Here is the reflection I shared this morning in Keynote at Montreat Youth Conference.
From Luke 15:11-32
I am a prodigal daughter.
I grew up in a great family, with a good church community. I had everything.
And then one day I woke up and wondered how I ended up starving and wishing I could eat with the pigs.
Okay, not really eating with pigs. But I ended up in a place where I never expected to be. To make a very long story short enough to get us out in time for small group, I got pregnant the first time I had sex.
I was a sophomore at Trinity University, a Presbyterian College in San Antonio, Tx. And just like that, I went from feeling like a beloved child to feeling like a person who was far from home, alone, and starving. Because that wasn’t what was supposed to happen to a good church girl like me. Wasn’t the story I had planned, that my family had planned for me. I had never felt more imperfect.
I ended up placing my son Eric for adoption. And it is an imperfect story that has turned out perfectly. Eric is now 23 years old and just graduated from TCU this May. He’s a great kid and I’ve known him his entire life because his adoptive parents are great people who have been a blessing to me. All those years ago, when I was going through it, I could only see imperfect brokenness. Now I see God’s ability to make things perfect.
But today I want to tell you my prodigal story.
Like the prodigal son, I knew I could go home. I knew my parents would take me in. I knew they’d be disappointed in me, and they were. I knew they’d be heartbroken for me, and they were. But I also knew they would welcome me home with a big hug. And they did.
The welcome I wasn’t sure I was going to get was in church. How would they feel about an unmarried, pregnant teenager? Was it possible to go home to church with an imperfection like this?
I was actually in the process of joining a church near my university when I found out I was pregnant.
I went to the pastor and said, “I know I said I was going to join the church, but it turns out that now is not the best time.”
My pastor said, “why not?”
“It just isn’t’, I answered eloquently.
And then, like good pastors do, he just sat there…. waiting….
And I cracked. Actually, I started sobbing, and blabbed the whole horrible tale to him.
“And that’s why it isn’t a good time for me to join the church!”, I finished, with a dramatic sob.
Calmly, he said, “Marci. When could possibly be a better time to join a church? When could you need a church family more than you do right now?”
And so the prodigal daughter was welcomed home with open arms.
Nobody in my church really had a fatted calf to slaughter for me, but they did take me out to lunch most weeks after church to make sure I was eating enough. Instead of the best robe, they loaned me maternity clothes. They visited me in the hospital. They had me stand up in church on Mother’s Day. Every year. Even after Eric had been adopted.
All these years later, I suspect that the gift I received in that homecoming is the reason I became a pastor. Because of those people at that little church in San Antonio, I know God’s love in a powerful way. It was certainly a gift of grace. Being loved and accepted, not for what I had done to deserve it, but just because I was in need, was the very gift I needed to make it through that most difficult year.
And I don’t want anybody to have to go through that pain and loss, because eating what the pigs don’t want isn’t so much fun. There is a lot of pain when you are a prodigal. But what I do really wish for you in your life is that you know what it is to be welcomed back home.
Throughout my entire no good, very bad year, I always knew God was there. At the time, I felt like I had let God down, but I never felt God went away from me. Instead, I kept hearing a bible verse in my head when I would go to bed at night. “We know that in all things, God is working for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” Romans 8:28 And that verse helped me wake up each morning with the strength I needed to get through that day.
So, no matter how far from home you ever feel, no matter how royally you believe you have screwed up, I want you to remember that you can always go home to God. Always. Because in all things, God is there.
And I also pray that each of us will be committed to creating church families that actively welcome prodigals home so that all can know about the love of God, the love that celebrates with abundance when the lost are found.
(And, for those of you who are wondering, the church that showed me such grace is University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, TX. Rev. John Miller was the pastor and I am forever thankful for him and for that congregation.)