I am doing some temporary work on the SC coast. As it happened, this weekend was the birthday of our daughter, who turned 15 years. Since her celebration fell on a weekend, my wife brought our little girl and her siblings (and a dear friend) to the beach for the weekend.

Since I was there before the clan and found our rental house, it was also my task to stock it. Friday afternoon the family was on the move and I left the ER about 7 pm. Jan had sent me a list of assorted snacks and drinks to buy. So, giddy with the knowledge that my favorite people were headed towards me, I went off to Kroger.

I filled my buggy with chips and Goldfish crackers, with gum, Oreo Cookies, Mounds Bars, Kit-Kats and Hershey Milk Chocolate. I loaded up on Lay’s Potato Chips…Salt and Vinegar, Jalapeno, Barbecue and Wavy. There were water bottles, Coke Zero, Diet Coke and Sprite Zero. And for my lovely wife, a swimming pool of an un-sweet tea from Popeye’s, along with a dozen or so pieces of fried chicken for the late arrival dinner the kids would certainly want. It was exactly the sort of feast that makes a vacation, however short, a vacation. And the best part was that as I shopped, I knew the desires and preferences of each of my loved ones. I was preparing the house for them specifically.

As I returned from the store, the resort community where we are staying was serene, with a cool wind in the pines and palmettos, and humid that air smelled like impending rain. A few cars drove the narrow streets and the waterways under the bridges were still. The guard at the gate was relaxed. No chaos or danger lurked. And on entering the dark house I had left at 6:30 am, I hit the switches and light filled the house, as I turned up the heat to take off the night chill. The heat and light like some foretaste of the love and youth that were only a couple of hours away.

I set about putting groceries away and then arranged the snacks and goodies on the counter for easy access as soon as everyone arrived. And on my daughter’s pillow, a small bouquet of Daisies, a flower she loves.

When they were close I met the family just before the gate to give them a parking pass and escort them to the right driveway. We then parked, unloaded and I went about hugging and kissing. I must have embraced everyone three, four or five times; certainly six or ten for my bride! I directed them to food and I positively danced and skipped around the house, sliding on the hardwood floor in my socks, so happy I was to see them. We laughed and told jokes, we smiled and teased until we could barely keep our eyes open, then it was off to bed.

The next day was more of the same, with lunch and dinner out for the birthday girl, a walk on the cold, cloudy, beautiful beach in between, and games around the table in the evening. Today, as I write, they are all on their way back home, while I have some more shifts to work. The house is empty except for me, although if I am still I can hear echoes of their laughter, their jokes, their wisdom. Their love for one another still hangs in the air of the kitchen and dining room. I can sense the warmth my wife provides to my heart, which still lingers. And I smile at the absolute wonder of our children who are temporarily absent in body, but present in every other way to this passionate father.

Even as I was getting ready for their arrival, I knew this entire event was a message. It was somewhere between epiphany and Theophany. It was certainly a new insight into both my family and my faith. While I did not see God or his representatives, as a Theophany by definition is, I certainly felt a powerful insight into God, the Father.

In John 14: 1-4, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ (ESV.)

That verse resonated through my head, that image through my soul, as I looked around the neighborhood and the house in preparation for my family. I imagined the Kingdom of God, beyond time, outside time, in a way we cannot fathom. And yet, at the end of all suffering, loss and pain; at the end of every separation and hint of loneliness or sorrow.

There, God waits for us. There, He prepares the rooms, knowing who we are and what we love. There He stocks up for the great celebration. There, He waits, checking the unfolding of history, speaking to us, encouraging us, calling us forward to the place where we will be safe and happy for all eternity, loved and cherished. From there he and his servants sally forth to our aid, rescue or comfort, or to bring each of us home in our time. It is the place where the joyous, thrilled Father will kiss every wayward child who made his way on the prodigal road to the Father’s house. And we are all prodigal in our own ways.

And what would the Father fail to give for his child’s safe arrival? Everything up to His own life? There’s the Gospel. The Gospel of Christmas and Easter, where the Father, lover of our souls, desperately desires our presence with him for all eternity and comes to earth to love us, then demonstrates love so great that even death is not off the table, nor is death an end or impediment but one more bit of trouble to be overcome for the children He loves more than they can fathom. The cost of eternity is paid. The gate is open to us in the evening, and next morning, of our lives.

God wants us with Him, and nothing can make Him cease wanting us. He will not force his children to come along, but will do everything else to bring us at last to the warm, well-lit home he has prepared and stocked for our joy, our warmth, our safety and our eternal communion with Him.

Rules and morals? Guidelines? Of course. These are the road-maps to the Father. Don’t turn off here, don’t get lost there, don’t trust any false father for only the true Father loves you, only He knows the depth of your pain and the beauty of your creation in His image. Only He is preparing the perfect place for you. Love the other kids, bring them along. Sin is a distraction, a thing that will keep you from the good. That’s why He’s so eager to forgive all, and keep us headed home.

And when we finally pull in, walk in, fly in or appear with Him, such kisses He will lavish upon us and such delights prepare for us that it is worth anything to make the journey, the last great journey to His side.

1 John 3: 1 says: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ The children of God get to come home to the house of the Father.

St. Paul reminds us further that we cannot begin to grasp it: ‘But as it is written, “what no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”’ 1 Corinthians 2:9.

On that day with him, in the best vacation home of all, we will laugh with tear-filled eyes and cry with joy in our hearts. And if there are soda’s or candy bars, if (as I suspect) there is sweet tea and fried chicken, it will only be the most miniscule hint of all that awaits. Because the best thing of all will be to stand in the presence, at last, of the Father we have longed for all our lives. The Father who has ached for us, planned for us, and sacrificed for us since we first took shape in his great, loving heart.

I pray that I see you there.


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