If you’ve read my book, “The Journey To Heaven,” you know I left home when I was sixteen years old and started using alcohol and drugs and doing many of the bad things that are usually associated with that lifestyle. After about three years of that, my life was a mess. I was a wreck. I wasn’t happy at all. I wanted to get my life straightened out and get back to being me, instead of the miserable person I was. By this time I was nineteen, and I was back home with my grandmother.
I wanted to make a better life for myself so I started working on a plan. I hadn’t had a steady job for a while so that’s where I started. My cousin and I were best friends and we went looking for a job together. We were introduced to a free job training program that would give us the skills to qualify for a number of job opportunities. The catch was, it was almost four hundred miles away, and I think it was going to take about a year to complete if I remember correctly.
It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, so we decided to go for it. We got everything together and kissed our families goodbye, and boarded the bus for an all day ride with a change-over to another bus. We met some young people on the bus who were returning to the place we were going from a weekend visit home. One of the girls was really nice and talkative. She filled us in on the operations of the place, and the teachers and students and she shared all the negative things she could think of with us. We were not too thrilled with what she told us. It sounded like a prison with some pretty mean inmates. We were young and had never been this far away from home, so the whole situation was a bit scary to us. We were both hoping she was kidding.
After we arrived, we found out that it was as bad as she had said. Maybe even worse. There was a high fence with barbed wire at the top surrounding the building and a big open yard. The doors were locked and had alarms on them. It was like a prison. Some of these young people had been in trouble and were sent there by their parents or the courts to get headed in a positive direction.
It was after midnight when we arrived. The place was a wreck. The walls were just raw plywood. They were dirty and looked like they had been there for twenty years. They had holes all in them and writing all over them. We were shown to our room which we would be sharing with two other guys. It was only big enough to hold two sets of bunk beds with just a few feet between the beds.
One of our roommates hadn’t made it back from his weekend visit home, but the other guy was snoring so loudly that it was hard to sleep. After all, that girl had told us, we had joked that we should sleep with one eye open, and when we looked at our sleeping roommate one of his eyes was half way open. That’s funny now, but I don’t remember it being funny then.
We did finally go to sleep but we only got a few hours. At six o’clock in the morning, the door flew open and a guy came in yelling that it was time to get up, eat breakfast and get our day started. We had orientation all morning, which was very stressful and we had to choose what trade we wanted to start learning. We had a couple of breaks and we were sent outside to a small courtyard with a few tables.
There was a beautiful girl out there, and my cousin and I both kept looking at her. She noticed us staring and finally, she looked at us with an angry face, as she stopped right in front of us. She put her hand on her hip, and with just as much anger in her voice, she said, “Do you like what you see?” We were both shy, and neither of us liked confrontation, so I guess we were in shock having her say anything at all to us, but especially with a mean tone like that. We both turned and looked at each other at the same time, and without saying a word, we both turned back to her at the same time and started nodding our heads in a YES motion. She must have thought that was funny because she just started laughing and went back to her friends. Looking back, I guess it was funny.
When lunch time finally arrived, we were starving and apparently so was everybody else. When we started lining up in the courtyard, outside the cafeteria, it was like a stampede of hungry cattle. My cousin and I just stepped back out of the way and stood against a brick wall, and waited for the line to diminish. When twelve O’clock came, a big tall guy started beating on the door, cursing and yelling, and saying “You better open this door!”
When they unlocked the door a few minutes later, there really was a stampede. People were pushing and shoving, and one guy got knocked down and trampled. He got up and ran on in with the others. It was madness. My cousin and I went in last and got our food and sat down. With breakfast and lunch behind us, we could see why they were acting so insane about getting in to eat lunch. The little bit of food they gave us wasn’t appetizing at all, and it wasn’t long before we were hungry again. I wasn’t a big guy then, but I still don’t think I could have lasted a year on those kinds of rations.
When we finished our last class we went back to our room. I think we had the third one from the front door. A few of the guys kept going in and out, and the door would take a minute or so to close, then it would automatically lock. My cousin said he was escaping the next time he saw the door open. We got our suitcases ready and we waited. The next time that door opened, he was gone without saying a word. Just then, one of the guys yelled to someone else to get the man who was in charge. When I heard that, I froze. I couldn’t move. I thought my friend was in big trouble and I didn’t know what to do. The man came up the hall and the one who had sent for him told him he had a phone call. What a relief. He didn’t stay on the phone long and as soon as he hung up and was out of sight, I ran for the open door.
When I made it outside, I headed toward the bus station where we had planned to go. When I turned the corner onto the main street, I didn’t see him anywhere. He was long gone. I met a group of guys walking up the street and asked them if they had seen a guy “running” by. They said, “yeah, he went that way.” I finally caught up with him and we went on the bus station a few miles away.
We called home and told them what had happened and that we wanted to come home. My mother and my sister’s husband headed out to pick us up. We waited there all night and in the morning before lunch, our family arrived. We were so happy to see them. We crawled in the bed of that little truck and laid down and went to sleep. When I woke up I had a pretty bad sunburn but I was happy to be headed home. When we finally made it there that evening, the rest of our family was happy to see us, and we were sooo happy to see them.
In a way, this story reminds me of the one Jesus told about the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32. He went a long away from home, and some bad things happened to him, and he was hungry. He wanted to be back home, so he headed that way. When his father saw him in the distance, he didn’t wait for him to come all the way to him, he ran to meet him, and hugged him, and kissed him.
Many times, there are children of God who turn away from him, for a number of reasons. When we decide to return, our Heavenly Father is very happy and welcomes us back with open arms. He loves us and he is always there for us. So don’t be afraid to come to God and allow him to shelter you in his loving arms. It’s the best place you can ever be.
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