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We live on the back side of the family farm, and our three dogs have a lot of room to roam. It’s a pretty good life for a dog! They will occasionally go visit the neighborhood next to us, and we’re not terribly far from a busy road, so we try not to let them get out of sight for long. Not to mention the fact that we have coyotes in these here parts.

The other night, my husband, Todd let them out before bed, and our miniature schnauzer, Shotsie, didn’t come back. Usually I can call her and she’ll come running. She has gone traipsing about during the day before, chasing squirrels, eating deer poop and getting muddy in the pond, but never at night. As time went on, I grew more and more concerned.

We drove to the neighbors’ houses and all over the farm. No sign of her. Eventually I went to bed and dozed off an on for an hour or two. Before long, I was back out looking, praying hard that God would help me find her. I hope I didn’t disturb anyone’s sleep — any good country girl can whistle like Ellie May Clampett, and Lord knows I’m a country girl.

Finally, about 4:30 am, I saw her walking by the pasture. Relief flooded my soul! I called her, and for the first time in her life, she ran from me in fear. She knew she’d done wrong, she was ashamed and she feared punishment.

But I didn’t want to punish her! She’d been gone so many hours that all I felt was gratitude that she was safe!

I had no way to convince her of that, though — no way to communicate that she had nothing to fear, and she ran away again. When I finally got her to come to me, she crawled across the driveway with her tail between her legs, her whole body shaking. I bent down, scooped her up, and hugged her close, telling her how much I love her and I never want to be without her again! It didn’t matter one bit to me that she was wet and had hay sticking out everywhere. My little Shotsie was home!

You can’t tell me dogs don’t have emotions. She hid under the bed and under the quilt rack in shame for the whole next day.

18402348_10156073585324409_8124132505999107313_oWhat a stupid dog, right? Why in the world would she want to be out in a hay field all night, scared to death, cold and wet with nothing to eat, in danger of coyotes, when she could have been home in a warm bed, snuggled up to her mom who loves her? She probably thought chasing a field mouse sounded good many hours ago, but it hadn’t turned out the way she had thought it would. Before long she realized she’d messed up, but she couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Eventually she decided it was better to face possible punishment than to live in those conditions any longer.

She didn’t know I wasn’t angry. I just wanted my lost girl back home where she belonged. 

We can be as stupid as a dog sometimes, you know. Shotsie’s night out on the farm (that probably took a few years off my life) reminds me of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. The son thought surely there was something more exciting than living with his boring dad. Deciding that family life wasn’t for him, he demanded his inheritance, and off he went, living it up until he’d wasted every last dime. Scared and alone, cold, dirty, hungry, and tired of wallerin’ in the mud with pigs, he finally came to his senses, hoping that maybe, just maybe, his daddy would take him back. He no longer felt good enough to be his son. He was ashamed of what he’d done and just wanted to go home again.

Little did he know that his daddy had never stopped looking for him, never stopped loving him, never stopped hoping he’d come back safe and sound.

When the son finally crawled back home, his father was standing at the window — proof that he hadn’t given up hope that one day he’d see his precious son come down the driveway again. He didn’t shame his son, didn’t berate or belittle him. No punishment awaited him as he’d feared. The conditions the son had been living in, the consequences of his own choices, were punishment enough.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

He didn’t know his daddy wasn’t angry. The father just wanted his lost boy back home where he belonged. 

Maybe you’re the lost son, or the lost dog. Maybe you left your Father who loves you so many years ago you can’t even remember why now. Maybe there once was that spark in your soul, but somewhere along the way you lost it. Maybe you think you’ve strayed too far, and the shine, excitement and allure of whatever you were chasing has worn off. Maybe you think He’s mad at you, and He’s going to punish you. Maybe you look at your life and think you’ve made a mess of it, and you’re afraid your Father won’t take you back . . .

He will. Believe me, He will.

He’s standing there, right where He was when you went your own way, holding the curtain back, staring off in the distance, waiting for His beloved child to return.

He’s not angry. He just wants you to come home where you belong. 

The best robe, a ring, new shoes and the fatted calf await you. Come on out of the hay field with the field mice and coyotes. This is where you belong . . . you’ve been wallerin’ with the pigs long enough . . . There’s a party on hold that He won’t start without you.