What’s It Gonna Take?


I was more than a little apprehensive going into the Week of Guided Prayer. The week was already overshadowed by a looming doctor’s appointment on Friday. I was dreading that appointment as I knew it was not likely to go well. Add to that, God and I have been in a bit of a stand-off since May so I knew going into this week where we were headed. I dug in for a fight. See I want God close enough to catch me if I fall but not close enough to hold me all the time. Why? Because deep down I’m afraid I might actually start to rely on him and he’ll take off on me. Yes, I know that makes absolutely no sense. He’s God. He’s everywhere. So where’s he going to go? But hey, that’s where I’m at these days.

God seemed determined to get my attention this week and it was in little ways, almost like a trail of rose petals. As each one dropped in front of me, I had to smile. Some were reassuring and some were just downright silly.

After the opening on Saturday, I took the long way home. As I rolled up to a stop sign near the beach, a motorcycle was coming from my left. MY motorcycle! My jaw literally dropped. When I wrote My Ride, I went to the Indian website and custom designed my dream bike. Saturday morning, it turned out in front of me. Only thing missing was the airbrushing of my tattoo on the tank. There aren’t that many Indians on the road. I know. I look. And this one had all my little details: the color, the fenders, the fringe, all of it. Okay, God, in the story, the bike was a gift. Is this some kind of reminder maybe?

Saturday night I had a dream about being stuck in an old house. I couldn’t find my way out and in that old house, I ran across a white bulldog with big bright blue eyes. He knew the way out and he was helping me. We never quite made it out but we were headed the right way. When I woke up, I was straight up in bed. I KNEW that bulldog.

He’d been the deacon at my parish when I was a kid and when I battled my religion teacher all of freshman year of high school, he went down to the school twice to try sort things out. I happened to see him leaving the second time. The assistant principal saw me looking out the windows as he walked to his car and pulled me into her office.

“That’s the second time Deacon Barton has been here on your behalf,” she told me. “He didn’t want you to know so you’re going to forget you saw him just now. But let me tell you something young lady, you should know you have a real bulldog in your corner. You’re incredibly blessed to have him.”

Those words were ringing in my ears Sunday morning when I woke up and I hardly needed them. I’d know those eyes anywhere. Deacon Barton spent a lot of time with my dad when he was dying and he watched out for me long after that. The man lit up every single time he saw me like no one else ever has before or since. I’ve missed that but I felt like he was there with me, in my corner, as I headed into this week I was so afraid of facing.

Monday was a crazy day complete with a desk-clearing, pen-throwing temper tantrum at work. When I saw Deacon Ron that evening, he asked me what I needed from God this week. Problem number one: I don’t like to ask God for anything. Problem number two: Where to even start?! That’s a mighty long list.

“I need quiet. There’s been too much going on for too damn long. Friday is going to suck and I don’t even know what I need.” Well after awhile, I could admit I needed peace, reassurance and hope, all of which might possibly lead to that dreaded T word: Trust.

Tuesday morning, I got to work and the phones didn’t work. All day. No phones. This is our quiet season in the office so unless someone calls in with an insurance crisis, there’s not much going on. No phones equals no crises. Made for a very quiet day. God wouldn’t take out the phones right? Ummm…I’d swear I heard him laugh when that question ran through my head.

I get out of work at noon on Wednesday and Deacon Ron had strongly advised me to go to the beach for awhile. I was more than happy to go crash out for a couple hours. Mid-week, there were only about a half dozen people there. I got settled in and my favorite seagull, Hitchcock, appeared to keep me company. Then the flies came. They attacked the couple closest to me and drove them off the beach. There were at least fifteen flies on my blanket and they landed on me but I didn’t get a single bite. Usually I get attacked and have so many bites I need to go home to guzzle Benadryl. Not one bite this time. Now while I was marveling at the fact that the evil little critters weren’t biting me, a huge black cloud rolled in and the wind kicked up. That cleared everyone else off the beach. It rained about a dozen big drops and blew away, leaving me and the lifeguards to enjoy a gorgeous afternoon on an otherwise empty beach. Did God just clear out the beach for me? He wouldn’t do that…would he?

As far as prayer, by this point in the week, I was really stuck. My scripture readings made me want to slam the bible shut and walk away. Passages of being God’s delight and his beloved were NOT sitting well with me at all. Yeah, all the old junk was coming back up and I was pissed. The image of Jesus longing to gather me really set me off. I pulled in and the porcupine quills came out. The words that stuck out were, “but you refused me” – yup pretty much where I was at. But nagging at the back of my head was the way Deacon Barton’s eyes would light up when he saw me. Was that the same way God looked at me? Why is that so scary to me? Because if I started to see that and he stopped, it would kill me.

Thursday was more of the same as all kinds of old stuff got dredged up yet again. Finally, Deacon Ron asked me, “What’s it going to take? Tell God what else you need him to do to PROVE he loves you.”

“Wait! What?! I can’t do that! That’s…just…I don’t know…that just does not seem right.”

“But if that’s where you are…it’s honest. Anything else and the relationship becomes a pretense. That doesn’t work.”

Damn it! I really hate it when he does that. “Okay. Fine. I need some treatment options for the RA when I see this doctor tomorrow. Not a cure. Just a strategy. Something. Anything. Back on the drug I was on even.”

My appointment Friday went even worse than I’d expected. My doctor came right out and told me that maybe I should find another doctor. Not exactly the option I was looking for! I cried all the way home. I didn’t write in my journal. I opened my bible and shut it again. I was plain flat done. By the time I got to Deacon Ron, I had a headache straight from hell and I was in a foul mood. As we talked, he asked how my week had gone and I told him a story.

“A couple months after my dad died, I got on a plane and flew out to Indiana to stay with his family for a month. My dad’s brother, Uncle Hallie, drove me up to his summer place in Michigan. He had a trailer on a river. Aunt Max, their older sister, lived up there year round. One afternoon, we canoed the mile and a half downriver to her place and I decided to stay with her for a week. Aunt Max had this dock and I would run full speed down the dock and jump into the river. After a few jumps, I had kicked up all the mud off the bottom and the water got really murky. That’s what this feels like. Like I’ve kicked up all this old crap and where there was clear water, now I can’t see a damn thing.”

Well in the same way a flooding river deposits rich soil on the ground, good will come out of it, he says, most likely in my writing. I’ve been handed a deadline. By next month I have to have at least half a chapter done on my novel, preferably a full one. New stuff. No cheating.

Saturday morning, before the closing, I went to the beach. I sketched out a look back over my week comic strip style, ending on the muddy river. As I closed the journal, a car pulled in two spaces over from me with his stereo blasting ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and I mean loud enough that the entire seawall was rocking.

Care to take a wild guess what Aunt Max and I listened to over and over that week in the house on the river? Yup. We blasted that song, among others, danced around the living room like a couple of nuts singing into hairbrushes and laughing like hell.

Okay God. You got my attention and yeah, I really needed that laugh.

So after holding God at arm’s length for months, I let him closer. After the closing I spent a few hours soaking up sunshine and salt water. Long Island Sound was just as cold as Torch River was all those years ago. It felt so good. God held me for awhile and that was okay. We both know I’ll back off. But for a few hours it was okay and that’s a start.

As for what I need…a little help with this new chapter would be nice…

oh wait…I think I already got that.

The kid who can barely swim enough to keep her head above water taking a flying leap into the river… fearlessly… Yeah I can work with that….



I’ve had some messages coming in lately from my readers who are happy to see me posting more often. I remember there was a time when I posted faithfully every week. I also remember going months without posting at all. My writing isn’t always about having a choice to write or not write. Yeah, I know that sounds weird. See, it goes something like this:

A quiet little voice says, ‘write.’

I say ‘Yeah okay…gimme a little while…I’m doing something.’

An hour later:
The little voice says, ‘Write.’

I say, ‘Yeah yeah, I coming … Hold on…I’ll get to you.’

An hour after that:
The little voice says, ‘HELLO!?!?! I SAID WRITE!!!! And now I shall annoy the daylights out of you until you write!!! I’ll sing every heavy metal song song you know loudly and badly until you write!!!… GOING OFF THE RAILS ON A CRAZY TRAAAAAIINNNN….O O O OOOOOOOO SWEET CHILD OF MIIIIIIIINE….’ And yes, the voice sings the guitar solos too. Badly. It’s painful. Really painful.

‘Oh please Dear God make it STOP!’

Says God, ‘Sorry Kid, I can’t hear you over that racket. You might want to pick up a pen…’

Believe it or not, I’ll still push it off an entire day just because I don’t like taking orders.

Damn! That voice and I know a LOT of heavy metal songs. I should’ve known all those afternoons spent watching MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball would come back to haunt me someday. So eventually, I give in and write what the little voice tells me to write just to get the voice to please SHUT UP ALREADY!

And the little voice says, ‘Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day. Love you! Catch a kiss! I’ll be in touch.’

Now honestly, I can’t always hear the voice. And that’s all cool. It’s quiet and I get other stuff done. But after about a week, two tops, I miss it. Writing is how I figure stuff out and how I keep from going crazy (crazier). I usually know I’m screwed when I realize my journal has become little more than a repetitive to-do list. And if I try to write without the voice? The mental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Which poses a major problem when one is in the middle of writing one’s second novel and the voice gets pissy and goes on strike.

So I’ve figured out over the years that the more time I can spend alone and quiet with God, the better I can hear the voice and the more I can write. No quiet time alone? No writing voice. Over time, the voice and I have reached a rather tenuous agreement: I write what the voice says I have to write with as little attitude as possible (and this is me we’re talking about now…) and the voice will help me write the novel that I want to write without a Judas Priest serenade.

The whole craziness reminds of a old poem my father was fond of quoting about the importance of the little things:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
All of the want of a horseshoe nail.

So with the kids out of school for the summer, I’ve reclaimed my mornings. I get up earlier than usual and spend a few hours at the beach every morning, collecting ‘nails’ as it were. It’s deserted at that hour. Just me, God and the seagulls. That one little act of obedience is all it takes to set off the chain of events in the right direction. Thus, I’m posting more frequently and the voice is considering whether or not to help me figure out the scene in my novel that’s had me stuck for four months.

So do me a favor, my dear readers: If you find I start to fade away again, nail me. Just please, PLEASE don’t sing Ozzy to me.

Tiny Stitches

Anyone who knows me will tell you, I often say, “Patience is a virtue. It isn’t one of mine.”

And yet I can sit for hours upon hours with a needle in hand and stitch beautiful patterns. Well, I could. I haven’t for almost six years now. First it was my eyes and then my hands that wouldn’t cooperate. I got so frustrated that I gave up. I miss it far more than I could ever put into words, which is saying something because words are kind of my thing.

My favorite embroidery piece hangs in my mother’s living room. I stitched it on fine Irish linen with the best thread I could find. I spent close to $200 on the materials at a time when I caught hell for even buying a bottle of nail polish for myself. I was at the darkest point in my life when I started working on it. I’d screamed for God to help me and when I realized He was suddenly right there with me…I froze. I didn’t really expect Him to care. For the next couple of months, I wasn’t exactly talking to God but I wasn’t exactly not talking to Him to either. I sort of tolerated Him being around. Yeah, I know how arrogant that sounds. It wasn’t really arrogance. It was fear. I mean… What if He left?

Like I said, it was a dark place to be in.

But when I had my needle in my hand and that linen spread out on my lap, the darkness wasn’t quite so dark. After the first ten stitches, I fell into a rhythm. I didn’t think about anything. I counted without even knowing it and I lost myself in the tiny spaces between threads. Somehow, when I got lost in the stitches, it was okay that God was watching over my shoulder. After awhile, I actually liked that He was right there with me while I worked because I just couldn’t handle His closeness when I wasn’t working. I’d freeze like a deer in the headlights.

It took me six months to finish that project and I typically worked on it for four hours a day, some days more. I did the math once. It’s close to 70,000 stitches. By hand. One stitch at a time. It was a lot of time spent with God at a time when I really needed to trust Him and I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

I picked up a new pattern today. It’s not quite as intricate as what I used to do and I’ll be lucky if I can work on it for more than thirty minutes a day. I’ll probably end up patching my weaker eye so the pattern grid doesn’t make me go cross-eyed. Hopefully my temperamental fingers will cooperate. I don’t know what made me decide to try and pick up a needle again now but I did. Maybe I’m not quite ready to let the RA take this away from me. Not yet damn it! Maybe I need some time to get lost in the threads with God watching over my shoulder.

One thing I learned about embroidery: Before you can even make the first stitch, you have to find the absolute center of the fabric. You always work your way out from the center. It never quite works out if you don’t. It takes a very long time and lot of work before the pattern really takes any shape. Sometimes you screw it up. Royally screw it up. So you throw your scissors across the room and you cry a little. Then you tell yourself, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” You rip out a few hundred tiny little stitches and rework that section again. But when it’s done, it’s always beautiful and it’s worth every single stitch it took to finish it. Kind of like life I guess.

The other thing I learned: Looking at that piece, most people see four brightly colored birds. I still see those 70,000 stitches. I’m the only one who can still find all the mistakes. More than that, I’m the only one who even looks for the mistakes.


Yes, I must.


When I was a little girl, I sat at the dining room table watching a tableful of chocolate chip cookies cool. My mother brought in a tray, straight from from the oven.

“Chris, this tray is hot. Don’t touch it,” she warned.

The minute she left the room, I reached out and touched my finger to it. I still remember the sizzle. I howled and my mother came running back into the room.

“Why did you touch it? I told you it was hot!”

The blister was already forming on my poor finger as I whimpered, “I wanted to know how hot.”

I never forgot that feeling. Not the burn itself but that insatiable need to understand, to fully experience what was in front of me.

I once had a high school religion teacher ask me, “Must you question EVERYTHING I say?!”

“Well…yes. I must.” My voice was shaking. I could hear it. I hate that.

My reply landed me in the vice principal’s office. Rather than ending up in detention, which I’m fairly certain was my teacher’s objective, Sister spent the next hour figuring out what was bugging me about this guy’s class. When we were done, she told me I had her express permission to question anything and everything, to demand answers and clarifications to my heart’s content so long as I was respectful and not disruptive. As a seminary graduate, this guy was not exactly pleased to be debating with a fourteen year-old twerp. As much as I promised myself I’d keep my mouth shut and told myself that he wasn’t worth the argument, I couldn’t keep quiet. I just couldn’t. It was not possible. Stuff just came out of my mouth from nowhere. I would come out of that room every day shaking from the anxiety it caused. It made for a long year. In the end, four people came out of that class declaring themselves atheists, just as I’d predicted in late September and Mr. Seminary ended up teaching ancient world history for the next several years until Sister retired.

I didn’t outgrow my unpredictable mouth. At a writers’ ministry meeting, one of the deacons had stated he wanted to change something in the way we writers crafted the intercessory prayers for Sunday Mass to create ‘a catechetical moment’ during the prayers that would convey the church’s stance on current affairs and ‘educate the faithful’.

“Oh hell no!” was out of my mouth before I’d even realized it was coming from me.

Three deacons, one priest and my six fellow writers all turned to stare at me. I was the one who normally had little to say.

“Ok Christine. You care to explain that?”

Ummm. No not really. I want to drop through the floor and God won’t let me. Instead we went several rounds about what Vatican II had to say on this particular piece of the liturgy and a ‘prayers of the hierarchy’ versus ‘prayers of the laity’ debate ensued. Ultimately he ‘pulled rank’ as he not-so-delicately put it. Let’s just say I was the writer for the next seven weeks and I gave him precisely what he asked for at a time when the church gave me plenty of material to work so with, particularly on topics of integrity, honesty and justice. After that, we went back to writing the way we always had, the catechetical moments stayed in the homily where they belonged, and well… I may happen to be the reason that the deacons now edit what we write before it ever gets to the altar.

I’m not one who really likes to argue. I almost never set out to get into a debate. Most often, I’m as shocked as the people around me by what comes out of my mouth. I catch people off-guard because typically I’m the quiet one in a gathering of more than three people. Yes, I’m an introvert. I want to read or write or stare at the world around me and just plain flat be left alone. But even when I’m quiet, I question everything. I wonder about everything. I’m in awe of the world around me. There is still that 4 year-old’s insatiable need to reach out and touch, even if I do get burned. And yet, I’m afraid of many things, having been burned enough to last two lifetimes and my uncertainty always feeds that beast called fear.

And herein lies my biggest conflict: my sudden, unpredictable outbursts of boldness don’t mesh at all well with my need to be left alone. People tend to remember me for speaking out. Few realize I never wanted to do so. My desire to understand at any cost doesn’t work well with my fear of getting hurt. Most days I just wish the two opposing sides of me would make nice once and for all.

An Old Dog And A Staircase


I have an aging dog. My Dusty is ten now. She’s a feisty one, always has been. She doesn’t trust most men. She doesn’t like to be picked up. She’s definitely not a lapdog. It took me a long time to get her to trust me and I’ve had her since she was 8 weeks old. She’s a neurotic, skittish, fiercely territorial alpha dog.

They say a dog reflects the personality of their owner. I’ve got nothing to add there. Let’s just say I get where this crazy dog is coming from most of the time. Her age is starting to really show. Her pepper coat has gotten much lighter. Her big brown eyes have grown cloudy. She moves a lot slower on rainy days. I get that too. My hair is streaking gray now. My eyes don’t always cooperate. I love rainy days but my body most certainly does not.

In the past year, she’s fallen down our back porch steps a few times. She’s also come up the stairs at exactly the wrong time and run face first into the edge of door as I’m opening it. Now she’s far more cautious. Lately, she lets me go down the stairs and she waits until I stand next to the steps, ready to catch her if she slips, before she’ll even attempt to go down. When it’s time to come in, she waits at the bottom of the stairs, refusing to budge until I open the door all the way. Then she looks at the stairs and looks at the door at least three times before coming up.

Yeah I get where she’s coming from there too. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” But if you miss the step it’s also a great way to bounce down said staircase and land on your face. Been there. Done that. It hurts. By the same token, charging up a staircase blindly is a great way to run smack into a door that’s only half-opened or worse, one that is still closed. Done that too. Also hurts. So yes, that tends to make me a little skittish on staircases. Like my aging dog, I need to know that Someone is standing next to the blasted staircase in case I slip. That takes trust.

Yup. I’m sitting on the staircase for awhile.

I Hate Moving


I hate moving. No. Really. I HATE moving. Every time I’ve had to move, I swear by all that’s holy that I will NEVER move again. Ever. I’m up to seven moves now. You’d think I’d give it up and accept the changes. Well, you would unless you really know me. In that case, you just smile and let me rave for awhile, knowing that when the time comes, I’ll suck it up and do it anyway.

Moving from Ridgewood, New Jersey to Overland Park, Kansas was the first time I moved. I was 9. We left everything familiar behind and traded it in for extremes. No more four seasons. It was hot, 107 hot, or it was cold, -25 cold. Thunderstorms meant tornado sirens. We didn’t get snow. We got ice storms that lasted three or four days. Bugs? Try the flying roaches, the massive swarms of little green bugs on the ceiling every single night or the 2-inch long cicada killer wasps – note that 2 inches doesn’t include the massive stinger- and I am deathly afraid of bees. That was three long years and all I wanted was to go HOME, back to Jersey where I belonged, where nobody made fun of my accent and where nature wasn’t hellbent on killing me.

Then we moved to Stratford, Connecticut. Not where I wanted to be but it was closer to home and thank God, it wasn’t Kansas anymore. Over the last 28 years I’ve bounced around western Connecticut a bit. Stratford, Milford, Derby, West Haven, back to Milford, and finally back to Stratford. Every move has been the Never Ever Again move.

The idea that I would one day go home to Ridgewood was one I had to let go of one finger at a time. I still go back to visit and every time, it has been a bittersweet reminder that Jersey isn’t home anymore. I can’t say exactly when I finally gave up altogether and accepted that Stratford is where I belong, only that I finally did.

Almost every morning for the last seven years, I’ve been at the beach, even if it’s only for five minutes. I need it. I live for summer vacation when my mornings are free until 9 and I can spend a few hours there before diving headlong into my day. This is my beach, come rain, shine, wind, snow and storms. These are my seagulls. Yes, I’ve named them. Yes, I can tell them apart. And yes, I know you probably think I’m crazy. No, I don’t care.

Funny thing about the water, even at it’s most calm, it’s always moving. I suppose in some ways so am I. See, I make all the same protests about moving spiritually that I make about moving physically: I am staying right here. Moving hurts. I’m not moving again. You can’t make me. Fast forward a year or so: Wait, how’d I get here?! When did that happen?! That’s it. No more. I’m staying right here!

Yes, I am walking, talking proof that God is eternally patient.

I know when I get within sight of the water, my soul explodes outward. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I wouldn’t have received had I gotten what I so desperately wanted, which was to go back. The beach has served as a metaphor for my life over the years, even before I really noticed it. As I’ve changed, so has my beach. I’ve seen sandbars come and go. I’ve seen even the biggest boulders moved by the water. I’ve seen reinforced concrete walls fall down and I see the folly of rebuilding them.

You’d think seeing all this, I’d quit digging in my heels and accept the inevitable movements in my life. Well, you would unless you really know me. In that case, you’ll just smile and let me rave for awhile, knowing that when the time comes, I’ll suck it up and move forward anyway.