How long has it been now? Weeks? Months?
Some days it feels like years.
She remembers the day he left, but more than this, she remembers those days and weeks leading up to that day. She remembers the look on their father’s face when her brother asked for the money. She remembers the look on their older brother’s face too. It feels like she said goodbye to both brothers that day – one physically gone and the other swallowed up in self- righteous anger.
In the time he’s been gone; her mind seems to dart back and forth from memories, to the present, to the possibilities of tomorrow. Those memories of her brothers sitting around her father’s table together, laughing and telling stories on each other are just as fresh as the ones of that first night without him. She remembers setting out the dishes and seeing his empty space. A hollowed-out fissure where a brother is supposed to be found. There at her father’s left side, there is a space unfilled, a space prayed over and not forgotten.
Each evening she sees her father sitting at the gate near the edge of the land. He was always looking down the road a ways, longing clearly etched into his loving eyes. She’d ask him, “Father, how much food do I prepare tonight?” And just like every other night he’d say, “Enough for the whole family, child. Prepare enough for us all.”
And so she did. Her father’s deep, abiding hope filled her with the tenacity she needed to keep setting a place at the table. See, the father raised his children to love one other. In this family there is grace – grace for the proud, for the faithless, for the self-righteous and for the wayward. She loves her brothers and their father, so she prays. She prays for the one gone away from her father’s house. She asks he realize anew his identity as a beloved son. She prays for the elder one too. Yes, he’s in the house, but she prays for his heart to be gracious, kind and forgiving, like their father.
While she prays and looks to her father for cues on how to wake up in the morning and hope, how to sit at mid-day meal with an empty space and hope, how to end the evening squinting hopeful eyes into the golden hour and how to rise in hope the next day and do it all again. She sees how her father knows it deep in his inner being; her brother, his son will come home.
So she keeps praying. Part of her wants to find this brother just so she can take him by the shoulders and shake him until his true identity settles back into its place. She wants to go back in time to when they were children and her brother would lift both arms to the sky, reaching out to their father. She could still see him lifting her brother high over his head. She could still hear them laughing.
Other days she questions herself, “Isn’t there something more useful I can do? Waiting and praying for our house to be put back right seems idle. Surely there is something more tangible to do!” Her father hears her worrisome wondering, takes her hands in his, presses the palms together and says, “Do the work of faith for your brothers. Prepare a place at the table.”
Then, one evening just as the sun was going down and casting long rays on the dirt road, there was the faintest sound of a gasp, then a laugh like an exhale. She went to the door and saw her father, doubled over, hands on his knees, tears in those love-weathered eyes of his, looking straight down the road. Before she could reach him, he took off running. She knew this could mean only one thing.
He was coming home!
When this daughter of the house reached the gate and looked down the road, there he was. He wore clothes not his own, he hung his head as he walked and bore an expression she’d yet to witness. The brother she’d once known had changed. His journey away from their father’s house had left its mark on him. What she couldn’t shake was the look on her brother’s face when their father reached him. Even as they were still a long way off, she clearly saw their father wrap his arms around her brother and bring him close for a long, long time. Then her father lifted her brother’s face to his and spoke words of identity, grace and forgiveness just for him.
She could see her brother’s countenance change the nearer he got to home. As he walked with the father, his steps were surer and his eyes clearer. At the house, the father’s instructions were being followed with joy. A long-awaited member of their house had returned! They brought out the best clothes and shoes, and the best ring, the one signifying what belonged to the father. He wanted her brother to wear all of it. She watched this humbling exchange of filthy garments for their father’s best. There it was in her father’s house, a revival. “My son who was dead is now alive!”
Then, her father, still showing her what it means to be faithful in hope, smiled at her knowingly as she set that place at the table for her brother. She saw celebratory grace that night when they pulled out all the stops and had the best party! She felt the weight lift off her shoulders as the reality of her brother’s homecoming sank in. They sang and danced all night long. She couldn’t help but smile through tears watching her brother raise both his arms to the sky, as he danced with their father. Her own thankful tears fell as the sounds of them laughing rang through her father’s house.