It’s August, so it’s county fair season in the American Great Plains. My three-year-old grandson had never been to the fair, so on what must have been the hottest evening of the year, we shepherded our novice fair-goer through the animal barns at the Johnson County Fair in Gardner, Kansas.

First, the chickens. The chickens always were unusual to look at, but somehow they appeared even stranger than usual this year. It’s like there was a rule that said, “Don’t bother entering unless you bring the most un-chickenlike chicken you can find.” These chickens panted like dogs. It was just…weird.

The goats were their usual noisy, nosy selves, while the sheep silently stared with the same vacant expression you’ve seen on every sheep that ever existed. The horses just turned their back to us, as if they didn’t have time for us puny humans.

Oh, and the smell. Did I mention the smell? What’s the one thing that the heat makes worse? Yep, you guessed it.

And then we found the pigs, pictured above, lounging in their pigpen.

My grandson seemed the most curious about the pigs. He’s a sports guy, so he had a hard time believing that the skin of a pig is what they make footballs out of (it’s a “pigskin,” right?). And it blew his little mind that these fat, smelly, hairless blobs were where bacon came from. I have to admit that I’ve wondered the very same thing.

Every time I get around pigs, I think back to the Scriptures and the story of the prodigal son. After disowning his father and squandering all of his inheritance, this wayward man-child found himself in just this place, hanging out with actual pigs. But you want to know the worst part? He was jealous of what the pigs were eating! He probably wasn’t sleeping in the pigsty, but in his heart he was practically the pigs’ roommate.

Let’s hope you and I don’t have to fall that far to realize it’s time to come home. But no matter how wrong our circumstances become, even if it’s our own fault (and it usually is), isn’t it incredibly comforting to know that our Heavenly Father welcomes us home with joy? That’s exactly the picture Jesus painted with this beloved parable. Even after the prodigal son left him for dead, it is the father who celebrates the son’s return as if the son had returned from the dead.

So when you get a chance, read the whole story in Luke 15:11-32. Believe me, you don’t want to keep on living with those smelly pigs. And I’m so glad that my Heavenly Father wants me to come home.

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