We love our prodigals!
The return of the prodigal, or a character behaving like a prodigal, is one of the common themes of romance stories. And in Christmas romance stories as well.
The prodigal is usually, but not always, a son, a father, a boyfriend, a brother – a male. He returns home after an extended absence, upending all kinds of former relationships. He may be healed, with no one still trusting him, or he may still be broken, with the healing to come. Sometimes the story is a retelling of the parable spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Sometimes it’s a story inspired by the parable but not bearing much connection to it.
Prodigal stories do share one primary characteristic – the prodigal returns home and fines forgiveness, redemption, and sometimes love (eventually).
Not Until Christmas Morning by Valerie Bodden
Austin Hart is a bitter young man. He’s working himself physically, trying to recover from an IED attack in Afghanistan. The attack killed his best friend and an 11-year-old boy the unit had adopted. And Austin lost his foot and part of his leg. He’s determined to physically train himself so he can return to his unit, but the odds are stacked against him.
In addition to his foot, Austin lost his faith. God simply wouldn’t allow that kind of death and destruction, so there must be no God. Austin’s brother Chad is still stationed in Afghanistan and talks with him weekly. Chad knows his brother is struggling.
Auston decides to return to Hope Springs, the town where he and his brother were born and spent part of their childhood years. He rents a house next door to Leah, an early 30-something who has decided God wants her to be single and has taken on the biggest project of her life – 12-year-old Jackson, a foster child who’s bounced around nine different foster homes, stays in trouble in school, and is determined not to love anyone.
Austin becomes the connecting link between the boy and Leah, and Leah and Austin both discover romantic connections developing between them. But Austin still struggles with his anger and bitterness, and Leah, having been hurt once in romance, is resisting the idea of romance.
Not Until Christmas Morning, part of the Hope Springs series by Valerie Bodden, is a well-done, moving story of three broken people circling each other, each afraid to touch and afraid to be touched.
A Christmas Homecoming by MaryAnn Diorio
Seven years before, Sonia and Rick Pettit’s daughter Jody left home, disappearing without a trace. She left behind her parents and her brother Ben. Rick was devastated by his daughter’s abandonment and eventually died of what was officially heart disease but was really from what the doctor called a broken heart. Ben has been embittered by his sister’s desertion of the family, and he’s increasingly finding solace in alcohol.
Sonia keeps praying for her daughter’s return, as impossible as it seems. No one knows whether Jody is alive or dead; a private investigator hired by the family found no trace of her, anywhere.
Jody, however, is very much alive and living in Australia. She’s a divorced mom of twins, struggling to keep her job in a difficult economy and provide for her children. She deeply regrets abandoning her family. When she loses her job in a bankruptcy right before Christmas, she decides to use what little savings she has to return home to Virginia in the United States. But it won’t be the homecoming she hopes for.
A Christmas Homecoming by MaryAnn Diorio is a retelling of the Biblical parable, with a daughter taking the place of the prodigal son. We watch a family come to grips with loss, hurt, and pain as they struggle to find hope and forgiveness.
Everybody Loves Mickey by Therese Travis
Fireman Mickey Hurst was at one time much like a prodigal, but he’s found faith, reformed, and works hard as a volunteer at his church. People at the church love Mickey, except for Aubrey Thomas, who works in the church office. Years before, Aubrey was the recipient of a drunken pass by Mickey, which was made worse by his apology, which sounded a lot like “I’d have to be drunk to try to kiss you.” What Mickey meant was something else entirely, but Aubrey allowed his words to steel her heart.
For his part, Mickey knows he’s love with Aubrey and has been for years. But her ongoing hostility prevents him from trying to take the relationship any further. As a church volunteer, he sees Aubrey almost every day, and he does his best to dodge the arrows she tosses at him with words, auctions, and attitudes.
Everyone else at the church sees the obvious – the two are meant for each other. And so a loose conspiracy of matchmaking is born, beginning with the choir director asking Mickey and Aubrey to sing a duet for the church’s Christmas program.
Everybody Loves Mickey by Therese Davis tells the story of Mickey and Aubrey, a story of walls between people gradually coming down. It’s a story about missed communications, past hurts and disappointments, and (we hope) love.
Photograph by Josh Harrison via Unsplash, Used with permission.