One of my most treasured possessions is a book by the Scottish writer Ian Maclaren titled Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush. It was given to me by Ruth Graham, the late wife of Dr. Billy Graham.
There are several stories in the book but my favorite story begins in a small Scottish town. It’s the story of a father and his daughter. Lachlan was a stern judgmental man who made life miserable for everyone around him, especially his own only daughter Flora. What made it ever sadder is that he did it in the name of God.
One night he announced that he wanted to bring a matter before the church council. He told them a young woman had left home and gone to live in London. Lachlan asked for her name to be removed from the church roll. When they asked for her name he told them it was Flora, his own daughter.
The young minister took Lachlan into his study and asked him what had happened. He told him that Flora had left a note for her father telling him how much she missed her dead mother and that it was clear to her that she was a disappointment to her father. She wrote that she would never see him or her mother again in this world or the next. Her letter was smudged with tears. The minister refused to take her name off the church roll.
But Lachlan said, “I have blotted her name from my Bible.”
Meanwhile in London, Flora desperate and lonely heard singing coming from open church doors as she walked by. She felt compelled to go in. She sat in the very back pew and listened as the congregation sang,
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The sermon that night was on the Prodigal Son. The preacher kept repeating one line over and over – “You are missed – you are missed.”
In her miserable loneliness, Flora decided to head home.
She had no idea what her reception would be. I think that’s the fear of every prodigal – of all of us. What if we head home and we are rejected?
But Flora took the next step and got on the train to head north to her home in Scotland. It was dark when the train stopped at her station and Flora got off and began the long walk to her father’s house.
As she climbed the final hill and caught the first glimpse of home she saw a light on in the window.
God had been doing a work in her father’s heart too. The same night Flora had been drawn into the church in London, a woman had confronted Lachlan and told him that his shame was far greater than his daughters. After all, “Woe to us if our Father had blotted our names from the Book of Life!” she said.
God pierced the old man’s heart and he left a light on in the window every night after that praying that his daughter would come home. The dog was the first to hear her footsteps approach the house and ran to the door. As Flora made it up the last few steps to her house her father wrapped his arms around her, her neck and kissed her. Later that night he showed her what he had written in the family Bible.
“Can you ever forgive me, Flora?” he asked
Flora asked for a pen and she wrote this inside that Bible,
Missed April 1873
Found, September 1873
“Her father fell on her neck and kissed her.”
The selfish brother, the self-righteous brother, Flora and her father, and every one of us, we can all be sure of the Father’s invitation.
Come home. Come home. Always waiting for us is the Father who runs to every lost child with love and mercy and says welcome home! Our God is waiting…for you and for me.