How The Prodigal Son Should Have Ended

I’ve always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15.

prodigal-sonFor most of my Christian walk, I’ve completely identified with the younger brother.  Drawn to what the world had to offer, in defiance of the Father’s will, defeated by the world, humbled and fearful of the Father’s wrath, hanging my head as I vied for a servant’s position in the household, then overcome by His unexpected grace and mercy, and ultimately fully aware of and troubled by the older brother’s lack of compassion and understanding.

But over the past few years, God has led me through some intense healing and deliverance.  The theme of this recent season has been learning what it means to be a true son of God.  I’ve learned a lot about my identity in the Kingdom and that has changed everything.  It’s changed how I relate to God.  For the first time ever, I began experiencing Him as a father.  And I found out that He is a really really good father!  It’s changed how I view the Kingdom of Heaven.  For the first time ever, I don’t see it as some far off land that I may get to be a part of one day.  Instead, I realize that it is at hand.  I am already a part of it and I am an Ambassador of Heaven living in a foreign land.  I represent the culture of Heaven here on earth and it’s my privilege to spread that culture.  It’s changed how I feel about myself.  For the first time ever, I feel like ALL of the promises in the Word are for me.  All that He has really is mine!

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And for the first time ever, I realize that in this season of my life, I actually now more closely resemble the older brother in the parable.  I know my place in the family now and I’m busy serving my God as a true son.  And, I have very little desire for the things of the world when compared with the things of God. 

So now, I have a decision to make.  Will I behave just like the older brother in the parable, or will I rewrite this story?

Option One: The Original Story

I’m serving my Father in His house, tending to my own inheritance all the while there are prodigal sons and daughters living out beyond the reach of the family.  My Father watches at the window waiting for them to return, desperate to get to them before anyone else in the household does.  Who knows what they might do to them?  The disgrace they’ve brought the family is reason enough to rough them up and send them packing. 

But, that’s not my Father’s heart.  He weeps for them.  He watches for them.  He longs for them.  He’s come to me and to others several times entreating us to go look for them and bring them home.

But who has time for that?

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The Prodigal Son Driven Out

Give it up Father!  Just forget about them if they don’t want to be a part of this family.  Look around at how well things are going here!  Everyone’s happy.  Everyone’s needs are met.  We’re working together to build and expand your household.  We’re getting stronger.  We’re getting fatter.  We’re getting richer.  Our enemies come to try to rob us and we easily send them packing.  We’ve got it made in the shade.  Who needs all those dirty, stinky, needy prodigals coming in here and screwing up what we’ve worked so hard to build?     

One of them came back the other day.  And Father actually threw him a party.  He gave him fine clothes and gifts!  Can you imagine?  Father is acting just like these prodigals: hasty, irrational, extravagant, and indulgent.  It was so wasteful.  All that I’ve worked so hard for was just given to this scoundrel.  I had to say something.  Father made a big point of telling me that this prodigal wasn’t just His son, but that he was my brother.  Well, Father can go on thinking that if He wants, but that wretch is no brother of mine.  Let him prove himself first.  Maybe then I’ll accept him.painting1

Uggh!  Now that I’m the older brother, I just hate this part of the story.  I want to rewrite it.  I believe the whole reason Jesus told this story is so that we would rewrite it!

Option Two: An Alternate Ending (How it Should Have Ended…And Still Can)

So many of my brothers and sisters have left and are living out lives they were never designed to live.  My Father’s heart breaks for them.  He paces before the window every day, watching and praying for their safe return.  I can’t bear seeing my Father like this.  I can’t bear the thought of what my brothers and sisters might be going through.  They are living without the protection and provision I enjoy as a son of this household.  They are living without the Father’s love and blessing and guidance. 

There’s so much to do here, but I can’t get them off my mind.  My Father loves them as much as He loves me.  And I love my Father.  So when my Father’s heart breaks, so does mine.

So, I went to my Father one day and I said, “Father, send me out to find these lost sons and daughters of yours.  Give me authority to tell them how you really feel about them.  Give me provision to journey to the ends of the earth to find them!  Give me authority to bring them home to you.” 

tumblr_li7zmaRFW71qhmhdfo1_500With joy, He gave me everything I asked for and sent me out to find them.  In ways, it was tough to leave the safety of the household and venture out to where I might be mocked or abused or even killed.  But I knew that I had the support of my entire family behind me.  So I mustered up all the courage I had and decided to care more about my lost brothers and sisters than I did for myself and my own needs and safety. 

And when I found one of my brothers face-down in the muck of a pig pen, it made it all worth it.  He was dirty and stinky and half starved to death.  I ran to him and got right down in the pig poop with him.  I got filthy dirty, but I didn’t care.  I took no thought of what people might think when they saw me covered in muck.  All I was thinking about was rescuing my brother. 

My brother was beyond surprised to see me.  He couldn’t believe that I had actually left home for the sole purpose of finding him.  He thought the family had written him off.  He thought Father hated him.  He thought he was too dirty to be accepted. 

mudkids-1I brushed the mud off of his face.  “There you are,” I said.  I told him he was my brother and I loved him no matter what he had done.  I told him all about how the Father wept for him and longed for him.  I told him, “This isn’t who you are.  This pig pen doesn’t define you.  You’re a member of a wealthy and royal family.  Come home, brother.  Father and I love you!” 

I helped him to his feet and together we headed home.  All the while, he hung his head and kept rehearsing his apology.  He kept asking me if I was sure he would be welcome.  I reassured him over and over again that no one would turn him away. 

 When we drew near to the house, he grew increasingly nervous and considered turning back several times.  “Don’t,” I pleaded.  “Just wait until you see!  Everyone will be overjoyed to see you!  I guarantee you Father will be head over heels for you!” 

Finally, we reached the edge of the property and here came Father, running out of the house and down the hill toward him!  Father’s arms were wide open.  There was a huge smile on His face and tears in His eyes.  My brother just dropped to his knees and hung his head. murillo

But just then, something miraculous happened.  Every member of the family who had heard what was happening immediately left their work in the fields and joined the Father in running down the hill to greet our brother who had returned.  It was amazing to see my family with one heart and one purpose following in the footsteps of our great Father. 

The party started right then and there as the Father and everyone after Him hugged and fawned over my brother.  We all helped him into his new clothes and we reminded him over and over again the he was a true son of this family.  We fed him and helped him heal.  We held his hand and loved him.  We never treated him any differently. 


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And he grew strong and confident.  And now, whenever he and I hear of another lost son or daughter, we go out together after him or her.  And we as a family celebrate over and over again, every time our brothers and sisters come home.  We’re constantly throwing parties.  And I love it!  I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other family.

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All I Wanted Was To Take Her Shame Away

This is a very embarrassing post.

 But part of overcoming your fears means laying aside your pride and being able to laugh at yourself.  Besides, even though what I’m about to share with you and the rest of the internet (i.e. the whole world) is one of my most embarrassing moments, it also happens to be one of my most profound encounters with the Holy Spirit and, for that reason, is worth sharing. It never ceases to amaze me how God speaks to me when I least expect Him to and how He can redeem every moment of our lives (even the embarrassing ones) and turn it around for our good and His glory. gbhouse2

It all started around this time last year.  It was a few weeks before Christmas and, upon the suggestion of a friend, I had driven to Evansville to check out the annual Aurora Gingerbread House Competition.  Being a cake designer, I’m intrigued by any pastry-based competition and was particularly interested in the hefty cash prize that was awarded to the winner.  It didn’t hurt either that the proceeds benefited Evansville’s homeless (spectators need only bring a canned good or perishable item as cover).  The only hitch was that beyond assembling a store-bought gingerbread kit, I had never worked with the medium, therefore I felt it necessary and wise to do some reconnaissance before actually entering such a competition.  I concluded I may enter the following year, but first I wanted to scope out the level of competition and ask the designers as many technical questions as I could about working with gingerbread without revealing my agenda.  Sneaky… 

The day was fantastic!  I highly recommend this event to anyone, whether you’re a seasoned pastry chef, a kid who likes to play with icing, or just a looky-loo in the Christmas spirit.  They have a few different competitions for people of various skill levels including a kid’s track, each with its own prize.  It was so much fun to meander from table to table with a cup of hot chocolate and watch the artists assemble their creations with a Christmas choir signing in the background. gbhouse I saw every type of gingerbread house imaginable, from the very traditional to Santa’s summer retreat to a working gingerbread cuckoo clock to a haunted gingerbread house.  This intricate gingerbread bird house was my favorite and ended up winning first place in the professional division. 

Side Note:  Aurora, Inc. is a really great organization!  You should check out their website and their blog, http://aurorahelpshomeless.wordpress.com/

When I left the event, I still had plenty of time to kill before my husband, Blake, got home.  I think he was at a speech tournament otherwise we would have most definitely been together.   We really are best friends and would prefer any activity together rather than solo and thus usually find a way to accompany one another even on our individual adventures.  This aspect of our relationship is great, but it makes Christmas shopping for one another nearly impossible.  We usually just buy each other’s gifts together, wrap them together, and then act surprised on Christmas morning.  But, since I was actually out alone for once, I decided to take advantage of the situation and stop by Eastland Mall to pick him up a few secret presents. 

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As I drove across town, it dawned on me that I must have drank one too many hot chocolates at the competition.  And by the time I got to the mall, I was under a full-fledged code yellow.  I had to go…BAD!

 Have you ever tried to find a quick parking place, close to the door, and close to a bathroom at a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the holiday shopping season all while nervously squirming in your seat so as not to endure a wet trip home?  I had traded one near impossibility for another.  Finally, after driving around for what seemed an eternity, the heavens opened and the hallelujah choir began singing as a car pulled out near the back side of JCPenny.  I couldn’t have been more relieved (well, that’s not actually true, I was in desperate need of greater relief); I knew that there was a small bathroom located at the back of the store just inside the closest door.  I thought to myself, “This is perfect!  Surely there won’t be anyone in this bathroom.  Most people don’t even know it’s here.” 

frequenturination Wrong!  After running awkwardly into the store with my knees together, I swung open the bathroom door to see that the line of perturbed, exhausted women ended just beyond it.  I squeezed my way in, desperately praying that I could hold it until my turn.  The good news is that I made it to the stall.  

The band news?  Well, this is going to take some explaining.  Bear with me.  This was the holidays and I was sporting the obligatory few extra holiday pounds but I still wanted to look nice in my skinny jeans and sweater, which is why I decided to wear my secret weapon and trusted ally: Spanx! (Don’t hate.) These weren’t just simple Spanx either.  Oh no!  These were full-body, over-the-shoulder Spanx; the kind you have to take off all of your clothes in order to remove.  Well, there was simply no time for any of that nonsense (finally getting into the stall had actually increased the urgency of the situation, if you know what I mean.)  If you’re unfamiliar with the design of this type of Spanx, this is the part of the story in which it’s unfortunately pertinent I explain to you that they have an opening which, in the case of an emergency (of which this was one), allows the wearer to utilize the bathing suit pullover method.  Ladies, you get me.  Fellas, ask your wives because that’s all the details I’m willing to give. 

Let’s just say, it did not go well.  I had waited so long to go and was so close to my goal that I lost control. There was nothing I could do, but try my best to get as much fabric as possible out of the line of fire and pray the damage was minimal.  By the end, I was wet, my hand was wet, the Spanx were wet.  To top it off, I felt a lot of pressure to hurry knowing that there were only two stalls and a slew of irritable women waiting on me to exit just outside the door.  I cleaned up as best I could with tissue paper and thought I had all but taken care of the problem.  I zipped up,  thoroughly washed my hands, and made my way out into the busy mall.  That’s when I learned a hard lesson:  spandex is like a sponge.  It feels dry to the touch, but actually retains a ton of moisture.  In other words, spandex lies.  My trusted friend had betrayed me. 

Slowly, I could feel my jeans getting wetter and wetter.  I tried to find a mirror so that I could do that move where you check yourself out all while pretending not to check yourself out.  But it was impossible!  People were everywhere!  The mall was packed with frantic holiday shoppers. I knew my pants were wet, but I didn’t know for sure if it was noticeable.  So I pulled my sweater down as far as I could and decided to make my way to the next nearest bathroom to assess the damages.  There was no way I was going back to the cramped and crowded restroom from which I had just escaped and face the same angry line of women.  The only problem?  The only other bathroom I knew of was all the way across the entire mall in the food court.  What could I do?  I had to go for it.  Surely my pants weren’t that bad.  But as I made my way there, every pack of laughing teenagers walking behind me made me as paranoid as a turkey on Thanksgiving. 

images (1)I finally made it, only to see a sign reading “Under Maintenance” and a janitor directing me and other traffic to a different bathroom upstairs.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Eastland Mall, but “upstairs” means walking up a completely open stairwell directly above the dining area of the food court.  And at that moment, the last place I wanted to be positioned was above a huge crowd of people who were eating.  But what choice did I have? I made my way upstairs and joined a long line of women waiting along a wall in a hallway to enter a tiny bathroom.  Finally.  I could rest and hide my shame for a while.  I took refuge by placing my back against the wall and pretended to look at my phone.  Nervous thoughts raced through my head as fast as I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed.  I was so ashamed.  I kept wondering how bad it was and how many people had noticed and what did they think and how was I going to get out of here and how could I be such a screw up!  I was so caught up in my own spiral of shame and self-loathing that I almost didn’t notice the family behind me.

A mom with four little girls ranging in age from nine to four were clumped together along the wall.  The mom was visibly and verbally annoyed with the eldest girl who was talking in a very high-pitched winy voice.  My attention was divided between them, the slowly moving line, snippets of Facebook posts, and my own self-defeating thoughts so it took me a while to realize that this girl wasn’t just being a brat.  She had a legitimate complaint, a complaint with which I could empathize.  She had to GO!

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As she hopped back and forth on one foot, bent over with her hands between her knees, bemoaning to her mother, “I gotta go bad! I can’t hold it,” my current quest faded from the forefront of my thoughts and I became increasingly worried for this little girl.  I tried to act nonchalant as I began paying closer attention to this family.  The mother was not in the mood to handle the girl’s current crisis and reprimanded her for making a scene.  It’s understandable.  She was powerless to help her little girl.  She couldn’t make the line move any faster and no one was offering her their place.  I’m sure this mother had been shopping all day, fighting the crowd, with four unruly kids in tow, spending money she could have used on bills or food, and was more than a little frazzled.  All she probably wanted was to get these kids to the bathroom and get out of there.

women-line-bathroom-400x400But, I felt so bad for this little girl and I was genuinely worried that she was going to have an accident right there in the hallway.  It didn’t seem like anybody else cared, so I vowed that when we finally got into the bathroom, I would let her go in my place.  As the line inched closer and closer to the bathroom doors, the girl’s cries became more and more frantic, “I really, really can’t hold it!  I’m gonna go!” and I became increasingly nervous for her.  I was so relieved when we finally made it into the actual bathroom.  Eventually, there was only one woman in line in front of me, but she was completely oblivious and seemed to be lost in her own world.  

As the girl’s voice reach a frenzied climax behind me, a stall opened up, and I practically pushed the lady in front of me into it.  I pressed forward on her shoulder shocking her back into the present moment, pointed at the open stall, and commanded, “Go!  Go!”  She let our a sudden, “Oh!” and slowly sauntered into the stall as if she had all the time in the world.  

We had almost made it.  All that needed to happen was for one more glorious door to swing open.  I watched those doors like a hawk waiting for even the slightly movement.  And that’s when it happened.

The room went silent.  There girl’s urgent pleas had suddenly ceased.  I turned around only to see the saddest sight:  a little girl peeing her pants in the middle of a crowded room.  It all seemed to happen in slow motion.  Shock settled on the room.  Everyone just stared at her.  She just stood there, frozen, as her pants became more and more saturated and the liquid slowly pooled on the floor.  You could have heard a pin drop.  No one knew what to say or do.  And that’s when the mother did something I will never forget.

Without acknowledging the little girl besides directing an extremely aggravated huff and a very conspicuous eye roll in her direction, she turned to the next eldest in her brood,  handed her charge of the two younger girls, and said quite loudly and quite hatefully, “You take your sisters to the bathroom.  I’ve got to go tell your father.” 

Then…she walked out.  She. Walked. Out.

She left this precious baby standing in a puddle of her own urine.

I was stunned.  The little girl was stunned.  Her sisters were stunned.  The whole room was stunned.  

headinhandsThe little girl still just stood there in the middle of all of us, too frightened and ashamed to even step out of the puddle on the floor.  Her sisters were huddled together and inching back away from the liquid as it spread out along the bathroom floor.  The devastated little girl looked up at me with shame-filled eyes from the midst of her mistake.  My heart just broke.

Just then, a stall door opened.  I told the sisters to go ahead and use that stall.  They dutifully obeyed, relieved someone was finally telling them what to do.  I looked the little girl in the eyes and asked, “Do you want to come stand over here by me?”  She nodded her head, and sheepishly muttered, “yeah…”  That first step out of the puddle was all it took to release the tears.  She sobbed and sobbed as she took her place in the corner of the room with me.  I wrapped my arm around her shoulder.

In that moment, I didn’t know what to say.  All I wanted was to take her shame away.  I loved her in that moment.  I wanted her to know that it was going to be okay.  I wanted her to know that it could’ve happened to anyone.  I wanted her to know that it didn’t matter what anyone thought about what she had done.  I just wanted to give her her dignity back. 

We stood there, side by side, me hugging her shoulder against my hip, her quietly sobbing, me praying, her whimpering, me directing traffic to go ahead and cut in line.  Finally, I felt the Holy Spirit release me to talk to her.  I bent down, looked her in the eye, and just started asking questions I prayed would take her mind off of what had happened.  

“What’s your name?”  Ruth*

“How old are you?”  Nine

“Where are you from?”  Mt. Vernon*

“What grade are you in?”  Third

“What’s your favorite subject in school?”  Reading

“Really!  That’s awesome!  I used to be an English teacher.  What’s your favorite book?”  Some YA title I didn’t know. 

“I’ve never read it.  What’s it about?”  

She began relaying to me the plot of her favorite book.  And as she told me all about who she was and shared with me something she was interested in, the shame melted from her face and I saw her true countenance.  Her face was so bright and beautiful; it was practically glowing through the tears.  She remembered, even if for a moment, her true identity, which wasn’t defined by this one mistake.  She wasn’t the girl who peed her pants.  She was Ruth from Mt. Vernon who likes to read!  She had a name.  She had interests.  She had a personality.  She had a heart.  She had a soul.  She had dignity.  She had worth.  (The Holy Spirit is a genius.  He knows just how to handle every situation.  Just ask Him.  He’ll give you the words to say.)

It was a glorious moment.  And I just wanted to stay in that moment with her and talk about how wonderful she was.

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But, in an instance, the spell was broken.  Her mother burst back into the room.  She said nothing to Ruth.  She walked right past us, disgustedly glared at Ruth from the corner of her eyes, and momentarily stared daggers at me.  I stood up.  I had no desire to interfere with this woman’s parenting.  She was probably embarrassed too.  Maybe she didn’t know what to do or say.  Maybe she was trying really hard not to be angry.  Maybe she was keeping quiet so as not to reveal how much her anger had gotten the best of her.  We’ve all been there before, trying to keep it together because we know we should, even though we’re on the verge of a breakdown.  

Ruth and I watched as she yanked handfuls of paper towels out of the dispensers and commenced to silently mop up the urine on the floor.  She then forcefully slammed the wet towels in the trash.  

Just then, the sisters came out of the stall.  The mother growled at them, “Come on!  We’ve got to go buy your sister some pants.”  She still  hadn’t said anything to Ruth.  The mother, once again, stormed out of the restroom.  The sisters followed and Ruth hung her head as she joined them.  And just like that, she was gone.  

The woman who was next in line offered for me to go ahead.  When I got in the stall, I just stood there for what seemed an eternity trying to process what had just happened.  In that moment, I was so mad!  I thought, “I just know that woman is going to march her through the mall and everyone is going to see!   How could she do that to her?!”  Then I regretted not offering to go buy the pants for her or at least stay with her until the family bought the pants.  But no, I had done exactly what the Spirit led me to do.  I was okay.   “But why didn’t she stay with her while the dad bought the pants?  Why didn’t she protect her dignity?”  I was mad again.

I was so shaken, I didn’t know what to do.  So, I just did what comes naturally when you’re standing in a bathroom stall, I unzipped and sat down.  It wasn’t until then that I even remembered why I was there in the first place.  I looked down at my own soiled pants.  They were noticeably soaked through in the back.  Then, I finally made the connection between Ruth’s shame and my own.  I hadn’t thought about it until that very moment.  And I felt Jesus say within my heart, “I am your High Priest.”  And the Holy Spirit immediately brought to my remembrance Hebrews 4:15-16 which says, “Our High Priest is able to sympathize with our weakness, because He was tempted in every way that we are tempted but didn’t sin.  That’s why we can come boldly before His throne of grace and receive mercy for our sins and find grace to help in the time of  need.”  

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I just wept and wept.  I wept to know this High Priest who was tempted in every way I am tempted.  I wept to know this King who understands me.  I wept to know this intercessor who forgives my sins and erases my mistakes.  I wept to know this God who stooped down and became a man because He cares for me.  I wept to know this Lover whose heart breaks for me, who wraps His arms around me, who talks to me about who I really am and what interests me.  I wept to know this Savior who just wants to take my shame away and restore my dignity.  I wept to know this Warrior whose anger is kindled when I am abused and misused.  I wept and wept to know my Jesus who loves me.  

I wept to know that He had let me glimpse His heart and had done it by allowing me to feel for Ruth what He feels for me. Who was I to deserve such divine favor?  Who was I to deserve such grace and mercy?  It didn’t matter.  I was His.  He saw my true countenance, my true identity.  I wasn’t the woman who had made all those mistakes.  I was His Promise and I had dignity and I had worth.

1526__67131.1383422039.1280.1280Dearest Reader, this is the same way He feels about you.  He is no respecter of persons.  He loves you with an unbelievable love!  Let Him talk to you today about who you are.  You are precious to Him.  He isn’t mad at you.  He isn’t embarrassed by you.  He doesn’t walk out the door and abandon you in your time of need.  He’s not running to the Father to tell on you.  He protects your dignity and goes before the Father interceding on your behalf.  He’s not focused on your mistakes.  His intention in drawing them to the surface of your heart is so that He can skim them off and heal you.  He has no intention of marching you and your sins before a crowd of people.  He would never put your mistakes on display like that.  He’s more interested in talking to you about who He made you to be.  He looks beyond your faults and sees your needs.  He sees your true countenance, your true identity.  He sees your heart, your soul, your worth.  

So, if you have any shame in your heart today about anything in your life or in your past, let Him take that shame away.  

That’s all He wants to do.  

*Name and location has been changed.