Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, one of the greatest achievements of Western art, has probably suffered more damage than any other great work. The 12 foot high mural was finished in the late 1490s and within 20 years paint was already flaking off. By 1587, the painting was described as “half-ruined”.
Wednesday morning my husband burst into our bedroom. “You’ve got a phone call.”
“Who is it?” I was groggy. I’d been up till three AM writing on my next novel.
“She said something about your book and a golden heart.”
I’m dreaming…or so I thought until he picked up my hand and slapped the phone into my palm. I transferred the damn thing to my other hand and rubbed my smarting palm on the edge of the bed. “Hello?”
“Congratulations. You’re a finalist in the Golden Heart contest,” said the woman on the other end of the line.
She continued, but I couldn’t comprehend her words over the buzzing in my ears. My body shook. I pounded my chest to make my lungs suck in air before I passed out. I must have responded appropriately, because she congratulated me again and hung up. I ran from the room screaming and crying.
My husband hugged me and endured my strange behavior for a few minutes. “This is unbelievable. I so proud of you, honey.”
I nodded. Totally unbelievable.
Oh. My. God.
What if they made a mistake? Called the wrong person? I rushed to my computer and signed on to the Romance Writers of America’s website.
This is what I read. I’ve highlighted the most important part.
Romance Writers of America (RWA), the trade association for aspiring romance fiction authors, announces the finalists for the Golden Heart® Awards. The Golden Heart recognizes excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts with finalists in seven categories chosen from more than 1,200 manuscript entries each year.
Finalists in the category of Romantic Suspense
“Dangerous Dreams” by Abbie Roads
“Fatal Fragrances” by Connie Taxdal
“In a Sea of Change” by Deborah Wilding
“Secrets That Kill” by Sarah Andre
“See Her No More” by Sharon Wray
Did you hear me scream again?
Thank you for visiting my website and congratulations to the other five 2014 Golden Heart finalists!
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“You can’t do this to me so close to our wedding day.” Rebekah Wellington stared at her fiancé, Mark Thompson. They were on their way to her apartment after spending the afternoon at the Memorial Day picnic sponsored by their church.
“Not just a missionary, you want to be a foreign missionary?” Her voice squeaked. “As in thousands of miles away from friends and family? You know how close knit my family is. Even the extended members of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins live within an eighty-mile radius of Stillwater.”
“Yes, Becca, and I love every single person in your large clan.” With one hand on the steering wheel, Mark covered her clinched fists lying on her lap with the other and glanced her way. “Except maybe those wascally twins of Wobert and Wachel’s.” He grinned at his Elmer Fudd impersonation and the dimples in his cheeks deepened.
Those same dimples had caught her attention when they both attended the Southern Baptist’s Falls Creek summer camp between their junior and senior year in high school. They started dating and by Christmas of their second year of college, they were engaged.
Usually, she laughed at his antics and jokes and the argument would be finished, but this evening’s disagreement was too important for her to shrug off. She jerked her hands out of his clasp. “We’re getting married in two months! Now, all of a sudden, you spring this―this feeling that The Lord is calling you to be a missionary.”
“It’s not sudden. It started as a nagging thought about a year ago, but I shoved it to the back of―”
“What?” You’ve felt like this for a whole year and you didn’t tell me?” Rebekah put her elbows on her knees and held her head between her hands. “Oh Mark, being a foreign missionary isn’t like being the Youth Minister at our church.” She raised her head and looked at him. “We’re supposed to be partners and yet, you didn’t ask my opinion. I thought we shared the same goals.”
“We do share the same goals. A Christian home, children, following God’s footsteps and His will in our lives. I’ve prayed about this decision. I’ve talked to Pastor Bill. The International Missions Board sent a packet explaining the six-week indoctrination procedures held in Georgia. You know, applications, physical exams and shots, benefit package, salaries, moving expenses, the whole ball of wax.”
“You’ve already contacted them?”
He nodded. “I wanted to have all the information before I talked to you. I brought the packet with me. We can go over it tonight.”
“How can you be so sure this is God’s will?”
“It is. My heart and soul tells me it’s right.”
“What if God is leading me in another direction? You know I start as a special education teacher in the fall.” Hadn’t The Lord opened the door to her dream job? Her throat constricted. Ever since her little brother had been diagnosed with a learning disability, she felt an urge to help him and others who had difficulty processing information.
“And what about my work as a Sunday school teacher? The curriculum I wrote and developed for Special Ed kids is so successful other churches are requesting it.” She squeezed her eyes, but couldn’t control the tears from seeping from the corners and rolling down her cheeks. Mark should realize she had work to be done here, not across the ocean in some third world country.
“Well, to be honest, you’re the delicious icing the Mission Board wants and I’m just the plain vanilla cake.” Mark laughed. “Of course, they’re happy that I’m an ordained minister, but when I mentioned your Special Ed degree, how you’ve helped your brother obtain a high school diploma, and the church programs you’ve instigated, they were thrilled.”
“You did all of this behind my back because you knew how I’d react.” Resentment heated the blood in her veins. “You can shred everything in that packet. I’m not going anywhere. Can’t you be satisfied with doing the Lord’s work in your hometown?”
Mark turned into one of her apartment building’s guest parking spaces and cut the engine. He leaned forward, draping his arms over the steering wheel, his gaze on the celery-green structure with its brightly painted orange doors. “No. I’ve given my life to God, and being a foreign missionary is what He wants me to be.”
Stunned into silence, Rebekah’s heartbeat thundered in her ears. She was afraid to ask him to choose between God and her—frightened of hearing his answer. She sniffed back her tears. “I want to be alone. I need to think.” She got out of the car and ran up the exterior stairs to her second floor apartment.
Mark pulled the car to a stop in the driveway of his home and gathered the bag of groceries he’d just purchased. He’d planned on eating dinner with Becca and then talking about starting their lives in a new country, laughing over the promise of new experiences, looking forward to new adventures, but she’d recoiled at the idea of leaving the states.
She didn’t even want to talk about the possibility, much less look at the information he’d received. She was angry. Her spine from tailbone to headbone had turned rigid. Angry enough to break their engagement? But why would the Lord direct him into international ministry if He didn’t instill the same impossible-to-ignore feelings in Becca?
As he approached his front door, muted rings came from inside. He fumbled with his keys. Was she phoning him to call off the wedding? He loved her and didn’t want to live life without her.
Something jabbed him in the back.
“Open the door and go in.”
Mark looked over his shoulder at the gruff voice. Moonlight glinted off a gun. “I’ll give you all the money in my wallet. Just take it and leave. Don’t do anything rash that will ruin your life. No one will know what happened.” He shifted the bag of food as the phone stopped ringing.
The cold barrel of the gun branded the back of his neck. “I said, get in the house.”
The man followed him through the doorway and into the living room. Mark’s nerves twitched. He silently prayed for guidance…for words that would make the man leave without bloodshed after he got what he wanted.
He jumped when his cell phone rang and turned to the man. “It’s probably my girlfriend calling to see if I made it home. She’ll keep calling unless I―”
“Answer it. Make it short and don’t say anything that would make me shoot you.”
Mark touched the screen to talk. “Hi, honey.”
“As much as I like being someone’s honey, it’s Pastor Bill.”
“Yes, I’m home safe and sound.”
“Uh, that’s good. Listen, I wanted to go over a few things with you since you’re giving the sermon Sunday.”
“You know I hate dinners at your parents.” Mark glanced at the man slicing his finger across his throat. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I’m beat after walking the shopping malls we went to today.”
“Are you in trouble, Mark?”
“Yeah, love you too,” he said and disconnected the call.
God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.
That’s all Rebekah could muster for a prayer as she stirred the black cherry yogurt around in the little plastic container. If God were good, Mark and she would be eating the homemade lasagna she whipped up yesterday and she wouldn’t be alone now.
If God were great, He’d help Mark understand her objections to a life-changing decision. What if he insisted on living in different parts of the world? Would she stay in Oklahoma and end their relationship?
When the phone rang, her breath quickened. Maybe Mark was calling to say she meant more to him than anything else. That he would drop his stupid idea.
“Hi, Rebekah, it’s Pastor Bill. Is Mark there? Are you two all right?”
“No, he’s not here and I’m fine, thank you.”
“Are you sure? I called his home number and then his cell and had the strangest conversation with him.”
As the preacher explained, her stomach tightened in to a fist. What would make Mark act so crazy? A skitter of fear ran through her body. “I’m calling the police. Mark said he was at home, right?” She pace the floor. If anything happened to him, her life would be over. She stopped in mid-step and realized no matter where they lived or what they did, she wanted to be by his side.
“Yes. Talk to the police, but you stay put, Rebekah. If there’s some kind of trouble, Mark wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
She hung up and dialed 911. After giving the operator the information, she grabbed her keys and ran to the car. No way she was going to sit around and wait for news.
When she arrived, Mark’s house was dark but the front door was open. She took a couple of deep breaths and then slid out of the car. Her knees shook as she crept up the walk. She heard a moan, and ignoring the danger, hurried into the house and flipped on the light.
Mark lay on the floor. Blood poured from a gash on his head. She snatched a dishtowel from the kitchen, rushed over to him, and pressed it against the wound.
He winced as she applied pressure. “Some guy held me at gunpoint and robbed me. When I didn’t have enough money to satisfy him, he hit me with the barrel.” He tried to lift his head. “Get out. He might still be in the house.”
“No. The door was open when I got here. He’s gone.”
“I thought he was going to kill me.” Mark gazed into her eyes. “I love you. I don’t want to lose you. God put us together to do his work, but if you whole-heartedly don’t want to go into the mission field, we’ll pray for another option.”
Rebekah smiled. “I don’t care where God sends us as long as we’re together. I love you too.”
Since I write Romantic Suspense novels, I called ten couples I know and asked them a few simple questions about their marriages. The people’s ages were from twenty-four to eighty-three. Some were newlyweds, some have been married to one another for over fifty years, and two couples have had more than one spouse.
One of the survey questions was how do they keep their marriage strong. Here are a few of the answers I received.
- “Not a day goes by that we don’t kiss good morning and good night.”
- “Laughter. We laugh at each other’s funny comments or together at a wacky movie. Laughter binds our souls.”
- “We hold hands, hug, and kiss in public. You don’t have to be over-the-top with a public show of affection, but it’s nice to not hide your love.”
- “When one of us is taking a shower, the other will sneak in and then we lather each other with soap.”
- “Sometimes our connection is no more than a look in the eye, but that look can create a spark that burns hot.”
- “Whether we need to ask for forgiveness or give thanks, saying it out loud holds a lot of power.”
- “It’s nice to know your spouse is thinking of you when they call or text to ask how your day is going.”
- “We have cuddle time. That’s when I cuddle up in the crook of Gary’s shoulder. We talk or quietly hold one another. It’s very soothing and comforting.”
- “You’re not joined at the hip. Pursue your own hobbies and interests.”
- “We pray together. When you’re praying for each other, not yourself, you’re speaking from the heart.”
What are some ways you strengthen your marriage? Please leave a comment below.
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