There are 220 pages in "The Ravine," a new faith-based novel by Kansas City entrepreneur Robert Pascuzzi, but one of the overriding themes can be found in a prayer before the prologue.
Lord, help us realize that everything that happens to us happens for a reason. Help us realize that every sorrow or setback we experience can be transformed into a blessing, if we but trust in you. Help us realize that if we trust you, all things — even tragedies — will work out for our good.
Pascuzzi, of Olathe, is the vice president of corporate retirement plans at Creative Planning, Inc., and a first-time author. He's also an occasional guest speaker at Lansing Correctional Facility, where he spoke Thursday night with medium-security inmates.
"The Ravine: A Novel of Evil, Hope and the Afterlife," was released Tuesday through Midpoint Trade Books, and was inspired by true events.
A close family friend murdered his wife and son before taking his own life by driving his vehicle into a deep ravine, Pascuzzi said, forming the basis for the novel.
"Our families were very close," he said. "It was a shock to so many people. Nobody saw it coming. We have our own theories, but to this day, we have no concrete explanation."
The tragedy led Pascuzzi and his wife on a journey of questioning and exploring their beliefs, before a chance encounter with a "gifted person" helped them discover the "profound meaning" of hope, faith and "radical forgiveness."
About 75 inmates heard his presentation Thursday.
"The whole idea of the book … is about providing hope in a very dark situation," Pascuzzi said. "It was trying to take something that was very tragic and turn it into something good."
He found a receptive audience Tuesday. The inmates are part of the Kansas Department of Corrections' Mentoring 4 Success program, and had read the book before the presentation.
"He was very inspiring and gave them a sense of hope and understanding that there are people out there who believe in forgiveness and grace," said Marcy Konkader, Mentoring 4 Success assistant director. "It was an amazing opportunity for the guys."
Pascuzzi said it's understandable why the book resonates with inmates.
"There isn't anybody who's lost more hope, or needs hope, than somebody who's been incarcerated," Pascuzzi said. "So, that's why I think it's touching them. It's that, hey, you know what, God promises that in all things we are forgivable, that there is an offer of forgiveness through Jesus on the cross. That was the overall message we wanted to convey."
Pascuzzi said he felt the book, which took nearly three years to complete, was his answer to a calling.
"I had a stirring, I guess that's the best way to say it," he said. "… I had a stirring that this was supposed to be done, even though I'm not an author and I run a full-time business. But, I felt compelled, so that was the energy behind it."
Pascuzzi said he and his wife were shattered by the murder-suicide, but they had to shift from pain and anger to "forgiving the unforgivable."
"We had to eventually get to a place where we could shift and move from that space of anger, resentment to a place of … OK, what else could this mean? We had to ask a different question: Is there a way that perhaps something good can come from this?"
Pascuzzi said he came away from the tragedy, after time, with a deeper faith.
"I understood the concept of forgiveness, I think most people obviously do," he said. "But, in many respects, I wasn't truly living it. That was the challenge that presented itself to me."
The book has received praise from numerous corners, from readers to ministers to inmates.
"The Ravine is a 'message inside of a bottle,'" said Joe White, president of Kanahuk Ministries, according to a news release. "Hidden inside this cover is an inspiring message that will fill a heartfelt need in every family that reads it."
"This is a book every criminal should read," said Quincy Brown, an inmate at Jefferson County Correctional Center. "It shows how powerful forgiveness can be, how holding on to resentments can destroy you, how crime affects everyone, that we can change if we want to, and what can happen if we don't."
Pascuzzi has gone on a speaking tour to discuss faith, hope and redemption with church and civic groups, as well as at state and federal prisons.
"I really do believe God has a plan for everyone's life, and I believe this was a major part of what my plan is," he said. "I was being called, and if we answer the call, God can do great things. God doesn't call the equipped. He equips the called. I was called, and I'm really happy I stepped up to that call."
Another aspect of the book is Pascuzzi's "A Million Ways to Forgiveness" initiative, which outlines missions of putting 100,000 copies of "The Ravine" in the hands of inmates this year, and a million copies by the end of next. More on the initiative can be found at timeforforgiveness.org, and information about the book at www.theravinebook.com.
The author notes that his book wasn't written for profit, but for people.
"This wasn't about that," he said. "It's about getting the books in the hands of people who really need them. … It was never about making money, it was about delivering a message. That's my hope, that this book will touch millions of lives because it has such a strong message in it.
"It's a message that everyone needs, it's a message the world needs."