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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)

TITLE: The Ultimate Parole
By Dana McReynolds


John trudged back to his cell after a full day of work. Good behavior and a strong work ethic landed him a position on the prisonís landscaping team. The days were hot and long but every sunburn and backache was better than the alternative. At least when he was working he could put his mind on the task at hand. Back in his cell, thoughts invaded and took him captive. He was drowning in a sea of regret. Sleep was elusive and always led to the same nightmare. Only this nightmare was a reality.

He took a moment to flip through a small stack of neglected mail. Long gone were the notes of encouragement that he received after his trial. Occasionally a family member would send a card, but those were usually reserved for holidays. All too frequent were the letters of condemnation pronouncing him guilty time and time again. John had stopped reading them. One had even claimed he was going to hell. This was not news to him. In Johnís eyes, he was already there and he had no idea how to get out.

All of a sudden John saw something that made his blood turn cold, a familiar name in the corner of an envelope. How could this be? The family had fought for the toughest sentence then washed their hands of him when he was locked away. They wanted to forget John was ever born. This couldnít be good. John was afraid to read the letter but he felt that he owed it to them. He would forever be in debt to them. The least he could do was read their letter.

Dear John,

You are probably wondering why we are writing you now. It has been 14 months since the crash that killed our Amanda. After she died we poured out all of our energy into your prosecution. We turned every emotion into anger and directed it to you and every other drunken driver we heard about. We celebrated your sentencing. This sustained us for a while but then we realized that we had not won after all. A cloud of bitterness covered our lives. The only thing that could break through this cloud was the sunlight of forgiveness.

Amanda is in heaven now. Our greatest hope is to be there with her one day. Our turning point came when a great friend pointed out to us that you could be there too. Yes, you, John. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, accept him into your heart and live for him, then you will spend eternity in heaven. At first we were shocked. We had never considered the possibility that the man who killed our daughter could ever be forgiven. We wonít lie, we didnít want you there. We actually got angry all over again just thinking about it. But we knew that it was true. From Godís perspective everyone is a sinner. He has forgiven us, therefore we must forgive you.

We want you to know that there is hope for you. The same hope that is carrying us through a life without our daughter will carry you through your prison sentence and beyond. It is a free gift and it can be yours.

In Christ,
Amandaís Parents

John was stunned. Heíd heard the message of forgiveness before, but it sounded too easy. Coming from Amandaís parents, who had every reason to hate him, it held more weight. A new door of possibility had been opened. John immediately felt a burden lifted as he was granted their forgiveness. How much lighter would he feel after receiving the forgiveness of God? He didnít want to wait a minute longer to find out. John fell to his knees and poured himself out to his Heavenly Father confessing his sins and begging for forgiveness.

John knew he had a long, hard road ahead of him. After serving his sentence he would have to find his new place in the outside world. But he wouldnít drown himself in his worries anymore. John found something he never had before, a life preserver called hope.

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Member Comments
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/16/10
Wow a very powerful story indeed. It was well crafted and seems so real.
Author Unknown04/16/10
I liked this. You have to suck me into the story at the start or you've lost me and I was in the cell at the end of the first sentence. Well done. I love that the sword in this piece is sword of forgiveness, of mercy- and isn't that what God's sword is all about- not cutting down, but freeing? Are you ready for my red pen? Okay, thick skin on? In the letter- I know it feels like in a Christian piece you need to be explicit about 'the path to salvation'(I feel like we all worry about this, what if this is the only time someone has ever heard?) but I feel like if I was someone still lost to God, you'd have to approach me differently, Jesus had so many ways to say it in the Bible, it wouldn't be bad to try and say it another way. Also- Amanda's parents need names. I got to the end of the letter believing it was them- and then it's signed "Amanda's Parents"- just giving them names would have made it just that much better. I love that what this family has given your MC is hope. Overall, it's very well done. I love your tone and voice. It's a good piece, you should be proud.
Brenda Shipman 04/18/10
Great development of the MC and giving enough details to set the scene and tone. The story flowed so well and had me believing every word, until...John's response to the letter. His change of heart seemed too instantaneous, too sudden, too "now I understand everything and all is well". Seems like, with most of us, it is a process, maybe even a struggle to grasp who God is in light of our sin and forgiveness. I guess it seemed just a bit too good to be true (although it does happen like that with some people.) And I do agree with Lynn, use the parents' names at the end of the letter. Tweak the ending, and you have one great story here! Definitely on topic.
Carol Penhorwood 04/20/10
Very well done indeed.

However, I would have to say that I disagree about using the parents' names. I think HE would think of them as "Amanda's parents".

Great choice on the topic.