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  • Terri Ruhter

Redemption at the Red Lobster

by Terri Ruhter

Phil hugs me tightly before we’re seated

At the chain restaurant of his choice.

It’s such a viselike squeeze, such an eager embrace

That I am left breathless.

This kid brother of mine - the one I didn’t see

For years, the one my siblings and I didn’t contact

Because he was needy, alcoholic, angry, so high maintenance

That a phone call or text message left us drained -

Is showing a different face.

My husband and I are treating Phil and his girlfriend to dinner,

Checking in on him in a noblesse oblige kind of way

Because Phil is the prodigal son of our family,

The one who drank, overspent, lost his job, lost his driver’s license,

Got evicted and became homeless in Minnesota,

Land of 10,000 lakes where the cold in winter

Hits your face like a frozen fist.

He is the one who squandered his inheritance

And never made it home before his father died,

Leaving it up to us, his brothers and sisters,

To welcome him back.

But we never did.

This is not to say we didn’t have A PLAN.

We gave Phil plenty of advice over the years:

Downsize, cut your expenses, get rid

Of that useless stuff in storage, go into rehab.

We were full of shoulds and incensed when he

Never listened.

But the Phil we met at Red Lobster

Was a man transformed, weepy but

Full of gratitude for his job of six years,

Redefined by the purpose and status it offered,

Redeemed by the most unlikely of saviors,

A middle manager at a top five bank.

This stand-in for the prodigal son’s father, or maybe for Christ himself,

Took a chance on my brother, hiring him and saying:

Phil, I wish I had more employees like you.

Manna from heaven to a man starved for grace.

My takeaway from Phil’s story

Is that you never change a soul

By telling him what to do.

But you might alter him forever

By telling him he’s worth something.

Was the proof in the pudding?

We were all too full for dessert,

But when the bill came

Phil picked up the tab.

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