WELCOME TO MY

JOURN+AL JOTS BLOG ...

A weekly journal where you can learn what I'm up to on my books, giveaways, fun things I'm doing or even my own personal devotional for the day. It's a broad mix of what's on my mind, allowing me to feel a little bit closer to some of the most important people in my life -- YOU! So please stop by from time to time, and if you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you via the "Contact Julie" tab or via my Facebook page.  Hugs, Julie

 

8:06PM

Friday, June 24, 2016

"You should be kissed and often,
 and by someone who knows how."

—Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind

Oh, honey, can I hear a big AMEN to that???

HAPPY NATIONAL KISSING DAY!! Yep, you heard me right, and as a die-hard romance writer and reader, I thought we should talk about “kisses” in honor of today, so I am reposting a Seekerville post  I wrote for Valentines Day.

Why? Because on the subject of kisses, I am sooooo in agreement with my most flirtatious heroine, Charity O’Connor who said in A Passion Redeemed:

          “You have to be tough and focus on the end result—getting Brady to admit he’s in love with you.”
          “But how do I do that?” Lizzie chewed on her thumbnail.
          Leaning back in her chair, Charity placed her hands over her pregnant stomach, lips pursed in a satisfied smile. “With the most deadly weapon in a women’s arsenal.”
          Both Faith and Lizzie stopped breathing. They leaned forward. “And what’s that?” Lizzie whispered.
          Charity paused, tone hushed with reverence.“The kiss.”   

A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman                          

Ah, yes, “the kiss”!

The very subject people have been talking about for centuries, immortalizing “the kiss” in every medium possible:

IN BOOKS
The kiss itself is immortal.
It travels from lip to lip, century to century,
 from age to age.  Men and women garner these kisses,
 offer them to others and then die in turn.
—Guy de Maupassant

IN MOVIES
“A kiss may not be the truth,
but it is what we wish were true.”
—Steve Martin in L.A. Story (1991)

IN SONG TITLES
This Kiss
by Faith Hill

BY MOVIE STARS
A kiss is a secret told to the mouth instead of the ear;
kisses are the messengers of love and tenderness.
—Ingrid Bergman

BY PLAYWRIGHTS AND POETS
Make me immortal with a kiss.
—Christopher Marlowe

BY SINGERS/SONGWRITERS
Well, it’s either kiss me or kill me,
 that’s how I see it.
—Tom Waits

AND EVEN IN CHILDREN'S RHYMES
Keith and Julie sitting in a tree,
K—I-—S—S—I—N—G
First comes love, then comes marriage,
Then comes Julie with the baby carriage.

So … I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of my favorite kisses that I've ever written. Well, fun for me, at least … and the other kissaholics out there, maybe!

But first—a caveat. Some in the Christian market have called me “The Kissing Queen,” so it’s no secret I like my kisses way more hot than sweet. You see, before I came to Christ, I was one of the huge majority of women who read secular romance, so for me, romantic passion is key. However, as some of us know from judging Rita books, most of the secular market is prettttttttty passionate/graphic, which is why I don’t read secular books anymore except when judging the Ritas.

So … when I started reading Christian romance over forty years ago, it was like going from five-alarm hot tamales to pabulum, the final straw being a book I read by a top-name author when I was in my fifties, where the hero kissed the heroine on the last page in front of seven people after he asked her to marry him.

Uh, no.

That was the moment I decided to write my own Christian romance for women like me— “hot tamales” who love God with all of their heart and want to honor Him in their reading and writing.

That said, when I combed all the love scenes in my books—and those who have read my books know there are plenty—I only found a few kissing scenes that were “sweet” vs. hot.

Yeah, pathetic, I know.

Therefore … if you like your kisses “sweet” (i.e. almost kisses, non-kisses, mental kisses, all of which you can find on my KISSES, KISSES, KISSES tab of my website) rather than “hot,” then you might want to stop reading after point  #1 below, which is one of the sweetest kisses I have ever written. Shall we begin?

1.)  THE SWEET KISS:

"Now a soft kiss—aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss."
—John Keats

This is a scene from A Love Surrendered, where the hero, Steven O’Connor, is railroaded by his family to take the heroine, Annie Kennedy, and her five-year-old sister home. When he walks them to the door, the little girl, Glory, is in her sister’s arms and gives Steven a kiss goodnight on the lips, then insists he kiss her sister as well.

         Heart thudding, he did the only thing he knew to do. He kissed Annie right on the tip of her nose. Clearing his throat, he stepped back. “Well, good night, ladies.”
        “No, silly,” Glory said, “like this . . .” She demonstrated with a sweet little peck on her sister’s lips as if he were too stupid to understand, then tilted her head. “See? It’s easy.”
        Too easy, he thought with a trip of his pulse. Way, way too easy . . .
        “Stop it, Glory, Steven doesn’t want to—”
        “Sure I do,” he whispered, his words shocking him as much as Annie. Gaze holding hers, he slowly leaned in, close enough to see the long sweep of her lashes, the pale gold in eyes so green, he felt like he was in Oz, about to be granted a wish. He heard the soft hitch of her breath when she stopped breathing because it coincided with the halt of air in his own lungs. Cupping her face in his hand, his eyelids sheathed closed at the touch of her lips—soft, supple, and just a hint of peppermint from the candy she’d offered him in the car. It was meant to be no more than a peck like Glory had given him, but somehow his mouth wanted to linger and explore . . .
       He stepped in close, body grazing hers and Glory’s till they were one. A little-girl giggle broke the trance, and Annie’s lips curved beneath his.
       “His whiskers are itchy, aren’t they, Annie?” Glory asked, patting his face. “Kind a makes you wiggly all over, doesn’t it?”
       Annie’s eyes glowed as she caressed her own cheek. “Very wiggly,” she whispered.

 

2.) THE KISS THAT UNLEASHES HIDDEN ATTRACTION:

"Never ask a woman if you may kiss her.
Instead, learn to read body language."
—Neil Strauss

In A Hope Undaunted, while hero Luke McGee is comforting heroine Katie O’Connor, he is shocked to sense her attraction to him despite her prior disdain, a dream come true for the boy who’s had a crush on her since she was eleven. When he kisses her, his suspicions are confirmed, escalating the romantic tension … and “the kiss.”

       As if under a spell, his gaze was drawn to her lips, parted and full, and the sound of her shallow breathing filled him with a fierce longing. “Oh, Katie,” he whispered, no power over the pull he was suddenly feeling. In slow motion, he bent toward her, closing his eyes to caress her mouth with his own.
       A weak gasp escaped her as she stiffened, but he couldn’t relent. The taste of her lips was far more than he bargained for, and he drew her close with a raspy groan. With a fierce hold, he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her deeply, gently, possessive in his touch. His fingers twined in her hair, desperate to explore.
       And then all at once, beyond his comprehension, her body melded to his with an answering groan, and he was shocked when her mouth rivaled his with equal demand. Desire licked through him, searing his body and then his conscience. With a heated shudder, he gripped her arms and pushed her back, his breathing ragged as he held her at bay.
      “We can’t do this,” he whispered. He dropped his hold and exhaled, gouging shaky fingers through disheveled hair. His gaze returned, capturing hers and riddled with regret. “Believe me, Katie, as much as I want to, I’ve learned the hard way to take things slow. I should have never started this, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”


3.) THE RETALIATORY KISS:

"A kiss, and all was said."
—Victor Hugo

Later in the same scene from above, Katie slaps Luke silly despite her obvious attraction to him, unleashing his anger toward the girl who’s mocked him since he was a boy. This ramps his earlier tender attraction all the way to wounded ego, resulting in an angry kiss to not only prove she's lying when she says she's not attracted to him, but to spurn her like she did to him.

       She tried to shove him out of the way. “I’m going home.”
       “Not yet,” he whispered, blocking her in with a push to the wall. “You can turn your nose up at me all you want, Katydid, but we both know that slap wasn’t so much about an innocent kiss . . .” He bent close, his eyes on fire and the scent of peppermint hot against her face. “As how it made you feel. To you I’ll always be riffraff, something vulgar and crude. Well, welcome to my world, Miss O’Connor. And, please, let me show you how we do it on the ‘streets.’”
       In a catch of her breath, he took her mouth by force, his late-day beard rough against her skin. A faint moan escaped her lips and all resistance fled, burned away by the heat of his touch, leaving her weak and wanting. His mouth roamed at will, no longer gentle as he devoured her, ravenous against the smooth curve of her throat, the soft flesh of her ear. With a guttural groan, he jerked her close with powerful arms, consuming her mouth with a kiss surely driven by the sheer will to ravage.


4.) THE STILL-WATERS-RUN-DEEP KISS:

"He kisses like he’s dying of thirst, and I’m water."
—Jennifer L. Armentrout

In this scene from A Passion Denied, heroine Lizzie O’Connor has been in love with hero John Brady since she was fourteen, but he only sees her as a little girl … until she tricks him with a surprise—and forbidden—kiss.

         A fraction of a second became eons as she awaited his rejection. His body was stiff with shock, but no resistance came. And in a sharp catch of her breath, he drew her to him with such force, she gasped, the sound silenced by the weight of his mouth against hers. He groaned and clutched the back of her head as if to delve in her soul, a man possessed. His lips broke free to wander her throat, and shivers of heat coursed through her veins. In ragged harmony, their shallow breathing billowed into the night while his arms possessed her, molding her body to his.
        “Oh, Brady, I’m so in love with you,” she whispered. Her words severed his hold as neatly as the blade of a guillotine. He staggered to his feet, and icy cold replaced the warmth of his arms. Opening her eyes, she saw pain in his and grabbed his arm. “Brady, can’t you see? You love me too … not as a friend or a sister, but as a woman.”
         “God help me, Beth, I can’t love you that way.” He stared like a zombie, chest heaving with jagged breaths that swirled into the cool night air, drifting away.
Just like her dreams.


5.) THE NO-NONSENSE COWBOY KISS:

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature
to stop speech when words become superfluous."
Ingrid Bergman

Okay, I’ll admit it—I have never written a cowboy kiss before, but I can still see Mary Connealy’s cowboy kiss in my mind from Sharpshooter in Petticoats, which practically gave me heatstroke.

AND … because I love it SO much, I am posting Mary’s “no-nonsense cowboy kiss” first, then following up with my first cowboy kiss ever, which Mary inspired from her book, Sharpshooter in Petticoats:

“The one thing you don’t seem to know, woman,” Tom surged to his feet, “is that you can’t stop me.” His arm whipped out quick as a striking rattler and he yanked her hard against his body. “You’re mine.” He grabbed a hank of her hair. “You’ve been mine since the day we met. You were mine when you were married to another man. You were mine when you were giving birth to someone else’s child. You’re mine, and I’m through waiting for you.” He sank his heavy hand deeper into her hair and tilted her head back. “We’re married. I will protect you. I will die for you.” He kissed her until her knees went weak and her arms wrapped around his neck to keep from falling. Long moments later he raised his head, his blue eyes burning into hers. “Better than that. I will live for you. That’s all you need to understand.” He swooped his head down.

Quick—somebody give me a fan—please! Okay, I’ll end today’s blog with my own version of the “no-nonsense cowboy” from my upcoming spring Seeker novella, “For Love of Liberty”:

“No, ma’am, I’m tired of your yammering and I mean to go home, so I’m not going to tell you again, Liberty Bell—move that fancy dress of yours out of my way, or I’m going to move it for you.”
          “You wouldn’t!” Those full pink lips parted in shock, and he mentally grazed them in his mind, tasting their softness.
          “Try me.” He singed her with a glare as hot as the fire she’d lit in his belly. Sparks and words continued to fly while that beautiful mouth just jabbered away, but the only thing he heard was the violent thud of his own pulse and the sound of those lips calling him home ...
         “So there, Finn McShane!” she said with a stomp of her foot, “I will not get out of your way, and you can’t make me!”
         He sighed. Poor, misguided little rich girl. “Yeah?” He pushed the brim of his hat up. “Watch me.” Hurling his satchel to the floor, he heard the catch of her breath when he struck like lightning with an arm to her waist, jerking her close to kiss the daylights out of her while her boots dangled in the air.
Unfortunately, the moment he tasted those soft lips parted in surprise, he was struck by a little lightning of her own, electrifying every nerve in his body while his blood simmered to a dangerous boil. When a soft telltale mew escaped her, he was helpless to contain the low moan that scraped past his throat. Butting her to the door, he cradled her face in his hands, longing pumping through his veins as he claimed the sweetest lips he’d ever known, completely disarmed by the scent of her skin, the soft flesh of her ear. He’d dreamed of kissing Liberty O’Shea for as long as could remember, but he never expected this—a kiss that could surely tame his taste for all other woman.
          The very thought bucked like a thorn-saddled bull, and with a shiver of sleet through his bloodstream, he dropped her to the floor like he’d been bit by a rattler. She teetered precariously—along with his heart—eyes glazed and mouth still open in shock. Mustering all the calm he owned—a mite short at the moment—he yanked his hat down low and reached for the knob. She bolted away so fast, Finn had to stifle a chuckle, tossing her a wink as he opened the door. “Told you.”

Okay, that’s it for today, and if you’d like to read some of my favorite kissing scenes in their entirety, be sure to check out the KISSES, KISSES, KISSES and the FAVE KISSING SCENES pages of my website.

GIVEAWAY!!!!
Now I'd like to hear from you all—just send me an email through my CONTACT JULIE tab or via FACEBOOK message, naming your favorite kiss of any of those I've written above or in any of my books, and I’ll enter you to win an ecopy of both my new contemporary, Isle of Hope, or it’s brand-new prequel, A Glimmer of Hope. And if you already have IOH, I’ll substitute with book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, which releases this September, so either way, it’s win-win!


12:26AM

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Father! To God Himself,
we cannot give a holier name."

 --William Wordsworth

There is no question in my mind that fathers are a big deal. In a family, in a marriage, and in a person's life. And heaven knows Father's Day is a pretty big deal in the United States.

And yet not all of us had fathers we could celebrate. I know I didn't ... not until God taught me the true meaning of Fatherhood in my relationship with Him.

 

John 3:16,  For God so loved the world ...

Ephesians 2:4-5, Because of the great love with which He loved us ...

Zechariah 2:8, For whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye--

I'm convinced that no matter what type of father we had, fatherhood is important to God. One of the reasons I believe this is because after I became a Christian, the first mandate God gave me was to forgive my father.

Now let me just say right off the bat, that was no small task. My dad had a vicious temper, so when he would lose it, he would beat us with his belt, his shoe, or a cat-of-nine-tails. Don't get me wrong -- he was no bum. My dad was an eye surgeon who supported thirteen children in style, but as rich as he was financially, he was incredibly poor emotionally, unable to truly express his love to a family who desperately needed it. Which is no surprise since he himself came from a highly dysfunctional background where his mother once took potshot at his father with a gun.

When I was twenty-one, my father kicked me out of the house late at night in a horrendous fight that ended my relationship with him for three years. Fortunately for me, I had a decent job and a car, so my little sister (who was still in high school) and I went out on our own. I was an agnostic at the time, so it was a decadent period of my life where I was so angry at God that I actually used to say I wanted to burn Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms. As a wild child of the 60s and 70s, I tried everything to be happy—from astrology and tarot cards … to transcendental meditation and witchcraft—you name it. My vocabulary would have made a sailor blush.

Then one day, this annoying gal at work approached me. I couldn't stand her because she came in every day, happy as a lark while I was utterly miserable. And then it happened—one life-altering moment when she and I were alone. She was humming, so I looked up from my typewriter and said, “Just what in the heck (except my language was a bit saltier back then) makes you so happy all the time?” She said, “I’ve been praying you would ask.”

Oh, no, a Jesus freak, I thought to myself, but I found myself going to lunch with her, badgering her with questions and accusations. I don’t remember now if it was weeks or months, but either way, I met Jesus Christ through the remarkable patience of a God-sent angel by the name of Joy—pretty appropriate name, eh?

Poor Joy -- she says to this day that God gave her a superantural patience she'd never had with anyone before, and let me tell you -- she needed it! I was a case, for sure, especially when the first thing she told was that I needed to forgive my father.

Excuse me???

But I did it. Didn't want to, but one Saturday night after three years of silence, I called my estranged father and asked if I could bring him a meal. My dad was a retired widower by that time who spent his days fishing with his black lab, Beau. I was shocked when he said yes, and pretty darn nervous when I went to his house with beef stew -- his favorite. I didn't eat with him, mind you, just brought him the meal and then watched TV with him so I could talk to him during the commercials -- the only time he would speak. One of the shows we watched was the Untouchables, and trust me, the irony of that was not lost on me.

I kept this pattern of meals/TV up for a period of months, always hugging Daddy at the end of the night and telling him I loved him. Of course, he never hugged me back nor said he loved me.

Until ... one fateful night that changed everything. All those prayers, all that forgiveness, all that beef stew finally paid off in a moment I will never, EVER forget. I told him I loved him and hugged him, and in achingly slow motion, his arms inched around my back in a tentative hug as my father told me he loved me for the first time I could remember.

This is the story that is the core of my latest novel, Isle of Hope. It it a story full of so much hope and healing that I cried whenever I edited it. In it, two fathers failed and betrayed their children, but through the grace of our True Father in Heaven, they become the fathers God meant them to be. Just like Him, loving us so unconditionally that we are set free from the bonds of bitterness and hurt.

To be come the daughters and children WE were meant to be.

So in honor of Father's Day, I am including an excerpt below from Isle of Hope that mirrors what happened between my father and me, so I hope you enjoy it. In the clip, Lacey has just had a terrible fight with her father, storming out of his house. She weeps in the car, which is where God finally teaches her to forgive.

And, please, don't forget to tell your own father -- both earthly and Heavenly -- that you love them.

Hugs,

Julie

UPDATE ON LITTLE GENEVIEVE:

WHOO-HOO, the final test came back 100% that Genevieve does not have the bad chromosone, so PRAISE GOD!! At this point it looks like sweet Gen will only need one (albeit dangerous) heart surgery after she is born that will give her a full life expectancy! But the doctors have said that there are additional tests that will need to be run in the months ahead (it's too early to run them now) that could reveal more problems than they expected. But I am believing for a good report, be it total healing or an easy surgery, so please continue to pray for our little Gen, okay?

THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!

 

HALLMARK MOVIE THIS SATURDAY, JUNE 18, FOR ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS!!

I don't know where you're going to be on Saturday night at 9:00 PM EDT/8:00 PM CDT, but I'm going to be on the couch with my honey watching The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter on Hallmark! Not only is Denise a dear friend, but she is one of my TOP FIVE FAVE authors in the CBA, so if you haven't read her yet, you need to. I absolutely LOVED The Convenient Groom, and the good news is that it's on sale now for only $1.99, so do check it out. And if you want a sneak peek at the movie, check it out HERE!

 

EXCERPT FROM

ISLE OF HOPE BY JULIE LESSMAN

Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

“Oh, God, I c-can’t do this,” she said with a violent heave, “he’s d-destroyed any love I m-might have ever had …” Fumbling for a Kleenex in her purse, she wept bitterly, heaves ravaging her body while despair ravaged her heart. Time ticked by in painful shudders, and when the tears finally slowed, she was as depleted and torn as the soggy tissue in her hand.

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Her limbs stilled, fluid and grief sealing the air in her throat. Unfailing love. The kind God had given to her. Unconditional, unmerited, full of hope and forgiveness she didn’t deserve.

Just like her father.

The very thought wrestled in her mind, wringing anguish from her soul and more tears from her eyes. “God help me,” she whispered, “I have no power to do this.”

Out of nowhere, like a feather on a breeze, a still small voice drifted in her mind …

May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Her breath caught in her throat. The power of the Holy Spirit.

His, not hers.

Fingers trembling, she pushed the hair from her face. Her eyelids fluttered closed as His Word—those of the very God who created hope—settled over her like a cocoon of peace and calm, slowing her tears and racing her pulse.

Hope.

Lost through a tragedy.

Restored through a Savior.

Her head jerked up and she stared at the sky, awed by a million stars that seemed to blur into the glittering promises of God, the ‘Bright Morning Star.’ Swiping her eyes in wonder, she breathed in the cool night air, drinking in deeply of His joy and peace.

And His hope—oxygen to her soul.

Tears pricked. And to her father’s.

“Oh, God, forgive me,” she whispered, voice broken and hoarse. Frantically rifling through her purse for more Kleenex, she blew her nose and patted her face, overcome by a sudden rush of love that chased all of her anger away. With a violent surge of her lungs, she flung the car door wide, not even bothering to close it as she sprinted to her father’s front porch. Her blood pulsed wildly in her ears as she rammed her finger to the bell, the boom of her heart louder than those silly bongs echoing inside.

Eons ticked away like ragged heartbeats until the door slowly creaked open, revealing the haggard form of her father.

“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered, and with a broken sob, she flung her arms around his waist, not even minding that he stood rigid and still. “I forgive you, I do!” Heaves racked her body as she clung with all of her might, the emotion swelling in her throat nearly choking her words. “And I will love you forever, no matter what.”

Quietly, hesitantly, movement inched around her, so slowly, she almost missed it.

And then, for the first time in her life, in one hushed moment of awe …

She wept in the arms of her father.

10:43AM

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory:

more and more grace and more and more people,

more and more praise.

— 2nd Cor.4:15, Message Bible

Oh, honey, ain't it the truth!

More and more grace and more and more people = more and more praise.

And, boy oh boy, do I have some praise to share with you!!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all of your prayers, because our baby Genevieve has jumped major hurdles this week, and all the praise and glory goes to the God we all serve!!

I literally broke and down and cried when my son called this week to say that they are 99% sure that sweet Genevieve -- and yes, I can tell you now that Genevieve is my granddaughter in utero -- does NOT have the fatal chromosone, so we are dancing in the streets (and on the dock) in Osage Beach, let me tell you!!

And we have more good news as well! The "best-case scenario" of multiple complicated, dangerous surgeries in the first year of life, producing an 80% chance of survival to age 15 has now been downgraded to one complicated surgery after birth ... with a full life expectancy!!

OH. MY. GOODNESS!! Or God's 'goodness,' I should say, because that's what it is when "more and more people" pray to unleash "more and more grace," which equals "more and more praise" to the Alpha and the Omega.

This may sound silly to some of you, but that's why the scene I've posted below from Isle of Hope is SO very personal to me. I actually think it and I pray it often during my devotion time because it's straight from my heart and one of the greatest truths I've ever learned as a Christian. And that is: God is EVERYTHING!

Whether we're happy or sad, experiencing joy or trials, HE is the Bottom Line. The Aplha and the Omega. The Beginning and the End. And when it's all said and done, HE is the only Source of Hope that we have, and the only One Who can carry us through a life of tribulation into an eternity of peace and joy.

So I want to thank you ALL sooooo very much for your prayers for Genevieve, and also for me over the years, because prayer is so critical to our lives. Which is why I pray God's richest blessings on each and every one of you!

Hugs and more hugs,

Julie

COME CHAT WITH ME ON MONDAY, JUNE 13 AT THE CHRISTIAN FICTION READER’S RETREAT FACE BOOK PARTY!! Join me, Myra Johnson, Susan Anne Mason, Dani Petry, Shelley Shepherd Gray, Carrie Turansky, Becky Wade and a host of other authors this coming Monday, June 13th from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. eastern time. Giveaways included with each author’s 15-minute segment, so don’t miss out! I'm up first on the segment at 6:30 PM, so here’s the link:  CFRR FB JUNE 13 PARTY

Scene from Isle of Hope

by Julie Lessman

Jack’s jaw felt like rock as he stared, blinking rapidly to fight the sting of emotion. “Why’d you do it then?” His voice cracked. “Why’d you destroy our family?”

A slow, reedy breath escaped his father’s lips that underscored the fatigue Jack saw in his face. “Because I’m a weak man, Jack, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a weak man who thinks he’s strong.” His chest expanded as his gaze trailed out to the water, voice lagging into a low drone laden with pain. “A charming go-getter from the slums who rose to the top of his class in seminary. You know, the pastor most likely to succeed? And I did.”

Head bowed, he kneaded the bridge of his nose, lashes spiked with moisture as he closed his eyes. “Wasn’t long before I climbed the ranks, snagging head pastor at Isle of Hope Assembly after your grandpa died and we moved in here with Tess’s mom. So there I was—a cocky poor kid on high-brow Bluff Drive with a beautiful wife, a smart son, two brand-new baby girls, and one of the most enviable pulpits on the East Coast. Speaking engagements rolled in as fast as pledges and tithes, and Mercer University even courted me for a professorship at McAffe School of Theology.” He sighed, the sound fractured by shame. “It seemed I could do no wrong.” His eyes slowly rose to meet Jack’s. “Until I did.”

He hunched on the edge of his chair, elbows draped over his knees and gaze glued to the weathered boards beneath his feet. “You wouldn’t know this because you were mostly away at college, but your mom and I started having problems. Little things at first—arguments over the amount of time I gave to the church for travel, counseling, you name it, basically leaving the burden of home life to her. My answer was for her to quit her job, so the little I was home, I badgered her nonstop, which only deepened the divide. In my mind, I was right and she was wrong, and I made no bones about it.”

He looked up again, but this time his stare wandered over the water as if he were locked in the past. “I don’t think I fully realized it at the time, but looking back, I can see I was slowly losing your mom’s respect as a pastor …” A muscle twitched in his cheek. “And as a man.” He chafed the back of head. “And because I could do no wrong in my own mind, it was just easier to blame it all on her, to tell myself she was the problem, not me.”

He lowered his head, as if he couldn’t bear to face Jack’s disdain, a shaky hand obscuring his eyes. “So when Karen approached me about counseling … I didn’t see any harm. As a high-profile pastor, I’d had plenty of women tempt me in the past, but I was wise to seduction, at least the sexual kind, so I’d never had any problem saying no. An inflated state of mind that only fed my pride, apparently, setting me up for the fall. I told myself Karen wasn’t a seductress, but a good friend and neighbor that I cared about, a troubled woman who needed my help.”

He grunted, the sound laced with disgust. “The invincible Pastor O’Bryen, straining at a gnat, but swallowing a camel. Adept at reading ‘come-hither’ looks in women, but totally unprepared for the seduction of respect and admiration in Karen’s eyes—the exact opposite I saw in your mother’s. Hero worship in the most sinister form, luring me like a lamb to slaughter …”

His body quivered with a depleting sigh before he rose and walked to the far edge of the dock, hands buried in his pockets while he stared at the river. “Once it happened,” he whispered, “I swore it would never happen again, but of course it did, brick-walling my pride more and more just to keep out the guilt. Until everything came crashing down …” He turned toward Jack with a slump of shoulders and a glimmer of pain. “I lost my wife, my family, my friends, and my church. The only way my pride could cope, Jack, was to cling to the lie that Karen and I belonged together, to believe that I was the one to deliver her from her troubled marriage and she from mine.” He inhaled sharply, releasing it again in a slow, tenuous breath. “So we left.”

“You mean ran away with your tail between your legs.” Jack’s words hissed in the air.

“Yes,” his father said calmly, “I ran away like the coward I was.” The aura of peace and calm Jack had sensed before settled over his father’s shoulders again like the mantle of moonlight that broke through the clouds. “It took losing everything, Son, including my life, to finally understand what I was too blind to see. Everything to liberate me from the same pride that lost Lucifer his soul. And that is—God alone is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beat of my pulse. He is the strength in my bones. He is my beginning and my end, and there is no hope in anything—” His father took a step forward, an almost ethereal glow of faith in his eyes like nothing Jack had ever seen, “anything … except Him.”

Unable to speak, Jack couldn’t move a muscle, eyes locked on the father he’d considered shallow and weak. The same man who now radiated a strength and peace that seemed to envelop Jack as well. His father gave an awkward shrug as he approached, hands deep in his pockets and smile sheepish. “Sorry—I get a little carried away at the magnitude of Who He is, Jack, and just how much He loves us. Enough to allow us the freedom to choose. And enough to allow those choices to strip us of everything that stands in the way of our ultimate happiness—Him.”

His smile faded into sobriety while his gaze bonded to Jack’s. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Son,” he said quietly, “anymore than I deserve God’s, but I’m asking for it all the same.” He peered up at the sky, as if drawing strength from the shaft of light that split the billow of dark clouds overhead. “I don’t deserve it, Son, but you do. I don’t want to see you make the mistake I made, choosing pride over God. I learned the hard way that pride is man’s greatest weakness. It felled Lucifer at the beginning of time and it will do the same for anyone who relies on his or her own strength rather than God’s. It will rob them of God’s blessings and steal their hope and their future.” He studied Jack’s face in a silent plea. “And it will rob us of the ability to forgive if we let it, so I’m asking you, Jack, please—” He paused, grasping Jack’s shoulder in a firm hold. “Don’t. For your sake as well as your mother’s.”

Eons passed, it seemed, as Jack stared, feeling the battle within to forgive or to turn him away. This was the man he’d loved and revered most of his life. The man of God who’d inspired him. The father who’d taught him to fish and swing a bat. The parent who’d nurtured and encouraged him. His eyelids lumbered closed. And the hero who’d disappointed him, falling from his sky like Lucifer, flinging his family into the abyss.

And yet, here he stood, a man on the precipice of eternity, giving the greatest gift of all.

The truth.

Moisture stung beneath his lids like a flash flood. Mind in a freefall, he struggled to breathe against the anger and bitterness that choked the air from his throat. And then with a violent heave, he gripped his father as if he were a lifeline, clinging as fiercely as the summer his dad had saved his life, a small boy determined to brave the currents of a flooded river. Then, like now, he’d been drowning in the deep, struggling with the swirling emotions that longed to take him down. His father’s hold tightened, and with a shuddering heave, Jack wept against his neck, clutching so hard, his fingers dug into his back. Like a thundercloud heavy with rain, years of grief streamed from his eyes, washing the pain away to nourish a new beginning.

“I love you, Son,” his father rasped, “and if there were anything in the world I could do to make it up to you, I would.”

Eyes burning, Jack pulled away, hands braced to his father’s arms as he searched his face, finally seeing a glimmer of the hero he’d lost through a haze of healing that he knew—in time—would restore what his bitterness had stolen away. He swallowed hard, dislodging the last of his hurt. “There is,” he said, throat thick with emotion. “Will you marry Lacey and me?”

His father stared, his startled look containing a flicker of hope despite the spike of his brows. “I thought Tess said your pastor friend Chase was going to marry you.”

“He was,” Jack said, “but he’ll understand.”

Jaw twitching, his father blinked several times before he gave a short nod. “It would be one of the greatest honors of my life, Jack,” he said, his words gruff and low. He sucked in a deep breath before grinning outright. “Although given my past, I’m not sure I’m the best one to sanction your marriage.” He sifted a trembling hand through his hair, his embarrassment evident in a flustered shrug. “As a man of God, I don’t exactly have the best track record, you know.”

Flashing a gleam of teeth that matched his dad’s, Jack draped an arm over his shoulder. “That’s okay, Dad—neither do I.”


10:48PM

Thursday, June 2, 2016

You, Oh LORD, keep my lamp burning;

my God turns my darkness into light. 

-- Psalm 18:28

I have a sister who suffers from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), otherwise known as winter depression or the winter blues, which means the absence of light/sun in the winter causes a malaise that is generally absent the rest of the year.

I can certainly understand why. I have a skin condition called psoriasis, and as a young woman, I'd pop a blanket down next to a building in 47-degree weather to lay out because sunlight is not only good for mood, but it's good for psoriasis too. Somehow, being butted up against a building that blocked the wind while I soaked up the sun, slathered with cocoa butter and listening to oldies, made me feel happy, relaxed, hopeful. Even with a patch of leftover snow nearby!

And poor Keith. When we recently moved, greatly downsizing from a good-size house in St. Louis and almost forty years of accumulation down to a townhome at Lake of the Ozarks with no garage and almost no storage, I insisted on bringing my many oil lamps. "Julie, let them all go," he said the day I was packing up, "they're old and we don't have room." "But we need them, babe," I argued, hovering over the lamps like a mother hen. "What will we do if the lights go out?"

Indeed. A question each and every one of us might ask when darkness descends in our lives. Just like it did for me this week. A precious unborn child in our family was diagnosed in utero with severe heart problems in which the "best-case scenario" is multiple complicated, dangerous surgeries in the first year of life, producing an 80% chance of survival to age 15. The worst-case scenario? The possible presence of a bad gene that would cause death before birth or within one year after, breaking the hearts of all of us who would love her, including two small siblings.

Let me tell you, the lights went out for me and everyone in my family that day, leaving us in an awful darkness that not only brought depression, but also snuffed the hope from our souls.

Until sunlight of another kind slowly seeped into our hearts like the dawn of a new day -- the precious SONlight of God!

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until the full day. -- Proverbs 4:18

"I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." -- John 8:12

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. -- Psalm 112:4

Those who live in a dark land, the Light will shine on them. -- Isaiah 9:2

Because, YES, our God DOES turn our darkness into light and keeps our lamps burning throughout the darkest hours of our days, and I have seen and felt it this week! With every single prayer that pours into our lives over this precious little girl, our skies brighten with the true Sonlight that not only heals and instills hope, but chases our gloom away.

Yesterday, tests revealed that there is only a 10% chance that the bad gene is present, so we are now leaning closer to the best-case scenario. But you know what? I'm leaning toward God's best-case scenario, praying for total healing or minimal surgery after birth with a normal life expectancy.

Will you join me? Will you say a prayer for our little Genevieve?

My deepest thanks to all of you and to another dear friend who sent this beautiful Scripture prayer that brought tears to my eyes.

“For God declares: I know the plans that I have for Genevieve, plans for her welfare and not for calamity to give Genevieve a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). My eyes have seen her unformed substance, and in My Book were written the days that were ordained for her, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious are My thoughts toward Genevieve! How vast is the sum of them (Psalm 139:16). Before Genevieve was formed, I knew her, and before she is born, I have already consecrated her (Jeremiah 1:5). I, the Lord, will preserve her and keep her alive, and she will be blessed on the earth; for I will not deliver her to the will of the enemy! (Psalm 41:2).

Thank you, LORD that Your Word is true and You are faithful to perform it!

Hugs and here's to a sunny weekend!

Julie

P.S. PLEASE FORGIVE ME -- I meant to include author Sandra Orchard's grandson in my post today for prayer, and I completely forgot (only one of the many ravages of getting old!!), so PLEASE pray for little 3-year-old Jed as well. He had a tragic accident with a tractor, requiring multiple surgeries and an amputation, so I cannot imagine the pain and trauma that family is going through right now. He is slowly improving, so prayers are vital for this family as we all know. Here is Sandra's Facebook page if you want more information: https://www.facebook.com/SandraOrchard/. Thank you and God bless you for your faithfulness in prayer!!

 

10:45AM

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why only love with all your heart,

when you can put your soul into it?

-- Anonymous

Why, indeed! And that's what Christian fiction is all about -- heart AND soul! Which is why I am so very THRILLED to announce the release of HEART & SOUL -- FIVE "Deeply Inspirational and Utterly Romantic" bestselling novels by FIVE award-winning authors.

I have read every one of these authors, and they are ALL outstanding award-winners, and I have read four of the five novels in this bundle, and let me tell you right now -- two of them are are top faves.

Heart & Soul is available for PREORDER right now, but goes ON SALE this Monday, May 23rd for only $3.99. That's only 79 cents a piece for some truly amazing books!! So if you haven't read them all, I encourage you to take advantage of this limited offer.

ORDER HEART & SOUL HERE

And to get whet your appetite, here's the Amazon blurb, which includes a brief synopsis of each novel in this collection:

Lose yourself, heart and soul, in five of the best romantic stories on the inspirational market. Spanning the 1600’s to present day, these novels will not only make your heart beat a little faster, but inspire you, uplift your spirit, and draw you closer to the One who will never leave you.

Written by five best-selling, award-winning authors, this collection will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget and will leave you with a smile on your lips, joy in your spirit, and a song in your heart.

Love’s Every Whisper, by Naomi Rawlings, 4.8 Amazon rating
Lake Superior, 1883. Victoria Donnelly has finally found a way to redeem herself in the eyes of her family, but it requires returning to the small town of Eagle Harbor, where forgotten feelings for a man she can never have lie buried. Can she face her childhood sweetheart again without destroying both their hearts?

A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman, 4.8 Amazon rating
Boston, 1895. One Woman. Two Men. One stirs her pulse, the other her faith. But who will win her heart? Marceline Murphy, a gentle beauty with a well-founded aversion to rogues, catches the eye of two of Boston’s most notorious. Patrick O’Connor and Sam O’Rourke are best friends with a bond like brothers … until they meet one woman neither can have.

The Reckoning by MaryLu Tyndall, 4.8 Amazon rating 
When Morgan Shaw hid on a tall ship replica in present-day San Diego, her intent was to avoid the guy who had just dumped her, not wake up aboard a real pirate ship 300 years in the past. Now, she must face her cancer without treatment, avoid falling in love with a notorious pirate, and try to get home before she changes the course of history forever.

Running on Empty by Ruth Logan Herne, 4.7 Amazon rating 
Present day, New York State. Chief of Police Joe McIntyre takes his position seriously. A lead-by-example Christian, he's put to the test when his ex-wife appears with another man's child after eight years of silence. Anger and pride challenge his small-town-hero existence, driving him out of his comfort zone. Faced with choices he made eight years before, can he tackle the present to ease Anne's future so she's no longer "Running on Empty"?

Kept by Sally Bradley, 4.7 Amazon rating
Present day, Chicago. Can a woman with a messy past find love with a good man? A contemporary Christian classic along the lines of Redeeming Love, Kept won the won the 2014 Grace Award and the 2014 Christian Manifesto Lime Award, both for romantic fiction.

So there you have it -- five of the best novels you will ever read for the best price you will ever get.

Hugs and HAPPY READING!

Julie