prodigal

Quinn was a rebel. Plain and simple.

You could say it was in her genes, but her dad had given up dissidence once he married, so that he could provide for his family. His wife’s influence had ensured his own faith had grown, and together Mr and Mrs established a family foundation that began with a solid marriage. A marriage they worked hard at, and parenthood that suited them. They had two daughters, Quinn, and her older sister, Mae.

                  Suggesting Quinn’s natural rebellious side had been passed down, or skipped a generation, was a stretch. Some people were just born that way. Or so she liked to tell herself while sneaking out after dark, or lying right to her parents’ face so they’d believe she was headed to a friend’s movie night instead of a booze-filled party.

                  Blaming her defiant tendencies on her mediocre grades was also a habit. But college had never been a real interest for Quinn. She wanted to see the world. College would only delay that. Despite her carefree attitude, Quinn had a plan: after high school, she’d leave home and see the world, figure out a direction afterward. Surely, the world would help shape her future.

Of course, she needed funds. Which was why the day after high school graduation, she snuggled up to her hard-working, dedicated father, and said, “Daddy, I know what I want to do.”

Her father’s face brightened, and he squeezed her a little tighter. “You do? Honey, I’m so happy to hear this.”

“You’ve always said you’d support me no matter what, right?” she asked, her tone sweet and eyes weepy.

“Of course.”

“And you have a college plan funded for me like you did for Mae.”

“Yes.”

Quinn sat up and looked her father in the eyes. “I want my funds in advance, so I can travel the world.”

His head tilted. He scratched his clean-shaven chin. “I don’t think you understand the purpose for these funds. It’s not meant for anything other than your education.”

“I know that, Daddy, but I don’t want to go to college, and I don’t care about formal education. I want to have fun while I’m young and see the world, meet people. It’s what I’ve always wanted. Just because Mae goes to university doesn’t mean I have to. We’re different. It isn’t fair that she gets to use her money for what she wants, but I don’t. Please Daddy, it’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Her father shook his head, his gaze faroff. “Your mother and I have worked our entire lives to provide these funds, so you can become independent contributors to society. Our lifeblood is in those funds. If you don’t attend college, that money should go back into our retirement—into your inheritance for someday when we’re gone.”

Quinn folded her arms over her chest and pouted. “You’ve never loved me like you love Mae. You don’t understand me, you never have. I’m not like you.” She got to her feet. “I’m going anyway, with or without your money. I’ll find a way, and you’ll be sorry if I end up dealing drugs or prostituting to make ends meet.”

Quinn turned and stormed off to her bedroom.

Distraught, her father joined her mother in their own bedroom, his shoulders sunken, face drawn.

“What’s the matter?” his wife asked. She was wearing only her slip, sitting at the vanity, removing her earrings.

“I can’t believe what I just heard from our youngest daughter. She asked me for her college funds so she can travel the world. She wants to cash out.” He shook his head. “She threatened to resort to any means necessary if we don’t comply.”

His wife let out a long sigh of frustration. “You know how she is. Dramatic. She doesn’t mean it.”

“No, Eleanor, this time she does. You didn’t see the fiery look in her eyes—those beautiful green eyes that used to make me melt when she sat on my lap for story time. Do you remember how sweet she was at prayer time? Asking God to bless everyone in the family, even the bugs outside because they mattered too?”

                  Eleanor nodded. “She’s not that little girl anymore. She has her own ideas about things.”

                  “If we give her all that money intended for college, she’ll go through it and have nothing to fall back on. She doesn’t have the discipline to be frugal. She’s only eighteen.”

                  “You’re right. Tell her no. It’s not what the money was meant for. She should work and travel with money she’s earned, or else she’ll never appreciate the value.”

                  “I agree,” he said, then pinned his helpless gaze on his wife. “But I can’t bear the thought of what she may get into in order to support her whim. Not if I could have somehow prevented it.” He kneeled before his wife, took her hand in his. “I fear she may leave us and never return, but if I force her to stay, she’ll only rebel more. It must be her choice. Staying will only inflame her defiance more, and it will send her down troubled roads—I fear it with all my heart. If we give her the money now, at least maybe she’ll remember us, trust us.”

                  Eleanor hugged her husband. “I’ve always trusted your best judgment. If you believe it’s the best thing to do, I support you. All we can do is pray she uses her head.”

                  “And pray that she remembers her heart.”

 ***

                  A month later, Quinn set off into the world. Her bank account was full, and her hopes and dreams bright. In the airport, she hugged her tearful parents and older sister Mae goodbye. She headed north to the next country, where she’d stay for awhile and explore.

                  Quinn gave herself a year to the great wide open, live by her own rules, and later figure out what to do with her life. It was invigorating. A feeling of total independence and relief, with no one to answer to but herself.

                  Hotel to hotel. Uber, Lyft, airlines, trains. Quinn got around. When she grew tired of her location, she moved on, met new people, saw new sights. She kept in touch with friends and family via social media, but she began to miss true companionship. She needed relationships, not just socialization. Since she knew no one in the new places she visited, she went to the easiest places to meet people her own age--pubs, bars, and nightclubs. Sometimes she only spoke to a few people, other times, on particularly lonely nights, Quinn brought someone back to her room. She never hesitated to buy a round of drinks for new friends, or pay others’ checks when she didn’t want them to leave.

                  One new friend seemed to like her quite a bit, and she invited him to go on a cruise with her—her treat. After all, she’d grown tired of the coastal city they were in and she was anxious to get across the ocean to the island nations that had always fascinated her.

                  Quinn lived this way for many months. Months turned into years, and she spoke to her family less and less. The more places she went, the more parties that were had. Parties helped her forget what was missing from her life.

Eventually, Quinn’s bank account ran dry. Friends dwindled. The young man she thought was her soul mate, drained the last of her funds and took off without even a note.

                  Quinn had nothing left. Only regrets. And pride.

                  She would not call her parents and tell them what happened—not in a million years. She couldn’t bear the humiliation. She was on the other side of the world. Her only hope of returning home was if her parents bought her a plane ticket. But how could she ask such a thing? How humiliating.

She applied for credit cards, but because she had no job, no permanent address, no one would give her any. Although, despite her frivolous lifestyle, Quinn had learned a few things overseas. She knew that people who were willing to work, could earn.

                  On the island she was living, Quinn learned the address of a wealthy bar patron’s farm and paid him a visit. She begged him for a job-- any job he had, no matter how menial, so that she could continue to pay rent and buy her ticket home. After weeks of manual labor around the farm, her body ached, her soft hands were blistered and callused. She’d cleaned stables, helped repair livestock cages, lifted feed bags and repelled unwelcome rats and spiders. And her personal least favorite- tended to the reeking pig sty.

Because she was in a third world nation, her wages were barely enough to maintain the rent for the roof over her head. Weeks later, when a global pandemic struck, the inn where she lived closed their doors and booted everyone out. Things went from bad to worse in the matter of days.

                  Quinn had nowhere to go, and still not enough money to buy a ticket back home.

                  Something happens to a person when they’re stripped of all they own. They go through a series of alternatives—some wretched, some far-fetched, and a billion what-ifs tumble through their mind. Quinn worried about the health of her aging parents, but still she didn’t dare call them. Her failure was a deep agony that weighed down her heart. She couldn’t bear to lie to her dad, or admit the truth.

                  So she refrained from any contact at all.

                  With nowhere left to live, no money, and the world in a state of utter chaos and sickness, Quinn went to the only place she had. She begged the farmer to let her stay and work for her keep, as she had nowhere else. But the farmer explained he had no charity left to give. All his other farm hands had come to him for the same reason. Food was scarce in the small island nation, and the virus had taken hold on many, brought by the tourists come in off cruise ships and airplanes.

But Quinn was an extra kind of pathetic—her young pretty face still had such an air of innocence, despite her late nights at the bar and careless spending. The farmer took pity on her, and gave her the last free place he had left: the pig sty. Quinn could stay in the shed beside the sty rent-free, as long as she cared for the pigs and kept the stink to a minimum. It was hard work, he reminded her, but these were hard times. She was given a flimsy mattress and bedding, so Quinn made her new haunt in a dilapidated shed with no AC or running water, where the stench of pigs and mud and feces wafted generously through the cracks. Where spiders, mosquitoes, and cockroaches entered freely without invitation.

Still, it was a place to lay her head, even though sleep never came restfully.

Quinn’s sleep was riddled with anxiety. Fears of bug bites, of intruders, of sickness snuck into her dreams. She often woke with a wince, cradled her thin blanket, and shuddered miserably as her brain recalled her surroundings, and why she was there instead of a safe bedroom. It was on an occasion just like this, when dawn’s light had begun to split open the darkness, that Quinn startled from a dream. She stared between the uneven boards of the shed as the pigs nosed through their own filth.

Sometimes it takes a lowly moment like this one to feel the harsh sting of clarity. Like a scorpion’s tail, it pierces your flesh and sparks every nerve-ending to life. Your brain has no other choice but to recognize, feel, and acknowledge the truth before you.

How long had Quinn suffered in the filthiest of places because of her pride? While thousands of miles away, her parents and sister lived comfortably in a sturdy home. Even their garage was better than this pig sty.

Defiance and determination had kept Quinn away. Determination that came from some inexplicable place inside her, blinding her to anything that got in her way. Mere hurdles were all they were. No matter how rational or wise, if they stood in her way, they were against her. 

Such foolishness. Illuminated by morning sunlight right before her. Quinn had shunned the advice of her father, of their faith, of even the small distant voice inside her that sometimes objected to her choices. How long had she played the slave to her rebellious nature?

How long had she let it be tempted and twisted in the disguise of pleasure and fulfillment?

Look at where it had gotten her.

Yes, she had failed. She’d blown her college fund on excess. She had nothing to her name—only a couple of years’ worth of experiences at her parents’ expense. She hadn’t even made any true friends. She was desperate and embarrassed. Her pride had forced her into a pig sty rather than call and ask her parents for help. What pride was there in that?

It was time to push back that pride. Time to swallow it down like a jagged horse pill. Time to call and ask her father for help. Time to own up to her wrong-doing and commit to change.

Pride had no place in her heart, not when asking for help. Pride had gotten her nowhere. She needed her father. And her father needed to see her remorse, her humility, and her willingness to start anew.

Quinn’s revelation was as bright as the rays of early light beaming over the mud-filled sty.

 ***

That very same morning, Quinn asked the farmer to use his phone. She made the long-distance collect call, and when her father answered the phone, her eyes spilled over with tears. “Daddy? I need help.”

Of course her father didn’t hesitate. He’d been waiting for this very call every single day since his youngest daughter left. He had hoped she’d find herself and become successful, but he’d worried for her safety. He’d prayed morning and night she’d return. Though the family was quarantined in their house, they were not without work or money, and so he booked her a plane ticket home the very next day.

Almost two days later, through multi-connections and layovers, Quinn’s plane arrived at her hometown’s airport. Her parents were waiting to meet her. They embraced her with open arms, despite the fear of germs, and drove her home, where Mae waited. Her parents hadn’t asked her the hard questions—instead they reveled in the presence of their daughter. In their reunion, the past hadn’t mattered to them, only the fact that she’d returned.

At home, Mae welcomed Quinn with relief. She hadn’t seen her younger sister in two years, and was excited to rekindle their relationship. Quinn was eager to reconnect with her sister, but she noticed a certain something in Mae she couldn’t put her finger on. Satisfaction? Condescension? Hard to say. But their father was so elated, he ordered a huge celebration meal from their favorite restaurant and insisted decorating the dining room with fresh flowers and streamers. He also ordered a special custom cake that said, Welcome Home Quinn.

When Mae saw all the festivities, her lip curled. What was all the fuss for? Sure, she was happy her sister had returned, but she had stayed. She’d been loyal to her parents. Yet her father had never thrown a celebration like this for her. Mae had stayed home to save her parents money, and started her first year of college like her father had wanted. Mae had done everything right, while Quinn had done everything wrong. But no one was talking about that.

No. All anyone was raving about was how great it was that Quinn came home. All was right with the world. Forget the fact she’d spent her college funds on partying, had traveled half way around the world during a pandemic and possibly exposed their parents to a virus. That didn’t matter, not when the precious prodigal showed up.

When their father asked Mae to get down the fine china from the cabinet for the celebration, Mae could no longer hold her tongue.

“Dad, are you serious?” Mae asked, her tone curt. “Have you already forgotten what Quinn did? She took your hard-earned money and spent all of it! She’s only come back because she’s broke, and here you are throwing her a party like she’s accomplished some great thing? I’ve been here all along and you’ve never thrown a party for me, not even when I graduated valedictorian.”

Her father shook his head. “You said you didn’t want a party—you wanted to go out to a nice restaurant.”

“But that doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve a party too,” Mae said, scowling. “Quinn took advantage of you, and I won’t celebrate her for it.”

Her father’s brow furrowed. He put a hand on his youngest daughter’s shoulder. “Oh, Mae. I’m so sorry you feel short-changed. Your mom and I love you with all our hearts, and we celebrate you every single day. For your fortitude, for your direction. For your kind, diligent heart, and obedience. You always have our love. Your sister did do those things, and she suffered for them. Her choices are her own. But today, she’s here! She’s come home. We won’t remind her of her mistakes, we’ll forget them and celebrate where they led her. Here. With us. Each of us must do what we feel is right, even though sometimes we learn later it’s wrong. It takes a big person—a humble heart—to admit failure and ask for help. Today, we celebrate Quinn’s ability to set her pride aside and rejoin those who love her. A father’s love is only as good as his ability to forgive. Celebrate your sister with me today, for I have been waiting for this day, and we want her to know, that no matter what, this will always be her home.”

***

The family did celebrate that night and Mae forgave her sister. Quinn never went into details about her frivolous excursions, and she appreciated the fact she didn’t have to. Her parents accepted her just as she was, and supported her and Mae both in pursuing their futures. Most importantly, they encouraged one another’s faith, because just as Quinn and Mae’s father had always been waiting for Quinn’s call, so does our Heavenly Father wait for each of our calls through prayer, to guide us and shape us according to His will.


The above story is a retelling of The Prodigal Son--the parable Jesus told the apostles in the New Testament in Luke 15.

It was told to demonstrate God is always waiting for each of us to humbly ask for help, regardless of how messy our lives get. We don’t have to worry about our past mistakes, because God doesn’t hold them against us, if our hearts our humble and eager to change. The sister Mae, represents God’s original people who felt slighted when Jesus came to talk to sinners. Those of God’s people who felt like they had never sinned, felt it was unfair for God’s Son to consort with gentiles who’d never known God, or those who’d turned away. So Jesus told this parable to better help us understand that it doesn’t matter to God whether you’ve been obedient all your life, or sinful all your life, as long as your heart truly seeks Him and makes a positive change. Because God the Father loves us all the same and wants to celebrate each of our lives.

He is waiting to do just that. All we need do is set aside our pride, ask Him for help, open our hearts through humility, and let Him guide us home. All are welcome.

Sinner, come home.

 

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