The years went by and the boys grew as all children tend to do. This young family had its share of bumps and bruises along the way, but it was always held together by the intense love that filled their home.
The day finally came when both boys went off to college. Billy, the eldest now know as William, went to a state school and Ryan to a private institution. Everything seemed to be fine for the boys until their junior and sophomore years respectively. It was that year that the boys both faced some big decisions and huge challenges. Some decisions were made with wisdom and maturity and others were made without much thought at all. Now not all decisions made on impulse are bad. However, for Billy and Ryan, these decisions led them down a path few thought they would ever follow.
By Christmas, their parents began to see a huge difference in both of the boys. They seemed distant. They seemed uneasy with each other and uncomfortable in the presence of their loving parents. Mom and dad both knew that there was something wrong. Something desperately wrong. This was much different than changes that come through growing older. No, this was big. This was troubling. This was scary.
Throughout the next several months the distance between the two boys and their parents continued to grow. In spite of the constant efforts to shower their boys with love and acceptance, they sensed the chasm getting even wider. Before long, almost all contact was lost between William, Ryan and their parents.
Six months later while sitting in his apartment, William wept. He realized the mess he had made out of his life. He realized for the first time how much he missed his family. He hadn't heard from his baby brother for nearly eight months and hadn't contacted his parents for nearly four. Sure they had called and written, but nothing was exchanged except for a few pleasantries and the obligatory, "Your mother and I love you Billy. We always will. We want you to know that. Nothing can ever change that son. We love you." As William sat on his bed crying eleven months of tears, guilt overwhelmed him. Shoulders convulsing under the anguish of his soul and the weight of his behavior, he finally understood. He understood that these words were anything but obligatory. He realized how much he needed those words. He realized how much he needed that love. He realized how much he needed their acceptance. Billy got up, grabbed his jacket and headed for home.
At the same moment near a bus stop in a town with no name, Ryan sat alone in the rain. His only company were the haunting shadows of bad decisions. His only baggage were the backpack strapped to his shoulders and the shame carried in his heart. It was this shame that kept him on the road. It was this shame that drove him away from the love and acceptance of his family. He couldn't even face himself in the mirror, how could he ever face his family? He had let them down so terribly. He thought, mouthing the words as they fell from his tired mind, "They probably wouldn't want me back anyway." Just then the bus arrived. Ryan got up, grabbed his jacket and got on board uncertain of his destination.
It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and there was a knock at the door at 4222 N. Brainard Street. Beth got up to answer the door, and Dan continued to sort the papers strewn about the dining room table. The squeal from the landing sent Dan running to his wife's side. There before them stood William. It was the first time he had been home since Christmas. He began his long, rehearsed confession and apology only to be interrupted by the loving embrace of his parents. His mother wept and his father whispered, "Your mother and I love you Billy. We always will. We want you to know that. Nothing can ever change that son. We love you." They stood in the doorway weeping together for what seemed to be an eternity.
Finally, they walked back into the house. Billy paused to pick up a paper his father must have dropped on his way to the door. He turned it over and stopped in his tracks when he read, "We love you Ryan. Please come home. Love, Mom and Dad." He looked into the dining room and saw a table full of fliers identical to the one he now held in his hand. His mother explained, "We haven't talked to Ryan for six months. We don't know where he is. Your father and I take these fliers wherever we go in hopes that Ryan might see them and decide to come home."
The bus doors open, and a road weary Ryan steps off the bus. He stretches and takes a quick look around the city. He doesn't even notice the well-worn sign near the bus stop that reads, "We love you Ryan. Please come home. Love, Mom and Dad."
Guilt may drive you to return home; shame may drive you to run and hide. The love of God never changes.
by Brian Shivers
by Brian Shivers