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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Outlandish (05/19/11)

TITLE: Righteous Love
By Jessica Turner-Stotz


Pastor Jim scanned the crowded church, his eyes flitting over the mostly familiar faces. Smiling warmly, he glanced down at his notes, ready to begin his sermon. It was then that something bright caught his attention from the end of the first row. His eyes darted up, quickly trying to find the source of distraction, so he could begin. A small, compact girl sat fold-legged, leaning forward, expectantly. Her hair hung in purple and blue strands, slightly plastered to her thin, narrow face. The girlís lips were unpainted and a small ring glinted from one eyebrow. Clothes hung off her tiny frame, and though she smiled brilliantly there was a sadness in her eyes, eyes that held Jimís gaze longer than was comfortable.

He cleared his throat, glancing once again at the typed pages laid out on the music stand in front of him. "Good Morning," Jim boomed, "Let us open in prayer."

Just before he closed his eyes, he noticed a shift from the unfamiliar girl in the corner. Without meaning to, his attention jumped to her, and saw that she had bent forward in anticipation of his prayer, the purple and blues of her strikingly, vibrant hair falling forward to form a psychedelic veil. He noticed also a dark tattoo, inked deep black on her pale arm.

Restless bodies snapped him back to the congregation as a whole. His cheeks burned with embarrassment. Shaking his head of the weird vision to his right, He turned fully to the Lord, trying to block out the unwanted girl. However, she still nagged at him, even as he opened his heart to God, letting familiar words soothe his uneasiness as they flowed over him and his flock. I will not let her distract me, he thought to himself. Thereís no need to pay attention to someone so flamboyant. He felt much better upon opening his eyes and purposely angling his body away from that side of the church.

"If youíd like, open your bibles to the book of Romans so we can examine together what the Lord has to say about Godís righteousness." Pastor Jim encouraged. "Verse 23 in Chapter 3 talks of a righteousness from God that Ďcomes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.í There is no distinction between believersí uprightness, for we Ďall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.í"

It struck him then, and his judgment of the odd girl shamed him. He reached for his water, taking a tiny sip while furtively letting his eyes move back to the right, front row. Almost choking, he plopped the cup back down on the stand, drops of water shooting out to dot his notes with tear like stains. She was gone.

No one else had seemed to have noticed her or his obvious discomfort. He had no choice but to continue on with his message, hoping that he would be able to find her after church, to welcome her in a more receiving manner than his initial thoughts might have allowed him. It wasnít right to assume that a crazy looking individual, tattooed and pierced, dyed and hidden in quirky clothes, could not be a follower of Jesus Christ. Silently, he asked for forgiveness, hoping that God would give him another chance at being open and loving, to treat every person he came in to contact with as Jesus would have treated them.

At the end of his closing prayer, he opened his eyes as the congregation began to shuffle from their seats and mill about, once again hoping the girl would have reappeared in her seat.

A man now sat there instead. He was a man of average height, with thick brown hair and smooth, olive skin. He was not looking directly at Jim, but looking slightly behind the pulpit, where a simple cross hung, in remembrance of Jesusí love and sacrifice for all mankind. As recognition seeped into the pastorís soul, the manís eyes turned to His, and they were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. He realized then, that they were the same eyes the girl had, had, warm, but stained with sadness. "Would you not welcome me in your church, because I donít look like I belong?" Those words echoed inside Jim as tears began to stream down his face. "Love them all Jim, as I have loved you." He lifted his hands, a hole in each, and held them out to the pastor.

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diana kay05/27/11
wow! great righting and writing as well :-) right on the nail.... entertaining strangers unawares. some great moments like that of the drops of water smudging his notes like tears...
Kathy Stevens05/27/11
Beautifully written. It magnifies even the pastor's heart -- judgmental and then broken. Love (God is love) will break off those uncomely parts every time.
Jeanette Oestermyer05/28/11
Wow! This one left me dumbfounded for a moments, butit showed this pastor was genuine and wanted to invite the girl he saw correctly. It took the love of Christ to help him move in that direction. Great writing!
Lisa Fowler05/31/11
Great message of a level ground at the foot of the cross for "whosoever will may come." Excellent description of the young girl - drew me right in to your story. Keep up the good work.
diana kay06/02/11
a well deserved 2nd place you are a talented writer look forward to reading more congratulations!