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Embrace Me

Embrace Me

4.7 11
by Lisa Samson

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Biting and gentle, hard-edged and hopeful . . . a beautiful fable of love and power, hiding and seeking, woundedness and redemption.

When a "lizard woman," a self-mutilating preacher, a tattoed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster . . . and


Biting and gentle, hard-edged and hopeful . . . a beautiful fable of love and power, hiding and seeking, woundedness and redemption.

When a "lizard woman," a self-mutilating preacher, a tattoed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster . . . and improbably close to grace.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Unlikely best friends Valentine and Lella, one scarred horribly and the other a multiple amputee, make ends meet by working in the Roland Wayfaring Marvels and Oddities show, always conscious that they are different from "regular people." Samson's compelling tale of their quest to make sense of their own little world and their need for love and acceptance will stay with the reader long after finishing the novel. This is truly grown-up inspirational fiction with unusual, complex characters; the publisher compares it to Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants . Highly recommended for all collections. Christy Award winner Samson (Songbird ) lives in Kentucky.

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2007 Lisa Samson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59554-210-6

Chapter One
Drew: 2002

It's amazing how good a priest looks when you've got nobody else to turn to.

The sign says he should be here. The front doors are unlocked and I walk right down the aisle. It feels creepy, despite the white walls-that Catholic, old world creepiness cemented by the statue of Mary standing on the earth, stepping on a serpent whose mouth stretches wide in agony.

Good for you, Mary. We've never given you enough credit. Not that we'd overdo it like these guys. I shove my hands in my pockets, looking around at the altar, the stone baptismal font, two pulpits-one big, one small-two rows of pews, a side altar with a statue of Joseph, I think. The doors at the back, another side altar with the statue of Mary.

But I see no carved wooden booth with a curtain hanging down like they always show in the movies. So I call out, my voice reverberating against the stone walls of the small church. "Anybody here?"

No answer.

Thomas, his stained-glass face eating up the late afternoon sun, looks doubtful of my presence and I can't blame him.

I sit on the front pew, my gaze resting on the rack of votive candles flickering in their red cups and then skating up to the round glass window in the back wall where Jesus-hands spread wide and welcoming, a dove above his head, beams of light shining-looks out over the room.

A small man enters the room-much younger than I expected.

"Hello there."

"Are you the priest?" Great. I'm in the greatest inner crisis of my life and God sends a guy fresh out of seminary who probably doesn't know a thing about the real world. Fitting.

"Yes. Sorry I'm a little late. There's always so much to do before mass begins."

"I understand. I hear the priesthood is waning."

"An understatement. Too much to give up these days. Are you here for confession?"


"Are you visiting Ocean City?" He sits down next to me, laying a comfortable arm across the back of the pew.

"Sort of. Extended stay. My mother and I used to vacation here when I was younger. I'm not Catholic."

He stares at me, brown eyes calm as he rubs the five o'clock shadow on his chin, then straightens his short dark hair. "Well, God isn't choosy about who's allowed to confess their sins if they are truly repentant. Are you a religious person?"

"I used to be a pastor-nondenominational."

"Oh my. Well, I won't hold that against you." He chuckles then settles into something more relaxed. I'm not a priest but apparently he recognizes someone else willing to answer a call. "Forgive me. I sometimes say too much. So what's on your mind? And just to reassure you, this will still remain confidential."

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

"You're not Catholic. This isn't the movies. No need to go with such formalities." He waves it away. "But you did say it so heartfelt. I'm not used to that these days. Vacationers. You know, they went out the night before and committed all manner of mortal sin, and they're planning on doing it again. Thankfully, God is the true judge of the heart, not me. I only do what I'm supposed to and leave the rest up to Him. It's all any of us can do."

"I wish someone would have told me that a long time ago."

"So, tell me your troubles. I'm Father Brian, by the way."

Brian? I smile.

"Yes, I know. The trials of being a young priest with a youthful name."

"I don't know where to begin."

"Repentance goes a long way in the saving of our souls. Anywhere is fine. God knows the end from the beginning anyway. Unless, of course, you're an open theist. Are you an open theist?"

"No. That never made any sense to me."

"Nor to me. Sorry for interrupting. Go on ahead. Just talk to me."

I try to form the words on my tongue. Nothing comes. I imagine the surf pounding outside. Seagulls circling above a piece of trash. I picture sunbeams and Bibles and Jesus dying on the cross. Even picturing the Resurrection and the anticipated gathering of the nations does nothing to resurrect my tongue from the bottom of my mouth.

He leans forward slightly. "Are you ready for this?"

"I don't know."

"Tell you what. Write it all down, then come and see me. Be assured that God is waiting to forgive you. He joys in a repentant heart." He taps the back of the pew three times. "Even if you're not Catholic."

"All right. That's what I'll do."

"Then come back. If you make an appointment, I can give you all the time you need. Do you mind telling me your name? I'll pray for you in the meantime."


"Good, Drew. Come back soon. In the interim, pray like your life depends on it. And would you pray for me too?"

"I've forgotten how."

"There's no trick to it."

"I don't need a rosary or anything?"

"No. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not quite picturing you as the kind of man who's used to asking a woman for anything. Oh there I go again! Forgive me."

He doesn't realize he just landed a firm punch to my jaw. "Thank you."

"Feel free to stay and pray."

"Thanks, but the statuary kind of gets to me."

He laughs. "A common response from protestants. No worries. Just call me when you're ready."

The priest rises and walks toward a door at the side of the church. A minute later a young woman stops before a door right next to it. Oh, that's the booth. Her head is bowed, perhaps beneath the weight of her sin, and her hand trembles as she reaches for the knob.

I can't watch another second of this.

* * *

I trudge back to my room, stopping at the pharmacy for a notebook and a pack of pencils. Maybe I shouldn't plan on doing a lot of erasing, but I'd like that option.

I came to Ocean City because I couldn't think of another place I wanted to go. Chapel Hill? No way. DC? Definitely not. That town killed me before I ever had a chance.

The Dunesgrass Hotel where I'm staying is scheduled for demolition come spring. My mother and I stayed here for a week every summer, just her and me, tanning to a ruddy brown and reading books on the beach, walking the boardwalk every night, eating caramel corn and pizza or pit-beef sandwiches. Not exactly a vacation that suited the tastes of my father. This hotel smells old now. The sconces that lit the hallways don't work. The threadbare maroon carpeting is curling at the edges.

You can pay by the month, by the day, or by the hour if you're in good with the desk guy who works eleven to seven. Most people live here year round. Four blocks from the ocean, miles and miles from proper society.

I arrange the bed pillows against the headboard, pull the lamp forward to illumine the pages of the composition book, and set the tip of the mechanical pencil against the top blue line of the paper.

* * *

Father Brian, I begin with thoughts that it would just be easier to give up altogether. Hermy says more men actually succeed at suicide than women. I guess when we stand upon that precipice, perhaps we've exhausted all other options. No one can help. We've sought help already. Nobody came running; or if they did, it didn't stick. That's about it. One place left to go. Assuming there'd be no going back, I'd opt for a good shot in the mouth. Quick. Efficient. Not likely to result in survival. The spot of self-execution would be easy for me to choose. Someplace no one would ever look for me, miles back into the woods, off the trail I've come to use as solace. I thought of tying cinder blocks on my feet and jumping into Lake Coventry where I'm from, but drowning to death takes too long. Leaving little trace of a body is, I have to admit, a favorable element in either of these scenarios. I'd leave a note to my congregation, of course. And it would writhe and teem with lies about Daisy's disappearance and my own. I'd blame Trician, just as guilty in the mess as I, and never once would I come right out and admit my own complicity. This is exactly why I don't deserve to even kill myself at this point. Or ever, really. I'm not the type. Just wish I was. And it seemed like a dramatic way to start this. The fact is, I haven't begun to exhaust my options.

* * *

I slide my arms through my jacket and head down the stoop, out the back of this old hotel. Old hotels aren't choosy about their occupants. They seem relieved somebody showed up inside their dim recesses, hoping maybe a bit of their former grandeur will shine through, maybe somebody will see them for who they really are. Or were. Or something. Even when Mom and I came, it wasn't all that nice. But we were never in our room anyway-we were always on the beach or the boardwalk.

I light up a cigarette, inhaling and looking around the alley where Glen sleeps bundled up in blankets and alcohol near the back stairs of the pawnshop. Glen has drug-induced dementia. He told me this the first day I found him back here. I tuck a five in his pocket then sit down on the back steps of the hotel.

Pulling up the sleeve of my jacket, I press the burning cigarette butt into the flesh atop my wrist. My breath catches. I lift up the cigarette and the cold December wind whispers over the scorched skin.

After the initial release, the inevitable thought arrives. What did you just do, you idiot? It makes me feel better. I don't know why. I don't care why at this point. There are, as they say, bigger fish to fry these days.

Well, Father Brian, let's get back to it. The morning is young and I am running out of time. A man can't live between sin and redemption for long, can he? I might die in an accident, choke on my food. Or the Rapture might happen any day.

I stuff the pack of smokes inside my jacket and walk toward the beach. Yeah, it's winter. It's cold. But it's our beach. I could use a walk in the sun. I look like I'm made out of school paste right now.

* * *

My room looks extra dingy after the sunlight burned into my retinas. I sip on a cup of coffee I bought at the 7-Eleven and pick up the composition book again.

* * *

When Daisy and her mother walked into the sanctuary, the crowd's attention was locked on the young pastor working his deal on a central stage amid the encircling padded chairs. I'm from the town of Mount Oak, Father. I doubt you've ever been there.

The year was 1999, the primaries for the presidential election were already heating up, and I was joking about the candidates who would receive my vote.

"Look at this tie. Look at this fine suit. What party do I look like I belong to?" I didn't believe for a second that if we were in power, America would become a holy nation and God would look past our sins, but we had that kind of congregation, and right then, they laughed. I laughed with a soft bit of snort, rolled my eyes, shook my head, and held my arms wide. "Hey, I am who I am. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

They laughed some more. I didn't have to fill them in on my father. Everybody knew Charles Parrish, political pundit, lobbyist, and general DC mover and shaker.

My people just wanted to feel at peace in their own hometown, in their own houses, their own church. I guess I wanted them to feel that way too.

Peace? Peace-when there is no peace? you ask, Father Brian? Granted.

I pulled a swiveling barstool from off to the side, made sure the wireless mic unit held tight to my belt, and sat down. Utilizing these downbeats, I could work theatre-in-the-round style church better than anybody I'd ever seen, making eye contact with at least half of the nine hundred people gathered every Sunday morning. In my less than gracious moments, of which there were many, Father, I thought of it as a feeding trough, people gobbling up their weekly plate of spiritual quiche, eating just enough to get themselves through the next seven days, or until they met with their small groups, but not enough to share with anybody else. In my gracious moments, I realized deep down they were truly looking for the peace of Christ. And I was giving them the same old answers that hadn't been working for a good long time.

But even if I'd wanted to serve them up a meaty stew, I wouldn't have known the recipe back then. I still don't.

I smiled and said, "I was reading an old book by Dr. Susan Gordon-anybody remember her radio show back in the eighties?" Of course I was a child when she was so popular.

I pointed to a woman in her fifties-Maggie Reynolds, I think-and buttered on an even bigger smile, making that longed-for connection. Longed-for on her part. A hundred other Maggies sat expectant in the congregation just begging to be noticed-by someone. I wasn't idiot enough to take this personally, nor was I idiot enough not to realize women like Maggie were the key to my success.

"Dr. Gordon used to say we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anybody else. Amen?"

"Amen!" she shouted-they all shouted. Oh, I could elicit amens.

"God wants us healthy and whole. He doesn't endorse suffering. Amen?"

You see, the more amens you ask for-the more you get. No, Father, I don't suppose there are many amens echoing in the rafters of St. Mary's.

The congregation, too busy trying to hear that someday life wouldn't hurt so much, didn't see Daisy and her mother enter. I knew what they wanted to hear. Exactly. Because, you know what? I wanted it too, Father Brian. More than anything. If I could spread that message far enough and wide enough, maybe it could come true.

God doesn't want you to hurt-ever. Never mind that "tribulation worketh patience," as Paul said to the Romans. Who wants to hear that? I sure didn't. Do you?

Looking back, I realize I must not have given one whit about my congregation. I wanted my words to be true for me. I believe that's what drives a lot of preachers. Not all. I've met some true believers, men hand in hand with Jesus, shepherds who love their flocks more than themselves. Good men. Kind men. Men who look a lot like Jesus, but without the robes and beard. But the gospel I've seen peddled most is usually cut-to-size, a perfect fit for the purveyor. Which pretty much ruins it for those people who don't exactly cotton to a three-piece suit, or a cassock, or even jeans and a polo shirt.

At least you all keep it pretty consistent, Father. I'll give you that.

If somebody could just tell me what the gospel really is these days, I'd leave this hotel room and never look back. Where I'd go wouldn't matter as long as it wasn't Mount Oak.

If I don't figure out this gospel, then there's nothing left for me. Professionally speaking.

Anyway ...

I was good at the rally cry.

"The days of the long-faced Jesus are over!" I raised a fist, my smile wide and thankful for those tooth-whitening strips. "Over! Can you say it with me?"

Over. Over. Over. Over. Over.

Never mind He was a man of sorrows.

Never mind He was acquainted with grief.

"Over! Over! Over!" they chanted. One lady stood up, raising fists of joy and victory, shuffling in her high-heeled pumps.

Daisy looked for a place to sit down.

I settled the crowd. "Glory to His name. The One who banished pain and sorrow and death."

It wasn't so much that what I said wasn't true. I just failed to flip the coin over and expose the rest of the picture: the bloodied Christ, the dirty hands of service, the dusty feet with miles of calluses, the bruised heart of making oneself vulnerable for kingdom come. Whatever that is.

I had rehearsed my message ten times, so seeing her didn't cause me to misplace a single syllable. I was that good. I planned on heading to the top. A publishing contract and a few New York Times best sellers with my picture on the cover. A huge church and a television ministry. The televangelists had already garnered a bad rap, but Drew Parrish would change all that. I could do it. It wasn't all selfish. Or ... well, I don't know. I think I convinced myself a small portion of me desired the growth of God's kingdom.

Whatever that is. I didn't understand it then either, but I knew it was something attainable if you could even semi-understand it. Jesus said it was among us and within us, and yet we still pray for it to come. How could it be all of that?

Yes, I know the seminary answer, Father. But look around you. Is it really playing out that way? I don't think so.

I knew measurable success. I knew seats filled and cash in the drawer and if both of those were overflowing ... kingdom come it is.

You might call it greed. In fact, you'd probably call it exactly that here in your small parish in Ocean City, Maryland. You'd be right.

Pride too, you say? Okay. Yes.

When I came to Elysian Heights, there were only one hundred and fifty members.


Excerpted from EMBRACE ME by LISA SAMSON Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Samson. Excerpted by permission.
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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Embrace Me: Believing is Seeing 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Aweshum! Cmon and continue! I'm waiting... >:3
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not bad. Theres a couple different details i would edit because my inner editor is always criticizing and never stops finding errors, but its definotely getting better in terms of grammar and confusingness as opposed to the beginning. The story is fast paced, but i like it. From the beginning you add suspense, and youre making a relatively unsuspenseful part better by making it fast paced and exciting. Keep up the good work and i will continue reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was just an old roleplay I was in. My best friend there was named Starr. And then decided to vanish off of the face of the Earth. I didn't know if you were that Starr or someone who thought it was a cool name. Anyways, this is a phenomenal story; by far the best story on NOOK. I love it! Keep it up!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looooouuuurrrve it! But of 'course, you knew that. I like her! Although it was quite sad when she ran off running into the woods. LOOOOOOOOORRRRRVE IT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love it! *has fangirl spasm*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Likey likey! And have a girl with a cat be tested named kristina. Kk? Kthxbai! ~nyancat
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had to say that. I love it! I think you should add onto Ivi's story, because so far, it only fits in because she's abnormably fast. I don't think you're moving TOO fast. Quite frankly, l don't see how you could slow down! Keep up the awesome work! <br> -Platinum
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey guys! Its Starr! To all my reviewers: OMIGERD, I LOVE YOU ALL. I freak out every time I get a review. :3 You guys are so awesome. And someone hss been asking what time period it is. Because its in another world -Rian-, they have some things modern Earth does, and some things that midevil Eath did. For example, they still use daggers and maces and swords and stuff, but they also have electricity and television and the like. Really, its more for my convinience than anything. I had a hard time thinking of how the people outside of the place where the Tests take place can watch it, and I finally was just fed up with thinking of it, so I did that. So. I hope that explained it! Also, I feel like there was more to Ivi's story than I told you, so part two! Yay! More thijgs to be announced at the end of this chapter. <p> ~{Ivi}~ <p> Ivi ran for hours. At one point, she had even reached the edge of her distruct. Ivi just turned around and ran in another direction than the one she had come from. She finally had to stop, and even then she tried stumbling a few steps before just colapsing. <p> Ivi had not cried, she had not even shown much emotion since she heard the news that her father had died in that house fire. She had been in shock, lost in the turmoil of her own mind, focusing on the steady rythem of her running feet. But now, sitting on the ground in the middle of who-knows-where, she cried her heart out. Ivi was hit with the full impact of what she had lost. She would never see him again, never call out "Da!" whrn she needed somone, never tell him that she loved him. Never hear him tell her that he loved her. <p> Eventually, her broken-hearted wailing gave way to choked sobbing, and Ivi got up. She jogged in a random direction, shivering slightly. It was a chilly fall night, and she only had a tee-shirt and jeans. <p> Eventually, she came upon a lone house in the middle of the woods she had wandered into. She debated just walking away, but her stomach won out. She was cold. <p> Ms. Kerral was awoken by the tentative knock of somebody on the door. 'Who could be knocking at this hour?' Ms. Kerral thought grouchily, getting up. She went over to the door, wrenching it open and glaring. "What do yo..." the words died on her lips as she saw a girl, no more than eleven, with windblown hair and coffee colored skin. Her chocolate brown eyes revealed that she had obviously been crying. <p> "Hi," Ivi muttered, training her eyes on the ground. "Do you have any food to spare?" <p> Ms. Kerral looked at her a long moment, so long that Ivi was about to mutter an apology and run away, but before she could, Ms. Keral stepped out of the way and simply said, "Come on in, dear," <p> ~{~}~ <p> So! Thats the end of this chapter. Like it? Hate it? If you hate it, why are you still reading? Have constructive critisism? Review! Questions? Suggestions? Go to 'testing you' res one! One question for you guys, though: I feel like my story has too fast a pace. Do you agree? Please tell me! Oh! And one of my friends, a very awesome person, Zilla, or Godzilla, has made a Godly Tests RP! Awesome, hm? If you want to join, go on down to 'lij' res one, read dem rules, then make a bio, then RP! That simple. I will also be there, so. Yeah. And Jasmine, I have not heard of the Freedom Chasers. Care to explain? Have a fantabulous day! ~Starr
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Deborah_K More than 1 year ago
Lisa Samson's book always makes you think and this one is no different that the rest. Can you say EDGY?! I don't think I've ever read a Christian fiction book that deals with the type of people mentioned in this story. But these are stories that need to be told, because not everyone is living a picture perfect streak free Christian life. It's a heartbreaking story as you read what has happened in Drew and Valentine's lives. I nearly wanted to cry at times when reading because I felt the character's pain and suffering. Even though there are very few sideshow attractions such as the one portrayed in the story surviving today, it makes the reader think about what life is like for these 'so-called freaks.' How hard their life must be because they aren't born 'normal' like the rest of us. I really don't know how Lella was able to be so upbeat and genuinely happy all the time. I don't think I could have accepted her situation quite so well. This isn't your normal happy ending novel. There is a lot of in your face stuff that a lot of Christians don't like touching. It will make you feel uncomfortable at times but it will also help you to understand more about God's infinite love and acceptance. This book is definitely edgy Christian fiction at its best. Lisa Samson has created another winner. HIGHLY recommended.
harstan More than 1 year ago
a living working at Roland Wayfaring Marvels and Oddities show knowing they are freaks to the normals who gawk at them. Valentine has scars all over her body while Lella has no extremities. Whereas Lella also has no dreams, Val fantasizes of one day being romanced by a man while she listens to her mother¿s copy of ¿Embraceable You¿, but once the singing stops reality returns.----------- However, a newcomer with scars on his soul and in his heart joins the caravan. Augustus befriends Val, but Lella who wants the best for her buddy fears she will be left behind with no one to care for or about her.------------- Combining a deep need to belong to others, which means forgiving and accepting the hurts they cause, inside a set from Browning¿s Freaks, Lisa Samson writes a powerful relationship drama that will shake the audience to the core. The cast is fully developed so that readers feel the anguish and loneliness each suffers. Adding depth to the emotional punch is the rotating story line between Drew circa 2002-3 and Val circa 2008-9. EMBRACE ME is a powerful insightful tale of love as Ms. Samson makes an ardent case that everyone needs loving mental and physical hugs.--------------- Harriet Klausner