I felt the shift inside the cozy coffee shop as she entered. It wasn’t because of other’s reactions to her arrival that I noticed her, but simply because I was like a spiritual weather needle. My meter was now jiggling back and forth in almost earthquake-like anticipation. It was no use. I could no longer focus on the halfway-written article in front of me.
Pain and brokenness had just entered the building.
I glanced up and saw her then—looking bedraggled at the counter with her short brown hair, dirt-tanned skin and mismatched clothing. She was mumbling a request to the barista that I soon realized to be an order for a cup of hot water. Something that was free.
For some reason, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to her shoes. I couldn’t take my eyes off her sockless feet which seemed to contrast starkly with her gigantic skater shoes. Had I not seen her torso, I would have guessed her to be a homeless man.
“Poor baby,” I thought. “Where’s her family?”
The mother within me grieved. What had happened to this lost sheep that she no longer had a flock or a shepherd to watch over her?
I wondered how old the girl was, twenty, twenty-one? It was hard to tell. What, at first glance, appeared as wrinkles soon turned out to be just opportunistic dirt – caked into the natural grooves and contours of her face.
I thought to myself how she should be in college somewhere, enjoying her life and excited about the possibilities of her future – not sleeping under a tree somewhere.
As I continued to ponder her sad circumstances, this lost soul wandered over nearby – as if compelled by the silent yet compassionate projection of my spirit and sat down next to me on a sofa chair. Her feet soon began a semi-rhythmic pitter-patter on the tile floor, a nervous syncopation of possible drug withdrawal or social anxiety. She brought the cup of hot water up to her mouth and paused as her eyes clouded over into a vacant stare. And my heart just broke.
“This was someone’s child,” I thought. This was God’s child. This was a daughter of the King who had somehow lost her way. Maybe just recently. Maybe she’d been lost her whole life. But whatever the timing or origin of the wilderness, she just needed to find her way back home.
“If you had asked me, I would have but given you the water of eternal life…”
I flashed back to Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well. Here was a young woman seeking a drink of water in the midst of a life that certainly had not satisfied.
“I am the Water of Life…”
“He who drinks of Me will never thirst again…”
I kept gazing into her young face, feeling the Father’s heart for His prodigal daughter. Yes, she was marred by earth and pain, but her essence still shined through: Made in the Image of Love. My heartstrings resonated with His love and I began to be consumed by yet another thought: That could have been ME.
It totally could have. In a way it really was, I’d just processed my brokenness differently. I’d chosen less disastrous addictions. The after effects of my life’s earliest traumas were just not as obvious to the outside world. Appearances are so deceptive. I kept feeling like if the life dice had been tossed differently. If I’d had a few less assets and made a few different choices, that definitely could be me: dirty, sockless, and sitting homeless and cold on a coffee-shop chair for a brief reprieve from life’s cruelty.
What if? What if I hadn’t made it through the jello maze of high-school depression and somehow ended up in college? The application essays themselves almost took me out. What if I hadn’t found a church during college that gave me hope? What if I hadn’t discovered friends who loved and inspired me to push through? The dice could have landed so differently.
I knew I was one of God’s prodigals. Who wasn’t?
And as we sat there on those coffee shop couches together, I began a brief conversation with this precious, wandering soul. Two prodigals discussing life. I asked her about her journey. We talked about God. She had a few moments of clarity where she shared life details, but then she rambled off into an incoherent jibber-jabber, whether out of post-drug effects or accompanying spiritual dynamics, I couldn’t tell. I wished I could do more to help her. I knew I wasn’t the answer to her life’s problems. I knew there would be others that God would place along her path to love on her and point the way back home. I just tried to do my best to love on this little lost sheep while I was there. I bought her a sandwich. My small part included showing her some kindness and conveying through my actions that she mattered.
That could have been me.
In a world full of prodigals, each one of us is on a journey to find our way home. Some of us are messier and stay in the pig pit longer than others. Many of us just don’t know that we have a loving Father awaiting us with open arms around the bend. But all of us deserve a chance to come back home.
From one prodigal to another,
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”