We, the Prodigals: What it Means to Be Lost & Found

There are few terrors worse that the feeling that you’ve lost someone you love.

This much was clear to me on that summer night in 2008. From my perch in the passenger seat, I scanned the sidewalks as best I could, reminding myself to breathe. Everyone was looking, even the police. We’d find her.

But we didn’t know that, really. Cassandra* had wandered away in the late afternoon, and now it was night.

Aileen, my friend and fellow L’Arche** assistant, was in the driver’s seat. She had to focus on piloting the van, but I could tell that she was just as frantic as I was, if not more so. After all, Aileen was Cassandra’s one-on-one accompanier. They shared a special bond.

We drove around for a long time before we got the call: She’s all right. Jonathan [another assistant] found her. Aileen and I raced home.

And the sight of Cassandra, sitting at the kitchen table — it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Heedless of the policemen in the background, I ran over, knelt down, and wrapped her in my arms. She hugged me back, squeezing tight. I don’t know what I said; I was incoherent with relief.

But I do remember what Aileen said, when I stepped back to let her hold Cassandra. They clung to each another; Aileen was half-laughing and half-crying. She sounded like a mother whose child has just been returned to her arms. She said, “God, you’re home, you’re home. Don’t you ever do that to us again, Cassandra, you hear me? You scared us to death! We love you. I love you.”

***

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Hearing Aileen’s words, I glanced at the picture hanging just above her. It was a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It depicts the scene in Jesus’ parable when the lost son returns at last. And the father says, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The elder brother protests; why waste a good celebration on an undeserving brother? But the father repeats, “… We [have] to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

When I saw Cassandra that day, I realized: the father’s not just saying these words for his elder son’s benefit.

He’s saying them in the same way that Aileen and I kept repeating, “You’re home, you’re safe …” because he can’t help it. Because he needs to hear them, to hear aloud that the nightmare of loss is over.  

And then I turned and saw Jonathan standing alone. (We’d only just met, and I was completely intimidated by him. I had no idea that someday, we’d be married.) In all the uproar, he was quiet, solitary. He’d found Cassandra, but he wasn’t making her return ‘about him’ at all.

Without thinking, I crossed the room and stepped into his arms for the first time. “Thank you, thank you for finding her and bringing her home,” I said.

***

Sometimes I think that our real (metaphorical) work is to search down dark streets until we find one another.

We all run away from home, away from each other. We all make choices that separate us from real relationship. Perhaps not in the obvious ways, but in the small things: we don’t tell the truth, answer the phone, or show that we care. We’re afraid, so we hide our hearts.

An afternoon tea celebration

An afternoon tea celebration

But what if we let ourselves be found? What if we acknowledged that we have all been both the fearful runaway and the forgiving father? That we know what it is to bolt and stumble and lose our way, and that we also know what it is to be the one standing by, waiting and praying?

And what if we put aside our pride and celebrated whenever we do reunite?

If we did, perhaps something like this would happen …

Soon after Cassandra came home, Aileen transitioned out of her role at L’Arche. On her final night, we took turns sharing what we loved about Aileen, and how we would miss her. When it was Cassandra’s turn, she looked at Aileen with gentleness in her gaze.

She was silent for a long time, so we asked, “What do you love about Aileen, Cassandra?”

And Cassandra said, simply, “She’s my little child.”

***

How have you been ‘lost and found’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?

Pick up my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

AWCC Around the Web:

Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!

  • Florence Lauderdale Public Library, Sunday, February 24, 2013, 2-3pm
  • Living Spirit Church, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 3, 1:30pm
  • Redeemer Presbyterian, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 10, 10:30am
  • Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, Friday-Saturday, March 14-15

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*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

**L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.

 

On Caregiving and Paradox: Growing Up to Be a Kid Again

“When I grow up, I want to be … a kid again!”

So proclaimed a t-shirt of a friend (and Vassar College housemate) of mine. I remembered it recently because of what I’ve been learning: that being a real grown-up means embracing the part of oneself that is — and always will be — a child.

Over the last two weeks, my husband and I have been on an extended ‘moving tour’. We relocated from DC to Alabama, but instead of settling into our new (old) house right away, we dropped off our furniture and continued on. Moving had its difficult moments: a tire shredded on our U-Haul as we merged onto a highway, we nearly lost vital documents, and we lived out of backpacks and generally felt displaced.

But those difficulties didn’t shape the trip. After coordinating the move, it was a blessing to be ‘kids’ again, with my husband’s parents looking out for us. They drove to DC to help us move, towed our trailer and hauled boxes, gave us good food and comfortable spots to rest. Their presence gave my husband time to gather strength after strenuous months at L’Arche, and it allowed us to transition gradually into our new life.

Caring for people with special needs L’Arche DC was, at least in part, what allowed us to accept their gifts with gratitude. While it’s true that caregiving can lead you to take on too much, it can also open you up to receiving care. Caregiving can allow you to see that, for all your capabilities, you, too, are a person in need. Supporting another person can help you to know your own vulnerability. And perhaps being taken care of by my husband’s parents set me up to offer a little bit of care myself.

***

After our initial move, we spent a week in Montgomery and a week at Lake Martin, arriving at the lake house (pictured above) for our annual family gathering. I’m from suburban New Jersey, where the most we’d do for the 4th of July was pile into the car and watch the county’s fireworks while eating ice cream, so the fact that people here shoot off fireworks themselves came as something of a shock. And their displays get better every year.

But an even better ‘display’ occurred before the fireworks that night. At the lake, I’d tried to be deliberate about being present and cultivating relationships, even as I took time to write and be alone. In particular, I treasured time spent with my cousin, who we’ll call AC*. She’s a third-grade girl, bright and passionate and funny and intense. And on the 4th, AC asked me about my work; what did I do? “I’m a writer,” I said. I get a shiver of delight every time someone asks me that question. And AC’s expression — eyes wide, face alight — was gratifying.

Really?!” she exclaimed. “Wow. I love writing.”

I sat down next to her, and we talked. Or, more accurately, I listened. AC told me about the books she loved, and shared some of her poems as well. Some turns of phrase stood out to me; she definitely had a way with words.

She told me about the praise of her teachers, so I kept my words to a minimum, though I was excited by her talent. I don’t know much about writing, but I do know this: you must write for the love of it. If you do, your work will benefit others, but you cannot write for acclaim alone.

In that way, writing is akin to caregiving; you can’t just give care when you’ll be thanked for it. You have to give when no praise is forthcoming; you have to treat others tenderly even when you may not feel like it. So often, the feeling of love follows, and flows from, the act of loving.

***

Throughout the week, AC made me smile with her transparent enthusiasm. She reminded me a great deal of myself as a young girl, and in her company, I found myself longing to reclaim her unabashed manner. She didn’t hide what she truly loved, or the extent to which she felt her experiences.

Being with AC made me remember the young girl in myself, the one who conducted excavations in her backyard, who always had to be called to supper because she just couldn’t put down a good book, who felt passionately excited about going to summer camp each year.

Too soon, it was time to say goodbye. As I hugged AC, I said, “Keep writing.” It was all I needed to say; if she kept writing, the work itself would teach her what she needed to know. And then AC’s mother thanked me for spending time with her daughter, for listening, for caring. In fact, she said, AC had told her that, when she [AC] grew up, she wanted to be like me.

At once, I was overcome by paradoxical truths …

Receiving care had allowed me to give.

The girl I admired looked up to me.

Being vulnerable had made me strong.

All I could do was say, “Wow … that’s the nicest compliment she could have paid me.”

And inside, I added a prayer: May I live into it.

***

In what way might you be ‘a kid again’ this week?

Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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*Names have been changed.