"Coming Home" by Olivia Cleary
The prodigal son is a parable all about a father’s love for his son and his excitement that he was once lost and is now found again. This story in modern day terms translates as follows: One son goes off to college while the other son stays at home to take care of his father and their family business. The son that went away took all of his money and proceeded to max out his credit cards. He got a job that paid minimum wage and there wasn’t much food that he could afford. He decided to venture back home in hopes of gaining forgiveness. On the son’s return his father cleaned him up and gave him nice new clothes, some new shoes, an expensive looking ring, and a feast of all the most expensive foods. The other son was jealous of the attention that his brother was getting, just as any sibling might. He asked his father why the son that spent all of his money and made too many mistakes to count got such an extravagant return. His father simply explained that, no matter what, a father’s love for his children will prevail over all else. This is what Jesus was trying to explain to us by using this parable and this is how I have come to know God’s love for me: everlasting no matter what I do to mess things up.
I was baptized by Haywood Holderness here when I was two years old. It was then that I was introduced to a new type of family, a village if you will, to help raise me. Although my parents did the majority of raising me, it was the church that taught me about having a relationship with God. Through this connection to God I was given the opportunity to ask questions about my faith without being judged for having different opinions. Here and at home I discovered what it meant to be loved by others, by siblings, parents, friends, and by church community. This love is what began the development of my understanding of God’s love for us. When I go off to college I will hold the love of God and the love of both of my families close to my heart. This will keep me from forgetting that God has my name written on the palm of his hand and written on the hearts of all of those that love me.
When I was in seventh grade my grandfather on my mother’s side passed away from cancer. Before this happened my family and I came to church almost every Sunday and were very involved in church. We went to Kentucky for my grandfather’s funeral and when we came back, for some reason, we stopped going to church. At first I was fine with it and it wasn’t a big deal, but after a few months I was missing my church friends and family. I decided to ask my parents if we could go back to church and they were a little surprised at my request but agreed to it and the next Sunday we came back. We were unsure of what to expect from the other members, but we were welcomed back with open arms. It was like we had never left. My parents’ good friends acted like we had never left and my youth group friends told me how happy they were that we decided to come back. It felt nice to know that we were missed and that people were happy to see us again. The reaction to our return reinforced the fact that the church community is a family that loves all of its members.
As Presbyterians we are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. This means that we have to give those that make mistakes second chances, love, and support. I’m just guessing when I say this, but I think that most of us know what it’s like to need a second chance at something that we messed up the first time whether it’s a friendship, relationship, job, or an important decision. In God’s eyes, straying from the path is not bad as long as you return home eventually much like the prodigal son returned to his father. As long as you have the right people surrounding you, making mistakes can only help you grow. This loving environment that I have experienced since I was little has allowed me to make mistakes, ask questions, and help me grow. The church, my family, and youth group are the reason I have grown to be the person who I am today. This is why I am not worried about making a transition into a new college lifestyle. I am well aware that I will most likely make some mistake or another, but I also know that I have somewhere to come back to with people that know what I am going through. The family of the prodigal son is much like my personal family and my church family combined, in that, no matter what I do they will always take me in with all the love and grace that I know they posses.
By Samantha Burch
Brethren. A word spoken in Psalm 133. A word referring not only to one’s relatives, but also to a group of people who share a unique commonality. A group such as our church’s congregation. Psalm 133 says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" And yes, how good it really is. The word "unity" is defined as "to remain, and to linger", or "to live in a place". I connect this further, believing that unity, itself, strengthens and binds us all together. It is what allows for our fellowship with each other to continue to grow. In John 17:23 it says, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." The idea of a united brethren has resonated with me and my time and involvement here at Westminster, More specifically, I have witnessed this sense of unity within our wonderful youth group.
From our mission trips to Charleston, to Atlanta, to Sabancuy, Mexico, to helping the community right here in the Triangle, I have learned a lot about myself, my peers, my family, and our gracious God. Unity is what made those trips, events, and devotion times so full of meaning and enlightening. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a group of individuals who always strive to display kindness, who show a true desire to better understand God’s words and plans for each of us, and to do so together. Asking questions. Sharing ideas. Listening to others. Serving. Loving. Worshipping. This, I have learned, is unity.
Psalm 133 also says, "It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard." The anointing of the oil mentioned, here, stands for unity’s value, its significance. The fact that it is what helps us to better connect with God. Through unifying with the people of my church and even my family, I am able to do just so. In the roughest of patches, or in moments of brilliance, these bonds help shape me. Unity is also compared to the dew that fell upon the mountains of Zion. The passage, too, said, "…for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." The dew, representing unity, is a sign of nourishment, which allows for prosperity and strength. It points out to me, to you, that unity between our friends, family, and God can and will become greater. It will last. These connections I have made are to be built upon and treasured. As I begin a new chapter of my life, setting off from home, facing new challenges, and new triumphs, I must remember what the Lord calls us to do. And that is to live in harmony and unity, evermore. Thanks be to God.