Dear Friends, See our GIVEAWAY news after the story! “The Value of a Son” is a short story I wrote after I heard the media condone hatred and murderous intent toward a criminal. But for Christians, living and thinking like Jesus is not some Bible fantasy idea. God’s people are expected by God to represent Him with love and compassion. Criminals are already condemned, shamed, and rejected. Their hearts are primed for God to reach them and mold them anew. How about us?
The Value of a Son
by D.I. Telbat
Embry Foster stood with his hands in his slacks pockets beside a metal table in a prison conference room. He’d been waiting for this moment for years. Finally, the VOCS—Victims of Crime Speaks—Program organizer had come to his name on the list. It was his turn to confront his son’s murderer. Fourteen years earlier, he’d signed up to face the monster who’d taken Art’s young life. Prisoners had to agree to the VOCS meetings, and Embry was as curious as he was unsettled as to why the killer had agreed to meet with him.
The prisoner was escorted into the conference room by a female correctional officer. Embry had expected the murderer to arrive in shackles, a shaved head, and oversized overalls. But instead, Craig Muth wore blue and gold khakis and tennis shoes. The man pulled out a chair on his side of the table and sat down. The officer nodded at Embry, then exited the room, leaving the door open.
This wasn’t how Embry had imagined he’d face this animal. The script in his mind seemed all wrong now. Craig Muth wasn’t even the same bald youth who had— It was too unthinkable. Now, the man was clean-cut, his hair combed, his gaze on the center of the table. Where was that arrogance he’d shown in his smirk from across the courtroom almost twenty years ago?
“I expected a VOCS representative to be here with us.” Embry winced at his own soft voice in the small cement room. Why was he speaking to this refuse like he deserved a civilized tongue? Those weren’t the choice words he’d dreamed of first voicing. He sat down on his side of the table. “So, I guess it’s just us, huh?”
“Yeah.” Craig nodded, his eyes still downcast.
Embry cursed himself for not writing his condemning speech on paper. Of course, if he’d held the paper, it would’ve fallen apart from his sweaty palms. He couldn’t remember a single word of his hate-filled declaration now, meant to emotionally cripple the man in front of him, make him weep and beg for forgiveness that Embry would refuse to give. For years he’d been filled with so much loathing, and now his mind was a blank. How could he communicate like this?
“I don’t really know where to start.” Embry grit his teeth. Had he just admitted ignorance to this slime? “I mean, I thought I did. There’s a hole in my— I can’t quite get across— A lot of people thought I should—”
Shutting his mouth, Embry bowed his head. None of this was right. He had a master’s degree from the university. He was Freestyle Foster, able to improvise through any real estate conference or board meeting. What was wrong? Suddenly he looked up, cold sweat soaking his shirt under his blazer. Maybe that was the problem—nothing was wrong. A creep was supposed to be sitting in front of him, not this composed man who looked more like a grocery store clerk than a kidnapper and murderer.
“Maybe I should start,” Craig said.
“Sure.” Embry cleared his throat, trying to swallow past the driest throat he’d ever had. “Go ahead.”
“You’ve been waiting a long time for this.” His eyes lifted to meet Embry’s face. Those eyes—Embry saw they weren’t icy, but something quite opposite. Was there softness? “A lot of victim’s families crowd in here and spend their hour cursing and screaming at the pitiful fool who hurt them. All of us in here—we know we deserve that, and worse. It’d probably be more just, more fair, to give you a cat-of-nine-tails whip, and let you have at me until I took my last breath. That’s actually what I deserve, at the least.”
“I’ve thought of that.” Embry said, nodding. “Keep going.”
“But it wouldn’t help anything.” Craig frowned. “Some people realize the cycle of hatred and fear needs to end. If the victims hate the killers, which seems justified because of the pain we’ve caused, then the victims become the next killers. When we respond in kind, as deeply as we feel, we perpetuate the attitude that started it all.”
“Are you calling me a killer?”
“No, something else is going on inside you right now besides hatred.” Craig leaned forward with narrowed eyes. “I remember you from the trial. Now, that was a man of hatred.”
“I would’ve killed you back then.” Embry scoffed. “That’s the truth.”
“Yeah, I believe you. So, what’s changed? I don’t believe time heals, but it does help us gain some perspective.”
“No, I’ve hated you all these years. Oh, the things I’ve thought of doing—it’s unspeakable.” Embry took a deep breath. “When I was in the parking lot outside, I had so much rage. That was just a little while ago. But now, here you are and it’s not coming to the surface. Maybe I’m just too numb.”
“It might be something else.” Craig crossed his arms. “Where are you at with God?”
“God? Are you kidding?” Embry rolled his eyes. “Today has nothing to do with God.”
“I think today has everything to do with God. I might never have come face to face with my lost condition if I hadn’t been imprisoned for taking your son’s life. I wouldn’t have accepted this request to meet you if God hadn’t humbled me, broken me down, and let me see how horrible I’d become, the disease I was—purely rotten in my soul.”
“Don’t prisoners accept these meetings to look good before they go to their board hearings?”
“I’m a lifer without parole, Mr. Foster.” Craig held out his hands. “I’m not getting out, remember? I’m not here today for myself.”
“Oh, you think you’re here for me?” Embry shook his head. “You’re insane if you think I need anything from you!”
The murderer looked away and Embry felt his own shoulders slump. This wasn’t working. He needed to leave.
“A few years ago,” Craig said, “I was stabbed right here, close to the heart. Just a prison grudge. I got caught in the middle of something. That was my moment. I believe we all get a moment in life. You understand?”
“Understand what? What moment?”
“When I recognized my mortality. I could’ve died just like that.” The man snapped his fingers, making Embry flinch. “Those moments are from God. If the good times don’t make us think of God, eternity, and our spiritual condition, then I believe God allows the bad to get our attention. We can resist, of course. Or we can receive the message. I was nearly faced with death. That was my moment. I chose to receive the message.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe this is your moment.”
“I’m having a moment with you?” Embry smirked. “Oh, please!”
The two sat in silence for a few seconds, which was fine with Embry. He hoped the colorful words he’d planned would return to him, to put this scumbag in his place.
“There was a king a long time ago,” Craig said. “The king loved his people, but his people were dying of a blood disease. Only the royal line was immune to the disease. The king realized if he wanted to save his people, he needed to give them his blood, but it would require his life. Except then the people wouldn’t have a king who loved them. One day, the king’s son came forward and volunteered to die for the people, because his love was the same as his father’s. The son gave his blood to the people, and they lived, but the son died.”
Embry had never heard anything so strange—a fairy tale from a convict? He considered the story, wondering what the man meant by it.
“So, who am I, the king?” Embry clenched his fists.
“No.” Craig’s eyes flooded with tears. “You’re a father who understands the value of a son’s life.”
Like a blast of wind, Embry felt the impact of the words, the story, the imagery. It was too much. He rose from his chair.
“I have to leave.” He lunged toward the open door, then turned back. “The Son who died, He was Jesus. You were talking about God, weren’t you?”
“Yes, Mr. Foster. We’re the people with the disease. He died for us.”
Embry pushed past the officer in the hallway and waited for two doors to buzz open before he ran to his car in the parking lot. He couldn’t climb into the driver’s seat fast enough as his gasps turned to sobs. Was he losing his mind? How would he explain this to his wife, his relatives, his friends at work? Everyone knew he’d come to tell Craig Muth to die a miserable death!
He rested his head against the steering wheel as his emotions subsided. The conversation rushed through his mind like a storm. None of it made any sense, and yet it all made perfect sense. Had God been trying to get his attention all this time? Craig had found some sort of peace in God, and now God seemed to be using this murderer’s ordeal to reach him? It was absurd!
Turning in his seat, Embry read the visitor’s sign. Normal visiting hours started Saturday morning, two days away. It was pure insanity, but he wasn’t done with Craig Muth. Embry knew little about God, but he did know plenty about the pain of a father losing his son. Craig seemed to understand that better than even some of Embry’s own friends and family who’d done little and said less to console him for years. His son’s life had perhaps not been taken in vain. It was startling, but Embry knew Craig had what he needed to move forward, to live in peace, to breathe without hatred.
God was somehow the answer, but Embry knew that his son’s murderer would have to explain to him just how. Saturday morning couldn’t come soon enough. If only he could find some peace . . .
The End of The Value of a Son
GIVEAWAY NEWS: Melanie of Christian Bookshelf Reviews is hosting a GIVEAWAY beginning March 17! It will be open for two weeks and one person will WIN a FULL eBook Set of The COIL Series! Be sure to tell your friends! UPDATE: You can now find Melanie’s Amazon review of Dark Edge here and her Amazon Dark Zeal review here! (aff)
Since St. Patrick’s Day is this week, you may appreciate this Author Reflection that David wrote a few years ago, titled “St. Patrick and GREEN.”