Tag Archives: love

Sunday Meditation: Power of Love

From today’s Daily Word:

I claim the greatest power, the power of love.

In the world around me, there are many forms of power. And yet, though I am in this world, I am not of it. Regardless of outward appearances of wealth, strength or authority, the power of love is greater than any power in the world.

I turn my attention to the presence and power of God’s love that moves in and through me. I give up fear and hate in order to know the fullness of God’s love. With faith, I am able to love even those who seem to be my adversaries.

Love is the harmonizer, unifying people one to another. With love, I see the nothingness of petty differences and the power of cooperation and unity. I give expression to the overflowing love of God within me.

I say to you that listen, Love your enemies.–Luke 6:27

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Maddy’s Men: A Comparison and Contrast

I’ve noted in other posts the dire cultural consequences we’re currently dealing with as a direct result of the so-called sexual revolution and women’s liberation of the 1960s. In a two-part column entitled Cyberspace and the Single (Conservative) Girl, which appeared on Parcbench, The Republican Temple and Palin Drone, I explored the ramifications of the “turbulent” decade for traditional women like me, based on a real-life experience with a guy I’d met online last year.

Sadly, for those of us who were raised to actually demand respect from men, believe in the joys of sex within the confines of a marital — or at the very least — an exclusive, committed relationship, and appreciate such antiquated courtesies like a man holding open a door, picking up the tab for a meal or offering his seat on a bus, dating in the contemporary world is daunting at best, and depressing at worst.

While the men who engage in bad behavior are by no means unaccountable, their confusion is certainly understandable. Women who claimed to speak for their entire gender — people like Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Betty Freidan — made it crystal clear through their activism that “girl power” meant having meaningless sex with multiple partners, procuring abortion on demand for any ol’ reason (no matter how dubious), diminishing the important role of fathers in the lives of children, condemning all acts of war regardless of the facts, and overall zealously subscribing to the gospel of liberalism.

Never mind that that female pioneers like Susan B. Anthony were staunchly pro-life and pro-family, with a focus on holding men accountable to their crucial roles as husband, father and family provider.

Having been raised in a traditional home with parents who fall somewhere in-between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, I am eternally grateful for my upbringing and for my first-hand observation of what it means to have a loving, respectful marriage and household. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was in for a very rude awakening when it was time to participate in the dating rituals of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Without rehashing the Evolution of Water Signs here, I will just note that when the flood of memories initiated an almost out-of-control stream of consciousness that demanded the creation of a novel, I realized just how dramatically different my experience with the real-life Ken had been from just about every other guy I’d ever dated. Therefore, I purposely included many of them as fictional characters, for the purpose of setting up a contrast to the Ken character, and to assist (no matter how painfully) in Madeline’s personal growth and spiritual development.

So let’s take a look at them in-depth, shall we:

Jake Winston – Jake is modeled after a guy I’d dated after college, my first “long-term” boyfriend. Although in reality, this relationship lasted about a year-and-a-half, in the book I changed that to two years. More than any other non-Ken suitor, Jake is also an embodiment of the novel’s theme of forgiveness, and the sole non-Ken suitor with any real redeeming qualities. Like his flesh-and-blood counterpart, he is overly and cruelly critical at times of Madeline’s appearance, as well as her family’s cherished customs, including getting dressed up for holidays. Thanks to Jake, Maddy’s insecurities have been intensified to the point where it’s all but impossible for her to trust in Ken’s sincerity during their first go-around. But to his great credit, this character (like the real man) eventually undertakes a self-imposed, spiritual housecleaning, prompting him to call Madeline out-of-the-blue to genuinely seek her forgiveness years later. Although there’s no desire on her part to reignite that relationship, she truly appreciates and respects his courage in taking such a bold action, and offers her complete absolution.

Gary Snyder – Gary is also inspired by a real-life character I met while conducting outside sales calls for an employment agency in suburban Philadelphia. Like so many I’ve encountered, he committed the ol’ bum’s rush, apparently noticing (and liking) me as I gave my best sales pitch to the receptionist at the insurance company whose business I’d been seeking. Although I saw him pass by briefly, I’d hardly given him a second thought — that is until I received an unexpected delivery of white roses upon my return to the office.  Actually, that’s how it went down for Maddy in the book; in real life, it was quite a comedy of errors as he’d inadvertently sent the flowers to the wrong woman. However, for both Madeline and me, the rest of the story is the same: after a few good dates where we’d seemed to connect well, we made plans to meet up at the Jersey Shore. But when I showed up at his rental in Ocean City as agreed upon, he couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. And that was the extent of my interaction with Gary “white roses” Snyder (and yes, I did change his name for the book).

Jim Russo –  Ah Jim, bless his heart, another high-powered businessman I unknowingly attracted during yet another outside sales call when his friendly, gate-keeper receptionist took my card and promised to call if they ever had a need for a temp. And just like me, Maddy follows up with him the next week with a promotional gift. That leads to the flirtatious Jim asking her out, initiating series of lunch-only dates and cutesy faxes to her office but curiously, no after-hours get-togethers. In the book, a suspicious Maddy finally gets to the bottom of it via Jim’s receptionist, who informs her that he not only has a serious girlfriend, he’s about to get married; in real-life, I never did get a straight answer out of the guy and thus, ran as far away as I could. Real name changed for the novel, although most everything else is true to life, including the upscale lunch at the famous Duling-Kurtz House. And yes, my sister-in-law (Vanessa in the book) was very impressed by his choice of venue, though not so much his behavior.

Mark Donnelly – Next to Jake, Mark is probably the most significant non-Ken suitor. In a slight departure from real life, this character is the very first guy Maddy dates in South Florida (in real life, I’d gone out with a quite a few guys, though nothing serious, before meeting him) — right around the time Ken breaks her heart by announcing his engagement to Erin. Physically, Mark shares many of Ken’s characteristics: six-foot, masculine build; blue eyes; sandy blond hair; and an irresistible smile. These similarities prompt her to project many of her true love’s qualities onto him. Like Ken, he’s also quite charming and initially, very persistent in his pursuit. And just as it went down with the others, Maddy is tending to her own affairs, participating in  a business networking function where she unknowingly catches Mark’s wandering eye. True to reality, when he calls her at the office to ask her out a few days later, she cannot for the life of her remember even meeting him, in spite of the fact she’d written him a follow-up note.

Like the others, Mark also comes on strong, then abruptly disappears, although the circumstances are a bit more complicated. In contrast to the other suitors, he’s the first divorced man with children that Madeline dates, causing a great deal of sexual tension, thanks to the intense, mutual attraction they share. And while it’s safe to say he’s quite curious about Madeline’s moral virtue, unlike Ken it’s not something he respects or is willing to deal with for any extended amount of time. This is after all, South Florida, and if Maddy thought other women were way ahead of her up north, it was about one-hundred-thousand times worse in paradise — where pretty girls are not only a dime-a-dozen, they’re more than willing to put out  for a successful guy with the means to afford fancy cars, boats and designer clothes.

Mark’s penchant for breaking engagements and loving-and-leaving-’em is regrettably an accurate reflection of the actual person. And although this character’s time in Maddy’s life is short, it is pivotal in her character development, serving as another descriptive example of the conflict between normal, human desire and ingrained morality — but this time in a scenario lacking in any genuine feeling on the guy’s part. To Mark, Maddy is just another attractive girl in a sea of hotties. In fact, their 10-year age difference, coupled with Madeline’s  innocence and insecurities, leads him to view her as a “babe in the woods”, not a serious contender for a real relationship.  Yes, his name has been changed. And yes, Chapter 23 is — well — an embarrassing, albeit instructive, experience straight out of real life. Enough said.

Well, this post has gone on a bit longer than intended and I still haven’t discussed the characters of Ray Smith and Tag Russell. To be continued.

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Back to Book Blogging: Thoughts on Chapter 34

Or, as my lovable “smartass” writer-friend Don calls it, Chapter Fornication. He kids of course, being one of the book’s staunchest fans as well as someone who understands the novel’s underlying themes and ultimate championing of traditional values. Having been raised with similar values as an Evangelical Christian, Don (like so many other readers) relates to the struggles my characters endure while endeavoring to honor their upbringing. And though just about everyone who’s provided feedback on Water Signs expresses their delight at finally meeting fictional characters who share their world-view and experiences — while simultaneously appreciating the (ahem!) celebration of God-given desires in the context of a committed relationship — I wanted to post a few of my own thoughts on the evolution of Chapter 34, the scene in which Ken and Maddy finally consummate their star-crossed, 16-year relationship.

As an author, it was a bit of a challenge to unapologetically champion the worthiness of my characters’ ingrained moral and spiritual beliefs, while at the same time sympathetically present the challenges that inevitably arise when putting these mores into practice in the contemporary world.  The last thing I wanted was for readers to misinterpret Maddy’s internal conflict between her desire to be with Ken in the Biblical sense and her unfailing belief that such carnal knowledge must not be revealed until marriage vows were taken in front of God and witnesses as some sort of parental “repression” based on the teachings of the “patriarchal” Catholic Church.

Not only do I stand by the values with which I was raised, I am eternally grateful to have been brought up in a traditional home, with a mother and a father who cared about imparting morality to their children, in addition to love, discipline and an appreciation for the United States. Part of my motivation for writing the book was to counteract the negative influences of a pop-culture gone crazy, and to appeal to an audience I instinctively knew was hungry for a story that would reflect their own experiences.

Nowhere in pop culture (except perhaps in Christian literature) had I seen an honest, respectful portrayal of the clash between normal human longings and Godly virtue. In most cases — whether in daytime soap operas (as anyone who remembers the early 80s character of Annie Logan on General Hospital can attest) or in a Lifetime movie (We Were The Mulvaneys, for example) — Christians who strive to live up to their moral foundations are presented as victims of an out-of-touch, oppressive religion whose time has long since passed.

So my challenge in penning Water Signs was to paint a sympathetic portrayal of characters with human flaws and weaknesses while also honoring their Christian sense of morality. Yes, the values imposed by God in The Ten Commandments and espoused by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament are more often than not difficult to adhere to on this earthly plane — which is a validation of their inherent worthiness, not a scathing rebuke of their irrelevance. If anything, the current state of our culture should be a glaring example of the dire consequences of trashing the principles that helped shape America into a strong and prosperous nation.

I’ve noted previously that my novel is about the journey, not the outcome. Thus, in the Prologue, readers discover right away that — no matter what happens over the next 435 pages — Ken and Madeline eventually get married “at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road”.

When writing about their long-awaited physical union that took place only after they’d fully reacquainted on a spiritual, emotional and mental level, I debated a few important points: Should the consummation take place following Maddy’s acceptance of Ken’s marriage proposal, or after they finally say “I do”? How descriptive should it be? Is it even necessary to write such a scene in the first place?

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my readers deserved some sort of reward for suffering through 16 years of the moral struggles, miscommunication and heartbreak that characterized the relationship between the novel’s two main characters. Further, since 1.) Ken and Madeline are into their early 40s by the time they find their way back to each other; 2.) They take some time to reconnect in every other way before even getting physical; and 3.) Readers already know they end up as husband and wife, I decided to cap off a romantic proposal scene with an even more romantic consummation scene.

Thus, Ken remains patient until the very end, even as passionate desire rages on internally, spurred on by the knowledge that the one he’s loved for so long has declared her intention to surrender to her new fiancé as they embrace in the Penthouse among soft candlelight and fragrant roses. He’s also cognizant of the fact that in spite of tremendous personal growth, Maddy’s still has a few lingering insecurities:

“Hey!” he spoke in a comforting, yet firm tone. When she still didn’t look up, he cupped her chin in his hands and brought them face to face again. “Madeline, you are the most beautiful woman in the entire world to me. Everything about you is exquisite. Don’t you see that? Don’t you see what you do to me?”

Ken goes on to place her hand upon his rapidly beating heart, as if to prove his sincerity. Thus assured, Madeline finally allows the desires of her heart, soul and body to take over, secure in his unconditional love and commitment.

Even in describing the events that follow, I did my best to keep the scene more romantic than sexual, more tasteful than explicit. We’re all adults who understand what it means to give yourself fully to the one you love; there was no need to degenerate into Harlequin romance territory. Water Signs is not a romance novel in the sense that some meaningless,  marginal plot exists simply to break the monotony between one descriptive, bodice-ripping episode after another. Rather, it is a tale of first love and second chances, and of becoming better people as a direct result of hardship and tribulation.  In Water Signs, sex is the icing on the cake, a long-anticipated end to a literal and metaphysical journey.

That said, it was tough to reconcile the fact that, once I’d written the chapter, it would be read by people who know me, most notable among them, family members (Hi, Mom!). And as I’ve mentioned in Fun Facts about Water Signs, the Chapter 34 that made the cut is slightly different from the original version. I’d decided to remove one paragraph and a few lines of dialogue after coming to the conclusion that what is implied can be much more effective than what is actually stated. Suffice it to say, even in the final version, we understand that Maddy’s love for Ken and desire to please him is a thousand times stronger than her previous insecurities and inhibitions. She knows he loves her unconditionally, just as she loves him. And in Chapter 34, she tells him so in word and action.

Coming Soon: More thoughts on the writing process.

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