Shannon here: Tara Johnson shares insight into her Historical Romance, Engraved on the Heart. Comment or answer the question at the end of this post to enter the drawing for reader’s choice of a print copy of Engraved on the Heart or Where Dandelions Bloom. Deadline: August 31st, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Tara:
The Power of Being Seen by Tara Johnson
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” ~Brene Brown
In twenty-two years of marriage, three children and more life lessons than I can count, I’ve learned a few things, mostly the hard way. When it comes to having a close relationship—not just a romantic relationship, but any meaningful relationship—vulnerability is the key to closeness. But, boy, how scary it can be.
That whole life philosophy of ‘fake it till you make it’ sounds good. I’ve told it to myself a number of times, actually. But it’s not real. It’s a false bravado that leads to a plastic life and shallow relationships. The most attractive thing, the bravest thing, is when someone shares their most shadowed, messy places of shame and risk losing love, all for the opportunity to connect and find true belonging.
It takes courage.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” ~Brene Brown
In my debut novel Engraved on the Heart, my heroine Keziah Montgomery is hiding a secret. Keziah suffers from epilepsy during an era when society viewed such an illness as a form of insanity. As the nation is launched into war between the states, Keziah struggles to hide her views from her staunchly Confederate family.
When she is reunited with her childhood friend Micah Greyson, and a romance blooms, Keziah is torn between hiding her true self, or shedding the pretense of being what everyone thinks she should be in order to be genuine. Sounds easy. In reality, allowing ourselves to be seen is not.
Micah is one of the few people who can see beyond Kizzie’s (as he likes to call her) façade, to the woman yearning to break free. He gives her the freedom to be messy. To be real. To make mistakes and learn, yet know she is loved all the more for it. Don’t we all long to be loved in such a way?
I think too many of us, myself included, give away the best pieces of ourselves, or worse yet hide ourselves, in order to fit in. But fitting in is never the same as belonging. Belonging requires being true to who we are, and then trusting the people who adore us for it will find us and treasure us. They become our people, and we become theirs. A family.
Here’s an excerpt from Engraved on the Heart:
Micah fought the urge to reach for her hand. Dropping her eyes to her lap, Kizzie bit her lip. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the incident then. What happened on Christmas Day.”
She pinched her eyes closed. “It was my fault. I didn’t think to check the stables the night before. I never forget to check the padlock. Ever.” She sucked in a breath. “Foolish of me.”
Unease filled his stomach.
“You know how busy Christmas Eve is, and, honestly, Mother kept me so muddled it never crossed my mind.” Staring straight ahead, he watched her lips tremble. “I recently suffered another epileptic attack as well. This last spell knocked the starch from me. It’s been…difficult.”
He ground his jaw. Her attacks would be reduced if her father would listen to reason. Stubborn man.
“Christmas Day, after our midday meal, a filthy man burst into the house, screaming and accusing Father of harboring runaways.”
Micah struggled to suppress his groan. “A paddy roller?”
“Yes. Father was understandably outraged but agreed to let the vile man search the outbuildings, I suppose as a way to prove his loyalty to the Confederacy.” A sharp intake of breath snagged in her chest as her eyes flitted back and forth across the unseen memory in her mind’s eye.
“How I prayed that bounty hunter was wrong. Prayed the fugitive had already made his escape despite my neglect. I had to watch as the men pulled him fighting from the stable.” A lone tear escaped, tracing a golden streak down her cheek in the candlelight. “Just as that horrid man prepared to clap him in irons, the slave managed to extract the paddy roller’s gun. He pointed it to his own temple and he—he—”
Her sudden sob eradicated the need for any more words. Groaning, he pulled her to his chest, stroking her back. If he could only erase the gruesome moment from her memory.
Her muffled voice pressed against his chest. “I’m to blame. Just like tonight.”
Easing her away, he cupped her face in his palms, staring hard and trying to impress the truth straight into her hurting soul. “What we do—fighting to obtain freedom for those unable to speak for themselves—it’s risky, emotional, and exhausting. But ask yourself if it’s worth it.”
Her cinnamon eyes met and held his long before she nodded ever so slightly. “Yes, it’s worth it.”
He stroked her soft cheek with the pad of his thumb. “Bad things will happen. We cannot save everyone, but we keep fighting. We save those we can. We move forward. We run toward the prize.”
Kizzie’s lips parted, her expression filled with anguish. “But how can I possibly be of benefit when I cannot even maintain control of my own body? What if my collapse tonight had cost those men their freedom?”
He drank in the sight of her, the feel of her softness in his palms. “But it didn’t. Yield yourself to God, and He will take care of the rest. The fate of man does not rest in your hands, Kizzie. Be willing, and let God do what He will.”
He swallowed as he stroked her cheek. Faith warred with the very real possibility that all she said was true. What if she collapsed at the wrong moment? What if fugitives were captured or she were imprisoned due to one moment out of his control?
Ma Linnie’s admonition from weeks ago drifted through his mind. He released the tight breath trapped in his chest. It was out of his grasp. He must trust the Almighty or drive himself mad.
She frowned. “I must say, this is a far cry from the speech you gave me mere months ago. You thought me incapable, sure I would be caught or ruin the operation.”
His heart constricted as the truth spilled from his lips. “No, I never thought you incapable. I spoke out of fear.”
She drew in a shaky breath. “What fear?”
He swallowed, chest burning. “Fear I would lose you.”
A wave of longing, of yearning and love, crashed over him, so strong he was helpless to fight its unyielding current.
There is great power in allowing yourself to be seen. It takes courage though. Will everyone always respond with kindness? No. But when you meet the one who sees your heart and loves you all the more for it, it’s so worth it.
About Tara: Tara Johnson is an author and speaker, and loves to write stories that help people break free from the lies they believe about themselves.
Tara’s debut novel Engraved on the Heart (Tyndale) earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as numerous other accolades. In addition to be published in a variety of digital and print magazines, she has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio, Enduring Word radio, television and podcasts. She is a history nerd, especially the Civil War, and adores making people laugh. She, her husband, and children live in Arkansas. Connect and learn more:
About the book – Engraved on the Heart
Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.
Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.
Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.
Can’t wait for the drawing or worried you won’t win? Get your copy now!
Question for readers: How hard do you find it to be vulnerable? How do you define courage in relationships? What do you think vulnerability isn’t?
Come back August 23rd for Pat Jeanne Davis!