Is it about a natural disaster?  Yes.  But here’s the thing: I can’t tell this story accurately without revealing some kinda seedy episodes in my past.  In one sense, it’s garden-variety stuff -- I didn’t kill anybody -- but there’s a chance it will change how you see me.  So if you’d like to continue thinking of me as a decent guy, well, this is your exit.  

I was in my late teens and I had come into some money.  I don’t know why I’m soft selling it here -- it was a lot of money.  I had a lot of money.  And a teenager and a lot of money ranks up there with matches and gunpowder as far as dangerous combinations. I don’t know where you grew up, but in my town, all my friends badmouthed where we lived (me included) and dreamed of just flipping our little burg the bird and hitting the road.  Now add this to the mix… at that time, my dad and I were at each other’s throats constantly.  It’s weird; at that age, a guy can still be incredibly childish, but seemingly overnight, you find yourself walking in this very man-like body.  So when things got really intense, there were moments where I found myself thinking, “Am I about to punch my dad?”  All to say, when that check landed, BAM - smell you later.

I left our town.  I left the state.  I left the country and just traveled for a while, following my heart.  Actually, my heart wasn’t what I followed, but another body part.  The particular country where I ended up -- and I shall not name that country here -- is known for having a lot of things that would interest a young man.  So booze, hard drugs, girls (cliched as all this is)... yes, yes, and yes.  I was finally out on my own and I wasn’t going to hold back.  And this sounds like a brag, but I promise it’s the truth --  I kinda developed a bit of an entourage.  Not like a rockstar, yet here I was, this guy from another country, and suddenly this orbit of interesting and entertaining people had formed around me.

A few months after I arrived (I think a few months - my memory of time is fuzzy here), it suddenly stopped raining.  Now here in our country, no rain is not that big of a deal.  But in that locale where I found myself… huge deal for the economy.  No rain, no crops, no food - a natural disaster like that makes its presence felt quickly.  So around the time my own resources dwindled down, so did everybody else’s; nobody had any money.

To be sure, I still hated my dad, but even at that time I would have granted you this about him - he raised us to respect work, so even as grimy as my life had gotten, stealing or begging… off the table.  So I bummed a ride to the edge of town, walked until I found what ended up being some kind of agriculture business, and basically bullied my way into the crappiest, dirtiest job you could imagine.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been blackout, fall-down drunk.  I have.  More times than I can remember - literally.  But even in that well-known tune, from the opening notes of ‘Cheers!’ to the grand finale of launching your insides at the speed of sound -- even then, there will always be this slow-dawning moment of regaining your clarity.  Of coming back to your senses.  And out there in those nasty, dusty fields -- in a job where I wasn’t even sure who to say ‘I quit’ to -- I finally had that dawning clarity.  I knew what I had to do and I knew where I had to go.  And the great news, it would be a lot easier to get there now being unburdened by money or dignity or pride. 

I occasionally still hear people talking about that historic time in that country -- the drought that led to that famine.  They talk about how horrible it was and I never say anything otherwise because it was, without question, a brutal time.  I guess I look at it a little differently.  Without that natural disaster -- just being real here -- I would have probably killed myself, either the quick way or the slow way.  Without those hard times, I would have never gone back home.  I would have never reconnected with my dad.

You can read more about me and the natural disaster that saved my life in Luke 15:11-32.

Read more from Matthew here