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Updated: May 19

A Prodigal Story

My mind spins like a wheel within a wheel. My fingers drum a nameless tune on the gear stick, the rhythm instinctively known by every indecisive soul on the planet.

My eyes flick to the clock on the dashboard. I’m 6 minutes late. Technically, this shindig started over half an hour ago, but dawn was only 6 minutes ago. That will matter little to Aunt Claudia.

“If you had just set the alarm earlier, you wouldn’t be late as usual, Lazy Susan.” Aunt Claudia will say, wagging her head.

Cousin Elle will sneaker. “More like Easy Susan.”

“Susanne!” The audible correction echoes around my empty car. Why do I always rise to their bait, even when they are figments of my imagination? I throw my head back against the headrest.

I should just leave. No one wants me here.

They say I ought to come home, but if they truly wished that, wouldn’t they make me feel welcome, make me feel like I can come home? Oh, I’m not foolish enough to think I haven’t done anything wrong, but

sometimes, I wonder if Christians actually want the prodigal to come home, or if they’d rather look down on us.

But then, Aunt Claudia's haughty distain and Cousin Elle's derision are preferable to the way Mum and Dad can't look at me. Seeing me hurts them, embarrasses them. The things I've done are an unmovable rock of offense between us. One they can't see past.

I shove the key into the ignition determined to leave this time. I almost turn the key, but the wheel spins again. Gram's in there, and if I don't come, her frail shoulders will slump in disappointment. Tears will gather in her eyes. Her beloved Susanne hasn’t come to the Easter dawn service even though I sort of promised her I would this time.

My head drops back against the headrest. A longing to return and belong wells like a raising tide in my chest, choking out the snide voices of my relatives and my parent's pain. I’m not here for them. There's something in me that longs to stop running, to believe again.

I yank the key out of the ignition, shove open the car door, slam it shut, punch the lock button, and stomp across the carpark.

I don’t belong here. I’ve done too much wrong. My feet slow as the old litany of guilt takes another spin on the wheel under the shadow of the steeple. I almost turn around, but Gram’s face fills my head again.

Somehow, she knows the balance between judgement—so I know I need to come home—and love—so I want to come home. It pushes me onward.

I grab the doorknob and thrust into the sanctuary. An old hymn fills my ears, and the voices I imagined would condemn me are only praising their Saviour.

The cross behind the pulpit is backlit against a crisp, white wall. The glow draws me in, beckoning me to come home, to believe Jesus will forgive. I take two timid steps forward. The door slams shut behind me. Ugh, why hadn’t I thought to close it? You know, quietly?

All eyes snap my way, but there is only one pair I want to see. The one in whom I see God’s Son. Gram’s rummy eyes slowly meet mine, and that smile, the one whose memory dragged me here, spreads wide across her face.

All the wheels stop spinning. A peace settles over my heart. I’m home.

Home and welcome.


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