Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!




Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


A Voice in the Wind

Tyndale House Publishers (March 1, 1998)(Re-released June 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Francine Rivers began her literary career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Journalism. From 1976 to 1985, she had a successful writing career in the general market and her books were awarded or nominated for numerous awards and prizes. Although raised in a religious home, Francine did not truly encounter Christ until later in life, when she was already a wife, mother of three, and an established romance novelist. Shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1986, Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books, and then re-released by Multnomah Publishers in the mid- 1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set during the time of the California Gold Rush is now considered by many to be a classic work of Christian fiction. Redeeming Love continues to be one of the Christian Booksellers Association’s top-selling titles and it has held a spot on the Christian bestseller list for nearly a decade.

Since Redeeming Love, Francine has published numerous novels with Christian themes – all bestsellers-- and she has continued to win both industry acclaim and reader loyalty around the globe. Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa.

Francine and her husband Rick live in Northern California and enjoy the time spent with their three grown children and every opportunity to spoil their four grandchildren. She uses her writing to draw closer to the Lord, and that through her work she might worship and praise Jesus for all He has done and is doing in her life.


Visit her at her website.

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

The city was silently bloating in the hot sun, rotting like the thou-sands of bodies that lay where they had fallen in street battles. An oppressive, hot wind blew from the southeast, carrying with it the putrefying stench of decay. And outside the city walls, Death itself waited in the persons of Titus, son of Vespasian, and sixty thou-sand legionnaires who were anxious to gut the city of God.

Even before the Romans crossed the Valley of Thorns and camped on the Mount of Olives, warring factions within Jerusa-lem’s city walls had prepared the way for her destruction.

Jewish robbers, who now fled like rats before the Roman legions, had recently fallen upon Jerusalem and murdered her prominent citizens, taking over the holy temple. Casting lots for the priesthood, they turned a house of prayer into a marketplace of tyranny.

Fast behind the robbers came rebels and zealots. Directed by rival leaders—John, Simon, and Eleazar—the warring factions raged within the three walls. Swollen with power and pride, they sliced Jerusalem into bloody pieces.

Breaking the Sabbath and the laws of God, Eleazar stormed Antonia Tower and murdered the Roman soldiers within it. Zealots rampaged, murdering thousands more who attempted to bring order back to a maddened city. Unlawful tribunals were set up and the laws of man and God mocked as hundreds of innocent men and women were murdered. Houses full of corn were burned in the chaos. Famine soon followed.

In their despair, righteous Jews prayed fervently for Rome to come against the great city. For these Jews believed that then, and only then, would the factions within Jerusalem unite in one cause: freedom against Rome.

Rome did come and, their hated ensigns held high, their war cry rang across all of Judea. They took Gadara, Jotapata, Beersheba, Jericho, Caesarea. The mighty legions marched in the very footsteps of devout pilgrims who came from every corner of the Jewish nation to worship and celebrate the high holy days of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread—the Passover. Innocent tens of thousands poured into the city and found themselves in the midst of civil war. Zealots closed the gates, trapping them inside. Rome came on until the sound of destruction echoed across the Valley of Kidron against the walls of Jerusalem itself. Titus laid siege to the ancient, holy city, determined to end Jewish rebellion once and forever.

Josephus, the Jewish general of fallen Jotapata who had been taken captive by the Romans, wept and cried out from atop the first wall defeated by the legionnaires. With Titus’ permission, he pleaded with his people to repent, warning them that God was against them, that the prophecies of destruction were about to be fulfilled. Those few who listened to him and managed to evade the zealots in their escape reached the greedy Syrians—who dis-sected them for the gold pieces they had supposedly swallowed before deserting the city. Those who didn’t heed Josephus suffered the full fury of the Roman war machine. Having cut down every tree within miles, Titus built siege engines that hurled countless javelins, stones, and even captives into the city.

From the Upper Market Place to the lower Acra and the Valley of Cheesemongers between, the city writhed in revolt.

Inside the great temple of God, the rebel leader John melted down the sacred golden vessels for himself. The righteous wept for Jerusalem, the bride of kings, the mother of prophets, the home of the shepherd king David. Torn asunder by her own peo-ple, she lay gutted and helpless, awaiting her death blow from hated Gentile foreigners.

Anarchy destroyed Zion, and Rome stood ready to destroy anarchy... anytime... anywhere.

Hadassah held her mother, tears blurring her eyes as she stroked the black hair back from her mother’s gaunt, pale face. Her mother had been beautiful once. Hadassah remembered watching her take her hair down until it lay, glistening in thick waves, against her back. Her crowning glory, Papa called it. Now, it was dull and coarse, and her once-ruddy cheeks were white and sunken. Her stomach was swollen with malnutrition, the bones of her legs and arms clearly outlined beneath a gray overdress.

Lifting her mother’s hand, Hadassah kissed it tenderly. It was like a bony claw, limp and cool. “Mama?” No response. Hadas-sah looked across the room at her younger sister, Leah, lying on a dirty pallet in the corner. Thankfully, she was asleep, the agony of slow starvation briefly forgotten.

Hadassah stroked her mother’s hair again. Silence lay upon her like a hot shroud; the pain in her empty belly was almost beyond endurance. Only yesterday she had wept bitterly when her mother had uttered thanks to God for the meal Mark had been able to scavenge for them: shield leather from a dead Roman soldier.

How long before they all died?

Grieving in the silence, she could still hear her father speaking to her in that firm but gentle voice. “It is not possible for men to avoid fate, even when they see it beforehand.”

Hananiah had spoken these words to her scant weeks ago— though now it seemed like an eternity. He had prayed all that morning, and she had been so afraid. She had known what he was going to do, what he had always done before. He would go out before the unbelievers and preach about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

“Why must you go out again and speak to those people? You were almost killed the last time.”

“Those people, Hadassah? They’re your kinsmen. I’m a Benjaminite.” She could still feel his gentle touch on her cheek. “We must seize every opportunity we can to speak the truth and proclaim peace. Especially now. There’s so little time for so many.”

She had clung to him then. “Please, don’t go. Father, you know what’ll happen. What’ll we do without you? You can’t bring peace. There is no peace in this place!”

“It is not the world’s peace I speak of, Hadassah, but God’s. You know that.” He had held her close. “Hush, child. Do not weep so.”

She wouldn’t release him. She knew they wouldn’t listen—they didn’t want to hear what he had to tell them. Simon’s men would slash him to pieces before the crowd as an example of what became of those who spoke for peace. It had happened to others.

“I must go.” His hands had been firm, his eyes gentle, as he had tipped her chin. “Whatever happens to me, the Lord is always with you.” He’d kissed her, hugged her, then put her away from him so he could embrace and kiss his other two children. “Mark, you will remain here with your mother and sisters.”

Grabbing and shaking her mother, Hadassah had pleaded, “You can’t let him go! Not this time!”

“Be silent, Hadassah. Who are you serving by arguing so against your father?”

Her mother’s reprimand, though spoken gently, had struck hard. She had said many times before that when one did not serve the Lord, they unwittingly served the evil one instead. Fighting tears, Hadassah had obeyed and said no more.

Rebekkah had laid her hand against her husband’s gray-bearded face. She had known Hadassah was right; he might not return, probably wouldn’t. Yet, perhaps, if it was God’s will, one soul might be saved through his sacrifice. One might be enough. Her eyes had been full of tears and she could not—dared not— speak. For if she had, she was afraid she would join Hadassah in pleading that he stay safe in this small house. And Hananiah knew better than she what the Lord willed for him. He had placed his hand over hers and she had tried not to weep.

“Remember the Lord, Rebekkah,” he had said solemnly. “We are together in him.”

He had not returned.

Hadassah leaned down over her mother protectively, afraid she would lose her, too. “Mother?” Still no response. Her breathing was shallow, her color ashen. What was taking Mark so long? He had been gone since dawn. Surely the Lord would not take him as well....

In the silence of the small room, Hadassah’s fear grew. She stroked her mother’s hair absently. Please, God. Please! Words wouldn’t come, at least not any that made sense. Just a groaning from within her soul. Please what? Kill them now with starvation before the Romans came with swords or they suffered the agony of a cross? Oh, God, God! Her plea came, inarticulate and des-perate, helpless and full of fear. Help us!

Why had they ever come to this city? She hated Jerusalem.

Hadassah fought against the despair inside her. It had become so heavy, it felt like a physical weight pulling her into a dark pit. She tried to think of better times, of happier moments, but those thoughts wouldn’t come.

She thought of the months long ago when they’d made the journey from Galilee, never expecting to be trapped in the city. The night before they had entered Jerusalem, her father set up camp on a hillside within sight of Mount Moriah, where Abra-ham had almost sacrificed Isaac. He told them stories of when he was a boy living just outside the great city, speaking far into the night of the laws of Moses, under which he had grown up. He spoke of the prophets. He spoke of Yeshua, the Christ.

Hadassah had slept and dreamt of the Lord feeding the five thousand on a hillside.

She remembered that her father had awakened the family at dawn. And she remembered how, as the sun rose, light had reflected off the marble and gold of the temple, turning the struc-ture into a blazing beacon of fiery splendor that could be seen from miles away. Hadassah could still feel the awe she had felt at the glory of it. “Oh, Father, it is so beautiful.”

“Yes,” he had said solemnly. “But so often, things of great beauty are full of great corruption.”

Despite the persecution and danger that had awaited them in Jerusalem, her father had been full of joy and expectation as they entered the gates. Perhaps this time more of his kinsmen would listen; more would give their hearts to the risen Lord.

Few believers of the Way remained in Jerusalem. Many had been imprisoned, some stoned, even more driven away to other places. Lazarus, his sisters, and Mary Magdalene had been driven out; the apostle John, a dear family friend, had left Jerusalem two years before, taking the Lord’s mother with him. Yet, Hadassah’s father had remained. Once a year, he had returned to Jerusalem with his family to gather with other believers in an upper room. There they shared bread and wine, just as their Lord Jesus had done the evening before his crucifixion. This year, Shimeon Bar-Adonijah had presented the elements of the Passover meal:

“The lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs of the Passover have as much meaning for us as for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The Lord fulfills each element. He is the perfect Lamb of God who, though without sin himself, has taken the bitterness of our sins upon him. Just as the captive Jews in Egypt were told to put the blood of a lamb on their door so that God’s wrath and judgment would pass over them, so Jesus has shed his blood for us so that we will stand blameless before God in the coming Judg-ment Day. We are the sons and daughters of Abraham, for it is by our faith in the Lord that we are saved through his grace....”

For the following three days they had fasted and prayed and repeated Jesus’ teachings. On the third day, they sang and rejoiced, breaking bread together once more in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. And every year, during the last hour of the gathering, her father would tell his own story. This year had been no different. Most had heard his story many times before, but there were always those who were new to the faith. It was to these people that her father spoke.

He stood, a simple man with gray hair and beard, and dark eyes full of light and serenity. There was nothing remarkable about him. Even as he spoke, he was ordinary. It was the touch of God’s hand that made him different from others.

“My father was a good man, a Benjaminite who loved God and taught me the law of Moses,” he began quietly, looking into the eyes of those who sat about him. “He was a merchant near Jerusalem and married my mother, the daughter of a poor hus-bandman. We were not rich and we were not poor. For all we had, my father gave glory and thanks to God.

“When the Passover came, we closed our small shop and entered the city. Mother stayed with friends and prepared for the Passover. My father and I spent our time at the temple. To hear God’s Word was to eat meat, and I dreamed of being a scribe. But it would not come to pass. When I was fourteen, my father died and, with no brothers and sisters, it was necessary for me to take over his business. Times were very hard, and I was young and inexperienced, but God was good. He provided.”

He closed his eyes. “Then a fever took hold of me. I struggled against death. I could hear my mother weeping and crying out to God. Lord, I prayed, don’t let me die. My mother needs me. Without me, she is alone, with no one to provide for her. Please do not take me now! But death came. It surrounded me like a cold darkness and took hold of me.” The hush in the room was almost tangible as his listeners awaited the ending.

No matter how many times Hadassah had heard the story, she never tired of it nor lost the power of it. As her father spoke, she could feel the dark and lonely force that had claimed him. Chilled, she wrapped her arms around her legs and hugged them against her chest as he went on.

“My mother said friends were carrying me along the road to my tomb when Jesus passed by. The Lord heard her weeping and took pity. My mother didn’t know who he was when he stopped the funeral procession, but there were many with him, followers, as well as the sick and crippled. Then she recognized him, for he touched me and I arose.”

Hadassah wanted to leap up and cry out in joy. Some of those around her wept, their faces transfixed with wonder and awe.
Others wanted to touch her father, to lay hands on a man who had been brought back from death by Christ Jesus. And they had so many questions. How did you feel when you arose? Did you speak with him? What did he say to you? What did he look like?

In the upper room, with the gathering of believers, Hadassah had felt safe. She had felt strength. In that place, she could feel the presence of God and his love. “He touched me and I arose.” God’s power could overcome anything.

Then they would leave the upper room and, as her father walked the family back to the small house where they stayed, Hadassah’s ever-present fear would rise again. She always prayed her father wouldn’t stop and speak. When he told his story to believers, they wept and rejoiced. To unbelievers, he was an object of ridicule. The euphoria and security she felt with those who shared her faith dissolved when she watched her father stand before a crowd and suffer their abuse.

“Listen to me, O men of Judah!” he would call out, drawing people to him. “Listen to the good news I have to tell you.”

They listened at first. He was an old man and they were curi-ous. Prophets were always a diversion. He was not eloquent like the religious leaders; he spoke simply from his heart. And always people laughed and mocked him. Some threw rotten vegetables and fruit, some called him mad. Others became enraged at his story of resurrection, shouting that he was a liar and blasphemer.

Two years ago he had been so badly beaten that two friends had to help carry him back to the small rented house where they always stayed. Elkanah and Benaiah had tried to reason with him.

“Hananiah, you must not come back here,” Elkanah had said. “The priests know who you are and want you silenced. They are not so foolish as to have a trial, but there are many evil men who will do another’s will for a shekel. Shake the dust of Jerusalem from your shoes and go somewhere that the message will be heard.”

“And where else can that be but here where our Lord died and arose?”

“Many of those who witnessed his resurrection have fled imprisonment and death at the hands of the Pharisees,” Benaiah had said. “Even Lazarus has left Judea.”

“Where did he go?”

“I was told he took his sisters and Mary of Magdala to Gaul.”

“I cannot leave Judea. Whatever happens, this is where the Lord wants me.”

Benaiah had grown silent for a long moment and then he nod-ded slowly. “Then it shall be as the Lord wills it.”

Elkanah had agreed and laid his hand on her father’s. “Shelemoth and Cyrus are remaining here. They will give you aid when you are in Jerusalem. I am taking my family away from this city. Benaiah is coming with me. May God’s face shine upon you, Hananiah. You and Rebekkah will be in our prayers. And your children, too.”

Hadassah had wept, her hopes of leaving this wretched city dashed. Her faith was weak. Her father always forgave his tor-menters and attackers, while she prayed they would know all the fires of hell for what they had done to him. She often prayed that God would change his will and send her father to a place other than Jerusalem. Someplace small and peaceful where people would listen.

“Hadassah, we know that God uses all things for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his pur-pose,” her mother said often, trying to comfort her.

“What good is there in a beating? What good in being spit upon? Why must he suffer so?”

In the peaceful hills of Galilee, with the blue sea stretched out before her and lilies of the field at her back, Hadassah could believe in God’s love. At home, in those hills, her faith was strong. It warmed her and made her heart sing.

In Jerusalem, though, she struggled. She clung to her faith, but still found it slipping away from her. Doubt was her companion, fear was overwhelming.

“Father, why can we not believe and remain silent?”

“We are called upon to be the light of the world.”

“They hate us more with each passing year.”

“Hatred is the enemy, Hadassah. Not the people.”

“It is people who beat you, Father. Did not the Lord himself tell us not to cast pearls before the swine?”

“Hadassah, if I am to die for him, I will die joyfully. What I do is for his good purpose. The truth does not go out and come back empty. You must have faith, Hadassah. Remember the promise. We are part of the body of Christ, and in Christ we have eternal life. Nothing can separate us. No power on earth. Not even death.”

She had pressed her face against his chest, the rough woven tunic he wore rubbing against her skin. “Why can I believe at home, Father, but not here?”

“Because the enemy knows where you are most vulnerable.” He had put his hand over hers. “Do you remember the story of Jehoshaphat? The sons of Moab and Ammon and Mount Seir came against him with a mighty army. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and God said through him, ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ While they sang and praised the Lord, the Lord himself set ambushes against their enemies. And in the morning, when the Israelites came to the lookout of the wilderness, they saw the bodies of the dead. No one escaped. The Israelites had not even raised a hand in battle, and the battle was won.”

Kissing her head, he had said, “Stand firm in the Lord, Hadas-sah. Stand firm and let him fight your battles. Do not try to fight alone.”

Hadassah sighed, trying to ignore the burning in her stomach. How she missed her father’s counsel in the silent loneliness of this house. If she believed everything he had taught her, she would rejoice that he was now with the Lord. Instead she ached with grief, which swelled and spilled over her in waves, spreading with it a strange, confused anger.

Why did her father have to be such a fool for Christ? The peo-ple didn’t want to hear; they didn’t believe. His testimony offended them. His words drove them mad with hatred. Why couldn’t he, just once, have remained silent and stayed within the safe confines of this small house? He’d still be alive, here in this room, comforting them and giving them hope instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Why couldn’t he have been sensible this one time and waited out the storm?

The door opened slowly and Hadassah’s heart leapt in fright, snapping her back to the grim present. Robbers had broken into the houses down the street, murdering the occupants for a loaf of hoarded bread. But it was Mark who entered. She let out her breath, relieved to see him. “I was so afraid for you,” she whis-pered with feeling. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

He pushed the door closed and sank down, exhausted, against the wall near their sister. “What did you find?” She waited for him to take whatever he had found from his shirt. Whatever food was found had to be secreted or someone would attack him for it.

Mark looked at her hopelessly. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a worn shoe, not even shield leather from a dead soldier. Noth-ing.” He started to cry, his shoulders shaking.

“Shhh, you’ll awaken Leah and Mama.” Hadassah gently laid her mother back against the blanket and went to him. She put her arms around him and leaned her head against his chest. “You tried, Mark. I know you tried.”

“Maybe it’s God’s will that we die.”

“I’m not sure I want to know God’s will anymore,” she said without thinking. Quick tears came. “Mama said the Lord will provide,” she said, but the words sounded empty. Her faith was so weak. She was not like Father and Mother. Even Leah, young as she was, loved the Lord wholeheartedly. And Mark sounded so accepting of death. Why was she always the one who questioned and doubted?

Have faith. Have faith. When you have nothing else, have faith.

Mark shuddered, drawing her out of her gloomy thoughts. “They are throwing bodies into the Wadi El Rabadi behind the holy temple. Thousands, Hadassah.”

Hadassah remembered the horror of the Valley of Hinnom. It was there that Jerusalem disposed of the dead and unclean ani-mals and dumped the night soil. Baskets of hooves, entrails, and animal remains from the temple were carried there and dumped. Rats and carrion birds infested the place, and the stench fre-quently was carried in hot winds across the city. Father called it Gehenna. “It was not far from here that our Lord was crucified.”

Mark pushed his hand back through his hair. “I was afraid to go closer.”

Hadassah shut her eyes tightly, but the question rose stark and raw against her will. Had her father been cast into that place, des-ecrated and left to rot in the hot sun? She bit her lip and tried to force the thought away.

“I saw Titus,” Mark said dully. “He rode over with some of his men. When he saw the bodies, he cried out. I could not hear his words, but a man said he was calling out to Jehovah that it was not his doing.”

“If the city surrendered now, would he show mercy?”

“If he could contain his men. They hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed.”

“And us along with them.” She shivered. “They will not know the difference between believers of the Way and zealots, will they?
Seditionist or righteous Jew or even Christian, it will make no dif-ference.” Her eyes blurred with tears. “Is this the will of God, Mark?”

“Father said it is not God’s will that any should suffer.”

“Then why must we?”

“We bear the consequences for what we have done to our-selves, and for the sin that rules this world. Jesus forgave the thief, but he didn’t take him down off the cross.” He pushed his hand back through his hair. “I’m not wise like Father. I haven’t any answers to why, but I know there is hope.”

“What hope, Mark? What hope is there?”

“God always leaves a remnant.”

The siege wore on, and while life within Jerusalem ebbed, the spirit of Jewish resistance did not. Hadassah remained within the small house, hearing the horror of what was just beyond their un-bolted door. A man was screaming and running down the street.

“They’ve ascended the wall!”

When Mark went out to find out what was happening, Leah became hysterical. Hadassah went to her sister and held her tightly. She felt near to hysteria herself, but tending her young sis-ter helped calm her.

“Everything will be all right, Leah. Be still.” Her words sounded meaningless in her own ears. “The Lord is watching over us,” she said and stroked her sister gently.

A litany of comforting lies, for the world was crumbling around them. Hadassah looked across the room at her mother and felt the tears coming again. Her mother smiled weakly as though trying to reassure her, but she felt no reassurance. What would become of them?

When Mark returned, he told them of the battle raging within the walls. The Jews had turned it and were driving the Romans back.

However, that night, under the cover of darkness, ten legion-naires sneaked through the ruins of the city and took possession of Antonia Tower. The battle had come to the very entrance of the holy temple. Though driven back again, the Romans coun-tered by overthrowing some of the foundations of the tower and laid open the court of the Gentiles. In an attempt to divert them, zealots attacked the Romans at the Mount of Olives. Failing, they were destroyed. The prisoners taken were crucified before the walls for all to see.

Stillness fell again. And then a new, more devastating horror spread through the city as word passed of a starving woman who had eaten her own child. The flame of Roman hatred was fanned into a blaze.

Josephus cried out again to his people that God was using the Romans to destroy them, fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets Daniel and Jesus. The Jews gathered all the dry materials, bitu-men, and pitch they could find and filled the cloisters. The Romans drove forward, and the Jews gave ground, luring the Romans into the temple. Once inside, the Jews set their holy place on fire, burning many of the legionnaires to death within it.

Titus regained control of his enraged soldiers and ordered the fire put out, but no sooner had they succeeded in saving the tem-ple than the Jews attacked again. This time all the officers of Rome couldn’t restrain the fury of the Roman legionnaires who, driven by a lust for Jewish blood, once again torched the temple and killed every human being in their path as they began plunder-ing the conquered city.

Men fell by the hundreds as flames engulfed the Babylonian curtain, embroidered with fine blue, scarlet, and purple thread. High on the temple roof, a false prophet cried out for the people to climb up and be delivered. People’s screams of agony as they burned alive carried across the city, mingling with the horrifying sounds of battle in the streets and alleys. Men, women, children— it made no difference, all fell to the sword.

Hadassah tried to shut it out of her mind, but the sound of death was everywhere. Her mother died on the same hot August day that Jerusalem fell, and for two days, Hadassah, Mark, and Leah waited, knowing the Romans would find them sooner or later and destroy them as they were destroying everyone else.

Someone fled down their narrow street. Others screamed as they were cut down without mercy. Hadassah wanted to jump up and run away, but where could she go? And what of her sister and her brother? She pressed further back into the darkening shadows of the small rooms and held Leah.

More men’s voices. Louder. Closer. A door was smashed open not far away. The people inside screamed. One by one, they were silenced.

Weak and gaunt, Mark struggled to his feet and stood before the door, praying silently. Hadassah’s heart beat heavily, her empty stomach tightening into a ball of pain. She heard men’s voices in the street. The words were Greek, the tone scornful. One man gave orders to search the next houses. Another door was smashed in. More screams.

The sound of hobnailed shoes came to their door. Hadassah’s heart jumped wildly. “Oh, God . . .”

“Close your eyes, Hadassah,” Mark told her, sounding strangely calm. “Remember the Lord,” he said as the door crashed open. Mark uttered a harsh, broken sound and dropped to his knees. A bloody sword tip protruded from his back, stain-ing the gray tunic red. Leah’s high-pitched scream filled the small room.

The Roman soldier kicked Mark back, freeing his sword.

Hadassah could not utter a sound. Staring up at the man, his armor covered with dust and her brother’s blood, Hadassah couldn’t move. His eyes glittered through his visor. When he stepped forward, raising his bloody sword, Hadassah moved swiftly and without conscious thought. She shoved Leah down and fell across her. Oh, God, let it be over quickly, she prayed. Let it be swift. Leah fell silent. The only sound was that of the sol-dier’s rasping breathing, mingled with screams from down the street.

Tertius gripped his sword harder and glared down at the ema-ciated young girl covering an even smaller girl. He ought to kill them both and have done with it! These bloody Jews were a blight to Rome. Eating their own children! Destroy the women and there would be no more warriors birthed. This nation deserved annihilation. He should just kill them and be done with it.

What stopped him?

The older girl looked up at him, her dark eyes full of fear. She was so small and thin, except for those eyes, too large for her ashen face. Something about her sapped the killing strength of his arm. His breathing eased, his heartbeat slowed.

He tried to remind himself of the friends he had lost. Diocles had been killed by a stone while building the siege works. Malcenas had been fallen upon by six fighters when they had breached the first wall. Capaneus had burned to death when the Jews had set fire to their own temple. Albion still suffered wounds from a Jew’s dart.

Yet, the heat in his blood cooled.

Shaking, Tertius lowered his sword. Still alert to any move-ment the girl made, he glanced around the small room. His vision cleared of the red haze. It was a boy he had killed. He lay in a pool of blood beside a woman. She looked peaceful, as though she merely slept, her hair carefully combed, her hands folded on her chest. Unlike those who had chosen to dump their dead in the wadi, these children had lain out their mother with dignity.

He had heard the story of a woman eating her own child and it had fed his hatred of Jews, gained from ten long years in Judea. He had wanted nothing more than to obliterate them from the face of the earth. They had been nothing but trouble to Rome from the beginning—rebellious and proud, unwilling to bend to anything but their one true god.

One true god. Tertius’ hard mouth twisted in a sneer. Fools, all of them. To believe in only one god was not only ridiculous, it was uncivilized. And for all their holy protestations and stubborn persistence, they were a barbaric race. Look what they had done to their own temple.

How many Jews had he killed in the last five months? He hadn’t bothered to count as he went from house to house, driven by bloodlust, hunting them down like animals. By the gods, he had relished it, accounting each death as a small token payment for the friends they had taken from him.

Why did he hesitate now? Was this pity for a foul Jewess brat? It would be merciful to kill her and put her out of her misery. She was so thin from starvation that he could blow her over with a breath. He took another step toward her. He could kill both girls with one blow... tried to summon the will to do so.

The girl waited. It was clear she was terrified, yet she did not beg for mercy as so many had done. Both she and the child beneath her were still and silent, watching.

Tertius’ heart twisted, and he felt weak. He drew a ragged breath and exhaled sharply. Uttering a curse, he shoved his sword into the scabbard at his side. “You will live, but you will not thank me for it.”

Hadassah knew Greek. It was a common language among the Roman legionnaires and so was heard all over Judea. She started to cry. He grasped her arm and yanked her to her feet.

Tertius looked at the little girl lying on the floor. Her eyes were open and fixed on some distant place to which her mind had escaped. It was not the first time he had seen such a look. She would not last long.

“Leah,” Hadassah said, frightened at the vacant look in her eyes. She bent down and put her arms around her. “My sister,” she said, trying to draw her up.

Tertius knew the little girl was as good as dead already and it would make more sense to leave her. Yet, the way the older girl tried to gather the child in her arms and lift her, roused his pity. Even the child’s slight weight was too much for her.

Brushing her aside, Tertius lifted the tiny girl easily and gently slung her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. Grasping the older girl by the arm, he pushed her out the door.

The street was quiet, the other soldiers having moved on. Dis-tant cries rang out. He walked quickly, aware that the girl was struggling to keep up.

The air of the city was foul with death. Bodies were every-where, some slain by Roman soldiers pillaging the conquered city, others dead of starvation, now bloated and decaying from days of being left to putrefy. The look of horror on the girl’s face made Tertius wonder how long she had been cooped up in that house.

“Your great Holy City,” he said and spat into the dust.

Pain licked up Hadassah’s arm as the legionnaire’s fingers dug into her flesh. She stumbled over a dead man’s leg. His face was crawling with maggots. The dead were everywhere. She felt faint.

The farther they walked, the more horrifying the carnage. Decaying bodies lay tangled together like slaughtered animals. The stench of blood and death was so heavy Hadassah covered her mouth.

“Where do we take captives?” Tertius shouted at a soldier sep-arating the dead. Two soldiers were lifting a Roman comrade from between two Jews. Other legionnaires appeared with plun-der from the temple. Wagons were already loaded with golden and silver sprinkling bowls, dishes, wick trimmers, pots, and lampstands. Bronze shovels and pots were piled up, as well as basins, censers, and other articles used in temple service.

The soldier looked up at Tertius, casting a cursory glance over Hadassah and Leah. “Down that street and around through the big gate, but those two don’t look worth bothering with.”

Hadassah looked up at the temple’s once pristine marble, the marble that had appeared as a snow-covered mountain in the dis-tance. It was blackened, chunks had been gouged out by siege stones, the gold melted away. Whole sections of wall were broken down. The holy temple. It was just another place of death and destruction.

She moved sluggishly, sickened and terrified at all she saw. Smoke burned her eyes and throat. As they walked along the wall of the temple, she could hear a rising, undulating sound of horror coming from within it. Her mouth was parched and her heart pounded harder and faster as they approached the gate to the Women’s Court.

Tertius gave the girl a shove. “You faint and I’ll kill you where you drop, and your sister with you.”

Thousands of survivors were within the court, some moaning in their misery and others wailing for their dead. The soldier pushed her ahead of him through the gate, and she saw the ragged multitude before her. They crowded the courtyard. Most were gaunt with starvation, weak, hopeless.

Tertius lowered the child from his shoulder. Hadassah caught hold of Leah and tried to support her. She sank down weakly and held her sister limply across her lap. The soldier turned and walked away.

Thousands milled around, looking for relatives or friends. Others huddled in smaller groups weeping, while some, alone, stared at nothing—as Leah did. The air was so hot Hadassah could hardly breathe.

A Levite rent his worn blue and orange tunic and cried out in an agony of emotion, “My God! My God! Why hast thou for-saken us?” A woman near him began to wail miserably, her gray dress bloodstained and torn at the shoulder. An old man wrapped in black-and-white striped robes sat alone against the court wall, his lips moving. Hadassah knew he was of the Sanhedrin, his robes symbolizing the desert costume and the tents of the first patriarchs.

Mingled among the crowd were Nazirites with their long, braided hair, and zealots with dirty, ragged trousers and shirts over which they wore short sleeveless vests with a blue fringe at each corner. Divested of their knives and bows, they still looked menacing.

A fight broke out. Women began screaming. A dozen Roman legionnaires waded into the multitude and cut down the adversar-ies, as well as several others whose only offense was to be in close proximity. A Roman officer stood on the high steps and shouted down at the captives. He pointed out several more men in the crowd and they were dragged away to be crucified.

Hadassah managed to draw Leah up and move to a safer place by the wall, near the Levite. As the sun went down and darkness came, she held Leah close, trying to share her warmth. But in the morning, Leah was dead.

Her sister’s sweet face was free of fear and suffering. Her lips were curved in a gentle smile. Hadassah held her against her chest and rocked her. Pain swelled and filled her with a despair so deep she couldn’t even cry. When a Roman soldier came over, she scarcely noticed until he tried to take Leah away from her. She held her sister tighter.

“She’s dead. Give her to me.”

Hadassah pressed her face into the curve of her sister’s neck and moaned. The Roman had seen enough death to become hard-ened by it. He struck Hadassah once, breaking her hold, and then kicked her aside. Dazed, her body laced with pain, Hadassah stared helplessly as the soldier carried Leah to a wagon stacked with the bodies of others who had died during the night. He tossed her sister’s fragile body carelessly onto the heap.

Shutting her eyes, Hadassah drew up her legs and wept against her knees.

The days ran together. Hundreds died of starvation, more of despair and lost hope. Some of the able-bodied captives were taken to dig mass graves.

Rumors spread that Titus had given orders to demolish not only the temple but the entire city. Only the Phasaelus, Hippicus, and Mariamne towers were to be left standing for defensive pur-poses, and a portion of the western wall. Not since the Babylo-nian king Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s temple had such a thing happened. Jerusalem, their beloved Jerusalem, would be no more.

The Romans brought in corn for the captives. Some Jews, still stiff-necked against Roman rule, refused their portions in a last and fatal act of rebellion. More grievous were the sick and weak who were denied food because the Romans did not wish to waste corn on those who would not likely survive the coming march to Caesarea. Hadassah was one of the latter, and so received no food.

One morning, Hadassah was taken with the others outside the city walls. She stared with horror at the scene before her.
Thousands of Jews had been crucified before the crumbling walls of Jerusalem. Scavenging birds feasted upon them. The ground on the siege work had drunk in so much blood it was as red-brown and hard as brick, but the land itself was beyond anything Hadassah had expected. Other than the great, gruesome forest of crosses, there was not a tree, nor a bush, nor even a blade of grass. A wasteland lay before her, and at her back was the mighty city even now being reduced to rubble.

“Keep moving!” a guard shouted, his whip hissing through the air near her and cracking on a man’s back. Another man ahead of her groaned deeply and collapsed. When the guard drew his sword, a woman tried to stop him, but he struck her down with his fist, then with one swift stroke, opened an artery in the fallen man’s neck. Taking the twitching man by his arm, he dragged him to the edge of the siege bank and pushed him over the side. The body rolled slowly to the bottom, where it took its place in the rocks amongst other corpses. Another captive helped the weeping woman to her feet, and they went on.

Their captors sat them within sight and sound of Titus’ camp.

“It would seem we must suffer through a Roman triumph,” a man said bitterly, the blue tassels on his vest identifying him as a zealot.

“Be silent or you will be crow bait like those other poor fools,” someone hissed at him.

As the captives watched, the legions formed and marched in tightly drilled units before Titus, who was resplendent in his golden armor. There were more captives than soldiers, but the Romans moved as one great beast of war, organized and disci-plined. To Hadassah, the rhythmic cadence of thousands of men marching in perfect formation was terrifying to watch. A single voice or signal could make hundreds move as one. How could any people think they could overcome such as these? They filled the horizon.

Titus gave a speech, pausing now and then as the soldiers cheered. Then the awards were presented. Officers stood before the men, their armor cleaned and gleaming in the sunlight. Lists were read of those who had performed great exploits in the war. Titus himself placed crowns of gold on their heads and golden ornaments about their necks. To some he gave long golden spears and silver ensigns. Each was awarded the honor of removal to higher rank.

Hadassah looked around at her fellows and saw their bitter hatred; having to witness this ceremony poured salt in their open wounds.

Heaps of spoils were distributed among the soldiers, then Titus spoke again, commending his men and wishing them great for-tune and happiness. Jubilant, the soldiers cried out their acclama-tions to him time and time again as he came down among them.

Finally, he gave orders that the feasting begin. Great numbers of oxen were held ready at the altars to the Roman gods, and at Titus’ command they were sacrificed. Hadassah’s father had told her Jewish law required the shedding of blood as an atonement for sin. She knew priests within the holy temple performed the sacrifices daily, a constant reminder of the need for repentance. Yet her father and mother had taught her from birth that Christ had shed his blood as an atonement for the sins of the world, that the law of Moses had been fulfilled in him, that animal sacrifices were no longer needed. So she had never seen animals sacrificed. Now she watched in grim horror as one ox after another was killed as a thank offering. The sight of so much blood spilling down over stone altars sickened her. Gagging, she closed her eyes and turned away.

The slain oxen were distributed to the victorious army for a great feast. The tantalizing aroma of roasting beef drifted to hun-gry captives across the night air. Even had they been offered some, righteous Jews would have refused to eat it. Better dust and death than meat sacrificed to pagan gods.

At last, soldiers came and ordered the captives to line up for their rations of wheat and barley. Weakly, Hadassah rose and stood in the long line, sure she would again be denied food. Her eyes blurred with tears. Oh, God, God, do as you will. Cupping her hands as her turn came, she waited to be shoved aside. Instead, golden kernels spilled from the scoop into her palms.

She could almost hear her mother’s voice. “The Lord will pro-vide.”

She looked up into the young soldier’s eyes. His face, weath-ered from the Judean sun, was hard, devoid of any emotion. “Thank you,” she said in Greek and with simple humility, with-out even a thought as to who he was or what he might have done. His eyes flickered. Someone shoved her hard from behind and cursed her in Aramaic.

As she moved away, she was unaware the young soldier still watched her. He dipped the scoop into the barrel again, pouring corn into the hands of the next in line without taking his eyes from her.

Hadassah sat down on the hillside. She was separate from the others, alone within herself. Bowing her head, she tightened her hands around the corn. Emotion swelled. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” she whispered bro-kenly and began to weep. “Oh, Father, forgive me. Amend my ways. But gently, Lord, lest you reduce me to nothing. I am afraid. Father, I am so afraid. Preserve me by the strength of your arm.”

She opened her eyes and opened her hands again. “The Lord provides,” she said softly and ate slowly, savoring each kernel.

As the sun went down, Hadassah felt oddly at peace. Even with all the destruction and death around her, with all the suffer-ing ahead, she felt God’s nearness. She looked up at the clear night sky. The stars were bright and a wind blew softly, remind-ing her of Galilee.

The night was warm...she had eaten . . . she would live. “God always leaves a remnant,” Mark had said. Of all the mem-bers of her family, her faith was weakest, her spirit the most doubting and the least bold. Of all of them, she was least worthy.

“Why me, Lord?” she asked, weeping softly. “Why me?”


Here's my review of this wonderful, epic novel:

From Jerusalem to Rome to Ephesus, travel with Hadassah, a young slave girl, as she clings to her faith in the face of the decadence of Rome in "A Voice on the Wind”. As usual, Francine Rivers crafts a beautiful work of fiction full of poignant and thoughtful moments that touch the heart. There is also plenty of action as the author brilliantly draws the reader into the breathtaking locations of her tale. She brings Biblical characters to life beside her fictional creations in this wonderful novel. I highly recommend this novel and am proud to have it in my collection.

This book also contains a very helpful glossary of terms and an invaluable discussion guide for use with any reading group.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bringing Home the Prodigals





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!










Today's Wild Card author is:











and his book:




Bringing Home the Prodigals




Authentic (April 1, 2008)








ABOUT THE AUTHOR:









Rob Parsons, a lawyer by profession, has subsequently become a wellknown author and speaker on family issues. Drawing from his own experiences of family life, and often joined by his wife Dianne, he has addressed over 500,000 people in facetoface events. In 1988, Rob launched Care for the Family, a registered charity motivated by Christian compassion. The resources and support offered are available to everyone, of any faith or none.





Visit him at his website.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One





Always Leave a Light On



Sometimes God ambushes us: it happened to me on March 14, 1998. I had been invited to speak at the National Exhibition Center in the UK to thousands of people who had gathered to pray for the return of their prodigals. I had prepared a message based on the timeless parable of the lost son, and it was folded securely in the inside pocket of my jacket. I believed I was ready to deliver God’s word.



I have been at many Christian events over the years, but I have never experienced the wave of emotion that filled the auditorium that day. The organizers had seated my wife, Dianne, and me on the platform, and as I gazed out at that vast audience, I couldn’t help but wonder what stories lay behind the prayers.



Somewhere, no doubt, was a woman whose husband had once led a church and been a faithful husband and father until the night he told her the four things that so many Christian men tell their wives when they leave them for another woman: “We were so young when we got married we hardly knew what we were doing— I doubt we ever really loved each other”; “In the long run this will be better for you”; “One day you’ll realize this is best for the kids,” and “I’ve prayed about this, and it’s OK with God.”



And somewhere there was a father who had told his tiny daughter Bible stories. She had picked one each night from the huge children’s Bible they kept on the shelf in her bedroom. They had said prayers together, and he had always been touched that, from her youngest days, she had prayed for others more than herself. But as he prayed in the auditorium that day, he thought of her later teenage years and the gradual disinterest in anything to do with God. A great sobbing convulsed his body as he remembered the night he found the drugs in her bedroom and, finally, the day she left, cursing both him and God.



These people had gathered, every one of them with a prodigal on their hearts: friends, brothers, husbands, wives, and sometimes in a strange reversal of the parable, mothers and fathers—but mostly children.



But that great arena did not hold only people praying. In the very front was a huge wooden cross. Its shadow seemed to reach over the whole crowd. During the day, people were invited to write the name of their prodigal on a small card, bring it to the front, and lay it at the foot of the cross. I watched them as they came: young people bringing the names of school friends, married couples holding hands as they laid down the names of children, friends walking together clutching cards, and often the elderly, shuffling forward and bending slowly as they lay the names of those they loved at the cross.



After an hour or so one of the organizers asked me if I would leave the platform and stand by the cross to pray with some of those who were coming forward. Of course I agreed and made my way to the floor of the arena and to the cross. That’s when God ambushed me. What occurred in the next two minutes changed my life forever and was the impetus that was to take the message of “Bringing Home the Prodigals” around the world.



When I reached the cross there were tens of thousands of names there. They were written on cards that were spilling off the little table at the foot of the cross and onto the floor. I picked up and read some of them: “Jack” “Milly” “Bring Charles home, Lord.” It seemed to me that the pain of the world lay at the foot of that cross. I thank God for what he has done in the lives of our two children, but at that time Dianne and I had heavy hearts for them, and I remember laying Katie’s name at the foot of the cross and Lloyd’s name next to hers. And then I started to cry. I could not stop.



As I wept, God laid a message about prodigals on my heart that I first preached later that day. It was not the neat, nicely wrapped-up one with all the answers—that was in my pocket. It was a message forged from brokenness and a sense of utter dependence on God. As I finished speaking that day, I remember thinking that one day I would put it into a book.



But life for all of us is busy and the book was never started. And then one day, as part of some routine tests, the doctors found a possible abnormality with one of my kidneys. They feared it was a tumor. I had about ten days to wait for the results of the tests that would determine what the problem was.



On one of those days I found myself ambling along a London street. It was a wonderful spring morning; on such days, London is at its best. The air was crisp, the sky blue, and behind me the sun shone off Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Chapel as I made my way past Churchill’s War Rooms and into St. James’ Park.



The park was almost deserted, and the pigeons, squirrels, and I looked at each other as if there was little else of interest. Never does life become as precious as when you think it may be suddenly shortened. I began to think about things that really mattered to me. The message of the prodigals came to my mind, and I knew I had to get that book written. I started it that week. A few days later the test results came and were favorable: I did not have a tumor—just an over-sized kidney that I’d probably had all my life. A few months later the book was written. But that was only the beginning.



One day the people who had invited me to preach at their day of prayer in the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham in the UK called to ask me to meet with them. They said God had told them to pass on to me the mantle of the burden for prodigals that they had carried for so many years. We began to visit the denominational leaders to see if the message resonated with them. Without exception—whether it was the Salvation Army, the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury himself—the response was the same: “This is a God-given word for today. We support you in it.”



Over the following few years in auditoriums all across the United Kingdom, more than fifty thousand people have experienced a Bringing Home the Prodigals event. Even now in my mind’s eye, I can picture them listening to the message and bringing the names of their prodigals to the foot of the cross. We began to hear the most remarkable stories of prodigals coming back to God.



Since then we have been taking Bringing Home the Prodigals all over the world. I have watched people stream forward to lay the names of their prodigals at the cross in Costa Rica, Uganda, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and North America. This little book contains the heart of the message of Bringing Home the Prodigals I believe God has laid on my heart. I warn you now; it is a simple message. Most of us feel we know the parable so well that there is hardly anything new we could learn. Maybe this is true, but God wants to remind us of what we knew in our hearts all along—and somehow forgot.



I wrote part of the book in a small conference center on the Gower coast near Swansea, Wales. It is not far from where Dylan Thomas wrote “Under Milk Wood.” The building is set on a hill, and the view from my window was unspeakably beautiful, running across fields, then woods, and finally ending at the sea in the great sweep of the bay. One morning I took a break from writing and stood outside the house gazing into the distance at the breakers hitting the beach. After a few minutes I was joined by a priest. He had on the traditional long black cassock, had a flowing grey beard, and wore what my kids used to call “Jesus sandals.” He had been leading a discussion in one of the seminar rooms and said he had “just come out to get a little air whilst they ponder a couple of theological teasers I’ve set them.”



We began chatting and he asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was writing a book about prodigals, he told me a most moving story. Let me try to capture his words as I remember them:



In a village near here, is a large old house. An elderly lady lives there alone and every night, as darkness falls, she puts a light on in the attic. Her son left home twenty-five years ago, rather like the prodigal in the parable, but she has never given up the hope that one day he will come home. We all know the house well, and although the bulb must occasionally need replacing, none of us have ever seen that house without a light on. It is for her son.



The theme of “leaving a light on” has become a recurring one in the letters and emails I have received from all over the world from those who wait for a prodigal’s return. Shortly after one of the Bringing Home the Prodigals events, a woman wrote to me. She told me that her daughter had walked out of their home when she was eighteen years old. She had turned her back not only on her mother and father, but on the God she had once loved. “My daughter didn’t get in touch, and we didn’t know whether she was alive or dead,” the woman wrote. She went on to tell me that every night, as she and her husband turned off the lights before they went to bed, she would always say to him, “Leave the porch light on.” And every Christmas, she would put a little Christmas tree in the front of the house, its lights shining, just as she used to when her daughter was at home.



After six years, her daughter suddenly came home—and not just to her mother and father, but to God. When she did, she told her mother a remarkable story: “Mom, I so often wanted to come home, but I was too ashamed. Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I would drive my car onto your street and just sit there. I used to gaze at the houses and every one of them was dark apart from our house: you always left a light on. And at Christmas I would do the same: just sit there in the darkness and look at the Christmas tree you had put outside—I knew it was for me.”



I have never been able to get that mother out of my mind. She seems to me to symbolize the hopes, fears, and prayers of millions across the world whose hearts are breaking for their prodigals. But this is not just a message for them; in fact Bringing Home the Prodigals is not just about praying for our prodigals to come home. It is about asking us to consider the characters of our local churches. Is it possible that by our attitudes, our concern with rules and regulations that are not on God’s heart, or by our ingrained spirit of the elder brother (or sister!) we have made it easy for some to leave? Perhaps we have kept them out of mind while they are gone and tragically made it harder for them to return. Could it be that inadvertently we have “created” prodigals?



This is a theme that should catch the imagination of all who care about evangelism. The truth is, most of us know ten people who may have never been to church whom we’d like to invite to an evangelistic service—but we all know a hundred prodigals. The numbers are enormous. When the prodigals come home we are going to have to pull down our old church buildings and use aircraft hangers. If you care about church growth, then care about this message. There is nothing as frustrating as seeing people come to Christ through the front door of the church and losing others in almost the same proportion out the door in the back.



All over the world I have cried with parents for their prodigals. There is no more fervent prayer in homes today than, “Father, bring our prodigal home.” I have concentrated in this book on those who have children, of whatever age, who are prodigals, but of course there are many kinds of prodigals—brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends. I hope with all my heart that for whomever you are concerned, you will find something here to encourage you and keep the flames of hope alight.



This book is not written principally to give advice, although I will share with you the lessons I have learned from many whose hearts have cried out to God for those they love. My hope is that it will be a book that will release us from false guilt, bring us hope, and above all, lead us to prayer. At the end of every chapter is a prayer and reflection; each one is written by someone who has cried for a prodigal and who has come to believe that, ultimately, God is our only hope. At the very end of the book we will each bring our prodigals to the cross of Christ.



And we should not pray just for our prodigals, but for ourselves as well. We can pray that we will catch the Father’s heart for the prodigals—the outrageous grace of the One who, even as we stumble down the long road home, runs to throw a robe on our back, put a ring on our finger, and put shoes on our feet. And if we do change, if we can catch something of that father-heart of God, then it may be that, in his great mercy, he will touch the lives of thousands of our prodigals—and bring them home.


Here is my review of this incredible book:



An Absolute MUST READ for EVERY CHRISTIAN!!!
Bringing Home The Prodigals” by Rob Parsons is an incredible book that will change everything about how you deal with your brothers and sisters in Christ! Written based on the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, Parsons shares the lessons he’s learned not only about how to draw these wayward Christians back into the fold of the church, but how the church can avoid creating them in the first place!

My eyes were opened to the cultural differences in Christians, and how those differences can become stumbling blocks of judgment against each other. Love is the key to a successful and fulfilling Christian life. The Bible says it, and Rob Parsons reminds us of this several times without pulling any punches! He says, “When the Father’s house is filled with the Father’s love, the prodigals will come home.” I believe that this is the core message of this powerful and convicting book! Now we just need to put it into practice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

House of Dark Shadows: Dreamhouse Kings, Book #1 by Robert Liparulo




It's May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!


and his book:



Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

Comes a Horseman

Germ

Deadfall




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



“A house of which one knows every room isn't worth living in.”

—Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa






Prologue


Thirty years ago

The walls of the house absorbed the woman’s screams, until they felt to her as muffled and pointless as yelling underwater. Still, her lungs kept pushing out cries for help. Her attacker carried her over his shoulder. The stench of his sweat filled her nostrils. He paid no heed to her frantic writhing, or the pounding of her fists on his back, or even her fingernails, which dug furrows into his flesh. He simply lumbered, as steadily as a freight train, through the corridors of the big house.

She knew where they were heading, but not where she would end up. In this house, nothing was normal, nothing as it appeared. So while she knew in advance the turns her attacker would take, which hallways and doors he would traverse, their destination was as unknowable as a faraway galaxy. And that meant her taking would be untraceable. She would be unreachable to searchers. To would-be rescuers. To her family— and that realization terrified her more than being grabbed out of her bed. More than the flashes of imagined cruelty she would suffer away from the protection of the people who loved her. More than death.

But then she saw something more terrifying: her children, scrambling to catch up, to help. Their eyes were wide, streaming. They stumbled up the narrow staircase behind her attacker, seeming far below, rising to meet her. The thought of them following her into the chasm of her fate was more than she could stand.

“Go back,” she said, but by this time her throat was raw, her voice weak.

The man reached the landing and turned into another corridor.

Temporarily out of sight, her son yelled, “Mom!” His seven-year-old voice was almost lost in the shrillness of his panic. He appeared on the landing. His socked feet slipped on the hardwood floor and he went down. Behind him, his little sister stopped. She was frightened and confused, too young to do anything more than follow her brother. He clambered up and started to run again.

A hand gripped his shoulder, jarring him back.

The boy’s father had something in his fist: the lamp from his nightstand! He past the boy in the hallway. His bare feet gave him traction.

Thank God, she thought.

He reached her in seconds. With the lamp raised over his head, he grabbed her wrist. He pulled, tried to anchor himself to the floor, to the carpeted runner now covering the wood planks. But the brute under her walked on, tugging him with them. The man yanked on her arm. Pain flared in her shoulder. He might as well have tried pulling her from a car as it sped passed.

She caught a glimpse of the bizarrely shaped light fixtures on the corridor walls—mostly carved faces with glowing eyes. The bulbs flickered in time with her racing heart. She could not remember any of the lights doing that before. It was as though the electrical current running through the wires was responding to a disruption in the way things were supposed to be, a glitch in reality.

“Henry,” she said, pleading, hopeful.

His grip tightened as he stumbled along behind them. He brought the lamp’s heavy base down on her assailant. If the man carrying her flinched, she did not feel it. If he grunted or yelled out, she did not hear it.

What he did was stop. He spun around so quickly, the woman’s husband lost his grip on her. And now facing the other direction, she lost sight of him. Being suddenly denied her husband’s visage felt like getting the wind knocked out of her. She realized he was face to face with the man who’d taken her, and that felt like watching him step off a cliff.

“Nooo!” she screamed, her voice finding some volume. “Henry!”

His hand gripped her ankle, then broke free. The man under her moved in a violent dance, jostling her wildly. He spun again and her head struck the wall.

The lights went out completely . . . . but no, not the lights . . . her consciousness. It came back to her slowly, like the warmth of fire on a blistery day.

She tasted blood. She’d bitten her tongue. She opened her eyes. Henry was crumpled on the floor, receding as she was carried away. The children stood over him, touching him, calling him. Her son’s eyes found hers again. Determination hardened his jaw, pushed away the fear . . . at least a measure of it. He stepped over his father’s legs, coming to her rescue. Henry raised his head, weary, stunned. He reached for the boy, but missed.

Over the huffing breath of the man, the soft patter of her son’s feet reached her ears. How she’d loved that sound, knowing it was bringing him to her. Now she wanted it to carry him away, away from this danger. Her husband called to him in a croaking, strained voice. The boy kept coming.

She spread her arms. Her left hand clutched at open air, but the right one touched a wall. She clawed at it. Her nails snagged the wallpaper. One nail peeled back from her finger and snapped off.

Her assailant turned again, into a room—one of the small antechambers, like a mud room before the real room. He strode straight toward the next threshold.

Her son reached the first door, catching it as it was closing.

“Mom!” Panic etched old-man lines into his young face. His eyes appeared as wide as his mouth. He banged his shoulder on the jamb, trying to hurry in.

“Stay!” she said. She showed him her palms in a “stop” gesture, hoping he would understand, hoping he would obey. She took in his face, as a diver takes in a deep breath before plunging into the depths. He was fully in the antechamber now, reaching for her with both arms, but her captor had already opened the second door and was stepping through. The door was swinging shut behind him.

The light they were stepping into was bright. It swept around her, through the opening, and made pinpoints of the boy’s irises. His blue eyes dazzled. His cheeks glistened with tears. He wore his favorite pajamas—little R2D2s and C3P0s all over them, becoming threadbare and too small for him.

“I—“ she started, meaning to say she loved him, but the brute bounded downward, driving his shoulder into her stomach. Air rushed from her, unformed by vocal chords, tongue, lips. Just air.

“Moooom!” her son screamed. Full of despair. Reaching. Almost to the door.
“Mo—“

The door closed, separating her from her family forever.




1


Now

Saturday, 4:55 P.M.

“Nothing but trees,” the bear said in Xander’s voice. It repeated itself: “Nothing but trees.”

Xander King turned away from the car window and stared into the smiling furry face, with its shiny half-bead eyes and stitched-on nose. He said, “I mean it, Toria. Get that thing out of my face. And turn it off.”

His sister’s hands moved quickly over the teddy bear’s paws, all the while keeping it suspended three inches in front of Xander. The bear said, “I mean it, Toria. Get that—”

At fifteen years old, Xander was too old to be messing around with little-kid toys. He seized the bear, squeezing the paw that silenced it.

“Mom!” Toria yelled. ”Make him give Wuzzy back!” She grabbed for it.

Xander turned away from her, tucking Wuzzy between his body and the car door. Outside his window, nothing but trees—as he had said and Wuzzy had agreed. It reminded him of a movie, as almost everything did. This time, it was The Edge, about a bear intent on eating Anthony Hopkins. An opening shot of the wilderness where it was filmed showed miles and miles of lush forest. Nothing but trees.

A month ago, his dad had announced that he had accepted a position as principal of a school six hundred miles away, and the whole King family had to move from the only home Xander had ever known. It was a place he had never even heard of: Pinedale, almost straight north from their home in Pasadena. Still in California, but barely. Pinedale. The name itself said “hick,” “small,” and “If you don’t die here, you’ll wish you had.” Of course, he had screamed, begged, sulked, and threatened to run away. But in the end here he was, wedged in the back seat with his nine-year-old sister and twelve-year-old brother.

The longer they drove, the thicker the woods grew and the more miserable he became. It was bad enough, leaving his friends, his school—everything!—but to be leaving them for hicksville, in the middle of nowhere, was a stake through his heart.

“Mom!” Toria yelled again, reaching for the bear.

Xander squeezed closer to the door, away from her. He must have put pressure on the bear in the wrong place: It began chanting in Toria’s whiny voice: “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

He frantically squeezed Wuzzy’s paws, but could not make it stop.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

The controls in the bear’s arms weren’t working. Frustrated by its continuous one-word poking at his brain—and a little concerned he had broken it and would have to buy her a new one—he looked to his sister for help.

She wasn’t grabbing for it anymore. Just grinning. One of those see-what-happens-when-you-mess-with-me smiles.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Xander was about to show her what happened when you messed with him—the possibilities ranged from a display of his superior vocal volume to ripping Mr. Wuzzy’s arms right off—when the absurdity of it struck him. He cracked up.

“I mean it,” he laughed. “This thing is driving me crazy.” He shook the bear at her. It continued yelling for their mother.

His brother David, who was sitting on the other side of Toria and who had been doing a good job of staying out of the fight, started laughing too. He mimicked the bear, who was mimicking their sister: “Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Mrs. King shifted around in the front passenger seat. She was smiling, but her eyes were curious.

“Xander broke Wuzzy!” Toria whined. “He won’t turn off.” She pulled the bear out of Xander’s hands.

The furry beast stopped talking: “Mo—” Then, blessed silence.

Toria looked from brother to brother and they laugh again.

Xander shrugged. “I guess he just doesn’t like me.”

“He only likes me,” Toria said, hugging it.

“Oh, brother,” David said. He went back to the PSP game that had kept him occupied most of the drive.

Mom raised her eyebrows at Xander and said, “Be nice.”

Xander rolled his eyes. He adjusted his shoulders and wiggled his behind, nudging Toria. “It’s too cramped back here. It may be an SUV, but it isn’t big enough for us anymore.”

“Don’t start that,” his father warned from behind the wheel. He angled the rearview mirror to see his son.

“What?” Xander said, acting innocent.

“I did the same thing with my father,” Dad said. “The car’s too small . . . it uses too much gas . . . it’s too run down . . . ”

Xander smiled. “Well, it is.”

“And if we get a new car, what should we do with this one?”

“Well . . . .” Xander said. “You know. It’d be a safe car for me.” A ten-year-old Toyota 4Runner wasn’t his idea of cool wheels, but it was transportation.

Dad nodded. “Getting you a car is something we can talk about, okay? Let’s see how you do.”

“I have my driver’s permit. You know I’m a good driver.”

“He is,” Toria chimed in.

David added, “And then he can drive us to school.”

“I didn’t mean just the driving,” Dad said. He paused, catching Xander’s eyes in the mirror. “I mean with all of this, the move and everything.”

Xander stared out the window again. He mumbled, “Guess I’ll never get a car, then.”

“Xander?” Dad said. “I didn’t hear that.”

“Nothing.”

“He said he’ll never get a car,” Toria said.

Silence. David’s thumbs clicked furiously over the PSP buttons. Xander was aware of his mom watching him. If he looked, her eyes would be all sad-like, and she would be frowning in sympathy for him. He thought maybe his dad was looking too, but only for an opportunity to explain himself again. Xander didn’t want to hear it. Nothing his old man said would make this okay, would make ripping him out of his world less awful than it was.

“Dad, is the school’s soccer team good? Did they place?” David asked. Xander knew his brother wasn’t happy about the move either, but jumping right into the sport he was so obsessed about went a long way toward making the change something he could handle. Maybe Xander was like that three years ago, just rolling with the punches. He couldn’t remember. But now he had things in his life David didn’t: friends who truly mattered, ones he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with. Kids didn’t think that way. Friends could come and go and they adjusted. True, Xander had known his current friends for years, but they hadn’t become like blood until the last year or so.

That got him thinking about Danielle. He pulled his mobile phone from his shirt pocket and checked it. No text messages from her. No calls. She hadn’t replied to the last text he’d sent. He keyed in another: “Forget me already? JK.” But he wasn’t Just Kidding. He knew the score: Out of sight, out of mind. She had said all the right things, like We’ll talk on the phone all the time; You come down and see me and I’ll come up to see you, okay? and I’ll wait for you.

Yeah, sure you will, he thought. Even during the past week, he’d sensed a coldness in her, an emotional distancing. When he’d told his best friend, Dean had shrugged. Trying to sound world-wise, he’d said, “Forget her, dude. She’s a hot young babe. She’s gotta move on. You too. Not like you’re married, right?” Dean had never liked Danielle.

Xander tried to convince himself she was just another friend he was forced to leave behind. But there was a different kind of ache in his chest when he thought about her. A heavy weight in his stomach.

Stop it! he told himself. He flipped his phone closed.

On his mental list of the reasons to hate the move to Pinedale, he moved on to the one titled “career.” He had just started making short films with his buddies, and was pretty sure it was something he would eventually do for a living. They weren’t much, just short skits he and his friends acted out. He and Dean wrote the scripts, did the filming, used computer software to edit an hour of video into five-minute films, and laid music over them. They had six already on YouTube—with an average rating of four-and-a-half stars and a boatload of praise. Xander had dreams of getting a short film into the festival circuit, which of course would lead to offers to do music videos and commercials, probably an Oscar and onto feature movies starring Russell Crowe and Jim Carrey. Pasadena was right next to Hollywood, a twenty-minute drive. You couldn’t ask for a better place to live if you were the next Steven Spielberg. What in God’s creation would he find to film in Pinedale? Trees, he thought glumly, watching them fly past his window.

Dad, addressing David’s soccer concern, said, “We’ll talk about it later.”

Mom reached through the seatbacks to shake Xander’s knee. “It’ll work out,” she whispered.

“Wait a minute,” David said, understanding Dad-talk as well as Xander did. “Are you saying they suck—or that they don’t have a soccer team? You told me they did!”

“I said later, Dae.” His nickname came from Toria’s inability as a toddler to say David. She had also called Xander Xan, but it hadn’t stuck.

David slumped down in his seat.

Xander let the full extent of his misery show on his face for his mother.

She gave his knee a shake, sharing his misery. She was good that way. “Give it some time,” she whispered. “You’ll make new friends and find new things to do. Wait and see.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Finding Hollywood Nobody





It is May FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!











Today's feature author is:





and her book:



Finding Hollywood Nobody



Navpress Publishing Group (February 15, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens



These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.



Other Novels by Lisa:



Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End



Visit her at her website.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



Hollywood Nobody: Sunday, June 4



Well, Nobodies, it's a wrap! Jeremy's latest film, yet another remake of The Great Gatsby, now titled Green Light, has shipped out from location and will be going into postproduction. Look for it next spring in theaters. It may just be his most widely distributed film yet with Annette Bening on board. Toledo Island will never be the same after that wacky bunch filled in their shores.



Today's Hottie Watch: Seth Haas has moved to Hollywood. An obscure film he did in college, Catching Regina's Heels (a five-star film in my opinion), was mentioned on the Today show last week. He was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air. Hmm. Could it be he'll receive the widespread acclaim he deserves before the release of Green Light? For his sake and the film's, I hope so.



Rehab Alert: I've never hidden the fact that I don't care for bratty actress Karissa Bonano, but she just checked into rehab for a cocaine addiction. Her maternal grandfather, Doug Fairmore, famous in the forties for swashbuckling and digging up clues, made a public statement declaring the Royal Family of Hollywood was "indeed throwing all of our love, support, and prayers behind Karissa." The man must be a thousand years old by now. This isn't Ms. Bonano's first stint in rehab, but let's hope it's her last. Even I'm not too catty to wish her well in this battle. But I'm as skeptical as the next person. In Hollywood, rehab is mostly just a fad.



Today's Quote: "It's a scientific fact. For every year a person lives in Hollywood, they lose two points of their IQ." Truman Capote



Today's Rant: SWAG, or Party Favors. Folks, do you ever wonder what's inside those SWAG bags the stars get? Items which, if sold, could feed a third-world country for a week! And have you noticed how the people who can afford to buy this stuff seem to get it for free? I'm just sayin'. So here's my idea, stars: Refuse to take these high-priced bags o' stuff and gently suggest the advertisers give to a charitable organization on behalf of the movie, the stars, the whoever. Like you need another cell phone.



Today's Kudo: Violette Dillinger will be appearing on the MTV Video Music Awards in August. She told Hollywood Nobody she's going to prove to this crowd you can be young, elegant, decent, and still rock out. Go Violette!



Summer calls. Later!



Monday, September 15, 4:00 a.m.



Maybe I'm looking for the wrong thing in a parent.



I turn over in bed at the insistence of Charley's forefinger poking me in the shoulder. "Please tell me you've MapQuested this jaunt, Charley."



She shakes her tousled head, silhouetted by the yellow light emanating from the RV's bathroom. "You're kidding me right?" She slides off the dinette seat. Charley's been overflowing with relief since she told me the truth about our life: that she's not really my mother, but my grandmother, that somebody's chasing us for way too good of a reason, that my life isn't as boring as I thought. We're still being chased, but Charley can at least breathe more freely in her home on the road now that I know the truth.



Home in this case happens to be a brand-spanking-new Trailmaster RV, a huge step forward from the ancient Travco we used to have, the ancient Travco with a rainbow Charley spread in bright colors over its nose.



"Where to?" Having set my vintage cat glasses, love 'em, on my nose, I scramble my hair into its signature ponytail: messy, curly, and frightening. I can so picture myself in the Thriller video.



"Marshall, Texas."



"East Texas?"



"I guess."



"It is." I shake my head. Charley. I love her, I really do, but when it comes to geography, despite the fact that we've traveled all over the country going to her gigs ever since I can remember, she's about as intelligent as a bottle of mustard. And boy do I know a lot about bottles of mustard. But that was my last adventure.



"If you knew, then why did you ask?" She flips the left side of her long, blonde hair, straighter than Russell Crowe, over her shoulder. Charley's beautiful. Silvery blonde (she uses a cheap rinse to cover up the gray), thin (she's vegan), and a little airy (she's frightened of a lot and tries not to think about anything else that may scare her), she wears all sorts of embroidered vests and large skirts and painted blue jeans. And they're all the real deal, because Charley's an environmentalist and wouldn't dream of buying something she didn't need when what she's got is wearing perfectly well. She calls my penchant for vintage clothing "recycling," and I don't disagree.



"Is this really a gig, Charley, or are we escaping again?"



She shakes her head. "No phone call. I really do have a job."



I feel the thrill of fear inside me, though there's no need right now. Biker Guy almost got me back on Toledo Island. (Yeah, he looks like a grizzled old biker.) To call the guy rough around the edges would be like saying Pam Anderson has had "a little work done."



I've been looking over my shoulder ever since.



But more on that later. We need to get on the road. And I need to get on with my life. I'm so sick of thinking about how things aren't nearly what I'd like them to be.



I mean, do you ever get tired of hearing yourself complain?



I flip up my laptop, log on to the satellite Internet I installed (yes, I am that geeky) and Google directions to Marshall, Texas, from where we are in Theta, Tennessee—actually, on the farm of one of Charley's old art-school friends who gave her some work in advertising for the summer. Charley's a food stylist, which means she makes food look good for the camera. Still cameras, motion picture cameras, video, it doesn't matter. Charley can do it all.



"Oh, we've got plenty of time, Charley. Five hundred and fifty miles and . . . we have to go through Memphis . . ."



My verbal drop-off is a dead giveaway.



"Oh, no, Scotty, we're not going to Graceland again."



The kitsch that is Graceland speaks to me. What can I say?



And you've got to admit, it's starting to look vintage. Now ten years ago . . .



I cross my arms. "Do you have cooking to do on the way?"



Yes, highly illegal to cook in a rolling camper.



"Yeah, I do."



"And do you expect me, an unlicensed sixteen-year-old, to drive?" Again, highly illegal, but Charley's a free spirit. However, she refuses to copy CDs and DVDs, so in that regard, she's more moral than most people. I guess it evens up in the end.



"Uh-huh."



"Then I think I deserve a trip through the Jungle Room."



She rolls her eyes, reaches down to the floor, and throws me my robe. "Oh, all right. Just don't take too long."



"I'll try. So." I look at the screen. "65 to route 40 west. Let's hit it. And we'll have time to stop for breakfast."



Charley shakes her head and plops down on the tan dinette bench. The interior of this whole RV is a nice sandy tan with botanical accents. Tasteful and so much better than the old Travco that looked like a cross between a genie's bottle and the Unabomber cabin. "You're going to eat cheese. Aren't you?"



"I sure am."



And Charley can't say anything, because months ago she told me this was a decision I could make on my own.



Freedom!



"I've rethought the cheese moratorium, baby. I know you're not going to like this, but three months of cheese is enough. I can't imagine what your arteries look like. I think it's time to stop."



"What?" Cheese is my life. "Charley! You can't do this to me."



"It's for your own good."



"Are you serious?"



"Yeah, I am."



"Why?"



"Because summer's over, baby, and we've got to get back to a better way of life."



I could continue to argue, but it won't do any good. Charley acts all hippie and egalitarian, but when push comes to shove, she's the boss. However, I'm great at hiding my cheese . . . and . . . I'm going to convince her eventually.



But still.



"This isn't right, Charley, and you know it. But it's too early to argue. And might I add, you have no idea what it's like to have a teen with real teen issues. You ought to be on your knees thanking God I'm not drinking, smoking, pregnant, or"—I was going to say sneaking out at night, but I've done that, just to get some space—"or writing suicidal poetry on the Internet!"



We stare at each other, then burst into laughter.



"Just humor me this time, baby," she says. "We'll come back to it soon, I promise."



I don't believe her, but I hop into the driver's seat, pull up the brake, throw the TrailMama into drive, and we are off.



Six hours later



I pull through Graceland's gatehouse at ten a.m., park near the back of the compound's cracked, tired parking lot, and change into some crazy seventies striped bell-bottoms, a poet shirt, and Charley's old crocheted, granny-square vest. Normally I go further back in my vintage-wear, but I'm trying to go with the groove that is Graceland.



I kiss Charley's cheek. "I'll be back by noon."



"When will that put us in Marshall?"



"By six thirty."



"Because I'm not sure where the shoot is."



"Please. Marshall's small. Jeremy and company will make a big splash no matter where they set up. Besides, growing up around this, I have a nose for it."



She awards me one of her big smiles. "You're somethin', baby. I forget that sometimes." She puts her arms around me, squeezes, pulls back, then smacks me lightly on my behind. "Tell Elvis I said hello."



"Oh, I will. He's one of the groundskeepers now, you know."



I've seen computer-generated pictures of what he would look like now, in his seventies. Scary.



I jump down from the RV, head across the parking lot, over the small bridge leading into the ticketing complex and walk by Elvis's jets, including the Lisa Marie. Gotta love anything with that name. Don't know why. Just has a nice ring to it.



Banners proclaim, "Elvis Is."



Is what? Dead? A legend? What? Because he isn't "izzing" as far as I'm concerned. Present tense, people! If the person's not alive, "is" can only be followed by a few options: Buried up in the memorial garden. Rotting in his casket. Missed by his family and friends. Not exactly banner copy, mind you.



Still, you've got to admit the name Elvis wreaks of cool. Perhaps the sign should read, "Elvis Is . . . A Really Cool Name."



But it's not nearly as cool as my name. You see, my real mother loved the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that's my name: Francis Scott Fitzgerald Dawn. Only Dawn's not my actual last name. I don't know what my real last name is. My real first name is Ariana. Being on the run, Charley renamed us to protect our identity. So she honored my mother by naming me after Mom's favorite novelist. More on that later too.



It sounds fun, traveling on the road from film shoot to film shoot, never settling down in one place for too long, but honestly, it's very sad.



I always knew Charley lived with a sadness down deep, and when I found out why this spring, her sadness became mine. See, my dad is dead and my mother, Charley's daughter Babette, is too. Or we think she must be, because she disappeared under questionable circumstances and never came back. Learn that when you're fifteen and see where you land.



When I thought Charley was my mother, I had such high hopes for who my father might be. Al Pacino was number one in the ranking. Don't ask.



Okay, Elvis, here we go. Let's you and me be "taking care of business."



I hand over my money to the lady behind the reservations counter. I called thirty minutes ago on my cell phone, compliments of my mother's friend Jeremy, and reserved a spot.



"You'll be on the first tour."



Yes! More time amid the shag carpeting and the gold records. And the jumpsuits. Can't forget the jumpsuits. I want a cape too.



The gift shop calls to me. Confession: I love gift shops. They even smell sparkly. Key chains dangling, saying, "You can take me with you wherever you go!" Mugs with the Saint Louis Gateway Arch or the Grand Ole Opry promising an even better cup of coffee. Earrings that advertise you've been somewhere. That's exactly what I choose while I wait for the tour, a little pair of dangly red guitars with the words Elvis Presley in gold script on the bodies, and how in the world they put that on so small is beyond me. See, gift shops can even be miraculous if you take your time and look.



A voice over the loudspeaker announces my tour number, so I stand in line. By myself. Just me in a group of twenty or so.



Okay, here is where it gets hard to be me. I know I should be thankful for my free-spirited life. But especially now that I know my parents are dead, it feels empty all of a sudden. I shouldn't be standing in line at Graceland alone. My mother and I should be giggling behind our hands at the man nearby who's actually grown a glorious pair o' mutton-chop sideburns, slicked back his salt-and-pepper curls, and shrugged his broad shoulders into a leather jacket. Really, right? My father, who was an FBI agent the mob shot right in a warehouse in Baltimore, would shake his head like a dad in a sixties TV show and laugh at his girls.



We'd get on the bus like I'm doing now, each of us putting on our tour headphones and hanging the little blue recorders around our necks in anticipation of the glory that is Elvis.



The driver welcomes us as he shuts the hydraulic doors of the little tour bus with its clean blue upholstery, a bus in which an assisted-living home might haul its residents to the mall.



It smells new in here, and my gross-out antennae aren't vibrating in the least like they do when I go into an old burger joint and the orange melamine booth hasn't been scrubbed since the place opened in 1987.



In my fantasy, my dad would sit beside me. And Mom, just across the aisle, holding onto the seatback in front of her, would look at me as we pass through those famed musical gates, because she would have introduced me to Elvis music. According to Charley, my vintage sentimentalism comes from my mom. I've learned a little about her this summer.



Charley said, "She'd wear my cousin's old poodle skirt and listen to Love Me Tender over and over again while writing in her diary." She became a respected journalist, loved books as much as I do. I pat my book in my backpack, looking forward to tonight when I can cuddle into my loft and get into one of Fitzgerald's glittering worlds. "She was different from me, Scotty. I tried to change the world through protest. Your mother wanted to build something completely different and much better." She sighed. "All my generation could do, I guess, was tear apart. It's going to take our children to put the pieces back together. Babette was a very careful person. Very purposeful."



If it drove my freewheeling grandmother crazy, she doesn't let on.



"I could try to describe how much she loved you, baby. But I don't think I could begin to do her devotion to you justice. I was so proud of her, for how much she loved and gave away. She was amazing."



So in May I found out she existed, the same day I found out she is dead, or most likely dead. And now I'm going into Graceland alone, truly an orphan. Who wants to be an orphan?



We disembark from the bus—me, Elvis Lite, some folks from a Spanish-speaking country, and a lot of older people. I miss Grammie and Grampie right now. More later on them, too. And you'll get to meet them. Like the waters of the Gulf Stream, we seem to travel in the same general direction. I spent a week with them this summer in Tennessee. Yeah, we did Nashville right. They're loaded.



Standing beneath the front porch, my gaze skates up and down the soaring white pillars and comes to rest on the stone lions that guard the steps. My father was a lion. That's why he ended up with a bullet in his chest. Speaking in very broad terms, the story goes as follows:



Dad, undercover, worked his way into a portion of the mob, or mafia if you prefer, that was heavily financing the campaign of a Maryland gubernatorial candidate. When they discovered him, they shot him on site, in a warehouse in the Canton neighborhood of downtown Baltimore. My mother watched, gasped, and a chase ensued. She hid in a friend's gallery, called Charley and told her to keep watching me. (Charley had kept me the night before because my mom and dad had some glamorous function to attend.) And then she disappeared.



The Graceland tour recorder tells me to look to my right into the beautiful white living room with peacock stained-glass windows leading into the music room. This room really isn't so bad, I've got to admit. A picture of Elvis's dad hangs on the wall. He really loved his parents.



I've toured this house at least seven times before, and I'll tell you this, Elvis's love for his family soaked into the walls. A girl that lives in a camper, has dead parents, and is being chased by someone from the mob who knows my grandmother knows what went down, well, she can feel these things.



Charley thinks someone's trying to kill us. This guy is always trying to find us, but Charley's really great at evasion. She said the politician who won the governor's seat all those years ago just announced his candidacy for president and—oh, GREAT!—he's probably trying to make sure nothing comes back to haunt him and sent Biker Guy to finish off the entire matter.



The thing is, he seems to be after me too. And what in the world would I have to do with all of that?



I'll bet Charley's back in that camper shaking in her shoes because I'm over here by myself; I'll bet she's figuring out more ways to be utterly and overly protective of me. I wouldn't be surprised if she's wondering whether locking a kid in an RV is child abuse.



But I love Charley. I really do. I know she's scared back there, and despite the fact that I would be no real help if Biker Guy caught us, I can't leave her there so frightened and alone for long.



Elvis dear, I can only stay a little while. So love me tender, love me sweet, and for the sake of all that's decent, don't step on my blue suede shoes.



I hurry past the bedroom of Elvis's parents, decorated in shades of ivory and purple, very nice, and through the dining room—a little seventies tackiness I'll admit—into the kitchen with dark brown cabinetry and the ghosts of a million grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches, then on down into the basement. Okay, I admit, I've got to just stand for a second in the TV room and admire the man's ability to watch three TVs at once on that huge yellow couch with the sparkly pillows.



I shoot through the billiard room, which is, honestly, truly beautiful with its fabric-lined walls and ceiling, up the back steps and into the Jungle Room, probably Graceland's most famous room. Green shag carpet overlays the floor and the ceiling, and heavily carved, Polynesian-style furniture is arranged around a rock-wall waterfall at the end of the room. It really defies the imagination, folks. Google Jungle Room Graceland and see what I mean.



The second floor of Graceland is closed off to the public because Elvis died up there. On the toilet. Wise decision on the part of Priscilla I'd say.



Out the door, into the office building, down to the trophy hall, I whiz through all the gold and platinum records, the costumes, the awards, and even a wall full of checks he'd written for charity. According to my recorder, Elvis was an active community member in Memphis. And he obviously didn't care what race or religion people were. He supported Jewish organizations, Catholic, Baptist. Pretty cool.



Of course, this recorder isn't going to tell of the dark side of the man. But Elvis Isn't, despite what the banners say. So why drag a dead man through the mud?



I hurry through the racquetball court, more gold records, the infamous jumpsuits, back outside to the pool and memorial garden where Elvis has been laid to rest.



An older lady cries into a handkerchief. I don't ask why.



Good-bye Elvis. Thanks for the tour. Maybe one day I'll do something great too.



A few minutes later . . .