It’s time for chapter 10 of my youth mystery novel, What Was Lost. If you are wondering why I am suddenly writing youth fiction, please read the explanation by clicking here.
Chapter 10 – The Prodigal Son
Milton barely slept that night. He had sent more texts and still hadn’t heard back from Hannah. He would have called her parents, only he knew the school must have already talked with them if Hannah had been excused. As the sun began to peek through his dark blue window curtains, he replayed the events of the past week over in his mind. Exhausted, he sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the bed, glancing at his nightstand to see what time it was. 5:30 am. He pushed his alarm clock away in disgust, and it fell off his nightstand then rolled under his bed. This only served to frustrate Milton more. He knelt down to reach for his clock, but instead of the clock, he felt something familiar—it was his Bible. Pulling it out, he looked at his name on inside of the front cover. It had been a long time since he had actually bothered reading it. Now, on his knees, he read the note his parents had written to him on his 13th birthday.
We hope you will always treasure this book. It has been a constant guide to us in difficult places, when we felt like we lost our way. We pray God will use it to light your path.
Mom & Dad
Milton mindlessly thumbed through the pages then let the book fall open in his hands. It was Psalm 78. His eyes drifted to verse 5, the same one his youth pastor had talked about on Sunday.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Milton’s heart was cut to the quick. He knew he was like that “stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Sure, a lot of people would call him a “good kid,” but he knew how to get by. His Bible was under his bed, covered in dust, because he never read it. Maybe he didn’t normally fall asleep during Sunday school, but he usually was more interested in getting a good laugh out of Hudson. He rarely prayed.
He felt his Bible and realized the pages were wet. It took him a moment to realize what was happening. He was crying. Still on his knees, with quiet tears and a clinched jaw, Milton sobbed softly. They were not tears of self-pity, but tears of brokenness.
Sniffing, Milton wiped his cheeks and began to pray, “Oh God, you know me. You know I don’t love you like I ought to. You’ve done so much for me. I’m so sorry. I’ve messed up big this time.”
He looked up at the ceiling, whispering fiercely, “And I feel so lost. I don’t know what to do. Can you help me? Can you help Hannah? Help her to be OK. In Jesus name, amen.”
He added the last sentence because that’s the way he had always heard other people end their prayers before. But now, he really hoped Jesus was listening. He lay his open Bible on the bed and turned around to look out the window, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Before he could answer, it swung open.
“Dad?” said Milton, surprised.
“Hey Milton, put on some old shoes and come downstairs with me; I need your help,” his dad said in a serious tone.
“Is everything OK?” asked Milton, hoping it didn’t involve Hannah.
“Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘OK,’” his dad replied, still serious. “The sewer pipe backed up in the basement. Now come on.”
Milton was secretly relieved, but he could tell his dad was very concerned. He quickly changed into some work clothes, put on a pair of old shoes, and silently followed his dad down to the basement.
A pungent odor overpowered Milton as his dad opened the basement door.
“Ugh, disgusting!” Milton grunted, covering his nose with his shirt.
“Here, you’ll need this,” his dad replied, handing him a ventilated disposable mask. “Thank goodness I had some left over from my last woodworking project,” his dad said as he headed down the stairs, sliding his own mask over his face.
Milton could hear the carpet squish as they stepped off the last step into the basement—the entire floor was soaked.
“Is this all sewer water?” asked Milton, with eyes wide, his voice muffled by the mask.
Ignoring the question, his dad turned around and explained, “We could pay one of those emergency companies to come in here and clean everything up, but they charge an arm and a leg. They know how to milk the insurance for all its worth. We can save some money by tearing up the carpet ourselves and pushing it out through the window well.” He pointed over to a large window, then continued, “And when the carpet is up, we’ll also need to bleach mop the cement, twice.”
“Well, at least we get the insurance money. Maybe we could put in a home theater or something cool,” said Milton.
Milton’s dad stared hard at him. Even with the mask on, Milton recognized a familiar look in his dad’s eyes, the one that told him now was a good time to be quiet.
His dad’s eyes softened a little; he sighed heavily and put his arm on Milton’s shoulder, then said, “Son, this isn’t a payday. This is a loss. Anytime something like this happens, it’s always a loss. We lose time fixing the problem. We have a $1,000 deductible, so we lose that money. Insurance rates go up. And who knows where the problem is—most likely they’ll have to dig up the yard, and that sewer line is 12 feet underground. I always wondered if we should have gotten a house with a bathroom in the basement.”
Milton’s dad looked back at the carpet and stared at it, deep in thought. He continued, “It’s the same with anything in life, son. Once you lose something, it can be hard to get it back. And it always comes at a cost. Think about a story you’ve known since you were a kid. Adam and Eve lost their relationship with God, and they were totally helpless in their sin. God promised to send a Savior, his only Son—but at the cost of his Son’s life. And ever since then, God has been pursuing lost sheep that his Son died for. He’s always standing at the door of his house, looking, ready to receive the prodigal son who has wandered away.”
For a second, Milton thought he might have seen the glimmer of a tear in his dad’s eye.
“BUT, back to the problem at hand,” his dad said, after a long pause. “Let’s get to work.”
And it was grueling work. All the carpet had to come up, but since it was dripping wet, it weighed even heavier than normal. Milton’s clothes smelled of foul sewage, his back was sore, and his sinuses burned. The sewer company arrived by lunch time and sent a snake-like camera down a pipe in their front yard. Tree roots had invaded their already disintegrated line. The repair would cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the cost to renovate the basement. Until they could fix the line, they had to be extremely careful to flush extra water and use toilet paper sparingly. The whole mess was downright disgusting.
Late that afternoon, after Milton had taken a shower and cleaned up, he returned to his room to see his Bible, still open to Psalm 78, laying on the bed. Everything in him wanted to slam it shut and shove it back under his bed. What good had God done him? Hannah was still missing, and now the sewer line at his house had broken. It was like adding insult to injury. Was God playing with him? Was it some kind of cruel joke?
But then he remembered the look of compassion in his dad’s eyes that morning in the basement. His dad’s words echoed in his mind, “And ever since then, God has been pursuing lost sheep that his Son died for. He’s always standing at the door of his house, looking, ready to receive the prodigal son who has wandered away.” Milton sighed, picked up his Bible, and read verse 7 again.
That they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
Milton looked out the window and, for the first time in his life (besides meals), prayed for the second time in one day.
“God, I don’t get this. I really don’t get this. But I want to set my hope in you. I don’t want to forget all the mighty works you’ve done, like sending Jesus to die for me on the cross. I know you have done great works. Can you please do your mighty works again? I have no other hope. Help me. In Jesus name, Amen.”
The prodigal son was coming home.