Three Characters – Luke 15

Jesus is once again with the tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about the company He keeps so, as He has done before, Jesus tells a simple story, a parable, to teach a lesson.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the story of man with two sons, one who squanders his inheritance and returns home to beg forgiveness and is received back with warmth and celebration – that’s the short version!

The younger son asks his father for his share of the estate, his inheritance. Normally, an inheritance is received after the death of the owner; in essence the son was telling his father, “You’re dead to me, give me my money so I can get away from you and live my own life!” The son was legally entitled to the money and we know the father gave it to him because we are told that the son “gathered his things, left and squandered his estate with loose living”. Soon there is a famine and the son is broke! He finds a job tending pigs. He is now so hungry he would have been glad to eat the pig’s food! The son has neither money nor food and, to make matters worse, he is taking care of pigs – then as now, pigs are unclean to Jews.

The son, “came to his senses”, realizes his father’s servants have a better life than he does so he decides to return home. “But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran to him”. Notice that, one, his father was watching and waiting for him. Two, he ran to meet him; we don’t know the father’s age but dignified men did not run for anything! Third, in spite of all that had been said and done, the father felt compassion. They greet each other with an embrace and a kiss, the son is restored to his former position and dad starts planning the party! What a beautiful picture of how God responds to us when we recognize our sin and turn to Him; He watches and waits for our return and runs to us with His arms wide to welcome us.

Now the older son was in the field and he returns home to the party that started without him. His reaction? Anger. But, what exactly is making him so angry? “Look! For many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours yet you have never given me a young goat…but when this son of yours came who had devoured your wealth…you killed the fattened calf for him.”

The older son feels angry, jealous, bitter, unappreciated and disrespected. He was always “doing the right thing” and was not shown the recognition he thought he deserved. The father reminds the older son that all that belonged to the father, belonged to the son, the son only needed to ask and that now is the time for celebration, the younger son, who was assumed to be dead was home!

Whenever I read or hear The Parable of the Prodigal Son I recognize myself in each of the three characters.

I have been the younger son when I have deliberately rejected my Heavenly Father and decided to do it my way. There have been times I wasted the gifts given to me, the gifts of time, money, even people.

I have been the older son when I have resented others rewards or recognition; when I was bitter because someone else got the promotion or won the prize, when I felt disrespected or unappreciated.

And in my best moments, I have been the father when I extended grace and compassion to someone who has hurt me; when I’ve been quick to forgive and when I celebrated others successes.

It is humbling to realize that most of the time I am more like the sons than the father in this story. How about you, in The Parable of The Prodigal Son, which character are you?

Writing 101 – My Most Prized Possession

Today’s challenge: Tell a story of your most prized possession. Today’s Twist: Go long!

This is the final post for the Writing 101 Challenge. Hope you have enjoyed reading some of them; I have enjoyed writing them!

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When you lose every earthly possession, the words “most prized possession” have a lot more intensity. Fire destroyed a portion of the home I was living when I was in my 20’s; most of the damage was sustained on the second and third floor of the house, the third floor was partially incinerated. My bedroom was on the third floor.

A frantic phone call from a neighbor informed me that I needed to come home from work immediately. After an agonizing wait for the bus and a bus ride spent trying not to sob out loud, I arrived home to see a smoldering shell and my distraught parents and siblings. Fortunately for all of us no one was injured in the fire, the damage was only to the house and its contents. Everything on the third floor and some things on the second floor were destroyed by the fire. What was not burned was soaking wet or smoke damaged, ruined as a result of the firefighters efforts to extinguish the flames and save the house.  My sole, remaining possession was the outfit I had worn to work that day. Yes, “most prized possession” has a different sound to someone who has lost everything.

Most possessions and household items were destroyed that day by fire, water or smoke, some replaceable, some not. Over time, different possessions were acquired.  To be honest, a few of the replacement pieces were actually better than some of the furnishings that had been burned. The house was restored, rebuilt and completely refurnished. But there were many things that simply could not be replaced; photographs, family heirlooms, and special gifts; different things that had little or no dollar value but were priceless to all our hearts.

Time is a great healer and I am sure that many of the items I couldn’t replace, that I mourned for that day, have been forgotten. Time has also altered my perception of value and what is meaningful to me.  But there were a few things lost that day that were so special they still linger in my memory and my heart still hurts whenever I think of them.

One of my “most prized possessions” destroyed in the flames that day was a special vinyl recording, a record album. My entire record collection melted in the fire. I was left with a surreal collection of Dali imitations, my beloved albums dripping off the shelf. I wept when I saw them. In this day of instant, cheap and free downloads and bargain CD’s, it is difficult to convey the determination it took for me to save enough money to purchase most of my Long Playing Records or LPs. If you are a Discophile, you will appreciate the time invested and the process involved in searching for a rare or title or favorite artist.

I was in high school when music became very important to me; when I wanted to own the music that was important, the music and the artists who were both shaping and reflecting the changing culture of the day. My family was firmly middle-class; we were not rich and not poor; we had everything we needed but not a great deal extra. Allowance was doled out and there were occasional opportunities to earn extra but those were few and far between. A larger purchase took planning, sacrifice and foregoing a lot of candy bars.

Much of the music I liked at that time was played on the radio. It was from the radio I learned that one of my favorite groups had a new LP scheduled for release in a few weeks. Once the talk began, it grew. Speculation about the content, design and format of the LP went on endlessly; my desire to own this record increased with the talk. My options for purchasing this record were extremely limited; there was a single record store in town. I knew that my record would sell-out before I could even figure out a way of getting to the store. There was only one possible solution – pre-order!

I had to save the money and save it quick. I had to go to the store and I had to pay cash, in advance to be guaranteed a copy of this record album.

The single record store in town was about a mile from my house; it was in a part of town I rarely visited. The store was a dark place of mystery, full of records produced by artists from a bygone era; sheet music arranged in rows and columns on the wall, dusty instruments hanging in the window and from the ceiling, glass cases containing music paraphernalia I couldn’t identify. In my old sneakers, pants and favorite, button-down cardigan, full of determination and false courage, along with my hard-earned $6.99, I walked out the front door and headed down the street. My hand kept a tight grip on my money, sweaty in my pocket.  Walking through the “bad part of town” increased my anxiety and caused me to walk faster, gasping for air but undeterred, my eyes on the prize.

With my goal in sight, I took a deep breath and walked into the store. A fast and nearly, painless process; I handed my entire savings over to a grumpy clerk in a white shirt and black tie and he added my name and phone number to his list. Now the waiting for the actual album release became even more agonizing; now I had no money left and no album, I was counting the days.

The radio station began to “leak” songs from the album. I was desperate to listen but just as adamant about not hearing. I wanted to wait, to have my private concert, just me and my stereo, just me and MY album, from beginning to end.

Finally, release day, Friday, November 22, 1968. Of course, a school day; will the agony of waiting never end! The next day I again made the journey from home to the record store, my receipt, a tiny paper ticket to happiness, in my sweaty hand stuffed in my pocket for safe-keeping. This walk to the store was nothing compared to the last time; I swaggered now. I had a clear purpose. I had braved the dark and dusty store once before, now I was a customer with a receipt, my name was on the list; I had arrived! I waited with several others, all on the same quest, laughing to myself at the fools who did not plan, did not strategize the purchase and did not pre-order; disappointment for them, success for me! My LP, MY LP, now in a thin paper bag, I held it close to my body, tucked under my right arm and ran most of the way home; my feet flying inches above the pavement the whole way.

Safe in my third floor sanctuary I took the album out of the bag and paused to examine it; still protected in it’s shrink-wrap, pristine, perfect, waiting to be unveiled. This was a sacred moment.

The cover was stark, white. The name of the artists was embossed into the lower right front corner, The Beatles. The original, Beatles White Album, it had no title, and was simply and always referred to as The White Album. A two-record set, it came with a poster and an 8×10 glossy head shot of each of the four Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo. The poster was a collage of Beatle photos with all the song lyrics on the back.

Reverently, slowly, I removed one of the records encased in its paper sleeve; I was only in high school but I knew I had to savor this moment. Carefully, no fingerprints please, I slid the album from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable. I tenderly lowered the tone arm until the needle engaged and sat in my chair and closed my eyes. There is simply nothing as beautiful as new vinyl gleaming black, blacker than black and shiny, untouched by human hands. A single, etched line spiraling from the outer edge to the center; magically, mysteriously, the sound produced by this single continuous line changed my life. For the first time, I began to take music seriously.   I began to think about the words, about the person who wrote the words and the person who sang the words. That day, I played the entire two-record set straight through, just over 90 minutes of music. I played it many, many times in the days, weeks and months that followed; I believe my family has finally forgiven me for this.

Over time, I got a job, purchased more albums by The Beatles and many other artists but none of them impacted me as much as The Beatles White Album.

I was able to climb the stairs to the third floor the day after the fire to see if anything was salvageable. Seeing the cover of The White Album, curling, scorched and grey was devastating. The records inside were warped, the single, continuous line of magical sound, melted away. The poster, which had hung on my wall since the day it was purchased was gone, burned; only the tacks that held it in place remained. There was no trace of the 8×10 color glossies.

My most prized possession now ashes and dust.

Writing 101 – Serially Lost – Part 3 and Part 3

Todays Challenge: Imagine you work in a place where you manage lost and found items. Tell about what you find in the pile.  Todays Twist: Reflect on the theme of lost and found.

A Note: I had the weirdest experience writing the third part of this Writing 101 Challenge – two very different responses emerged.  Both almost wrote themselves.  I decided to publish both here.  (Scroll down for the Second Story).  If you can, please read both; First Story AND Second Story and then “vote” which one do you like better – if you can, tell me why.  THANKS!

A – FIRST STORY

Tuesday morning, 8:22am, I push myself around and drag my body out of the car, trudging through the slush; I take one last breath of air before pulling on the door handle. The door swings open with a creak and I walk from the grey morning into a gleaming hallway. And so it begins, another workday at “The BLIP”! Cue ominous music!

Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, hates it when we call it that. He prefers the more formal sound of “The Bureau”. But good old Jack gets to sit in his office all day. Good old Jack doesn’t have to flip through file after file, trying to match names to faces, faces to names, hour after hour, day after day. But to those of us doing the grunt work in the file room, it would always and eternally be “The BLIP”! (Dun-dun-DAAA – ominous music, please!)

The Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons is housed in an ordinary industrial style building in an office park full of similar buildings. The BLIP squats on its plot, surrounded by asphalt, innocuous, unobtrusive, bland but inside is a subdued hive of activity.

My days here are generally long and monotonous. But every day had a golden hour; my favorite part of the day, I like to call it “The Crazy Call Hour”! Cue fun, circus clown music! I prefer to tackle “ The Crazy Call Hour” right away. I grab a coffee, adjust my headset, wiggle into my seat and switch on – all systems GO!! “Good morning, Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons, Terry speaking, how may I help you this morning?”

I never know what I am going to hear and that is what I love about it; the element of surprise! Most calls fall into two categories: The Criers and The Stumblers. The Criers are just that – can barely get a word out and they’re already snifflin’ and snufflin’ their sob stories. The Stumblers are usually so shocked to be speaking to a human; it takes several tries before they get to their tale of woe. Do I sound cynical to you? Too bad! Go tell it to somebody who gives a crap!

But I was patient, I was calm, I listened and took good notes. Remember, “Your call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes.” Inside, I was laughing my butt off trying to decide which of these crazy nut job stories I would tell everybody at lunch!

That’s my day, that’s my life, hey, it pays the rent! The rest of the day is spent sifting through the musty file stacks. I take the names and information I collect during “The Crazy Call Hour” down to the File Room; also known as “The Pit of Despair” (more ominous music again, maestro!). Here in this cold and featureless place I begin my search. Oh yeah, there are times it’s kinda fun, like finding the missing piece of that jigsaw puzzle your grandmother gave you. A name in my hand matches a file, a family, a friendship – gets reunited – really what are the odds. Those days are growing increasingly rare of late; there are fewer and fewer matches, more and more disappointments. My frustration and boredom with this thankless job has reached epic levels.  But I gotta remember why I’m here, gotta listen, gotta pay attention, stay sharp.

So, I’m down in The File Room doing my search thing when all of a sudden, I glance to my left and see the unthinkable. J. Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, striding towards me with his perfect hair and his ever-present, stupid grin. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, smile, look up, say, “Good morning, Mr. Carson.”

“Hello there, Terry, how are you today?” “I am fine Mr. Carson.” “No, no, please call me Jack, all my friends call me Jack!” My cheeks are starting to hurt from this fake smile I have plastered on, please get this over with. What could this mutant freak want? “Terry, could you come with me up to my office. We have a small matter to discuss, won’t take long.”

When we get upstairs I am startled to see one of the Bureau’s Security gorillas standing outside Jack’s office. Where do they find these poster boys for steroids? Immediately, I start to sweat. What’s going on? The Rolodex in my mind begins to whirr. I was only joking when I told that story about that Crier – I didn’t give any names. Hey, everybody does that! Did they find out about the stapler? I just needed it for a few days. Why didn’t I bring it back the next day? Actually, I hope it’s all about staplers and small talk, be cool, I got this.  All these thoughts and more are spinnin’ through my brain as Jack opens the door to his office and tells me to take a seat.

Ok, breathe, it can’t be that bad; Jack to His Friends is still smiling. I sit down. Sweet office, I wonder what he did to get it – moron! Oh yes sir, no sir, keep smiling, all gonna be fine, no worries. Suddenly the door behind me opens and Jack to His Friends stands up.

Who is this babe, I wonder to myself. Tall, young, professional, never seen her in this building before; wha oh!  She’s got a Bureau badge on her jacket. She shakes Jack’s hand and, like they rehearsed this friendly act, they both turn to me with the same phony smiles. “Terry, this is Ms. Kelly from our Southern Division Office, “ chirps Jack to His Friends. “She has a few questions for you. Won’t take but a few minutes.  Just answer her questions and we’ll let you get right back to your work.”

Kelly doesn’t waste any time, she starts right in slamming me with questions one right after the other, scribbling notes on her tablet. It is getting harder to keep this smile on my face and lots harder to answer her questions. My head is buzzing, I feel the sweat on my upper lip, seems awfully hot in this office. I got my own questions and it ain’t pretty. “Where did they get their information? I know I wiped all my files before I came up here. Who talked? How did they find me?” I could feel my face getting redder. I tried to swallow but I had no spit left. I kept wiping my hands on my pant legs – back and forth, back and forth. I need time to think. I noticed Ms. Babe Kelly and Jack to His Friends weren’t smilin’ so much any more.

How did they find me? I’ve stayed lost for years and years! I don’t want to be found!

B – SECOND STORY

How do you lose a whole person? I mean, in general people are kinda large unless they are kids or babies but I am not talking about them; I am talking about full grown, average size, people.

I have lost buttons, keys, coins, and earrings lots of times, they are little, easy to misplace or drop. Depending where you are, when those tiny objects fall to the floor they may not even make a noise. You don’t even realize they are missing until much later if at all. But people? How do you lose an entire person? Even though I have lost a more than a few, I still don’t always understand how it happens…

There is the obvious of course, some people I lost to death. A few were lost in anger; some words were said, hot, bitter – those people stomped away; some of the time it was me doing the stomping. The ones I wonder about are those that are simply and painfully, lost, the drifters.

One of us would move or change jobs. We would always promise to stay in touch, to call to write. Nowadays we might say that we will text or email or “friend” on Facebook or follow on Twitter and maybe at first we both keep those promises. But somewhere along the way the time between calls, between the emails grows longer and longer and eventually, inexorably ends. You have changed, your friend has changed, life, time, and distance has come between you. We’ve drifted apart.  These friends are now lost.

Over the years the same methods, calls, emails, Facebook, that seemed to absorb old friends and take them away have returned a few. Somehow, through persistence or luck or some combination of both we have found each other again and re-connected. These links to our common past are rare and delightful, like a rainbow after a storm.

Most surprising of all are my newfound friends. God in His mercy and wisdom has helped me find some new friends and miracle of miracles other new friends have found me! How does a friendship begin? Slowly, a bit painfully; questions are asked and answered, past history is carefully revealed, and new experiences are shared. Friendships are built from bits of our lives, added in layer by layer – little friendship cakes. Newfound friends are fragile and frightening and full of hidden land mines; but are worth the risks.

And rarely, if you are very, very lucky a newfound friend develops into one of the best gifts of all, a Friend, a capital “F”, Friend. A Friend who stands the test of time, who will not fade into an ever-widening gap between phone calls, who remembers your birthday, who sends you a crazy text just because. When you find a capital “F” Friend, you will never run out of things to say. If your conversation is interrupted you pick up right where you left off even if hours, days or weeks have gone by. There is an indefinable quality that moves “newfound friend” to “friend” to a Friend. What is it? When does it happen? I think it is during the small moments you begin to see how much you really enjoy being together, that you uplift each other, you bring out the best and the silliest in each other. The moment you know, you are THERE for each other and you WILL BE there for each other; to laugh, cry and pray together. I am so very grateful to be able to say that I have found life’s rare treasures – capital “F” Friends!

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Proverbs 27:6