Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Before and After (05/14/09)
- TITLE: Eleven Seconds
By Brenda Kern
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It was so major to me that I mentally divided my life into before those eleven seconds and after, before I took a life and after.
Before, I was a wife and mother, struggling my way through the terminal sickness of my mother. After I killed my step-father in eleven seconds of blind rage, I became a prisoner, a number. Oh, and a divorcee with no parental rights. I took a life, but largely lost my own in the bargain.
Before, my worst criminal activity was speeding, and for that I’d been ticketed twice, lifetime. After, I’d been sentenced to spend a lifetime in a federal penitentiary, being declared a murderess and a continuing risk to society.
Even during those scarlet, screaming moments, I wasn’t a danger to anyone but the betrayer, and to him only because of the circumstances: Mom had months to live, and he cheated on her anyway. When I caught them, in Mom’s house, in Mom’s bedroom, in Mom’s bed, the before part of my life ended in a jagged heartbeat, in the flash of a knife blade.
And then I began to live in the aftermath of what I had created in those moments of grief and anger. No matter how many years I serve, though, I can’t undo the damage I’ve done. I can’t restore the life I took, I can’t do more than ignore the seething hate coming my way, and I can’t make anything better.
I keep to myself, I survive. I wish I had it to do over, and I wash my hands a lot.
And I read. I read anything the prison librarian allows me to check out, and I try to escape my prison walls every time I dive into a book.
I attend anything the prison offers, just to pass the time, even the little chapel services twice a week. I don’t understand the rites and rituals of the unfamiliar religion, but I sit and stand and listen, trying to connect with a God who must also have branded me a killer and unworthy.
Near the end of one of the services, the chaplain made an announcement: he was retiring, to be replaced the following week by a new chaplain.
The new chaplain made an instant hit with me: he brought reading materials! I took some back to the cell with me, and read a shocking sentence: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (II Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
It didn’t give any exceptions, and it did say anyone. Surely not me, though, a murderer. Maybe, though, even if I couldn’t become completely new, I could become somewhat better. Maybe, I could hope.
During the next chapel service, I squirmed and fidgeted and waited impatiently to approach the chaplain with my questions. When I finally got the chance, his answers were simple and direct: yes, you “qualify.” No, there are no exceptions-—no act is beyond God’s forgiveness, and God has enough grace to change every person from the inside out. I could be “born again.” I didn’t react with the emotion I felt—-prison knocks that out of a person, quickly. In my most private moments, my most fervent wish had been to go back and start my life over, fixing things, and here was this skinny kid telling me it was possible!
He directed me to read more scripture, the third chapter of the gospel of John, to learn more about this born again business, and over the course of several weeks, I read and thrashed about in my misery and questioned and wept and wondered. And I bugged the poor chaplain half to death, but he was patient and helped me to understand.
So I knelt, and I was forgiven.
The chaplain tells me I prayed for about eleven seconds, and it still amazes me that God made me a new creation so quickly.
I may be bodily imprisoned, but I am free. I may still be hated, but I’ve let go of my hate. I know God never washed His hands of me, and I wash my own hands much less, because I am cleansed.
Before, I was given a life sentence, after, I was given eternal life.
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