Coming Home

From behind the tree he watched people begin to arrive at the little country church. They parked their cars, went up the steps, and were greeted at the door by the pastor. He knew they were exchanging pleasantries even though he couldn’t hear their conversation. The ringing of the bell made sure of that.

As he watched he thought about his past. He had grown up in this church. In fact, he knew most of the people who were arriving. His parents were devout members of the congregation. So devout they never missed a service. If the doors were open they were there. That included him. It was all right when he was little. He had loved Sunday School, remembered all the stories, and could still recite all 66 books of the Bible. When he entered his teens he rebelled. Church was no longer important and exciting for him. He fell in with the wrong crowd and got in trouble.

He would never forget the night the police came looking for him. His father had come to his room and motioned for him to follow. What happened next was a nightmare of his own making. The church had been vandalized. Walls had been spray painted with obscenities, glass communion cups were shattered and ground into the carpet, toilets were plugged with pieces of carpet cut from the rug, excrement had been put in the refrigerator, and hymnals had been ripped apart and tossed into a pile an then set on fire. The fire department had gotten it out before the church sustained major damage.

“Did you do this? Were you involved?” asked his father with tears in his eyes.

“No, Dad, I didn’t do it,” he had answered.

“Officer Bentley says you were. He says that he has a witness.”

“Who says I was there?” he had asked.

“One of the boys who was there confessed. He says you were there,” answered the officer.

“He’s lying! I wasn’t there. Who said it?”

“Roger Brown.”

“Roger Brown! Isn’t he your best friend?” his father had asked.

He remembered that he had teared up, broke down, and confessed.

“Why? Why would you do such a thing” his father had asked.

“I don’t know. It was Roger’s idea.”

“How am I going to face the congregation? How am I going to rectify this?” his father had screamed.

“I’m sorry!” he had cried.

His father had turned his back on him and the officer led him away. Until he went before the judge he was locked up in the juvenile center.

His hearing day came and he, Roger and the other boys went before the judge. He was by himself, his parents were too ashamed of him to come.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” the judge had asked.

He had stared at him in silence.

“Will a year in the juvenile detention center loosen your tongue?”

He had kept his silence.

“So that’s how it is. Son, you’re going away for two years,” the judge had ordered.

He entered a nightmare of massive proportions. He had no clue what he was facing. He had thought he could handle himself, thought he was a tough guy. That was proven wrong the second day he was there. He was beaten severely and had spent the night in the infirmary. When he was well enough to go back into the general population he was terrified. If it hadn’t been for another boy taking him under his wing who knows what would have happened.

He and the Sam became close friends, not only for companionship but for safety also. Sam was older than him by a couple of years and was in there for stealing a car.

Sam started teaching him how to survive in there, who he could trust and who to stay away from. He also began tutoring him into a life of crime. He had gone along with it for a while and in fact found it interesting. But something about it bothered him.

“Sam, I don’t know if I can do it,” he had said.

“Why not? What else are you going to do? You have a record now. Who will give you a job?” Sam had answered.

He hadn’t known how to answer him. Something told him it was wrong. He couldn’t get it off his mind.

Finally his release day was here and he and Sam had talked.

“What are you going to do?” Sam had asked, “I can set you up with some friends of mine. They’ll take care of you.”

“I don’t know. You’ve been a good friend to me,” he had answered, “let me think about it.”

“Let me know what you decide.

He had nodded and shook Sam’s hand.

The next day he was released. There was no one there to pick him up. He had been able to thumb a ride back to his hometown. It was evening when he got there. He had watched his father’s house from behind a tree across the street. Not knowing what to do, he found a place to sleep under a bridge on the edge of town.

Now he was watching the church and the people arriving. He watched his parents park and enter the church. He couldn’t help but shed a tear.

As he watched he thought he heard a voice. Straining, he stood perfectly still and listened. Slowly and quietly it came again.

“Go in,” it said.

Shaking his head, he started to walk away.

“Go in,” it said again.

It stopped him in his tracks.

“Go in,” he said, “how can I after what I did?”

“Go in,” came again.

“God, is that you?” he asked.

“Yes, my son. Go in.”

“But how? Will they accept me?” he cried.

“Trust me. Now, go in.”

Gathering his courage, he crossed the street, went up the sidewalk and up the steps. As he was climbing the steps he could hear the congregation singing “Softly And Tenderly.”

He opened the door and began to uncontrollably weep. Taking a few faltering steps, he leaned against the sanctuary door post. The pastor saw him, stepped down from the pulpit, smiled, and motioned for him to come.

As he started down the aisle members fell in behind him, placing their hands on his shoulders and praying. The singing stopped, and as he passed his parent’s pew his father began to weep. He stepped out and took him into his arms. They went to the altar and fell to their knees. The pastor knelt down beside them.

“I’m so sorry for what I did,” he cried, “will you forgive me?”

The pastor took his hand and spoke.

“Son, first things first, have you asked God to forgive you?”

Subdued, he answered him, “No.”

“Don’t you think it is time? You know He loves you,” asked the pastor.

Through his tears he nodded yes.

“Come around us, everyone. Place your hands on him and agree in prayer. Now, please,” ordered the pastor.

“Now, repeat after me……”He arose from his knees a new creation, born again and forgiven. But there was something he had to do. Turning to face the congregation, he spoke.

“I know that I don’t deserve it, but I am asking you to forgive me for what I did. I will do anything to make things right.”

“Son, you are forgiven, forgiven by us and God. Insurance took care of the damage. What was vandalized was not only the church, you were vandalized also. You allowed Satan to try to destroy you and he almost did. Your past is forgotten, forgotten by God and by us. Everyone, welcome him home.

It seemed as if everyone in the church hugged him. It was a humbling and exhausting experience.

The last to approach him were his parents.

“I am so sorry I put you through this,” he whispered.

His father answered him with a hug.

“I forgive you. Let’s go home, son, let’s go home.”

March 3, 2022