by Brooke Cox
First Place – Level C (7th – 8th grade)
Dear John Owen,
You don’t know me, but you met my father Andrew Stearns several years back in the United States Army. You were only acquaintances, so I doubt you remember him. He showed me a little note you wrote to him just before you and my father were going your separate ways. In a little worn Bible you gave him, you wrote this: I wish you the best, my friend.
I’m contacting you because I want to share his story with you. I’ve never told anyone about what he went through, but I want you to know.
I remember the day we received a letter informing us Father was coming back from the Army. It was the happiest moment of my life; until I learned it was because he had been wounded and became ill. My mother and I read every letter from him together and we would hope for some miracle to bring him back home safe and sound. It may have been illness that brought him back but at least he was coming home.
Mother and I rushed around the house that evening making it perfect for Father’s arrival. She worked in the kitchen filling the house with sweet aromas, while I dusted and fluffed the pillows in Father’s armchair. I hauled books off the shelves and placed them on the side table next to his chair. Father was constantly reading westerns, biographies, history, newspapers, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on. He was the smartest man I’d ever known. Then, there came a knock on the door.
I can still picture when my mother helped Father into our house and out of the cold. I wanted to cry when I saw how weak and sickly he had become, but he still gave me the biggest hugs.
“There’s so much I want to tell you!” I shouted with excitement. “I don’t know where to begin!”
“Let’s sit down, Emily, and you can amuse me with all of your stories.”
He eased himself into an armchair by the open fire and I plumped onto the floor next to him, and mother sat on the couch. The clock struck ten o’clock before I realized I hadn’t let anyone talk for three hours. Father had drifted off to sleep, as mother did. I awoke them and Father’s eyes fluttered opened. He stared at me.
“My goodness child—do you know how to lower your voice?” Mother exclaimed.
“Do you have a story?” I asked.
Father breathed heavily as he reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a small worn Bible. He handed it to me.
I opened it to the front page and the note you wrote was written inside: I wish you the best, my friend.
Father began to say, There was a man I knew who thought he was brave but never knew his strength. When the time came to charge on the battlefield, he dropped his musket, turned around, and ran. The general charged him with treason and wanted to send him to jail. The man ran away again, this time to the nearest town where he got drunk and hurt himself when he passed out.
Father looked down at me with a weak smile. He continued, They dragged him back to camp and the doctors took care of him with more kindness than he deserved. While in the hospital he contracted Typhoid Fever.
He paused, his expression changing into a full smile.
The day he was going to be taken to jail a man stopped and talked to him, he spoke about God with him and sacrificing His Son so we could live forever. That moment he got on his knees and spoke to God for the first time and surrendered his life. He apologized and tried to make things right with everyone.
“Did he go to jail?” I asked.
“No, they sent him home to spend his last days with his family. Though he still lived with the guilt and shame and of what he had done.”
“He found a miracle!”
“Yes, he sure did,” Mother added.
“What was this man’s name?”
“Andrew. Andrew Stearns.”
“That’s your name, Father!”
“Indeed, it is. He was a man I knew but I was born again.”
Father sent me off to bed with the Bible.
“Keep this Bible,” he told me.
I read the Bible in my bed with Father’s words replaying in my mind, and on that night I spoke to God the first time. That was the last time I saw Father. But because of your stopping and taking the time to speak with him, showing him love and compassion, it led him, my mother, and I to surrender our lives. I now know I am a child of God and I can walk the streets of gold with Father in heaven one day. Thank you.
Brooke is a self-taught artist who hopes for a career in illustration. She also loves to write and often creates fan fiction from her favorite stories.