Title: Embrace Me
Author: Lisa Samson
Genre: Christian fiction, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: It’s amazing how good a priest looks when you’ve got nobody else to turn to.
A sideshow performer named Lizard Woman. A tattooed, dread-lock wearing, motorcycle-riding preacher. A sleazy political lobbyist. It sounds like the set up to a “walked into a bar” joke, doesn’t it? Instead, Embrace Me brings these three damaged people together in the most unlikely way. God’s grace flows, but first the damage done to them and the damage done by them to others must be faced. Forgiveness must be given and received. And, ultimately, the question must be answered: is there such a thing as too broken?
It has been a few years since I’ve read a Lisa Samson novel, and I don’t know how I managed to forget how much her writing completely blows me away. For reasons that would take up an entire post, I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction anymore. When I do, the thing I am looking for most is authenticity. I have read way too many Christian novels that make it seem like being a Christian means your life is perfect. You’re never tempted to sin again. You’re automatically healed of your addictions. You go through life with this perma-smile attached to your face and “happy happy joy joy” coming out of your mouth. Let me be the first to tell you that if you meet a Christian who believes those things and behaves that way, he or she is either a miraculous exception or lying to themselves and others. So when I decide to pick up a novel that is published as Christian fiction, I want to read about how God works in people’s lives in spite of the fact that they are still sinful, still plagued by problems, still living in an imperfect world with imperfect people. I want to read about Christianity that looks like the hands and feet of Jesus, not like a televangelist sitting in his gold-plated studio.
And that is exactly what Lisa Samson gives her readers in each one of her books. She is not afraid to deal with difficult issues like adultery, depression, temptation, poverty. She believes that church can look like a lot of different things – and works best when it doesn’t look like a business. In Embrace Me, she gives us some of the most damaged people and shows how God, working through his people, can help them find enough hope and grace to keep living.
This book is peopled with characters who have done terrible things, and who have been abused and harmed by the people around them – often by people claiming to be Christians. This is so common that it makes my heart hurt. Valentine, the Lizard Woman, is horribly disfigured and keeps herself hidden away – except when on display as a sideshow freak. The story of how she became Lizard Woman will break your heart and make you weep. Augustine, the dread-locked preacher, is doing his best to allow God to use him. As he loves and accepts Valentine, little cracks appear in the shell she’s built around her – but will she ever completely break free?
Drew, a former mega-church pastor, confesses to Father Brian, trying to come to terms with his own deceitfulness and hypocrisy. Was he ever truly a Christian? Can he ever make up for the damage he caused to those who followed him?
Their stories come together in such a God-way that it delighted my heart and reminded me what being a Christ-follower is truly about.
(For those of you who are already fans of Lisa Samson’s work, the characters of Poppy Fraser from The Church Ladies and Charmaine Hopewell from Songbird make welcome appearances in Embrace Me.)