Maisie is our wild child. At just shy of 17 months she has already made it clear. She is the daredevil climber, the jumper, the explorer, and the one who demands what she wants and won’t stop until she gets it. This little girl could scream for an hour, while pointing at the proper location of the item she desires, without even blinking an eye . . . real tears and red faced-rage. She is one strong-willed little girl, and we love her (although I am pretty sure she is responsible for most of the grey, um I mean blond, hairs on my head).
Adeline can be a tough cookie and she is a strong personality, and don’t get me wrong she can be brave – but she usually takes her time getting there. Her method involves using caution to try new things, mastering them first, and in this manner she bravely, but carefully conquers fears and attempts new things.
Not Maisie, she just dives right in without a thought or plan, or care about the consequence. Our cute little Dominican beauty has redefined “strong-willed” for this Mama and Popi.
If we are at the park Maisie wants to climb up the slide, dive head first into the mulch, stand on the seesaw, and fly high on the swing. And no one is gonna stop her! She is our explorer and no doubt one day her boldness at the park will transfer into other areas of her life. This is the part that puts the fear of God in me, and the daily reminder to trust Him because she is his daughter first.
Maisie knows what she wants and goes after it. She doesn’t take no for an answer and once her mind is made up, well it is made up! And she is quick to make up that little mind of hers. She makes a decision and goes for it.
Decision made. And usually this means, NO TURNING BACK!
It was much like this for me when I made the choice to “leave home” and walk away from the Father. Without a lot of thought (and definitely no prayer) I chose the college party lifestyle and moved comfortably into a posture of self-reliance and self-searching, a position I would maintain for awhile, a place where I would stay for quite some time.
I left Messiah and went to JMU for the spring semester of ’99. Decision made.
I cut contact with many friends, fellow believers who might try to sway me back to my “old” life. Decision made.
I put aside my faith and headed out for a more normal life. Decision made.
I slapped on a new identity, Party Girl. Decision made.
The Prodigal son moved quickly, didn’t he? He made his decision and that was that. His father gave him his inheritance and he took it and left town. In Scripture the story says this, immediately after his father gave him his inheritance:
““Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”
He decided. He went. He spent. He needed.
It happened quick. Maybe. We don’t know for sure, the time line that is. I can tell my story in a matter of minutes (the short version at least). But I spent 8 years “squandering my wealth in wild living”.
I took my inheritance and ran with it. The “inheritance” that God had given me. If we see God as represented by the father in the story, we know that the Father gives the son something he didn’t earn or deserve, something he felt entitled to but had no real business possessing. I would say this is also true for me. My inheritance being the grace God gave me, undeserved by me, his forgiveness, his love, the promise of eternal life and a relationship with Jesus, my identity in him – all part of my inheritance. It is as if I packed it all up, put it in a suitcase, took it with me, and squandered it for 8 years.
I pretended I didn’t owe God a thing, that what he gave me had no real value (it didn’t really matter), and even worse that I didn’t need it . . . or really, that I didn’t need Him.
I could handle things on my own for awhile. After all, I couldn’t sow my wild oats by staying at home with the Father.
Just like the son I took 3 simple, but life-altering, steps:
1. got together all I had
2. set off for a distant country
3. squandered my wealth in wild living
First thing I did was get together all I had: who I was in Christ, my identity as the Father’s daughter, the truth about his love and grace, my faith, my relationship with Jesus, and even the trust of people in my life. I checked them all off the “packing list” and headed out. They became disposable when I left town with them in a suitcase.
Second, I set off for a distant country: JMU (from Messiah to JMU). But not just there because after college my life continued the same as I moved back to NJ and taught and coached down the shore. After all, the distant country is not an actual place in our story, although it can be represented by one, or by many. But really it is anywhere we go as an attempt to get away from the plans God has for us, to flee his presence, his love. The distant country for me was choosing to live outside of the will of God. The distance was spiritual, not just physical.
Third, I squandered my wealth in wild living. I wasn’t that different from most college kids, I was your average 18-year old, until I took it too far. Partying and the wild life became my identity, I slapped a brand new self-made identity on and began living right into it, in plain sight for everyone to see. I was more than happy to be the party girl as I searched for meaning, acceptance, and affirmation (mostly unknowingly).
Casual drinking turned to insane amounts of alcohol, black-outs, drinking games, and excess galore. Alcohol lead to pot, that opened the door to coke, that exposed ecstacy, that lead me to meet more people just like me. Partying. Having fun. Searching and seeking for an identity, happy to give ourselves one that would make us a thrill to be around. Eager to fill a void and willing to use anything that felt good to do it.
I was so comfortable in this life that I kept on going, teaching Monday-Friday and partying all weekend. Varsity Field Hockey Coach, “coach of the year”, all while abusing alcohol and drugs on the weekends. Putting my life in danger, and those around me, seemed like nothing – it was part of any normal weekend. And my colleagues and peers had no idea who I was outside of school. When would it end? What was the point? Maybe it was normal at 19, but now at 26?
I take no pride in this, but until recently great shame. It has taken me a long time to give that shame to God and then decide to tell my story publicly. I never wanted to glorify my time “away”, or send a message that it is okay to go crazy and wild because you can always come home. To say it like that would be oversimplifying the story and twisting the truth to justify poor choices for 8 years of my life. Although God always welcomes us home, and it is His greatest desire for the lost, coming home and recovering from my time away has not been easy. There are lasting effects from my “wild living” that I still deal with today. It took me a long time to see that God embraced and welcomed me home with joy. It was difficult to accept his grace for me personally, to receive his forgiveness, and to admit that he spared me: from death, from addiction, or even worse from harming or killing someone with my reckless lifestyle and poor choices. I squandered friendships, family relationships, finances, but most importantly I shattered myself. My party girl identity was not working out all that well. I wasn’t as “happy” as I thought I would be. I was empty, depressed, alone – in need of something I couldn’t even name, or begin to understand.
I started to see that my plan left me with much need, little hope, and even less joy. But the good news centers around the fact that this is not the end of the story. As a matter fact, it is not even close. It is where the story shifts from being about the son, to being about the father . . . from being about me, to being about Him. Because leaving home tends to be the quick and easy part of the story.
But the coming home, well this is where things get good.