George Malcolm turned the page in the book he was reading, one that related the consequences of somebody using a time machine. Leaning his head back, he wished he could go back in time, if only to cuff himself upside the head for being such a fool.
For years he had worked, striving to make his way in the world, to earn enough money and respect that his family would not have anything to be ashamed of.
He glanced at a photograph on the bookcase: himself; his wife; his son. Where were they now?
He was here, in this little apartment above a hardware store in a village an hour north of Kitchener, Ontario --nowhere.
She had wearied of waiting, and another man had found her.
Their son Ted had gone with her, but he was grown now. Where was he?
Sorrowful, he closed his eyes. A minute later, the book slid unheeded to the floor.
He was in a beautiful park, lush gardens here and there, with shrubs blooming around him, filling the air with perfume. The sky was twilit, and the scent of the air told him that it must be dawn.
"You wish to go back in time," said a clear man's voice.
George didn't need to look to recognize the man wearing a white robe that was cinched with a golden belt. Ashamed, he said nothing.
"I could grant that," the man went on, "though I won't. Besides, would you have listened to yourself back then?"
Reluctantly, George shook his head.
"Of course not. Wishing doesn't cut it, not now, not then. You wished to reach for the best. Where was I in this?"
"What do you mean? I went to church, and I prayed for my family."
Jesus smiled sadly. "I remember. Church was somewhere to meet the right people; and you prayed, 'Help me to do better so I can give my family the best.' I couldn't answer that the way you wanted."
"It was all about you. Now, why do you want to know where your son is?"
George squirmed inwardly. "I guess I want to make it up to him somehow."
"Well, what am I supposed to do? I'm his father."
"Recall the parable of the prodigal son."
"That was just a story."
"Naturally, but, when I told it, I pictured a father who didn't wish for his son's return; he hoped for it."
George gave an exasperated sigh. "What's the difference?"
"Wishing's just a feeling. Hoping, that comes from my Father. What will you do if Ted does return to you?"
That thought shook George. "What do you mean?"
"If you were hoping, you would have been expecting him, having the answer to the question, 'What will I do?', as the prodigal's father did. As soon as he spotted his son, he acted."
"I get it. But what can I do? I've got nothing any more."
"You have me."
George jerked awake. He thought, That must mean I'll see Ted soon. What can I do?
The next morning he made an appointment to see his pastor; there was a lot of bad history he needed to talk out.
Then he waited. After three weeks, he realized that there were things he should be doing; his son might need money. He checked around, and soon had a little consulting business going. A year later, he let go of his part-time job at the hardware store.
Whenever he got worried, he thought of the father of the prodigal and steeled himself to persevere. He prayed daily for his son, though the prayer usually ended up being, 'Thy will be done.'
Four years further, George was in London for two weeks on assignment. On Sunday, he slipped into a nearby church, Ted heavy on his heart. As it happened, the pastor preached on the parable of the prodigal son, and George wept quietly through it all, silently asking God, 'When?'
At the end of the service, he was in the lobby when there was a commotion from one of the corridors. A man stepped out, shepherding a pair of preschool boys. It had to be ... "Ted? Ted Malcolm?"
The man looked up. "Dad?! What are you doing here?"
Over lunch, Ted told George about the drugs, hitting bottom five years ago, the Christian man who had brought him around, and how he had found unlooked-for blessing after blessing in his new life.
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