On Valentine's Day our daughter, Wendi, then 18, was dressed in a cute white skirt and peach blouse, her long, light-brown hair painstakingly curled.
"Mom and Dad, I'm going to Tracy's house for a Valentine's party," she explained. "We're going to hang out there with some friends, have wings and pizza, and watch TV. I'll stay overnight with her and be home after work tomorrow night."
She kept her promise. My husband, Dan, and I were in bed reading when she returned, bounding into our room. All smiles, she said she had something to tell us in the morning. With an upbeat, "good night," she was off to her room.
"What was that all about?" Dan wondered aloud.
"I don't know, but it can't be all that bad, can it? She was smiling. In fact she was grinning from ear to ear. If it was bad news, we'd know by her demeanor, wouldn't we?"
"Well," Dan mused, "I guess we'll know in the morning."
We both got up early, our curiosity pulling us up ahead of our usual schedule. Wendi sauntered to the breakfast table cheery-faced and sparkling as she tossed an official-looking piece of paper on the table.
I can't remember the exact words — who said what first — but I remember her blissful, proud look when she informed us that yesterday she had not gone to a party with friends. Yesterday she had eloped with a "nice guy" named Jeff. She was married.
We had never met Jeff. In fact, we hadn't even realized Wendi was seeing one particular guy. We didn't even know our own daughter's new last name!
Wendi, our much loved second-born, entered this world and continued her journey with unbridled exuberance — a desire to experience life at full throttle — and a lust for living on the edge.
Advice? Didn't need it.
Consequences? She gave them no thought.
Hurting others? She felt bad about that, really, she did. Even in the later years when her downward spiral affected the frightened hearts of her two precious children. Our grandchildren!
For several years, Wendi turned her back on the Lord: parties, alcohol, drugs, broken relationships and marriages. Headstrong and heart-weak, she bolted through life with her eyes shut, slamming into dangers, near disasters and heartbreak. When commitments became difficult, she bailed.
Happiness? She never found it.
Until one day in her early 30s, depleted and hitting bottom, she glimpsed God's magnificent, pursuing love. Our wayward daughter — finally broken — bowed at the foot of the Cross, confessed her sins and asked the Savior for forgiveness.
God did the rest.
Today the sweet aroma of God's presence in Wendi's life replaces the stale scent of drugs and alcohol. Her once hardened face now radiates a winning smile and tenderness toward others.
Happiness? She exudes it!
And as her parents, we weep with joy.
But what follows a prodigal's return to God? Now that Wendi has returned home, are her problems over? Will she always exercise wisdom, strength and discernment in making good decisions and righteous judgments?
No, she'll stumble, as we all do. Adversity ever lurks in the wings of life. Wendi's body bears significant illnesses from her past wild living, and her children battle lasting emotional scars.
The difference today is that Wendi does not run from her problems. Humbly, she seeks God's guidance through prayer, His Word and her church family. She is growing in the Lord, and an overriding peace surrounds her soul.
Our prodigal came home. Yet so many others are still running and searching.
Do you have a prodigal whom you love deeply? Take heart! Our God also loves your prodigal; He hears and answers our fervent prayers. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).