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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)

TITLE: The Awakening
By Marilee Alvey


I step into the catbox. Tan sky. Dark clouds. Spitting rain. I am back for my father-in-law’s funeral, willing to risk the endless praise for closure.

I haven’t seen Jack since I was thirty-five. In my sixties now, I want to gaze at his broken down shell. It’s a good thing they don’t have screeners at the funeral home door to make sure you’re not packing a bad attitude. No plastic zip lock bag could possibly keep back the black ooze of his shadow which has darkened my life. He’s dead. Game over. I won.

Jack had a lot of luck with his art work. Nationally known, even. But he was narrow minded. If you wanted to stay out of arguments with him, you didn’t talk politics. From the very beginning I thought that Jack should grow up. I did my best to make up for what others weren’t doing, but, after ten years of marriage to his daughter, I figured it takes a village to raise this idiot so I checked out, altogether.

Sitting here as the Pastor speaks, I remember clearly the night I walked out on Jack. I had talked politics with him. Jackie said I shouldn’t, but politics were my passion and I didn’t see why I had to shut up over it. My candidate was the best. I was actually working on his committee. Jack was a willing target for any politician that claimed to be Christian. He only had a Master’s degree….and that in Art, for crying out loud. Hardly a Mecca for intellectual thought. I’d told Jack that, if he was any kind of real Christian, he wouldn’t support the war his candidate had gotten us into. It was like cornering a rabbit, but Jack wouldn’t allow me to show him for the inconsistent fool he was. He was no match for me, so I walked out. I’d just finished my doctorate in Math and had been accepted to teach at the University of Arizona so I was leaving, anyway. “Come on, Jackie, I guess we’re not welcome here,” I said, taking her hand and pulling her out.

I let Jackie come home to visit but not on holidays. Her place is with her own family now. I sit here, watching her crying. Her cries are ugly, not like in the movies. She was too close to see her ill placed devotion, but even the Bible says she must break away from her parent, so she has had to grow up. At least that’s how I see it and I believe the Bible backs me in this. So we moved….far away.

The Pastor is now opening the service up for people to be able to say something about Jack. I’d like to, but I won’t.

“If it weren’t for Jack,” a woman said, “I don’t know where I would be. I was a single mom of six. Jack used his contacts to get me enrolled in Art School and sometimes would come over and watch the kids. He believed in me when I didn’t. I’ve been teaching now for twenty years.”

“I came from Russia as a foreign exchange student and wanted to attend college in the U.S.” a thin young man with an accent is claiming. “No school would take me because I didn’t have the funds. Then I met Jack at an art show. He told me he’d find a way. He had me sharpening pencils, cleaning out paint pots, you name it, but because of his help I now have a job making animated movies for Disney Studios. Jack would never accept any money from me to thank him. He just told me to pass it on.”

I feel the pew beneath me shift slightly as Jackie slowly rises.

“My dad raised me and my brother, alone, after our mom left us. He managed to cook and clean and heal our abandoned hearts while working full time. It had to be exhausting, but all he ever said to me was, ‘Jackie, you and James are SO worth it.’ Over the past thirty years I haven’t been home as much as I’d have liked, so your words today are filling up a bank inside me that’s been totally empty for so long. Thank you all.”

I glance around furtively. Where are the artistic accolades? I stuff my face into my hands as ragged sobs rip through my throat. I am the loser. I, too, cry ugly.

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This article has been read 870 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/15/08
I really like how you showed through the words spoken at Jack's funeral what really matters in our lives...the effects of living out our Christian lives. I was glad, too, for the narrator to see how wrong he'd been. Good story.
Peter Stone05/16/08
Ouch. You successfully portrayed a man who let pride blind his eyes so completely to the truth. So sad for his wife too, that she suffered so much from his arrogance.
Joanne Sher 05/16/08
Excellent characterization especially - and the transformation in your MC is masterfully done. Excellent piece.
Lollie Hofer05/16/08
First of all, this is masterfully done. You did an incredible job of pulling the reader into the story, I felt all sorts of emotions. I like how you SHOWED their sorrow, first the wife's and then the husband's. You didn't have to say they were sorrowful, we saw it and felt it through your powerful verbs. Well done! I have several favorites this week from this group...you are all fantastic at your craft...but this one really stands out.
Kristen Hester05/16/08
Superb story. This is excellent writing. Bravo.
Joy Faire Stewart05/17/08
What a message and so well written, drawing your reader into the scene. Great MC voice.
Dave Wagner05/18/08
The middle is strong. Confused by the reference in the first line to stepping into a catbox. A little bummed by the quickness of his "cracking" at the very end. Didn't really seem to fit. It's a solid entry overall, but I kept looking for more of a reason for the guy to be so bitter at his father-in-law. Political differences didn't seem to be enough to warrant the bile and venom. I realize you're limited by the word count limit, and really, I'm glad I read it. But it seemed a little too unfocused.
Beckie Stewart05/20/08
Wow, this was good. Sad that MC realized too late the truth about his FIL, but glad for the change in him. Realistic to how life is many times. This was an excellent piece.
Helen Dowd05/20/08
Very well told, exposing your bitterness. I could relate in a way, about my father in law, but death has a way of cleansing bitter feelings, just as it did with you, by your wife's response to the testimony about what Jack meant to that witness. I am glad that the tears came for you. God gave us the ability to cry, as a means of washing our souls of grief. Good! Good! Good!...Helen
Betty Castleberry05/22/08
Wonderful message, and expertly written. I am sorry I missed this the first time around. Congratulations on your EC. This piece deserves it.
Joshua Janoski05/22/08
Wow. You did an awesome job of fleshing out your MC. I'm happy to see this well-written entry place high this week. Congratulations!
Betsy Markman05/22/08
"I, too, cry ugly." What a powerful ending for a powerful story.
Sharlyn Guthrie05/22/08
Wow! I missed your entry earlier this week. It's powerful and very different than most. Great job, and Congratulations! You've still got it!
Dianne Janak05/23/08
Congrats Marilee... what a great story. It hit me in the heart to see his revelation come too late about Jack. What a wonderfully good lesson about false judgement of others because of pride. Thanks for this. And WELCOME BACK! We missed you.
Sheri Gordon05/23/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is an amazing piece. Love the voice. Such a great message in here.