Plaster Pearls in the Pigstye

The Velvet Room is a trendy bar just off Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. My eyes adjust from noonday brightness and see that the couches, club chairs, bar stools—even the walls are covered in plush velvet. Mauve, teal, taupe, black, dark brown—whatever the color, the velvet seems to soak up as much light as it absorbs sound. The grand piano is silent. Cigarette smoke hangs motionless in the air.

Vikki enters, swinging her arms with a certain athletic grace, and greets the hostess. She’s apparently a familiar figure here. We met here at her suggestion and greet each other warmly. We see each other once a year or less, but we still love each other. We have history together.

Our conversation begins with menu choices, and finishes when it’s time for her to go back to work in an architectural firm and I return to the downtown hotel conference I am attending. Our lunch together provides little real communication.

She brags about the class she is teaching at the art school, reveals that she finally threw out the alcoholic boyfriend she’s been living with since she left her husband and two sons in the suburbs.

She hasn’t found a church yet, she says. “I try, but I get so turned off by the dogma. Hey, I’m an intellectual, ya’ know? I gotta find a place that feeds my soul.” She throws in an occasional profanity, to impress me, I suppose.

Perhaps I should be offended. Mostly I’m embarrassed. Claiming to be an intellectual while using wretched grammar, complaining of dogma while swallowing whole the empty humanistic ideology of her art school, posing as a caring mother when she abandoned her boys. I can’t help thinking that in her pursuit of education she’s lost at least 20 I.Q. points.

She should know better.

Vikki was a real blood-washed, sold out, on fire trophy of Grace. She testified in those days “Jesus lifted me out of a deep, dark pit and saved my life.”

We used to enjoy sitting at each other’s kitchen tables drinking Diet Coke while poring over our Bibles, rejoicing in this truth, marveling at that promise. We were so proud of our kids and how they really “got it,” as we used to say when they comprehended some Kingdom truth.

What happened?

I remember the Bible story of the prodigal, and how he left his father’s house to find his own way in the world.

My generation of young adults left home “to find themselves.” I think the prodigal had pretty much the same idea.

The riches he’d brought with him from his father’s house procured all the bright and shiny things he desired and assured him the company of glamorous people whose lifestyles he admired. He played hard, grabbed all the gusto he could get, and lived “the good life.”

In time his riches ran out, his new friends vanished, and reality came crashing in: he was only suited for work in the pigsty. There he found himself, a young Jew from a prosperous household, sharing food with swine, eating nutrient-poor cornhusks the pigs had overlooked.

Scripture says, “He came to himself” and went home to his father.

In every generation young people leave home, often for college, and when they do it is not unusual for repressive parental boundaries to get lost in the move. Drunk with independence and full of themselves, one of them might take up the study of genealogy in an effort to discover how her peasant parents could possibly have produced the exquisitely intelligent and cultured specimen of Homo sapiens she turned out to be.

I remember our children the summers after the first year away at school. I realized then that, despite my deep sorrow at letting them go, I didn’t want them back. Kids, even your own kids, are obnoxious at 19 or 20. It’s even more unattractive when a thirty-something woman falls into the “sophomore syndrome” and doesn’t seem to grow out of it.

Vikki, pregnant and married right out of high school, thought she’d missed so much. She became a Christian because of the prayers and witness of her husband’s notably conservative, straight-laced parents, and sometimes it seemed to her as if the heathen were having all the fun.

A talented artist, she enrolled in art school when she was 34 years old and a whole new world opened up to her.

Now she’s living “the good life.” She talks about the wonderful relationship she has with her ex-husband and the boys. She’s justifiably proud of her work in the art world. She claims to be relatively happy and content with her new life.

We part with hugs and promises to stay in touch, and I return to my Christian conference.

As I enter I am awe-struck at the almost palpable love in the hotel ballroom. Jesus is here! He’s healing broken-hearted people, dancing over us with singing! The light of His presence warms us and fills us with joy. No darkness here, no shadows, no thick veil devours His radiance. This is Father’s House, and I belong here!

Weeks later, I sit on my porch here at home, and for the last hour shadows have been gathering and I hadn’t noticed, until at last it is too dark to read, and it’s getting chilly. It’s time to go inside. Supper is ready.

Is it like that for Vikki? Has she wandered so far from Father’s light that she doesn’t realize it’s getting dark and cold? I’d hoped she might want to come home, but she’s not ready.

I cry about Vikki and pray for her. I still contend that the God of all Creation, who created Vikki and gave her talent, can handle the deepest scrutiny of the very finest of His created beings–even an intellectual like Vikki. I still believe she’ll come home to Father. He’s still waiting and watching. So am I.

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