There may be other words in the Scriptures more significant to receive. But in 20 years of searching, I haven’t found them.
This word found me in a moment when I was ragged and pining for death.
It would’ve been shameful enough if it was my own bank account I had squandered on follies I don’t even remember. But it was his. I blew the whole thing, everything coming to me from my father’s estate, half of everything he’d inherited himself and worked a lifetime to multiply.
I cashed it in when I had my chance, setting out to make life work on my own terms, leaving my father behind as the laughingstock of our community.
Years later, all I had to show for it was a tattoo, an empty stomach, and a shattered heart.
It was early morning on the day everything changed.
It started with the sunrise. Autumn frost glistened on the wooden posts in the still morning air. My body ached with cold under the threadbare wool tunic that doubled as my blanket. The pigs, already awake, rooted through yesterday’s scraps without care or concern. I slowly lifted my head from the dung-filled thatch that had become my bed.
What have I done?
But it went deeper.
Who have I become?
Shame, grief, and sorrow washed over me as my consciousness slowly awakened. The stench of death enveloped me even as the stain of first light spread across the horizon.
The words trickled into my mind like seep from a broken well.
I wanted to die: it was my only way out of the pain.
Just then, the dawn broke free, spilling fresh light on the frost-covered dung in a way that could only be described as beautiful. I pressed my hands into the cold earth and shimmied over to the splintered wall of the sty. Rubbing my fingers together, I blew warm breath over cracked skin, the shimmering brightness captivating my gaze.
My thoughts suddenly turned to my father’s hired hands. How long had it been since I had thought of them or anything from my former life?
In the cold of that morning, I thought of their warm bunkhouse.
In the stench of the pen, I thought of the meals they would enjoy that day, so different from the scraps of nourishment I hoped to wrestle from insistent snouts.
A light flickered within me, something I hadn’t felt in years. My heart began to rise.
What if I go back? I thought. What if I plead for mercy? I’ll ask if I could become a servant, a slave even. At least I’d be warm. At least I’d have food. It’s my only hope.
While the walk through that rugged country took all day, I recall little from those hours. I had long deadened most of my senses and my heart had learned to want for little and look for even less. What I do remember as brightly as the sun that rose again this morning was the glow of evening behind him when I crested the final hill.
And his silhouette.
The light from the cabin behind him was so warm, so inviting. And the silhouette…it was unmistakable. I’d recognize the strong stature of his shoulders anywhere. It was him.
What would I say? It had been years since I had abandoned him. Years since I had turned my back on him and this story.
It all happened so fast.
Before I could come up with mine, his word came, that one word reaching into my heart like a fiery coal, piercing my deepest places.
It echoed through the box canyon that had sheltered my family for generations, reverberating against the cliff walls and deeper and deeper into my soul. Shouting back over his shoulder, he called for the fattened calf to be slaughtered and a feast to be prepared.
Then he started running.
I hadn’t seen my dad run for nearly two decades. He was well advanced in years, and much of his strength had long since left him. Our land is unforgiving, its harshness seeking to steal the best strength from a man. Grief as well had drained his vigor: the grief of a son wishing he were dead.
But he ran with wild abandon, sandaled feet flailing. His wild hair was longer than I remembered, and the glow behind him set it alight like a shimmering mane. His robe sailed on the wind.
He was strong, alive, and running.
I remember those arms, that smell, those tears.
And more than anything else, his laughter.
All my words left me. My confusion was replaced with something I can only call home.
He pulled me up as if I also were young again. To this day, I can’t explain how. But he did, like a man in the full strength of his youth, neither tired nor weary.
He held me and laughed.
The laughter and the tears washed me clean in a way I had never known possible.
He called back to the cabin.
“Find my tambourine! Prepare a feast! My son has come home!”
It was the way he said “son” that broke open the vault of fear and shame at the core of my being.
It had been years since someone called me son.
And never before had I felt the safety and the wealth laden in this name, in my name.
“I am still a son?” I never imagined that possibility.
Not after what I had done.
Where I’d gone.
Who I’d become.
But the word “quick” still hung on the canyon walls, shattering every possible doubt.
Words began tumbling out of my mouth; I’m embarrassed to think of them now. Looking back, they were swollen with shame bumbling out as desperation. I was asking if he’d take me back as his servant. After what I’d done and who I’d become, even to ask for this mercy felt preposterous.
I watched his face. I won’t ever forget those eyes.
Piercing blue, they were endless oceans, bottomless seas. Brilliant, safe. They were the answer to the questions so deep inside I didn’t even know to ask.
His words were few. His laughter and tears are what I remember.
He set me down and hastily stooped to the red, dry earth. I thought he was finally showing the reality of his years and collapsing from exertion, but then I realized he was taking off his sandals. Before I could understand, he was putting them on my tired, bloody feet.
Bewilderment and awe seized me.
Before my mind could make sense of it all, I felt his strong, weathered hands holding mine. I felt warm metal as he slid his signet ring on my finger. His smell was intoxicating as he put his robe on my shoulders.
His laughter and tears haunt me to this day.
Haunt me every day.
Never before and never since have I received and witnessed something so raw and so real.
He yelled with the strength of an exultant warrior and the joy of a heart made whole again. I don’t know if it was the glow of the countless stars on that moonlit night or his words that seemed to light up the box canyon:
“My son was lost!
And he is found!
My son was dead!
That was years ago, but my heart remembers like it was yesterday. There isn’t a sunrise that I don’t find myself stretching my memory back to that canyon to watch my dad run toward me again.
Running wild, young, and free.
I was dead. And I came back to life that day. In those arms and through those tears.
I became my father’s son.
I came home.
And everything changed.
If God is pursuing you as Father through this, I encourage you to get the song Good Good Father. Listen to it on repeat, and receive. Let it soak in. Feel the Father coming for you. Receive his love in deeper places than you ever have before.
Lins, thank you for the stunning photo from your farm that captures the heart of the Father. Chesterton was right, every sunrise does speak of his resurrection. Thank you for believing and bringing this sunrise to us.