At 18 years old I was headed for the magical world of Arkansas, college bound. It was an exciting time for me, but also a very scary time. It was going to be over eight hours away from home and I didn’t know anyone. As the date of my departure grew closer, my behavior and life choices went down the drain. My parents had spent many years taking me to church and teaching me by example and word to live an upright life. But being very immature, the world looked alluring to me and fun. I thought, “Why not live a little before I leave home?” In hindsight I can now see that phase of my life was actually part of a process. My leaving home and deciding who I was going to be was a necessary step… in a way, I had to leave (rebel) in order to understand the road home. However, God lovingly would only allow me to go so far until he made me accountable for my mistakes.
In those teen years, God’s accountability came in the form of my father. Just a week before I was to leave home, my dad overheard a vulgar conversation I was having on the phone with a young man. It’s funny to me that now I can’t remember who I was talking to on the phone, but I sure remember the disappointment on my dad’s face. After the incident, my dad said it was pointless to give me consequences because I was leaving home. To be truthful, his disappointment in me was the worst consequence I could have suffered. We soon packed up the truck and drove a hot eight hours in August to Arkansas. If you have never been to Arkansas in August, you don’t know what hot really is. It was a long trip. I was sandwiched between my parents in our red Dodge Ram headed down south. About two hours into the trip my dad began to spout parental wisdom. Maybe it was the long drive, the heat, the holy spirit or some combination of the three but he began to tell me how every decision I made was seen by God and known, and how my choices would shape my life. He talked about his desire for me to be a faithful person and a Godly woman. Nervous about all my upcoming changes, I was annoyed. Honestly, I was annoyed with both my dad and with myself, I was wondering if my dad would ever be proud of me again. In that moment, the fear of failure was probably larger than it had ever been in my life. Here I was on the way to college, the same girl who almost failed the 6th grade. Most major mistakes that we make in our lives can usually be traced back to fear; fear of rejection or maybe a fear of failure. During this phase of my life I was facing both the fear of rejection and failure.
After arriving on campus, my parents unpacked my belongings, put a bookshelf together and quickly said goodbye. Their departure felt rushed to me, and I thought maybe it was because they were both disappointed in me. Little did I know, my parents had already made a plan for my college drop-off ahead of time, which included a brief goodbye. My mom later told me that she was sure my dad could not handle a long, drawn-out process and she was fearful he might not want to leave. She also thought if I had time to think about their departure I might get dramatic. I have always had a dramatic flair. There were several calls home, cards received, and even care packages. I soon adjusted to my new college life and began to experience what I would compare to four years of extended church camp. Turns out college was for the most part a wonderful experience for me. However, I still felt the lingering sense of my dad’s disappointment. My dad had talked to me several times on the phone and had not seemed mad but it had been months since I’d been able to see his face, or the twinkle in his tiny eyes when he smiled. Thanksgiving break finally came, and with it, my first chance to come home. My excitement to be there, sleep in my own bed, and eat at my parents’ table was overwhelming.
Finally pulling into my parents’ driveway after a long, eight hour drive through the flat lands of Arkansas, to Memphis, and ultimately my beautiful, rolling Kentucky bluegrass hills. The driveway of my childhood home led straight to a slightly sloping, cracked sidewalk. The kitchen window looked out over the driveway, and was close to the back door of the large two story farmhouse. My dad was peering out the window, and truth be told, he had probably been peering out the window for a while. This was back in the day before cell phones, tracking apps, or even Mapquest, I am not sure how I made it home alive! The minute we pulled in the driveway, I could see him looking out the window and quickly exiting the backdoor. My dad ran down the sidewalk, robustly swept me up in his arms, twirled me around! I was delighted to be hugged up in his burly embrace and he said, “I am so excited that you are home!” The months of my uncertainty were gone in an instant. My dad still loved me. He didn’t seem to remember the long road to Arkansas or my teenage indiscretion.
Recently I was sharing this story with a dear friend of mine, and she pointed out the similarities between my story and the parable of the prodigal son. It makes my story that much sweeter in my memory to put it in the scriptural context of the prodigal son.
20) And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21) And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22) But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23) And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24) For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
After the sudden passing of my parents in 2017, I began to have a lot of thoughts about what it would be like to go to heaven. The scriptures speak of the glory and presence of God and his son Jesus, the streets of gold, and say heaven is a place that God has prepared for us. However, scripture does not speak about the details of our meeting Jesus. Maybe because it will be too glorious for us to comprehend or even understand right now. One day as I was praying and struggling with the absence of my parents, and the lack of knowledge about my reunion in heaven with Jesus, God brought this memory of my loving dad to my mind. The love my dad showed to me on that college freshman Thanksgiving break was a reflection of God’s love for me. When I do enter heaven my meeting with Jesus will be full of love. I feel sure I will feel the embrace of my heavenly father and hear him say, “I am so excited you are home!” I long to feel his embrace and see his face for the first time. And in an instant I will feel the full impact of grace, extended to me, that covers my lifetime of mistakes.
2 Corinthians 5:2
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling
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