Philip Yancey tells the story of a young girl who grows up on a cherry orchard just outside Traverse City, Michigan. She runs away from home, and heads to Detroit. On her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, and gets her a place to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. The good life keeps going for a while. The man with the big car teaches her some things that men like. After a year she starts to get sick. Her boss kicks her out onto the streets. Winter comes, and she finds herself sleeping on the metal grates outside the big department stores in Detroit.
One morning she wakes up feeling like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She thinks back to the cherry trees in Traverse City. And she wonders, why did I leave? My dog back home eats better than I do. She’s sobbing, and more than anything else she wants to go back home. She calls home and leaves a message. “Dad, mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”
She rides for 7 hours. Thinking her parents probably wrote her off a long time ago. The bus finally rolls into the station. She checks herself in her compact mirror. She licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the cigarette stains on her fingertips. She walks into the terminal. Not one of the one thousand scenes she’s imagined prepare her for what she sees. There, in the bus station, stands a group of 40 brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and a grandmother and great-grandmother. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the back wall of the terminal is a big banner that reads, “Welcome home!” Her dad breaks out of the crowd. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury, and begins her speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…” He interrupts her speech. “Shhh…we don’t have time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. We’ve got a banquet waiting for you at home.”
Can we be to the world what that family was? Can we welcome broken people home? Can we demonstrate forgiveness, instead of heaping people with shame?
This is the essence of grace!