My father left me three watches as part of my inheritance. The first, and oldest, was the one his parents had given him as a graduation present from high school in 1932. The second was a watch he bought when he left his corporate career and went into business for himself as a consultant. The third was a Rolex he bought and wore for almost 40 years. While I never asked him directly, I think that last watch signified something important to him as a child of the Depression. It was not pride but a marker of having made something of himself. It is also the watch I remember the best and with the most attachment.
Each summer when we go to the beach on vacation, I always hide the Rolex in a particular place at home and wear a cheap watch. When we returned this year I looked and Dad’s watch was missing. Thinking I might have forgotten where I put it, we searched the house for weeks turning everything upside down. Like the woman in the parable of the lost coin in the Gospel of Luke, we swept the house searching carefully but it was nowhere to be found. It was only when we had scoured every possible place that I said, “If I find my father’s watch then I will – like the shepherd, the woman and the father of the prodigal son – call my friends and have a party to rejoice in what was lost is now found.” I put the search aside knowing I had looked everywhere but one place – the place where it was!
About a month after giving up, Carol called me one day while I was at work. A young man had knocked on our front door. Carol answered, and he said through tears, “I am ashamed to tell you that I stole your husband’s watch while you were out of town. I was visiting a friend who was housesitting for you, and I saw the watch where it was hidden. I took it but I have been tortured by what I’ve done. I am so sorry and here it is.”
Carol was stunned, and I was speechless. We thought it was lost forever and would only turn up years later when the kids were going through the house to sell it or if we found it by some random stroke of luck. We never thought it had been stolen.
I found the young man on Facebook and sent him a private message. I wanted to meet him. I was not angry, but I wanted him to know that while he was accountable he was not “cast out.” I wanted to tell him a story of a time in my life when I had done some things for which I was ashamed but had met someone who took me aside and said, “This is not who you are. Yes, face up to what you’ve done and pay the consequences but come to your senses.” I wanted this young man to have the same second chance that a wise older man had once given me.
We talked for an hour and at the end of our conversation I said as much to him as had been said to me when I was a boy: “This is not who you are. You are made for better than this.” Do I know for sure his life has changed and everything will be fine from now on? No, I don’t. I know that the road home for the prodigal son was a long one as he travelled far from home. It was the same for me. It was not a quick journey but, like the prodigal, there was a waiting father.
The following Sunday we went out to lunch after church with friends, and I told them the story of losing the watch and then finding it. They loved it. I think they loved it even more when I told them about my promise to God that when the watch was found I would celebrate with friends – at my expense! I was not doing it to impress them. I was doing it for the exact same reason the shepherd, the woman and the father did. I wanted to rejoice because what was lost – in more ways than one – had been found.