today first with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and then an interpretation of the parable. I had already related to the parable, but when he added in the story about the Prodigal Daughter, I broke down. First, allow me to summarize the story of the Son:
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son. There's a father, and he has two sons. The younger of the two sons goes to his father and demands his portion of the inheritance of the family farm. "11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them." He then took his inheritance, auctioned his third of the family farm, and left. Mind you, when he asked for his inheritance, he essentially told his father he wanted him to be dead, and since he wasn't, getting his share was the next best thing. He then went off traveling, squandering his money, and eventually finding himself trying to survive by living in a pig stye, starving."13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything." In a moment of clarity, the Son comes to his senses, realizes his betrayal, and vows to go home and tell his father how sorry he is. He intends to serve his father, earning his keep and food. "17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father." Upon coming home, the father runs out to him, embracing him, and throwing a grand party to welcome him home, despite all he'd done "“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The story goes on to tell about the older brother, and how upset he is, but that's not the point of what I'm sharing today. Next I want to share with you the story of Jenny, the Prodigal Daughter. This was the point that I broke down crying, in total relation to the story. I heard my own story being read, and yet, it wasn't mine.
“A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to over-react to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. ‘I hate you!’ she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.
The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car –she calls him ‘Boss’– teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.
She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.
After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.
One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.
God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”
It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City Oh, God.
When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”
Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”
He interrupts her. ‘Hush child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.’” - Philip Yancey
I cried tears of loss and desperation while listening to this. It's such a beautiful story, the story of redemption, and returning home to people who love you unconditionally, and don't care what you've done, they're just happy you're home.
I had a flashback to the first time I'd come home after being raped, and had been handed the age old "self inflicted injury gets no sympathy." I then thought back to the first time I'd been arrested, and after being released to my mother, having to sit opposite her, with her back turned to me, the whole way home from the courthouse. Then I remembered the shame and blame I'd been handed for my decisions that caused us to be in harm, and having to move. All of this left me feeling empty. Never having experienced the joy and love that "The Prodigals" experienced. My heart was heavy.
You won't often find me writing about my faith in Christ. I sometimes struggle with this because most of fellow sisters and brothers are very open and loud and proud of their faith, and will tell anyone who is willing to listen, and even those who aren't.
While I do have faith, I often try my best not to talk about it because I want it to remain quiet and humble. I have issues with following the gospel as a Christian "should" and I spend more time worrying about being Christ-like. My faith in Christ was slow growing, but once it hit, it was incredible. What didn't hit was the religion He's associated with. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot I love about Christianity, but there's a lot that I don't. Mostly, the judgement and condemnation. I cannot get with the idea of hate and alienation. I firmly believe that the ugliest thing on Earth is a human being without compassion.
I wanted to disclose all of the above, because as corny as it may sound, after all the memories flooded through me, I realized I'd finally come home when I regained my faith in Christ. They weren't the arms I was expecting, and I didn't even realize it until today. I've had my husband, and by extension his amazing family. I've had my extended family, who've all been extremely patient and understanding, and most of all, forgiving. And I've had my friends, and my support system. I've had my Sold No More team for over a year now. But I didn't have that wholeness until today when I realized I have The Lord as well.
I could spend an entirely different post about the Grace I feel in my faith, and how beautiful and loving it is, but I won't, I promise LOL. I wanted badly to share this, to let everyone in on how beautiful this parable is, and how relatable it was. Thank you for bearing with me!