At the ripe old age of 6, I decided to run away from home. From what I recall, it was a warm day, and the windows of the house were open with curtains billowing in each room, allowing the fresh breeze to bring in the cool outdoor air. I do not remember what had angered me so. At 6, it is hard to tell. No dessert before dinner? No red lipstick? I couldn’t stay the night with a friend? Or perhaps, I had been told to clean my bedroom. I really cannot say.
I packed a few prized possessions in my mother’s red overnight bag and said my final goodbyes. My mother didn’t seem overly concerned that I was leaving. She said she would miss me and hoped I would visit. Which, I am quite sure, further smoldered my young temper.
I walked as far as the end of the street. (I knew not to go any further). I sat down on my mother’s red suitcase, underneath the red stop sign in our neighbor’s yard, and patiently waited. The minutes passed. Afternoon turned to evening. (More likely, afternoon turned to 10 minutes later in the afternoon). I was absolutely devastated that my mother had not come after me. Didn’t she care?!
I finally decided to return home. I simply wasn’t made to be a woman on the run. So, with my head down, and my heart shattered, I made the long trek (one uphill and two houses on each side of the street) back home.
My mother met me at the front door. She seemed happy to see me. (Though I was further miffed she had allowed me to go in the first place). It was then that she knelt down to my eye-level and said: “Manndi, I watched you from my bedroom window. You were never out of my sight. Do you really think l would willingly let my precious little girl run away? I gave you some space, but I am very happy that you came back home.” These words were such a comfort to my young heart. A peace offering of sorts, providing a much-needed sense of resolution from a tender mother to a young child, enforcing there was no distance I could ever go, in which I would not be welcome back home with open and loving arms.
That story flashed in the forefront of my mind while I was shopping in a popular downtown flea market and came across an adorable little red suitcase, much like the one I once used to “run away” so many years ago. I had to have it. There is no way it will suffice for actual travel, but I will use it to store some very special possessions. And it will serve as a reminder that no matter how far I wander from home, I will always be welcomed back with open, loving arms.
How many times have I packed my metaphoric little red suitcase full of guilt, anger, hurt, resentment, fear, and run away from God? Too many. And then wondered why he didn’t chase me. Only, he did. But first, he gave me space. Time to reflect, to realize the consequences of moving away from him. But did he ever take his eyes off of his beloved child? Never.
In much the same way as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke, Chapter 15: “32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” While the father did not chase his son, he was overjoyed when his son returned home. He instantly forgave the indulgence and wealth his son squandered and was simply content to know the hard lessons his son learned from running away were likely more than the father could ever teach him, after experiencing them firsthand, by his selfishness and rebellion. Dad was just overjoyed his son returned and that was all that mattered in celebrating their tender, loving reunion.
I have shared this story countless times over the years. It is one of my favorites. The memory of me as a little girl carrying my little red suitcase. The image of my young mother, a lopsided grin on her face, and the tugging of her heartstrings as she watched every step I took, away from home. And then, the realization I was coming home, the joy in her heart as she held herself back from running down the street to grab me into her waiting arms. It truly resonates with me as a Christian, knowing that no matter how many times my young, immature self runs in disobedience, my Heavenly Father longs for me to return to his waiting, open, loving arms, the same way I returned to mother on that day so many years ago.
That is how I picture God. Waiting. Longing. Hoping each of his children returns to his open arms. No matter how much we screw up, how long we stay away, and how deeply our faith has fallen, he truly desires each of his children to come home, whether for the first time or the 10th. He longs for reunification with each precious child. This belief has helped me through countless difficulties in life, from the devastation of two painful miscarriages, to the pain of an unwanted divorce, to the sought-after closure after a loved one’s death. Each time I have faltered or faced what I felt was bitter defeat, I found grace, peace, and healing when down on my knees in heartfelt prayers and pleas to my precious Lord.
And in much the same way my mother served as an example of Christ’s never-ending love for me as a young child, I am hopeful that my two sons know, deep in their hearts, that no matter how far they wonder, roam, and explore, their mother’s love will not only go with them, but be ready and waiting for them to find their way back home. There is no sin big enough that would deter my love from flowing fully to my two precious sons.
God’s front door is always open. His protective eyes are always on his child. And his love abounds, whether or not we accept it. You do not have to live life on the run, whether for 10 minutes as a moody child, or countless years as a searching adult. Unpack that suitcase. Cast all of those painful, heavy, burdensome woes upon him. And know that there is truly no place like home, when home is with a God who gave all to ensure you never have to spend one second away from the one who truly adores you most.