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word count: 1,160
Critique requested: Is it too dry? Does it use phrases that don't work? Does the end satisfy? Enough/too much detal? Does it do its job (making the reader want to request the manuscript)?
Critique tolerance is high. Anything you have to say is appreciated!
JONATHAN DOUGLAS had a beautiful young wife, a job he loved, and a faith in God he thought couldn’t be shaken. When a desperate phone call from his mother sends him racing home from work, he arrives to find the air filled with smoke and ash, while neighbors and firemen surround his smoldering house. The news that his wife and infant daughter were killed in the fire ends life as he knows it.
Stripped of everything he loved, John rebels against the God who betrayed him. He ignores the Voice of the Lord tickling his soul and continues a downward spiral into depression. Haunted by vivid nightmares- images of his family in the flames- John turns to alcohol for escape. He eventually makes his way to the Las Vegas strip where he spends his time alternately giving himself over to his despair, and fighting off the pain with drink.
APRIL is a strong, independent woman. She watched her mother jump from one abusive relationship to another and is determined not to be as weak as she was. So when her own boyfriend turns violent- beating and raping her after a late night of drinking- April refuses to be a victim. She sneaks out during the night and speeds away from everything she knows. With nothing but a few bucks, she melts into the crowds of Vegas and fights to start over. After living out of her car and serving drinks to sweaty, boorish men, April lands an apartment and roommate but struggles to come up with the rent each month. Losing one job after another leaves her desperate to keep a roof over her head- so desperate that she is willing to do anything to keep off the streets.
John meanwhile, can no longer cope with his pain and decides to end his life. On what would have been his last night alive, he meets April in the hotel bar. April reminds him so much of his deceased wife that when she propositions him and names her price he throws himself into the fantasy. He wakes up the next morning to a shattered illusion and profound shame. John is finally broken before the Almighty. Falling to his knees on the dirty bathroom floor of a Vegas hotel room, he finds the Lord waiting with open arms.
In search of a new start, John plants himself in southern California and begins to put down roots there. He becomes involved at a local church where he meets JENNI.
Jenni’s life is decidedly centered on Christ. In between college and her job at Just Juice, Jenni performs sign language with the Worship Team at church. She isn’t looking for romance when she meets John, but he captures her heart. Jenni hadn’t thought she’d fall in love with a man who had one marriage already under his belt, and she wrestles with their difference in life experience. But she and John are both flooded by the peace of God and are sure He has brought them together.
John is amazed by God’s grace and the blessing of a second chance at love. But even though his relationship with the Lord has been restored, sin always has its consequences. His days of hard living catch up with him when April appears on his doorstep, pregnant, and claims he is the father.
April had just lost yet another job when she discovered she was pregnant. Abortion was her only option. There was no way she could support a child when she couldn’t even support herself. But when she arrives at the clinic, she is struck by the images and words of a protestor’s sign. The reality of the new life in her womb overwhelms her and she refuses to go through with the procedure. With no medical insurance, severe morning sickness, and no support from friends on her decision to keep the baby, she decides to try and find John.
John knows that to follow Christ he cannot hide the truth of his past. He must surrender his pride, endure the gossip at church, and risk his relationship with Jenni. When he breaks the news to her, he isn’t surprised that she needs time alone to process everything.
While John focuses on getting medical care for April and the unborn baby, Jenni wrestles with her roiling emotions over the devastating news. She fights to hold onto her faith even under these unthinkable circumstances, and in one desperate moment is tempted by her own past of self-mutilation. Instead, she looks to Christ to hold her together. Though she doesn’t know how she will find the strength to do it, she knows the Lord is asking her to forgive and to show His love even to April.
April feels guilty that her arrival has upturned John’s life and damaged his relationship with his new fiancé. He has been more than kind in taking her to doctor appointments and giving her a place to stay. He is a different man than the tortured soul she met at the bar, always talking about the love of God. April had never spared a thought on God; she had done her best to rely only on herself. So when her medical evaluations uncover that she has leukemia, she decides it must be divine punishment. She feels it’s what she deserves, but agonizes over the risk to the baby. However, when Jenni extends the hand of friendship, April begins to realize she is not as alone as she thought.
Though Jenni’s pain still threatens to tear her apart, her heart softens toward April, who she begins to see through the eyes of God. Both Jenni and John continually share the message of God’s love and grace with April, and little by little she opens up to the possibility that He really does love her. In the face of her declining health, April gives her heart and her life to Christ and experiences more joy and peace than she’s ever known.
April’s uncontrolled fever necessitates an early C-section, and it is a bittersweet time for Jenni. When she sees John cradling baby DAVID, she feels both the familiar pang of insecurity as well as happiness for John at becoming a father again. David is small but healthy, and he squirms his way into Jenni’s heart despite the thorny situation.
Grave circumstances mar the celebration over this new life. April is dying. In the days before her death she has found salvation and joy and is ready to let go. She asks John to raise their son in the knowledge of God, and Jenni to be a mommy to him in her absence. After April passes away, Jenni reflects on God’s amazing sovereignty in working all things together for the good of those who love Him. She has a new son, the love of a man she adores, the knowledge that April is safely in the arms of God, and a much stronger faith in the Lord.