Runaway Saint

Runaway Saint

4.0 2
by Lisa Samson

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When her aunt shows up homeless on her doorstep, Sara suspects anything but a miracle.

Sara’s an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she’s restless and bored with life.

Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word.

Twenty years ago, fresh out of


When her aunt shows up homeless on her doorstep, Sara suspects anything but a miracle.

Sara’s an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she’s restless and bored with life.

Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word.

Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, Bel left for a summer missions trip and never returned. Now she’s on Sara’s doorstep, looking for a place to crash. Sara can’t say no to family, even if she hasn’t seen Bel since she was a nine-year-old girl. But saying yes to Bel turns Sara’s whole precariously-balanced life upside down.

The enigmatic Bel gives Sara’s family and their community a jolt of fresh thinking and clarity.

But Bel is hiding something. Though she won’t talk about it, Sara soon learns that Bel has been through a hellish ordeal. And she has the burn marks to prove it.

"[Samson's] gift for creating unique, flawed character elevates this book above others. Each line has so much truth, and readers will likely ponder different passages long after finishing." —Romantic Times Review, TOP PICK! 4 1/2 stars

"Samson’s quirky characters will have readers laughing, crying, and shaking their heads in disbelief, sometimes all at the same time. This uplifting read . . . will attract fans of women’s fiction and especially works by authors Sarah Jio, Anne Tyler, and Alice Hoffman." —Library Journal

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The eponymous character of this latest from Samson is Belinda, the aunt of narrator Sara Drexel. Sara is a graphic artist; Aunt Bel is a missionary returned abruptly and mysteriously from Kazakhstan, needing a place to stay. Bel is eccentric, and her advent into the household of Sara and Sara’s dependable husband Finn opens many doors to Sara’s family’s troubled past. Samson maintains her ambitious agenda: big theological questions of sacrifice and sanctity are tucked in between the lines. She reels in the reader with the usual engaging cast of supporting characters: printer Huey, who works with Sara in her small, hip design business, is a well-executed and memorable standout. Samson also brings back characters from her most recent novel, The Sky Beneath My Feet, to loosely knit the two novels together, but also to extend her examination of contemporary Christianity. The book doesn’t cohere perfectly, but it does satisfy, and the author’s many fans will be happy. In her own quirky way, Samson is the Anne Tyler of Christian fiction. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Sara Drexel seems to have it all: a strong marriage to a supportive husband who encourages her career as an artist; a great business; a beautiful home. However, she feels like something is missing. Her faith has waned, and her life feels flat. Then her maternal Aunt Bel returns from 20 years of missionary work in Kazakhstan with secrets that Sara cannot begin to fathom. Likewise, our protagonist has some inner demons of her own. What follows is an unfolding of family secrets and misunderstandings that bring Sara, Aunt Bel, and Sara's mother to a place where secrets must be shared and forgiven before healing can begin. VERDICT Samson's (The Sky Beneath My Feet) quirky characters will have readers laughing, crying, and shaking their heads in disbelief, sometimes all at the same time. This uplifting read about forgiveness, family, and being thankful for all that you have will attract fans of women's fiction and especially works by authors Sarah Jio, Anne Tyler, and Alice Hoffman.

Product Details

Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Runaway Saint


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Lisa Samson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59554-546-6


Happy Birthday to Me

I'm thirty years old and I still believe in ghosts. I believe in ghosts because I have one. He's like an imaginary friend, only with a bit more heft. Unlike an imaginary friend, he doesn't go away when I don't need him anymore and surely, at my age, I don't.

Today is my birthday.

My mother, Rita, has arranged a birthday lunch, a typical mother-daughter activity, which is weird in and of itself. I'm meeting her at Grove Street Artisan, a bakery two blocks down the street. It is March, forty-five degrees and ready to rain any second, but she's sitting outside at one of the round, black iron tables, the chairs chained together like petals around it. Her bike leans, chained, against the iron railing surrounding the patio. What looks like a crumpled ball of paper tied with twine sits perfectly centered over the umbrella hole. She's a beautiful fifty-something woman, her long white hair, having begun graying in her early twenties, a little ghost unto itself when viewed from behind. This morning that hair is contained by a long braid wrapped twice around her head. My mother's features are delicate, unlike my own, which match my father's.

She sleeps year-round in a tent on an organic farm where she works and lives.

It's fine. Go ahead and let that sink in.

"Don't open it here," she says, indicating the present. She rises from her chair to kiss either side of my face. "You're all by yourself, I see." She pinches the side of my hair close to my head between the blades of her index and middle finger. "I like the cut. Makes you look like a pixie. But the color is new, isn't it?" She sits back in her chair, the thick fabric of her baja bunching around her middle. There's not much of a middle. "I got it!" She snaps her fingers. "Baby, most people go blond, they don't cover it up with red! That's what feels so different here!" She places her left work boot, complete with the steel toes necessary for chores like chopping wood or digging fence posts, on her right knee, then gasps. "What if the Universe gave you blond hair for a reason, and the reason happens tomorrow?!"

The Universe.

This from the woman who taught me that a TULIP wasn't just a flower but a system of theology worth dying for.

Well, we don't believe everything our parents tell us, do we? But sometimes they leave an unwanted residue.

"Mom, I've always wanted red hair, so at least I'll have one more item off my bucket list before I kick that bucket."

"Baby, death is a misnomer."

I pivot one of the petals away from the table and sit down, noting everything seemingly corporate and industrial-complex about my jeans even though they're fair trade and cost me a fortune. "It's just me today. Finn has done a runner right on the morning of the big 3-0. No coffee. The sheets on Finn's side of the bed cold. He left early without leaving so much as a note. It's some kind of birthday mission," I tell her. "He was dropping hints all night, but I couldn't get him to spill the secret."

She smiles.

"You know, don't you?" I ask.

She nods. "And that's how it's going to stay."

I rest my chin in my hand. "I figured. So, ready to eat?"

"I was going to order, but it would be better if you picked out what you want. I don't want to lay that on you," she says, leaning forward across the table and taking my hand in her small, well-muscled one.

Honestly, though. You just can't help but love someone that earnest about individual freedom, both yours and hers. Hers first, of course.

We head inside to the counter together, her homemade drawstring pants, a touch too short, flapping around ankles encased in high-quality woolen socks. She may not have much, but what she has will last the rest of her lifetime and probably mine.

We cast our eyes over the pastries under glass, each one carefully composed and artful. I love this place. When our turn comes, Mom orders a piece of cake and a café latte, which she insists on having made with coconut milk instead of the real thing. "Poor cows," she says, watching the counter-girl put a hefty slab of carrot cake on a plain white plate. "Not that the rest of the cow is any better." She takes the plate as it's offered. She sure didn't feel the need to change her sweet tooth all those years ago, and I'm glad. "If human beings would stop drinking cow's milk and eating their bodies, the average life span would rocket up to a hundred and fifty. Not to mention how much better it would be for the cows themselves."

I can see her logic, but as for me, "I don't want to live in a world without hamburgers, Mom."

"Baby, even not considering the cows, it's time to start valuing yourself more. That's the way the Universe works, you know. It won't look out for you if you don't start looking out for you first. It all works together. You and God. God and you. All together in one big Universe."

Mom is a big believer in the Universe. Manifestation. Think and you will become.

Finn calls her the Buddha of Baltimore, and it all sounds fine coming out of her mouth, but Finn hasn't known her as long as I have. The only side he's seen of my mother is this free-spirited, crazy person who doesn't want to get involved in such a way that might actually affect his life. He's good with that. And when we visit her at her tent, it's Finn who takes creek walks with her and helps with the meals on the camp stove.

The Grove Street Artisan opened up maybe six months ago. My clothes all seemed to fit a little looser back then. As it is, the bakery sits aside the path I walk every day from home to work and back again. The owner, Madge, copper-skinned and freckled, comfortably plump, vivacious, always ties back a headful of tiny, honey-brown braids that go down almost past her knees with a sky-blue scarf. It's one of my favorite color combinations.

"Oh, this weather, yeah, Sara?" Madge calls across the counter, rubbing flour-caked hands on the front of her apron as Mom pays for our breakfast, pulling a small cloth change purse, probably from Peru, from her pants pocket. Madge has the loveliest lilt to her voice, like she learned English in a Masterpiece Theater boarding school but spent her holidays in a Caribbean shantytown. Apparently everybody in Trinidad speaks that way. "You think it's gonna stay like this, all gray and depressin'?"

"Better not. It's my birthday," I say.

"Well, happy birthday, Sara. At least that's not depressin', yeah?"

She has no idea.

Madge's former position as a baking instructor at the French Culinary Institute ensures our neighborhood not only these decadent butter croissants fresh every morning but breads and pastries, some of them fancy enough to be served at Baltimore's best restaurants. But she's our best-kept secret. I save her croissants for a special treat, because otherwise I'd send Finn out for a batch every morning until my clothes stopped fitting. But it's my birthday. I take one back to an inside table with me, along with my coffee.

Mom bites into her cake, pronounces it a work of art, and then starts poking it apart. Something's on her mind.

"What is it?" I ask, knowing better. Why do I do that?

"Nothing," she says. "Have you heard from the Old Man yet today?"


Her lips turn down. "Of course you have. You probably had a card from him yesterday."

I don't tell her she's right about the card. "Not today, not yet."

Ever since she left him, she's called my father, a professional calligrapher in a world that's gone digital, the Old Man. In her mind, everything about him is unliberated, chained down, and suffocating. He's lived his life looking backward, with a sense that the more we progress, the more we have lost, while Mom fancies herself a progressive thinker, anticipating and embracing whatever is next, even if it means going back to the past as long as it's a past she can relate to. Dad, however, is her last holdout in her journey to accept all things and all people that the Universe brings her way. Wu wei, she calls it. I have no idea what that even means, but I think it's from the Tao Te Ching or something like that.

All I can say to that is, thank God somebody was stable.

"Oh, I'm sure he will," she says with a magnanimity born of a sudden sense of superiority. "I've got a rad new idea for a T-shirt, baby. Do you think you could help me with the design?"

"What will it say?" You just never know with Mom.

"Wherever you go, there you are."

"Mom. That's been done before."

Her eyes widen. "Really?"


"But that's so Zen! Really?" She seems delighted. "I just tapped into something bigger all on my own? Don't you just love it when that happens?"

"I think I'm too busy for that sort of cosmic symbiosis to occur. Plus, I'm not sure if God really works that way or not. I mean, yes, truth is truth. But it has to come from a reliable source to mean anything, doesn't it?"

"Then, baby, if it's not happening, you're just too busy."

"I'm happy with my life the way it is, Mom."

"You know something, baby? We tell ourselves we're happy, when what we really are is content. Contentment is nothing but the conviction that things are 'good enough,' and we let our fear convince us that if we try to make them better, we risk losing everything. Well, I don't believe that, Sara. We tell ourselves the only reason to make a change is because we're miserable. But change is the natural order. The people who realize that and embrace it, they're the ones who discover real happiness."

"You mean living like a hermit in a tent in Baltimore County?"

She gazes at me with imperturbable serenity. I really wish I could perturb that serenity once in a while. That's our mother-daughter dynamic in a nutshell.

"If that's what it takes, yes," she says, letting the subject drop.

I finish the last of my croissant, licking the shiny residue off my fingertips.

"So what's next on your special day, baby?"

"After this, I'll probably check in at the office, even though I promised myself a day off. Don't worry. I won't do any work—I won't even sit down at my desk. I'll just banter a little bit with Huey, see how the new posters are coming out, then make sure Diana knows who to call about securing the booth at the Wedding Expo, since I have a feeling Finn won't have passed along the info. Maybe I'll chat with Madge a little and take a bag of croissants into the office with me. No, wait, I'm not even supposed to go into the office today."

"There's something we need to talk about, baby," Mom says.

The somberness of her tone sets me off guard.

She glances out the window at a woman passing on the sidewalk, a mother in tight jeans and high boots with a phone pressed to her ear, pushing a big-wheeled stroller loaded with twins. Her brow furrows, leading me to imagine all kinds of possibilities: she's been diagnosed with cancer, she's filing for bankruptcy, there's another lawsuit, or maybe even a new man.

"Mom, what's wrong?"

She gives an eloquent, helpless shrug. "I don't know how to break it to you, so I'm just going to say it. Bel is back."

* * *

Bel is back. Belinda. Aunt Bel. My mom's baby sister, a missionary in Kazakhstan who dropped off the map about fifteen years ago after my grandparents died.

To understand the importance of her return is to understand my family, something I'm not able to do. I would look at her photo on my grandparents' mantel when I was a kid. Aunt Bel gazed at me with hooded eyes, as if she concealed some secret understanding, her full mouth upturned slightly at one corner, like the cryptic women of Renaissance art. She was a blond and beautiful teenager, her chin tilted in defiance at whoever was taking the picture.

My grandmother organized her church's missionary conference every year, so you can imagine how they felt about their younger daughter. Growing up, I knew Bel was the favored one, the holy one, the Mahatma Gandhi if they would dare to even bring up someone from, gasp, India of all places. She was part of God's plan to save the elect from the fires of hell, and if that isn't the mission of all missions, nothing is.

"First I got this strange postcard in the mail," Mom says. "There was a picture on the front, one of those churches with the golden onion domes. The postmark was from Romania, and it said she was thinking of me and thinking about home. I didn't recognize the handwriting at first and she didn't sign the card, but I knew it had to be her. After all these years. So weird."

"She's here in the States?"

Mom nods. "She got back over the weekend. As soon as she got to your father's house, she called the farm and left a message saying she wanted to see me."

"Wow," I say. "She's at Daddy's?"

"Yes, if you can believe that. Apparently they've kept in touch all these years. Just every so often, but still. That was news to me."

"Where else is there to go, then, I guess."

"I guess. It's been so long. This will sound terrible, but I kind of thought of her as if she were dead."

"It's not like she kept in touch," I say.

"Of course you were too young to understand what was happening at the time, but the whole thing was very traumatic. I mean, you don't go overseas for the summer and then decide you're never coming back. That's crazy. She was only nineteen. Your grandfather was going to fly over there and get her, whether she wanted to come or not."

This is more info than she's ever given me. "Did he go?"

She shakes her head. "Your grandmother laid down the law, the way she does. As far as my mom was concerned, Aunt Bel was a saint. She could do no wrong. And having a missionary in the family? Over the moon. It was because Aunt Bel gave her so much trouble as a teenager. When she straightened herself out, when she became so devout, well, that was Mom reaping her reward. 'Train up a child in the way she should go.'"

"Did they ever see her again?"

"No. And even so, Aunt Bel was golden in her eyes." The bitterness in her tone comes as a surprise. Not that she feels it, but that she's allowing herself to express it, and me to see it. "Anyway, I think it was me who finally convinced him not to go. Just wait, I said, and Bel would come home on her own."

"You were right."

She laughs. "I guess I misjudged how long it would take her. Do you remember much about her?" she asks as if she hopes the answer is no.

All I can do is shrug. My actual memories of my aunt Bel are all mixed up, just a fuzzy set of half-remembered sensations. She'd left for the field when I was four. I have some warm but vague recollections from family Christmas parties, Aunt Bel always my biggest fan, throwing me in the stroller to go hang out with friends. I seem to recall a tall, lissome girl sitting on the floor, holding me in her lap as I opened presents. No word she ever spoke to me is preserved in memory. Only a vague aftertaste of her presence, the sweetness diminishing each year, but never fully gone, remains.

"Here's the thing," Mom says. She's done with her cake, but uses her fork to tap the empty plate. "I don't think she's here for a visit. She plans to stay for good. She doesn't have a job, obviously, and I doubt she has much money, though she's living on something. She's going to need a place to stay. Walter doesn't have the room."

She shifts the crumbs on her plate here and there, long enough for me to see where this conversation is leading.

"What about your place?" I ask. "She's your sister."

She raises an eyebrow. "I don't think she had living in a tent in mind when she got on the plane to come back, baby. But I figured you might want to put her up, since you and Finn have a lot in common with her, you know. Being religious, I mean."

For Mom the word religious means signing on the dotted line of conformity that you will hereby cease and desist all autonomy and freedom. That all decisions have been taken out of your hands and into the grips of prideful old men with loads of money—if not their money, yours. Mom is very spiritual, as she's quick to point out, but not at all religious.

I'm not sure how I feel anymore about all of that. Really. If Aunt Bel seems mysterious, Jesus is even more so. He seems so different from all the ways God has been presented, and while I've rejected the notion that he was hanging on the cross with just a few people in mind, I just can't see him as anything else. I've never had one of those experiences where Jesus came into any kind of focus. So I just trust that he's like Finn says, full of grace and truth, whatever that even means.

"And you have so much more room," she adds. "At least I guess so."

"Finn won't go for it."

"Baby, he'll go for anything you want. That boy is putty in your hands. Compared to him, you're a rocket scientist, and yet he's smart enough to know that!" She seriously thinks she's giving us both a compliment.


Excerpted from Runaway Saint by LISA SAMSON. Copyright © 2014 Lisa Samson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lisa Samson is the author of over twenty-five books, including the Christy award-winning novel Songbird. Her novel, Quaker Summer was Christianity Today's novel of 2008. She is coauthor with her husband, Will, of Justice in the Burbs.

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Runaway Saint 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
VicG More than 1 year ago
Lisa Samson in her new book “Runaway Saint” published by Thomas Nelson takes us into the life of Sara Drexel. From the back cover:   When her aunt shows up homeless on her doorstep, Sara suspects anything but a miracle. Sara’s an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she’s restless and bored with life. Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word. Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, Bel left for a summer missions trip and never returned. Now she’s on Sara’s doorstep, looking for a place to crash. Sara can’t say no to family, even if she hasn’t seen Bel since she was a nine-year-old girl. But saying yes to Bel turns Sara’s whole precariously-balanced life upside down. The enigmatic Bel gives Sara’s family and their community a jolt of fresh thinking and clarity. But Bel is hiding something. Though she won’t talk about it, Sara soon learns that Bel has been through a hellish ordeal. And she has the burn marks to prove it. A web of secrets that need to be unraveled. Sara is a thirty year old married woman running a printing company with her husband that is beginning to question the direction of her life. Then Aunt Bel reappears and the only family member who has room for her is Sara.  Aunt Bel has her secrets, the rest of the family has their secrets and Sara is just a regular married woman who is forced to deal with all of this.  This book is all about family and the issues and stress that secrets can cause within the family.  Ms. Samson writes a story that is all very real with very real characters in emotional conflict. Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from Thomas Nelson.   I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
SalsJourney More than 1 year ago
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. Thank you Thomas Nelson. All opinions provided are my own. Like many of Samson’s books, Runaway Saint takes place in Baltimore, MD where Sara and Finn run a print shop/design studio. It is a husband/wife venture, small, stylish and trendy. Sara is an artist of sorts, a designer, a creator. But on her 30th birthday, her hippie mom drops a bomb on Sara. Aunt Bel is back in town, the long lost missionary who disappeared from the US and their lives some 25 years previous. Sara is the only one who has space for her. Something is not quite right with Aunt Bel, and really the whole family dynamic. As Sara continues forward in the pursuit of growing the business and deciding where she stands on having a family, she struggles with her relationship with her sainted aunt. I’m a long time lover of Lisa Samson’s books. Since first stumbling across her Embrace Me on a “new releases” stand at the local library, I have made my way through most of the body of her work. (Including the Hollywood Nobody Series which is one of my favorite teen series.) She writes with clear, concise description, weaving the details into the story in ways that draw readers right in. Typically her stories are a little edgy, filled with Christian themes, and characters struggling through their faith. Her devotion to the greater Baltimore area and the way she links books together through characters and settings is charming for her regular readers. For some reason, this offering did not resonate with me like most of her books have. The characters overlap a little bit on her last book The Sky Beneath My Feet, which is typical Samson. Her stories have become more “young urbanite”, almost Neta Jacksonish, rather that reflective of the characters and situations that Samson has previously tackled. While her writing is still spot on with its descriptive character, the plot line in Runaway Saint, seemed to lose it’s steam in the web of secrets that needed to be unraveled. While I still enjoyed the story in general, I felt like I had a harder time connecting to Sara. Her conflict, although buried in the plot, didn’t seem realistic and the resolution and faith component less relevant. Still Samson is a force in Christian fiction and this new book is filled with surprise elements, some depth and spectacular descriptions. There is nothing “fluffy” about her approach. This one just seemed to miss the mark for me. Recommend for: Women’s Fiction Readers who aren’t afraid of a little God in their stories.