Never had he seen such warmth and tenderness between two people married for such a long period of time. It seemed as if the entire family thrived in the glow that surrounded these two people, spilling onto each as naturally as rain unto the earth.

A Passion Most Pure

 With the passing of my mother-in-law last week, family came into focus more clearly than ever before. You see, I grew up in a very dysfunctional family of 13 kids, where there wasn’t the warmth and closeness that I craved, and certainly not the warmth and closesness I experience in my husband’s family. It wasn’t until I met Jesus Christ in a personal, intimate way at the age of 23 than I began to finally understand that the magic of family I longed for doesn’t just happen — it begins with each of us.

Looking back, I can see that my parents loved each other deeply, but it was a volatile relationship at best. I can’t tell you how many nights my sisters and brothers and I stood barefoot and shivering out at the edge of the street while my parents fought inside the house. This fractured love relationship was so traumatic to me that I began to have a recurring nightmare once a year on a Saturday night, and I always knew when it was coming. The first time I had it, I was so terrorized that I jolted up in bed at the age of 10 and bolted downstairs in my nightgown, screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember much more than I tore through the house and out into the yard where I vaulted a chain-link fence before sprinting into a field beyond as if the very devil were on my heels.

And I honestly felt as if he was.

This went on year after year, and I would shiver deep in my bones whenever that annual Saturday night rolled around, knowing way, way down in my soul that tonight was the night it would happen again. And you know what the dream was? It was my mom and dad fighting on either side of their bed, which somehow kept getting bigger and smaller, bigger and smaller, as if the force of their argument created a tug-of-war. Don’t ask me how I knew, but somehow I sensed that bed represented my oldest sister Essie, who also was deeply traumatized by Mom and Daddy’s ambivalent relationship. She died in her mid-twenties.

You see, I LONGED for a family like the O’Connors in my novels, but I never had that growing up. Not until I did things God’s way, that is. The first command God gave me after I became born again at the age of 23 was to love my father.

NO WAY, I argued, telling God that my father had beat us and emotionally abused us and was largely responsible for my low self-esteem. For goodness sake, this was the man who attacked me, then kicked me out of the house in the middle of the night when I was barely 21, with no place to go.

“You can’t call yourself mine until you learn to love others,” Jesus whispered in my spirit, and I knew He was right. I sucked in a deep breath, said my prayers, and went to work. I was single at the time, so I’d make a pot of beef stew (my dad’s favorite) and take it to him on a weekend night. Now, please understand that my father was a brusque, unemotional man (I know, I know — where DID I get it from???) who would only talk during commercials. So we would sit there in silence, watching Perry Mason or Carol Burnett on TV, exchanging only a few words during commercials. This went on for months and months, the evenings always ending with me telling Daddy that I loved him and giving him an awkward hug while he stood there stiffly, not responding at all.

And then one night, it happened. He walked me to the door as usual, and I went to hug him. “I love you, Daddy,” I whispered, because it was true — my obedience to God had merged with my prayers and God’s grace to forge God’s own love deep inside my heart, a holy love for this man who had seldom shown me any love at all.

Never will I forget his shaky touch as his arms slowly embraced me, the ragged sound of his voice rasping against my ear. “I love you too,” he said, words that changed my life forever. That night my heart went from an orphan’s heart to a daughter’s, and one who was eventually loved, respected, and blessed by her father.

Just like with God.

That was the very first lesson God ever taught me — that true family begins with obedience to Him, laying our wills down for His — and for the people closest to us who so desperately need to feel His love. We are God’s conduit, whether it be to a husband, a wife, a child, or as in my case, a parent. “If you love Me, obey my commandments.” — John 14:15. Oh, YES, YES, YES!! Because obedience = love. And love heals, helping a family to be all that God always meant it to be.

And that’s how I wrote the O’Connors — parents and siblings and eventually spouses who learn that not only is obedience to God key in family, but that love and passion thrives when He is smack dab in the middle. And for those of you who may doubt that this is possible, please know that I come by this knowledge honestly. My God has given me a family and a marriage (Marcy and Patrick’s marriage is based on Keith’s and mine) that is “abundantly, exceedingly more than I hoped, thought, or prayed” — Ephesians 3:20-21), and He can do the same for you — be it with family, marriage, relationships or in your life as a whole.

So in honor of “family,” I give you the O’Connors, as seen through the eyes of a precious reader friend by the name of Salyna (check out her wonderful Kissed Books Blog), who SO loved the O’Connors that she actually took the time to put celebrity montages together. They blessed the socks off of me, so I hope they do the same to you. This week I will post the montages for the O’Connor family and those from the Daughters of Boston series, and next week, the montages for the Winds of Change series. Thank you SO much, Salyna, for making me smile — these are wonderful!

And if you want to see Salyna’s OTHER two choices for John Brady, hop on over to her blog at Kissed Books to check it out (it will be posted sometime today, Friday) and leave a comment as to your favorite of the three.

Hugs and Happy Weekend,