The prodigal

When my youngest son gets angry, he often gets dramatically pouty. It may start with something as simple as my refusing him one more handful of potato chips. It’s like I’m a snack bartender. I’m mopping up the bar and I see someone who’s tipsy on Cool Ranch Doritos, so I throw the towel over my shoulder while explaining that I’m under mom-bligations to let a person know when he’s has had enough and suggest something to balance out the junk food like an apple.

 

Once confronted and told “no,” he tends to go straight for the Oscar nomination for Best Whiny Pleading. If he’s feeling especially irritable, he’ll play the Runaway Card. There are some for whom running away is a serious proposition and definitely not a joke, so I would not make light of those circumstances. But for my son, it’s a calculated move. He has no intention of actually leaving our property, sometimes he only gets as far as the garage, but he’s wanting to tell me something and test my response.

 

When one of our daughter’s was younger, she would try the same thing. She would announce her intention: “I’m leaving!” and I would set up a camping chair by the house. I would say, “I always want you to be safe, so I’m going to sit here and watch you. Make sure you can see me. If you can’t see me, you’ve gone too far.” I would watch her walk down our very long driveway maybe with a backpack or a baby doll, and when she got to the mailbox, she would turn around and come back. This is what worked for her, my strong-willed girl who had always known me and counted on me to be her mom.

 

For our 7-year old son who’s only been a part of our family for 2 years, I have had to change tack and choose a different approach. When he marches off angrily, I know he wants to punish me. I also know that I am angry, too. I want to go inside and watch TV and let him sort it out alone. But even though my parenting correction was justified, I know that he desperately wants to be pursued.

 

This happened last Saturday. His pouting was like a carrot on a stick leading him to the overgrown field behind our house where the weeds were as tall as he is. I sat at the patio table and watched him as he glanced back at me over his shoulder a few times. The stubborn part of my brain wanted to show him tough love and let him get eaten up by chiggers, but an image came to my mind of a different parent, a fictional father from a story Jesus told in Luke 15.

 

We often call this parable The Prodigal Son. The main idea is that we are like this son, messing up everything and wasting what is good, then finally coming to our senses and turning back homeward. The father is our God, waiting there for us with open arms, forgiving all our stupidity. But I tend to think there are several layers to these stories, and I wonder if we are sometimes called to be the father, too.

 

Did this father stand outside looking toward the road from town for days and weeks and months, praying that his son would come home? Did he keep his love ready for his son’s return by reminding himself that it wasn’t about him but instead about his wayward son?

 

This is my inspiration. When I was given this job as a mom, it was an invitation to grown up, or as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13: “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

 

I followed my son to the field and stayed in his general proximity until his anger had subsided. (I may or may not have fibbed and said I saw a snake in the tall weeds to get him motivated.) At bedtime, my husband and I discussed with him about how to calmly tell us how he feels and how his actions will never make us stop loving him. Hours after the initial disagreement, he was finally repentant. And while this is what we parents are ultimately looking for, it became clear to me that my job is not only to work towards favorable behavioral results in my kids but to be there for every step of the process.

Tow truck

Last week the alternator in my husband Brent’s truck went out, and we had to get it towed. I met Brent in the parking lot down the road from our house where he was stranded, then he took my van and headed to work while I waited for the tow truck.

 

When the driver arrived, he expertly backed his behemoth truck behind our vehicle and lowered the bed. He maneuvered levers and switches to release chains and hooks to attach to the undercarriage of our pickup truck. In a few moments, he had pulled the pickup onto the bed and slowly raised it to its original position. Then the driver knelt at the front of the pickup to attach a few more chains.

 

In order to get these chains in position, he had to stick his head and half his body under the pickup. I watched in amazement as his blue jean-clad legs and leather work boots moved slightly while the rest of his movements were concealed from my view. It was like watching a lion tamer place his head in a lion’s mouth, except that instead of the threat of sharp teeth, this guy had to risk a Ford F-150 rolling over him.

 

He escaped unscathed and invited me to join him in the cab of his tow truck. Now I have been driving for nearly 3 decades, but this was the first time I had ever had the privilege to ride in a tow truck. It was quite a leap to get to my passenger seat but once there I looked around. I saw a big box of individually-wrapped Rice Krispies Treats, a 12-pack of Gatorades (with a few missing) and a slew of bungee cords in varying colors and sizes. He asked me where I needed to have the pickup dropped off, and he put the address in his GPS device.

 

The driver and I discussed normal things—traffic, kids, living here as opposed to living in his hometown. I complimented him on his reverse skills, especially since I’ve been teaching my teenaged girls how to drive for the last year. He said that early on he practiced frequently, first on a computer game and then on the real thing.

 

I asked him if he was dreading the summer heat which would inevitably flare up as the day went on. His answer surprised me. “I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “I love my job. I love being outside and helping people. I work for a great company. The heat isn’t really a big deal.”

 

I told him that he was lucky that he enjoys his profession. “I bet there’s a lot of people who wish they could say that they love their job,” I told him.

 

His approach to his tow truck job would be helpful to be apply to everyday living: 1) Have a good attitude. 2) Figure out where you’re going. 3) Have faith even when it’s scary. 5) Practice things that are difficult. 5) Always have Rice Krispy Treats.

Shade

On these hot summer days, it can be difficult to find relief from the heat. Most of us have become so accustomed to A/C that even the short walk from our air-conditioned cars to the air-conditioned grocery store can leave us sweating through our clothes as we melt our way across the asphalt parking lot. When those automatic doors slide open greeting us with a gust of arctic air, we are happy once again.

 

When we do venture outside on a hot, muggy day and the sun is beating down without a cloud in the sky, it’s not long before we start looking for cover. An umbrella or a tree or even the shaded side of a building can make such a difference, but why? We’re still outside. No mechanical flow of cool air has been introduced. All that has changed is that we’ve found something to block the sun’s powerful rays. We’ve found shade.

 

For me, I’ve noticed a frequent desire to find shade but not just because it’s been so hot. With the world beating down on us with so much that’s too much, I’ve needed to create breaks for myself. I’ve needed to surround myself with people and thoughts and quiet moments that can block out what might leave me scorched. I’ve needed to sit on my porch without anything in my hands and just watch what’s happening in my front yard.

 

I know I can’t stay out of the sun forever. I need to venture out and see what’s to be done and who’s to be helped. I am strong enough to stand a little heat, but I can’t let the world overwhelm me so that I’m left with heat stroke. I must apply the sunscreen of the knowledge of what is right, and I must wear the sunglasses that give me a worldview lens which puts everything in proper perspective.

 

But when I do seek out shade, I’ll look for someone bigger than me who can cast a wide enough shadow to give me relief from those days it just gets too hot. I’ll think about Psalm 91 which reminds me that “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”