"Yes," I reply even though my heart is shattering. "I'll get that for you and you can be on your way."
I watch my son pack his bags on this hazy afternoon and walk away from the only home he's ever known, my home, his home, our home. It's the hardest thing I've ever done.
Everything in me wants to try to stop it.
Not give him his trust money.
Warn him of all the dangers of going out into the big dangerous world where he might (and probably will) get hurt.
Beg him to stay where he is loved and safe, with me.
But I muster up my courage to trust that I have given him the roots of my unconditional love and now my job is to grant him the wings of freedom he so desperately wants.
After all, isn't that our main job as parents?
Even though we want to hold on, we have to let them go.
Go and figure it out.
Go and make mistakes.
Go and find themselves.
I sit at dinner with my other son, trying to engage as he chatters on and on about how wrong he thinks his brother is for doing this. And how he promises never to leave my side.
I feel good for a moment, but then the stark reality of the loss in front of me sends me to my bedroom before the end of the meal, choking back the tears that I allow to flow freely once safely tucked under my covers. I wonder if I will ever see my second-born again.
Days go by.
No word from him.
Still no word.
[Maybe next week.]
Weeks turn into months and months turn into years.
At night, I fitfully sleep, nightmares haunting me about what might have happened to him.
Is he sick?
Is he lonely?
Is he dead?
I awake each morning, heart-pounding out of my chest, rushing one more time to the window to see if perhaps a miracle has happened and I see him walking down the path.
Nothing but the familiar sight of my other son working in the fields awaits me.
I smile, trying hard to be grateful for what I have, yet grieving for what I've lost.
Day-after-day, this scene plays out in the privacy of my bedroom and my discomforting thoughts.
Everything in me tells me to give up hope, accept the reality and move on.
But I can't.
Love that is patient.
Love that is humble.
Love that is not self-seeking.
So I wait.
And keep looking out the window.
This morning, for some reason, I wake with a calmness that is unexplainable. It reminds me of days long ago when all was well. It feels so good.
I begin to walk toward the window but I stop. Perhaps just this once, I will NOT look out only to be met with the stab of grief I'm so used to. Perhaps I will just head downstairs to greet my first-born while he works and remind him, once again, of my gratefulness for his faithfulness to me.
But something inside of me says, "Just check one more time."
Love that always trusts.
Love that always hopes.
Love that always perseveres.
I slowly move toward the window and I cannot believe my sore eyes. What a sight!
There he is, plodding slowly down the lane, dirty, exhausted, almost unrecognizable. But I KNOW it's him. A father knows.
I run down the steps as fast as my old legs can carry me, almost tripping over the my sandals on the way out the door.
My heart races, this time for the sheer joy that is pounding through my veins.
I don't think about what I look like to those who watch. Who cares? I'm thrilled beyond belief.
As I reach his haggard body, I wrap my arms around him, almost knocking him to the ground, kissing his tears away.
He immediately falls on his knees, saying words that sound like "I'm sorry" and "Please forgive me," but I almost don't hear them at all. I scoop him up back into my arms.
There is no need for any of that at the moment. Probably never at all.
Because my son. My son. My son.
Before we even make it back to the house, I'm yelling to everyone within earshot.
"Get him some clothes. Bring some shoes. Make him some food. And make them the best that we have!!"
Love that keeps no record of wrongs.
Love that always protects.
Love that always rejoices with the truth.
And especially, LOVE that does not fail.
Because my son. My son. My son.
Was lost and is found.
And that's all that matters to me.
**the fourth Sunday of Lent reflects on the story of the Prodigal Son*
**the image is from Rembrandt's painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.**