For Tierney, whose zest for God inspires me.
"Why should I forgive her? What has she ever done except disrupt this family and cause us pain?"
The teenager hurled the words into the stony silence of her empty bedroom. She was furious with her younger sister for disrupting the family again. This time, her sister had stolen money for drugs, then had run away. Her parents had been frantic for weeks, but now that she was back, everyone was fawning over her like she was some conquering hero returning from battle.
"I’ve been here all along and they certainly don’t fawn over me," the older sister thought to herself as she skulked up the stairs. "They barely notice me."
She tried to say this to her parents, but her mother just told her to read the story of the Prodigal Son.
She hated that story. It always seemed that the older brother got a bad deal. In the story, the younger brother had greedily demanded his inheritance while the father was still alive, then squandered it on foolishness. Starving, the son returned home in shame to beg the father’s forgiveness. Instead of punishing him, however, the father threw a big party. To make it worse, when the older brother complained that he didn’t get enough attention, nobody seemed to care. No one even seemed to notice.
That’s why she hated the story. It reminded her of her own life.
I wish I could say that the older sister found peace as the years went on, but she didn’t. It wasn’t until she was an adult and had a prodigal of her own that she finally grasped it. I know this for sure, because I am that older sister.
The funny thing is that my special prodigal is not even a real person. She’s a tattered, stuffed bunny named Susannah.
Susannah began life in the crib of our infant daughter, Tierney. At the beginning, Susannah was clean and soft and well-behaved, sitting quietly as Tierney’s chubby fists squashed her velvety fur. But like many of us, Susannah gradually became gray and balding, and her stuffing bunched around the middle.
How Tierney loved her.
For the next eight years, Tierney and Susannah were inseparable. Susannah was so well known around town that people greeted her by name as if she was as real as the child who carried her. When I used a baby carrier to cradle our new baby against my chest, Tierney tied a bandana around her belly so she could carry Susannah. During outings to the beach, Susannah sat on the towel to guard Tierney’s pail and shovel from crabs and fishies. It was a sweet and powerful love.
Unfortunately, Susannah developed the bad habit of wandering off when Tierney wasn’t looking. Once, it was at the grocery store. Another time, Susannah ran away at the airport, and then it was the sandbox at school. We always managed to find her until that terrible day when Tierney was 8. That’s when Susannah got lost for real.
We searched every closet and every cubby. We scoured the garage and turned the house upside down, but we could not find her. Poor Tierney was heartbroken. Susannah was on Tierney’s mind every night as she fell asleep with empty arms, and every morning as she drowsily reached for her tattered friend before remembering that Susannah wasn’t there. For months on end, Tierney never stopped looking and she never stopped grieving.
Then came the scream of delight when Susannah was discovered in an unused trash bin. Tierney was almost incoherent with joy as she clutched her beloved bunny and sobbed. Oblivious to the world, they danced around like lovers, spinning and laughing and kissing and weeping.
And as I watched, I could picture the father running to meet his wayward son, sobbing with joy.
It humbled me, and reminded me again why God came among us. Yes, it was for dutiful older siblings, but also for wandering prodigals who sometimes lose their way.
And until they come home, God never stops looking and he never stops grieving. And he never gives up.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury.