One of my earliest, vivid memories is the day I wandered away from my home at 6317 E. Lover’s Lane. I wasn’t yet three years old. ( Once upon a time when Eisenhower was still President!) My older brother and sister were in school and on this particular balmy spring day, I was bored. I had permission to go 4 houses further up Lover’s Lane, via the back alley, to visit my friend, Tommy Buckner, and see if he could play. With instructions to come straight home if he were unavailable, off I went. I am sure that my mother watched me as I went up the alley until I went through his back gate. No one was home. There was no car in the driveway and no one answered my little knock at the back door. I still remember my deep disappointment that afternoon.
I can remember closing the chain link gate and still having my hand on the latch when several things occurred to me in quick succession. If I went home there was nothing fun to do. Mama was probably watching the news, ironing or something equally dreary. She wasn’t expecting me home and she didn’t know that Tommy and his mother weren’t home. I could go for a walk and by the time I circled back around maybe he WOULD be home and the afternoon wouldn’t be so bad after all. I looked to the right, down the alley where I should be headed home and then I looked to the left….and off I went as fast as my little Mary Jane’s would take me. I was footloose and fancy free for the first time in my short life!
I have no recollection of the walk-about adventure. There was no plan, I was just enjoying myself, taking it all in and following my muse. Time ticked by- as it always does- and a good while later, I looked around and realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was, I didn’t know how I had gotten to that spot and was pretty sure that I would never be able to get home again. I was in a neighborhood where houses were being built and nothing looked familiar at all. The dreadful thought of the story of Hansel and Gretel did run through my head ( why had I not left a trail of bread crumbs?)and suddenly I was scared right down to my white lacey socks.
I was totally, irrevocably lost. I couldn’t help myself at all. Then, I did what any self respecting Southern girl would do: I sat down on the curb in my little smocked dress , put my head on my knees and began to weep.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my mother had picked up the phone and discovered rather quickly that no one was home at Tommy’s house. She began mobilizing the neighborhood search parties and beating the bushes looking for me and I’m sure, generally having a maternal melt-down as the minutes ticked by and I haven’t turned up! Everybody and their dog was out looking for me. I just didn’t know it. And, they had no idea that my chubby little legs could have carried me so far.
I was still sobbing on my curb, too tired to go any further and ruing the day that I had disobeyed my mother and left my safe haven on Lover’s Lane. For the first time in my life I was all alone, scared and didn’t know what to do. My somewhat less than 36 months of experience on this earth had not prepared me for this moment.
I heard the music first. In wonderful, Piped Piper fashion the faint strains of harmonica music came to me and I raised my head and began to look around. I only knew one person who played the harmonica like that! I was saved! Here came my big brother, John! (We called him Buka which is a story for a different day.) He was probably almost 9 if I was almost 3. He was steering his black and silver bicycle with one hand and playing his harmonica, loudly, with the other. I jumped up, so joyful and stunned that I didn’t even wave or call out to him! He was coming straight for me. I don’t think that I have ever been so glad to see anyone before or since. I remember the wonderful, familiar smile on his face when he saw me. He laid his bike down and left it there and carried me home. I’m sure that there was much rejoicing when I finally made it home. I don’t remember anything beyond the moment when I knew that I wasn’t lost anymore.
A Feverseason reader in Ohio emailed me the other day and asked me if I believed in original sin. I do. This may not have been the first time I ever sinned or stamped my foot and said “no!”…but it was the first time I willfully, memorably thought it out and chose to sin that I recall. I inherited my sin nature as surely as I inherited my brown eyes. We are all sinners- every one of us come as prepackaged bundles of original sin! Ohio and I had a nice little chat back and forth whereby I made sure that we were understanding the same vocabulary words.
We inherited this old sin nature from Adam. His “original” sin was deciding to come into Agreement with what Satan was telling him instead of being in Agreement with what God had already told him. Through that one willful, joint decision with Eve” sin” came into our universal vocabulary. In that instance, Adam and Eve lost not only their lovely garden address but he lost the Authority that God had bestowed on them over everything they knew. Now, they were pulling weeds and life was a never-ending grinding struggle and it still is today.
Nothing has changed. Romans 3:23 tells us that we are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the Glory of God…and his standard of righteousness. It took Jesus, the Messiah, to die on the cross to bring us back into right relationship with God. Isaiah 53:5 tells us that his sacrificial blood purchased not only our eternal salvation but our Peace and our total healing. Jesus is the Gate. John 14 spells it out very clearly: I am the Way the Truth and the Life No body comes to the Father except by me. It has to be his way. Jesus also retrieved the deed – the keys which Adam had foolishly lost. Jesus restored our Kingdom authority and it is there for us to use, in his name while we are here on earth. Matthew 18.
Somewhere, in each of our lives, we let go of the gate and as I did all those years ago, and took that first bold step of rebellious disobedience. You’ve been taking on water ever since and now you find yourself in a terrible sinking situation. Some of you may have waked up this morning and said how did I ever get to this miserable spot? How did I manage to make such a mess of my life. Or, there must be something more! In my story I wound up several streets over on Crestmont which was a work in suburban progress at that time. Maybe you have wandered off much further than I did, in my first foray into willful disobedience and got tangled up into the shackles of bitterness, lies or addiction. Maybe your issues are deep, dark anger or depression or dysfunction. Perhaps you have been so hurt and disillusioned that you can’t forgive or figure out how to get straightened out and back where you belong. There is a sure way back and there is one way out!
Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The younger son demands his inheritance…essentially telling his dad that he wishes he were dead- so that he could cash out and shake this crummy farm life off for the lure of the big city lights. The father tries to dissuade him and finally gives the son his heart’s desire. Aren’t there times in all of our experience where we won’t slow down or listen to anybody? That’s what this young man did. He hardened his heart, set his course and walked his own road.
We know that the boy gets to town and blows the cash on crummy friends and fast living. Soon he is starving and friendless. A Jewish boy now slopping the unclean and definitely non-kosher hogs. He has sunk so low, gotten involved in awful things and is so ashamed, so dirty that he is completely out of ideas. He certainly doesn’t believe that he can go home again. Once, he couldn’t wait to get away, do stuff his way- and now he can’t think of anything but his family and all that he once had and held in such ungrateful disregard. His perspective has changed. Sometimes you have to try it your way, every way, and hit absolute rock bottom to really appreciate what your Father represents and be willing to listen.
The son doesn’t know it. He believes that he has definitively burned all his bridges with his family. He is sure that his life is over and that he can never go home but he finally decides to slink on back, tell his Dad that he is sorry and beg him for a menial job around the farm. He remembers how well even the help is treated there. That kid is totally unaware of it, but his Father has been standing by the gate everyday- looking down the road. Waiting for him.
Daddy is heart -broken, missing his boy. He wants him home again. Straining his eyes, searching the horizon for any sign that his son has repented, changed his mind and his direction, and decided to come home. When Dad finally catches the glimpse of his son on the road. He doesn’t wait. He runs to meet him in the road. The son is overwhelmed when Dad runs to meet him with a huge bear hug! Instead of being repulsed by the filthy smell of the pig pen or saying I told you so!- his Daddy covers him with his finest robe and puts the family signet ring on his child’s finger. He wants his son, and everyone else to know that his wayward, prodigal is forgiven. He is STILL his son. His son’s place is secure and he can never be dislodged from it. Restoration. Forgiveness. Love. Joy that the child is home and lost no more. Celebration soon follows!
That’s how the Lord thinks about us. All that time you have been moseying about through life, doing it your way, you may have never given him a thought. Perhaps you just marched off in blissful ignorance rather than prideful arrogance. It is wonderful to know that either way, we can never do anything so awful, wander so far away from him that his love isn’t deep enough to retrieve us and welcome us back. No matter where you have been or what you have been up to, the cloak of his shed blood is large enough to cover it all!
All this time He was calling your name and looking for you. His love is so great that He was searching for you on the horizon and praying you home again. He is waiting for you to realize who you are, how much you are loved and to understand what it means to be a child of the King. Amazing Grace! It is time for the wandering, prodigal children to come home. Come back to your rightful place on Lover’s Lane.
**author’s note: While I no longer reside on Lover’s Lane in Dallas, Texas: Those were golden, treasured days. I am pleased to say that after almost 6 decades, Tom Buckner is still a good friend. And, that my brother, John, still rides to my rescue from time to time. God is so good!