She was fifteen, in the very middle of the turbulent teen years. She no longer confided in her mom; her friends were her confidantes.

“It’s part of growing up,” I told myself. Everyone goes through this stage of trying to figure out who they are as an individual.

When we were awakened by our phone ringing at midnight one spring night, all that changed.

The Longest 20 Hours of Our Lives

The young man on the other end of the call asked me if I knew my daughter was not at home. He then told me that he knew she wasn’t because she was at his house with his brother.

He was not being a Good Samaritan. He was simply mad at his brother and figured this would be a good way to get him in trouble. He even gave us the address to the house.

My husband and I were both furious that she would sneak out of the house at night. I felt foolish for trusting her. We were ready to “lay down the law.”

My husband drove to the address we had been given, while I waited at home. The kids in the home told him she wasn’t there. They said their mom was sleeping and they didn’t want to wake her. Not knowing what else to do, we sat up with the lights out waiting for her to “sneak” back into the house. We waited until dawn. She never came home.

The anger was replaced with worry. Who was this boy she was with? Where was she? We started making calls to her friends. No one knew.

This was the 1980s. There were no cell phones. We waited by the phone hoping she or someone would call. By 9 a.m., I was frantic. I went to the local police station to report her missing. When I gave them the name of the boy she was supposed to be with, they knew exactly who he was. He had been in trouble a lot. My heart sank, and fear gripped me.

Throughout the day, we earnestly prayed to God for her protection. Our pastor and his wife came to pray with us. Our pastor went and walked the mall looking for her. There was no anger left in either of us. All we cared about was having her home safe.

About 6 p.m. our pastor called to tell us he had heard from someone who knew where our daughter was, that she was safe. He would get back to us with more information. My husband collapsed on the floor, sobbing in relief.

The Prodigal Returns

Some time passed, I don’t know how long, before our pastor called again. Our daughter was at the home of one of the couples who worked with the teens in our church. She had been afraid to come home and had reached out to them for help.

I wanted to make sure my daughter felt welcomed and loved. I wanted her to know how valuable she was to us and that she should never be afraid to come home. The story of the prodigal son in the Bible came to my mind. I remembered that the father had put a ring on his son’s hand when he returned home.

One of my most treasured possessions was an opal ring my husband had given me. It is the birthstone for October, my birth month and also that of my daughter. When she was finally safe at home, I brought out that ring from my bedroom and gave it to her.

“I want you to wear this,” I said, “to remind you how much we love you. That there is nothing you could ever do that would make us stop loving you.”

That was not the end of our struggles as parents of a teenager. It was not the last time she deceived us. But she would tell you, in all of that, she never questioned our love for her.

In those painful 20 hours, we learned a lesson about God’s love for us. He has a father’s heart. He wants to protect us from the dangerous traps we could fall into. He wants us safe, more than anything else.

Do you know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves you, regardless of anything you do or have done? The cross is his sign of that promise to you.