Truly, Madly, Deeply: A Novel (The Baxter Family)
Growing up can be difficult, but having a strong faith, a loving family, and a good sense of direction as to where your future will lead you make things easier. And being in love also helps.
It is the summer before their senior year at Northside High School in Indianapolis, and 18-year-old Tommy Baxter is with Annalee Miller and her family on Phuket Island in the Andaman Sea where they are visiting the western beaches of Thailand. This isn’t a normal sightseeing vacation, for the Millers run Each One International, a ministry with offices around the world where they reach the least and lost to care for their physical needs and provide safety while teaching them God’s love. While there, they learn of the rise in sex trafficking of young children being sold, so Each One establishes a safe house to offer children protection.
Ad Tommy witnesses this horrific situation he realizes his need to do something important with his life. An athlete and straight-A student, Tommy’s parents expect him to become a lawyer or to study medicine, but in his heart and soul, he wants to be a law enforcement officer. This is his plan as well as to marry Annalee when the time is right.
After returning home, Annalee falls ill with an unrelenting fatigue. She knows it’s not jet lag and believes she possibly has mononucleosis. Or is her illness from the despondency she feels after learning of the youngsters being sold on the open market? She reads her Bible to soothe her sadness and offer her peace.
As the days pass, Annalee does not regain her strength so her mom schedules a doctor’s appointment. Needing Tommy’s strength, she begs him to accompany her, and fear overwhelms her when she learns she needs to have an MRI. To help calm her nerves and block out the sound of the machine, she is given earplugs.
“She’s never worn earplugs. It took a minute to figure out how to make them work and then Annalee lay flat on her back. Her heart picked up speed and raced against the wall of her chest. The earplugs made the sound louder. “Peace, she prayed. Please give me peace, God. Calm me down.”
Meanwhile, Tommy waits, praying fervently for Annalee. Finding solace in scripture, he reads a Bible verse on his phone and converses with an older man in the waiting room—another way to fight his anxiety.
The anniversary of 9/11 is upon them, and Tommy and his family make the trek to the memorial. Tommy’s grandfather died that day while working in the Twin Towers. It is a hard visit for Tommy and his family, especially his aunt Ashley, who is fearful about her husband Landon, helped back then with recovery, and since has racked with coughing spells, but a visit to the local doctor gives them great relief to learn he does not have cancer.
“The experience at Ground Zero was changing Tommy. He could feel it. From the moment he stepped out of the Uber and set foot on the sacred sidewalks surrounding the new World Trade Center, Tommy had been struck by one thing: 9/11 had really happened.”
While there, Tommy chats with a man who introduces himself as Javier Sanchez. He was at the scene when the tragedy happened. He regrets the 12 of his crew members who perished, wondering why he was saved. He states:
“‘That’s my only regret . . . that in those final minutes before the towers fell, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t running toward the fire.’
“Tommy wanted to correct the man. Javier had helped save two people. He had run toward the inferno at Ground Zero, not once but twice. But Tommy stopped himself. No matter how Javier’s story had played out and even though the man knew the Lord had spared him for a reason, his regret remained. . . .”
. . . “Determination like a living force built within him. He would get the training and wear the badge and uniform, and he would stop traffickers in Indianapolis. Stop bad guys from infiltrating the streets and put an end to drugs that destroy families. He would run toward danger when everyone else ran the other way. Yes, he wanted to be a police officer, Tommy was sure. And he wanted something else, something that had had been in the back of his mind every minute since he left Indiana.
“Annalee’s test results.”
Once home, the bad news hits. Annalee has cancer: Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is profoundly serious, and the doctors start treatment immediately. Though this is heartbreaking, Tommy insists Annalee will beat this, and he remains strong, at least, around Annalee. But this is not to say Tommy starts to doubt his faith. How could his Lord do this to such a special person?
Annalee suffers the rigors of chemo, making her extremely ill, yet Tommy never veers from her side, offering strength and love. Can she beat this? Will there be a future for them? While he grapples with these thoughts, he now must deal with his mother’s distress when he informs his parents of his desire to get into law enforcement. They want more for him, but the main thing Tommy doesn’t realize is his mom’s fear for his life, and all this causes strain in the family.
This heartwarming Christian romance demonstrates the strength of one’s beliefs while practicing their faith. It is refreshing to know youngsters follow rules unflinchingly and stay true to their principles. This is written in disconnected sentences—not the normal subject, verb, adverbs, adjectives, etc.—but as though the author is talking directly to her audience, making this book flow fast. Also uplifting is that Tommy and Annalee are not your typical 18 year olds. They are mature beyond their years, thanks to their family’s love and support, making this a feel-good read.