Category Archives: love

In the wake of serious illness

Olivia’s Heart Song, the second in my Bethany Beach trilogy, deals with a serious health issue. At age thirty, Dan Newhouse just had surgery to fix a heart defect which had gone undetected until he’d reached adulthood. Now he’s looking at his life through new eyes and making changes, something an older friend and client of his understands, as the friend tells Dan about his own brush with a life-changing experience in his youth:

“When Grace and I were just starting out, before the boys came along, I was in an accident. Piece of machinery fell on me. Wrong place, wrong time. Long story short is I was out of work for a half year… That kind of thing…being too close to the Grim Reaper when you think you have quite a few years to make his acquaintance, let alone stare him in the face…well, the day I woke up from the knockout was as if I’d been reborn.”

Anyone who’s faced serious illness or accident can probably relate to these sentiments. I remember once hearing a man express thanks for being afflicted with cancer! How could that be? Well, maybe he was being a bit too glib, but his idea, that serious illness can shift your view of life in a good way, is anything but shallow. It forces you to evaluate what’s truly important, what can be easily discarded, what  you have to let go and what you need to hang on to.

We often lead our lives in a state of true blissful ignorance. We ignore our mortality. Yes, all of us know our days eventually come to an end, but we can go days, months, years without thoughts of that end intruding on our daily lives. Not so if you face a serious health challenge. Then, those thoughts pop into your mind more often. They shine a bright spotlight on all the clutter in your life, and make you think about cleaning it all up.

Like many, I’ve faced the Big C in my own life and had to go through the three usual therapies: surgery, chemo, radiation. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say thanks for the affliction, cancer did force me to refresh my view of a lot of things.

One piece of clutter I cleaned up in my life around that time — throwing out old journals. As I looked them over, I realized they were filled with whining and complaining (mostly about the publishing industry as I struggled to get published!). But there was too much joy in my life for those journals to be my written legacy. So…out they went.

When I was in treatment, time seemed to stop for long periods as I dealt with the challenges of each day, of crawling out of the fatigue and relentless schedule of treatment to the light of normalcy. Olivias_Heart_Song_600x900But normalcy is hard to find in the wake of such experiences. You do wonder about aches and pains, if they signify something serious, in those months after treatment ends. I read an article about the post-treatment phase that noted it’s common for cancer patients to be particularly fearful immediately after they’re discharged from care. After having been tended to almost daily for months on end, they’re suddenly free — free of health care visits but also free of the care itself! That can be scary.

In Olivia’s Heart Song, Dan Newhouse is in that stage, right after surgery, still emotionally fragile, still overly conscious of his body’s every ache, his heart’s every beat. When he meets a former army nurse recovering from her own heartbreaking troubles, he wonders if he can feel whole enough to love someone…and if she could view him as more than a sick man who needs tending. The story follows them both on a bumpy path to recovery from physical and emotional wounds as they sort out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

I hope it resonates with people who’ve faced serious illness and lets them know they’re not alone in their fears and hopes, their struggles to feel normal again.

This book, like the first in this series, is set along the Delaware coastline, an area my family and I enjoy a great deal, a quiet region filled with nature preserves, serene bays, miles of sandy beaches, and great restaurants and shops.

Olivia’s Heart Song is now available at Amazon.

 

 

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“In Sickness and in Health”: New Novel!

Drumroll, please… I’m announcing the release of a new novel, a sweet romance/women’s fiction with some inspirational overtones, In Sickness and in Health. It’s available at the Kindle store and will be on sale for 99 cents for a while, so grab a copy by clicking on this link! 

0-6Here’s the story: Ava Fulton moves to Bethany Beach, Delaware to lick her wounds after a DC scandal sent her into hiding. There, she decides the best way out of her problems is to marry a millionaire, and she just so happens to remember one from high school, John Baylor, now a very successful man who’d shyly tried to court her as a teen. When she reconnects with him, though, she finds he faces grim health news and she tries to be a good helpmate through his medical crises. Only after they marry and his prognosis changes does she realize she’d wed him planning to be a widow, not a wife. They struggle to make a go of their union and a new life in general, eventually heeding an inner call to something greater than either of them together.

And here’s a Q and A about the book and its characters:

Where did the character of Ava Fulton come from?

She originally came from the character of Sheila in my romantic comedy Fire Me! In that book, the heroine spends a day trying to get laid off to snag a generous severance package. She discovers she has some competition in coworker Sheila. I’d envisioned In Sickness and in Health being a sequel to Fire Me, following Sheila’s life. Something happened as I was writing, though–I kept thinking of the heroine as Ava! That name just dogged me as I wrote, and I realized I wasn’t writing Sheila at all but some other woman and her story. So I abandoned the idea of a sequel and wrote this standalone novel instead. As soon as I did this, the novel flowed more easily, the writing became a joy instead of a chore.

The first part of the novel, which you subtitle “Dying,” is about John’s struggles with a serious diagnosis. Was that hard to write?

Sadly, I think many people have experiences similar to John’s, either dealing with a serious diagnosis or being helpmates/friends to people who face such a fate. I’ve dealt with the Big C myself and know the anxiety one experiences during testing, etc. Although I’m a ten year survivor now, I do find myself writing more stories that incorporate some of those health experiences in one way or another. Maybe I’m far enough away from it now that it’s easier for me to explore as a writer.

The second part of the novel is subtitled “Living,” however. What happens when things change for John and Ava?

I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers to mention that John’s prognosis takes an upward turn…and that’s when he and Ava have to figure out how to live together! Previously they’d been focused on the possibility of him dying, of being in declining health. Once they realize that fate might not be in store, they have to do some heavy lifting in their relationship. This creates a comic moment or two as they struggle with the “in health” part of their marriage vows.

Do they make it as a couple?

Well, readers will have to read the book to find out! 🙂 They have a bumpy road, to be sure, but they do eventually find peace and fulfillment…in a surprising way. I hope readers enjoy discovering how their stories end.

Is In Sickness and in Health an inspirational?

Yes, no, maybe. 🙂 The term “inspirational” covers Christian books–fiction or nonfiction–with faith themes. In Sickness and in Health is…something in between. Like all inspirational fiction, it’s clean and sweet. No sex scenes (the curtain closes even with a married couple like Ava and John in the bedroom), no bad language (or if there is, it’s scant), but, yes, some mentions of faith. I’ve written before on this blog about how general fiction, for the most part, has mentions of faith blanched out of books, but this isn’t the way a lot of people live. Even non-churchgoers can have rich faith lives, can believe in God, and they can even pray often. So I think a book like In Sickness and in Health probably reflects more of an average person’s connection with things spiritual than a lot of general fiction, even literary fiction, does. In my novel, Ava and John start out as good people who don’t even realize they are searching for something more in their lives until they discover ways to put their spirituality into action. It’s not a preachy book at all, and I must admit I hesitated to put a discussion of this aspect of the book on the blog for fear it would turn some away. Ava and John’s faith journey actually has some comic moments in it, and, though it shapes their eventual path, it is a gentle and tender path, not a judgmental one.

This book is set primarily at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Why Bethany?

Bethany Beach is one of my very favorite places, and we go there often. It is a small, quiet resort on the many miles of coastline that make up Delaware’s eastern border, and we vacation there every summer, and visit several times throughout the year. I have several other books in the works that are set there, so watch this space for news of those novels!

In Sickness and in Health by Libby Malin is available at the Kindle store. If you read and enjoy a book, consider leaving a review. Indie authors in particular are helped by reviews. They aid in bringing books to the attention of other readers!

 

 

 

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“The family that love built”: the Charleston martyrs

“I acknowledge that I am very angry…(but) she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.” Thus said Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of one of the victims, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, killed last week by a racist murderer in a Bible study class at a church in Charleston, SC.

The family that love built — the parade of victims’ family members who addressed the murderer in the courtroom the day after his horrific act ended their loved ones’ lives was one of the greatest witnesses to Christian faith I’ve seen in my lifetime. Still grieving, their voices sometimes trembling with tears, sometimes strong and clipped, they came to the microphone one after another and offered this simple message: We forgive you.

“It was as if the Bible study had never ended,” a New York Times reporter wrote.

I suspect these families will struggle with the pain, the anger, and even some hate in their hearts over the years. But when they had the chance to speak publicly, on the record, in a courtroom, they used their moments in the spotlight to preach love, not hate, not personal agendas or political points. 540_293_resize_20120701_662a9a6687957abd8bb58f60d5257c1a_png

Would that we all learned from them. So often, when horrible acts like this occur, we reach for our own particular solution. Angry that it was never enacted (gun control, better mental illness care, anti-racism/terrorism programs), we let that anger spill into hate, at times, for opponents of the solutions we favor.

We saw this in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre. We saw, sadly, hate, not love from some quarters. Hate for gun control opponents. Hate for those who won’t rush to take down the Confederate flag from South Carolina. Hate for anyone we disagree with. Don’t get me wrong — I agree with some of the solutions these people espouse. But to be effective, you must learn to love your policy idea and the people you want it to benefit more than you hate its opponents . (For how this plays out, just look at the last push for gun control in the US Senate, where proponents were happy to use the issue to bludgeon opponents but lacked the fortitude to even “whip” the vote.)

To a certain extent, it’s understandable to get so riled up that we lash out during times like this. When something this horrible happens, even removed from the personal pain of those directly affected by it, we still ache for them in our hearts. It’s easy for that ache to search for expression. And it’s very easy for that expression to become: “If only those horrible people hadn’t done or said X or stood in the way of Y…”

A conservative website, Ace of Spades, acknowledged the legitimacy of this kind of feeling in a raw post right after the shooting:

“The feeling I have — apart from shock and horror — is shame. Shame that this creature looks anything at all like me, shame that there may be a few stray nucleotides in his envenomed heart that resemble my own….

Black people are going to be angry at white folks — even if they hide it, they’re going to be angry at white folks for what this bloody bastard did. And I won’t jeer at this feeling. I understand it…”

But then, in that courtroom, we saw the opposite of hate. We saw the love of Christ. We have to acknowledge it as this because those family members testified as Christians called to live their faith.

Christianity has been around so long now and has been such a part of the history of the western world that we have forgotten how revolutionary its message was at the beginning. As theologian David Bentley Hart has pointed out, Christ’s message of loving one’s neighbor, of forgiveness, was fresh and radical in an ancient world where violence and revenge were not only tolerated but in many cases sanctioned. Think a world dominated by the likes of ISIS, by tyrants. And then think what it must have been like to have someone preach a gospel of love, of “good news,” that actually turned hard hearts away from slaughter, hate, and oppression toward love and forgiveness.

Think of those families in Charleston.

They represent what Christianity should be, the “family that love built.” Thanks to those Charleston family members, we were able to witness it anew.

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