Something Special: An Interview with Scott Dente

Scott Dente plays acoustic guitar

Scott, as your wife and co-member of Out of the Grey, I have witnessed and been a part of your creative process for more than thirty years. I thought it would be fun to get your perspective on creativity in general and songwriting specifically.

Q. Do you mind answering a few questions for me and my readers?

A. You have readers?

Q. Very funny, yes, more readers than you have. So here’s your platform to disseminate all of your accumulated wisdom, (that shouldn’t take long)

What is your first memory of discovering the spark of Life (with a capital L) in relation to music?

A. Thanks for asking. It’s fun to go back and think about these things! I have quite a few memories of coming online to music in my young world.

Being born and raised in the ’60s and ’70s, as you were, we both know that there was so much amazing music being made. 

needle arm of a turntable playing a vinyl record

It was 1967. I have a hazy memory of being 4 years old and singing along to The Doors’ “Light My Fire“ as it played on the radio in the suburbs of Los Angeles. My parents liked music, so the radio or record player was always on. I remember hearing the songs of Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I also recall singing along to hit songs like “Band On The Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan. Of course, my sister and I loved The Partridge Family. 

As I got a little older, Elton John and Billy Joel found their way into my ears. I knew every word from The Stranger album. The Eagles plus Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Neil Young were also hugely important in my young musical formation.

Then, in late 1976, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen became a massive hit. Even though it was 6 minutes long, it played on the radio constantly. The sheer force of that piece of art caused a shift in me: I didn’t just love listening to music anymore, now I needed to learn to make it.

I rode the bus to school in those years and remember a very dramatic and wonderful eighth-grader named Michael Sinatra. He made sure that all of us kids on the bus were entertained for the short ride to Holdrum Middle School. Together, we sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” every day for what felt like months. We tried the harmonies, the call-and-answer parts— it was the best!

Soon after, I asked my parents for guitar lessons. They were hesitant to buy me a guitar, imagining I’d abandon it like I’d quit football that year. I persisted.

So, one week when I was sick and out of school, my mom gave in and signed me up for guitar lessons. I played a rented nylon string guitar for a year or so. I practiced my etudes and classical technique until my teacher Sal made the mistake of bringing an electric guitar to a lesson. He played the opening riff to “Free Ride” by The Edgar Winter Group. Bye-bye classical music. Hello Les Paul.

It was time to rock.

side view of man playing electric guitar

That began my fascination with guitar riffs, song structure, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. And all the good and not so good that came along with them (think young hippie kid). I caught the performing bug at our high school talent show when I got a great response covering a Neil Young song. Playing the guitar and harmonica just like Neil, I also noticed that the girls were finally noticing me. Hooked. It’s an old story. 

I must say that Peter Townsend of The Who was probably my biggest influence as a young musician. His honest introspection about what it was like to grow up feeling alone, alienated, and confused resonated with me. And he wrote those emotions into his songs and made another guy in the band sing them!

I realized that great music, poetic lyrics, and the conflicted feelings of a young man could all come together in a song. Also, the way I used to beat the crap out of an acoustic guitar, well, I borrowed that from Pete. Many nights, I played the Quadrophenia album in my room over and over again. “Can ya see the real me, Can ya, Can ya?” 

Q. With all of those sparks for your own creativity, when did you write your first song?

A. I was in a band in high school with 3 really talented dudes. We called ourselves Perpetual Change and we covered songs that were somewhat difficult to pull off from bands like Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and The Who, ( Tommy medley ). We also composed some ridiculous instrumentals that only our best fans/ friends liked. At the time, I was experimenting with recording my own original bits in my bedroom using the old “sound-on-sound“ technique with 2 cassette recorders.

I can’t remember if I ever finished any of those fragments but I wrote my first song for Perpetual Change as we were about to graduate and call it quits. It was called “Remains of A Runner.” If my memory serves me, it was an autobiographical lyric about me causing the band to break up. I think I was the “runner“ that the title refers to. Sorry fellas, you see there’s this girl I’m gonna meet and we’re gonna… never mind.

Out of the Grey CD cover

Q. So about that girl. When I first met you at Berklee College of Music in 1985, you played me a song you wrote called, “Empty Pages.” I think I started falling in love with you after hearing that song: it was so emotional and romantic. Although I was already working on my craft, you inspired me with yours. We didn’t co-write until a few years after that. But aren’t you glad we did?

A. Yes!

Q. Okay, tell me about your strengths as a songwriter, and how do they show up in our Out of the Grey music?

A. It’s taken me a long time to develop and embrace my strengths as a songwriter. As a younger songwriter, I had very little faith in my ability to present and complete an idea, even when we worked together in Out of the Grey. I was always good for a title, a verse here or there, an effective bridge, and the guitar parts to hang it all on.

You were very prolific from the start, so I was always happy to give your songs some guitar muscle or help edit and shape an already excellent idea. Then there were what I call your small beautiful songs, ones that needed no help at all from me. They were usually the super-fan favorites and deep album cuts. It was always a pleasure to collaborate with someone who is as meticulous with the craft as you. Your melody writing, interesting harmonic structures, and care for every word of a lyric inspired me to write more and get better. And that’s the truth.

As time has gone by and I’ve shifted focus into my music licensing company, Global Genius Productions, I’ve had a lot more opportunity to write for all manner of situations and I’ve been able to grow immensely as a writer. I got better in the second act and I’m really grateful to have had one!

Q. Will you tell a story about one of your favorite OOTG songwriting experiences?

A. Uh oh. Too many to list just one:

  • I remember sitting in our first little apartment writing “The Deep” for our first project. So simple. so lovely. I can also feel the stretch of finding that hard-to-grab first guitar chord in “He Is Not Silent.” That was a couple of years before anyone cared or would ever hear our first album.
  • Writing for the second album, I remember the first time you played me “Dear Marianne.” We were backstage before our opening set at a Charlie Peacock concert. You played it for me on the dressing room piano. One of your perfect songs that needed no help from me.
  • The night we recorded “All We Need” for Diamond Days. I remember feeling like we had gained entrance to an exclusive club that night. The amount of talent assembled in the studio to record a song that we had written was overwhelming. I cut the guitar solo later that evening after everyone went home. My favorite solo of the few I’ve ever recorded.
  • We wrote “So We Never Got To Paris” sitting at our kitchen table in the first house we owned. I wrote down that title after turning down a trip to France to make a music video with Steve Taylor because you were pregnant with Carina. You ran with that title and wrote a killer lyric. I wrote a good guitar part too. 
  • I remember that we took a year off from touring to write the songs for See Inside, our fifth studio album. We were exhausted from being on the road and the pressure to deliver another album. But we dug down deep. I wrote a lot of the riffs for those songs on electric guitar trying to bring some muscle back into the music after the lighter pop Gravity album. 
  • “Shine Like Crazy” started as a guitar hook on my Gretsch 6120 in our music room. We needed a catchy radio song for our sixth album, 6.1. I came up with that bouncy riff and you sang your butt off on the tracking session. The kids loved that song and I remember dancing to the mix in our living room as a family. Wonderful memory of a great time in our family’s life.
  • It’s hard to pick one from our 2015 album, A Little Light Left, but one song that stands out for me is “Dropped Off,” which is a song about my dad. I feel like it took me my entire life to be able to write that song. I’m very proud of it. Also, “Travel Well” is a song where I gave myself a difficult task to solve a lyric problem and I think I pulled it off. It’s a love song to our life and our family and always chokes me up when the last verse comes around.
  • I feel like I have to mention your solo album, Becoming. Even though I didn’t really write anything on it, it’s one of my proudest achievements as a producer and editor. I remember that we worked especially hard on the background vocals and arrangements. I can’t believe that was 17 years ago.

Christine and Scott smiling in 2020

Q. Yikes, I can’t believe it either. Moving right along, how has your approach to songwriting changed since the early ’90s and our first years as Out of the Grey, through our latest recording in 2015?  And what is your songwriting focus currently?

A. I think that my songwriting has changed in the same way I have personally changed. I used to care a lot more about being clever, doing something unique, being recognized and appreciated by our peers. This was reflected in the early albums when you and I had particular rules about what was cool and what wasn’t. Seems kind of funny now. These days, my songwriting is stripped down, a bit more basic when it comes to chord structure. Lyrically, I’m taking a more minimal approach, trying to get to the real emotion with less flower and fewer words. In some ways, I’ve come full circle and feel like a singer/ songwriter, more like the artists I grew up listening to.

Q. Very cool and so true. On a related subject: Scott, your love of literature and various book genres has always inspired me. I often turn to you for editing and critiquing of my fiction and non-fiction writing.  

Can you describe how fiction and other genres (like biography, personal essays) add to your life? Give examples.

A. I’ve loved books my entire life. As a kid, I had a rich interior life populated with books and stories. Literature, biographies, and personal essays continue to be the main source of inspiration for my songwriting. I don’t think it’s easy to write well unless you’ve read some great stuff. I’m no genius and I need a lot of fuel and inspiration to be creative. If indeed our lives are a story, the great stories will provide lots of clues for creating a purpose-filled life. There’s so much inspiration, hope, and beauty in the stories that others have written. This has always been the case for me. I find it hard to believe when people tell me that they don’t like to read! 

From Mark Helprin’s miraculous novels to Michael Chabon’s insightful essays, there are far too many to list in between. Perhaps that’s a separate blog: What Inspires The Dente’s?

Q. Do you have any advice or insights about the creative process that you’d like to share?

A. Sure, I have a few muddled thoughts:

Scott Dente gets creative in his home studioI think the beauty of the creative process is that there are so many ways to travel and so many places to stop and look around. It took me a while to learn that waiting for inspiration to strike is a sure way for me to get nothing done. Songwriting is a craft that can be learned like most crafts. But you have to put in the time and seek out the masters of the craft. Study them, absorb, and emulate. It’s hard work finding your own voice.

Remaining a fan of others’ work and knowing that their glory and brilliance don’t detract from my own, has been hugely important. I can enjoy and even revere someone else’s creation, knowing I can’t be them and that’s okay. That’s great actually!

Loving and listening to good art gives me fuel, and love for the colors in my own paint box. I’m pretty much the result of everything I’ve taken in over the years. Hopefully, whatever I create adds my own nuance to the conversation of Art. I know more about music than anything else in this life. My heart was captured, shaped, and maybe even saved from loneliness and confusion, by sound and beauty and art. I owe so much to the creative life. It hasn’t been easy, it’s rarely been smooth, but it’s how I know to live. So I’m grateful. 

Thanks, Scott, for engaging my questions about songwriting and creativity. I’m sure readers will have thoughts and questions for you in the comment section.

Dear Readers, for more about Out of the Grey, read “Cloudy Today? Get Out of the Grey!”

Cloudy Today? Get Out of the Grey!

out of the grey aka christine and scott dente walk across a dark lawn toward a bright future

Puff Piece: As It Is

Grey clouds have shrouded the better part of this year. Even a sunny summer can’t hide the insecurities of the season. In the past week, I have been working on an article about suffering and grief. My family has had its share lately. Yours, too, I imagine. We found out our new granddaughter has a difficult genetic condition. And we lost my lovely mother-in-law, Gloria when she died in a nursing home. The list could be longer….

But today, I decided to punt and write a puff piece, explore a topic as fluffy and light as a foam-filled pillow or a cotton-ball cloud. What does “Get Out of the Grey” mean? It’s is not about silver linings. Instead, it’s about finding life in a brighter story. Accepting existence as it is.

Out of the Grey: As It Was

Way back in the day, my husband Scott and I named our band Out of the Grey, under duress. We were signed to Sparrow Records, working on our first project, and had yet to make a name for ourselves.

Should we call our group The Dance? No, we don’t want to scare off non-dancing Contemporary Christian Music fans.

How about Denté with an accent over the e? Confusing ethnicity: are they Italian? French? Where’s the Inferno?

I suggested Christina and the Waves but that fell flat.

Somehow we settled on a song title Scott had scribbled in his notebook: “Out of the Grey.” Not gray with an a but an e to reflect what Tolkien might write of mysterious havens. We liked the way the phrase out of the grey hinted at an imminent and vibrant surprise. Uncertain then of what was coming, we are no wiser about our future now.

Blame it on the Grey

Grey is a trendy color these days. This morning I tossed my soft grey blanket across a couch cushion and nearly lost it in the blend. Their colors melded in the same way my cozy wool slippers disappear into our shaggy ash-colored rug.  Walls and pillows boast—no, suggest— shades of grey. My grandkids wear clothing in cool takes on the color. Some of their soft toys lie mute and missing on the non-descript floor.

Don’t get me wrong—I like the way grey looks most places. However, it has set the tone for this year, the perfect backdrop for the storm created by an invisible, invading virus. It started for us in the wintry March madness of cold social distancing. Led to the isolating overcast of self-quarantining… but, hey, I said I wasn’t going there.

What Does Out of the Grey Mean?

Thirty years ago, when I was 26, I believed in black and white. Answers to my myriad questions hovered on the horizon like geese headed north in the heat. I could live with a Winter Sun when summer was always coming.

Mixing fear of the future with theological certainty, I wrote tunes I hoped to whistle all the way home. The future was bright and I was wearing the right shades.

Our Out of the Grey songs reflected black and white truths in the midst of grey areas. I wanted to make solid statements in a world of swirling uncertainty, provide clear images for those of us who couldn’t see straight in the broad daylight.

To get out of the grey meant to trust that this tainted world would one day be saturated in the perfect Justice, Love, and Mercy for which we longed. Complex ideas wrapped up in three little words and three-minute songs.

A Whole New Meaning

The rain is falling this summer day and I’m okay with it. Our thirsty lawn needs the drink. My skin appreciates the break from the heat. Despite the overcast sky, my face is lifted. Of course, grey will always shadow our days. Embracing its nuance means taking life as it is. NOW is as good as it gets. And it is good.

I don’t always get the big picture but I am getting better at living in the present. Much of what clouds my vision is a concern for coming struggles.

Jesus asked:

“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

Not me! My thoughts can’t capture or control a hazy future. NOW is where I exist and HERE is where I sit.

The bright red pillow on my heather-gray couch matches the flashing red coffee cup in Scott’s hand. Our story accents the fact that stuff happens and yet, here we are. Fluff the cushions, toss the throws, and forget the clouds today. Just for the moment, get out of the grey!

Order The Woman in the Willow and get the free audiobook!

the woman in the willow novel by christine dente

Order The Woman in the Willow and get the free audiobook!

My husband, Scott, recorded and produced me reading my book, The Woman in the Willow.

I decided to give it away to anyone who orders via my website.

Just order the book then email me at christineotg@gmail.com

ASAP, you’ll get the audiobook read by me in your inbox!

the woman in the willow
Reading and recording my book in the studio

What’s the Story About?

Here’s the back cover description of the novel:

the woman in the willow, a novel by christine dente

Get your copy of  The Woman in the Willow here!

Freedom in Fiction

Why did I write this book?

Old Age is creeping up on me. She will, God-willing, knock on my door in a few years. Beyond my desire to live a simple and contemplative life, is the wonder of what I will become. Already, I sense my tendency to stiffen and settle, to give way to a negative outlook. Instead, I’d rather keep stretching, stay flexible, and learn to go with the flow of life.

Will my body and spirit succumb to the stifling effects of gravity and pain? Or will I find the strength to keep growing and bending with the wind? I don’t want my heart to close but to stay open like a willow tree, sharing grace and beauty in the place God plants me. I pray my trajectory of 56 years has not taken me too far afield of the accepting, compassionate old woman I wish to become.

With The Woman in the Willow, I was free to try on my character, to create a drama exploring her choices. I wrote my novel, in part, to search for the sage in me, the woman who ages with grace and wisdom. My fiction asks,

Can an old woman flower and flow, despite her heart’s instinct to tighten and close?

Journey with me to discover the answer: My book launched into the world on September 1st, 2020!

If you order the paperback or ebook, I’ll send you a FREE audiobook  ( :

Don’t forget to email me after you do at christineotg@gmail.com

Read more about the story behind the story here: “What Would You Be, If Free to be Anything You Wanted?”

Sample Chapter from The Woman in the Willow

the woman in the willow

Chapter 11: God on the Lawn

The crepe myrtle looked dead. Catherine twisted the tip of a branch. She broke off the brittle twig and concealed it in her palm—unable to bring herself to look for green inside.

She had neglected the slender tree this year, forgetting to feed and water it, tucked away as it was between the gate and a wall. Two years ago she planted the sapling at the side of the house, the end of her walkway. Last year new growth showed up in late spring and waited until summer to grace her walk with vivacious pink buds. Later still the buds burst into tiny magenta bouquets. They displayed such glory then: waving like hands in a congregation of praise, the gratitude of a tree coming back to life.

Not that Catherine had ever been part of such a congregation. Any praise-gatherings she attended were proper conservative church services, sedate and civil. Hands in the air would disrupt the peace. She kept hers resting on her lap where they couldn’t pressure the undemonstrative into guilt for their stillness or prompt agnostics to make a mockery with their pretense. Plus it just wasn’t natural. Didn’t matter anyway. She could not remember the last time she went to church.

Catherine preferred to worship in her backyard garden beneath a stately oak.

A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.

This was her kind of church: let the birds and trees extend unselfconscious gratitude to the one who made them.

Lift her hands with the branches? Sometimes. But she rarely sang with the birds in their joy of being alive. No, not on days when old age rendered her cursing and complaining to her maker, the one who allowed her life to unravel as it had. God could have made matters easier, better. Instead, he let confusion and loneliness become the bookends of her seven decades. Adventures in anguish and grief filled the space between.

Gee, thanks for the invitation to your pity party, Old Woman.

Miss Catherine, only God knows how you’ve suffered.

A chill dampened her Sunday morning. Catherine tilted her face to the sky, hugging her heavy coat close and soaking up the sun’s spare heat. Percy deserted her to poke around on the far side of the house. A faint wind changed direction, sending church bells shimmering her way. They rippled through her layers of rough coverings, stirring her like a tremor in the earth. She warmed to the subtle shift that words couldn’t touch. Her hands tingled with a quicker pulse. Arms at her side, she strolled to her favorite bench and sat down.

Growing up in the South, the girl Catherine had absorbed a detached and vague kinship with God, untaught and uncertain about his direct relation to her. Mother had no communication with God except her curses in his name. She taught her daughter no specific religious position save that Religion was the disease driving people to keep people like Mother and her at arm’s length.

Catherine was a mongrel born of a mongrel when it came to pedigrees of faith. She learned that Mother’s lineage contained a great-great somebody who was a solid Christian pastor or preacher. But the trickle-down effect diluted any honest faith she may have inherited. Mother’s family were like ghosts, haunting the spoken and unspoken oaths that hovered on her mother’s lips and throughout young Catherine’s life. By default, she was an outcast like her mother. Close relatives disowned them both. The rare Christmas gifts or guilty checks in the mail were godsends or windfalls, depending on how you looked at it.

Mother despised her family either way. Father’s family wanted nothing to do with Mother or her child. Maybe they didn’t realize Catherine existed. She wasn’t sure. Mother wouldn’t say. Regardless, the familial ties disintegrated in their disuse, leaving the mother and girl virtual orphans.

Catherine’s school friends intrigued her with their descriptions of church attendance and Sunday school lessons. Their mysterious God club stirred her curiosity. They invited her along once or twice, but Mother would not allow it. And so Catherine’s creator defaulted to absent father. She regarded him wistfully or accusingly, depending on the day. On occasion, he resembled a kindly grandfather she hoped to meet one day.

Once, after a friend described her prayers to the Lord, young Catherine decided to give it a try. For weeks as an eight-year-old, she spoke to him every night. Eyes on the bedroom ceiling, hands folded under her chin, she’d tell the Almighty what she needed and ask what he would do.

“Dear God, will you help me with my math like you helped my friend Annie with her spelling test?”

“Dear God, can you make me stop growing so the boys don’t tease me all the time?”

“Dear God, are you really out there?”

She waited. Her stomach rumbled. A muffled television boomed through the wall. The scary neighbor lady shouted two doors down. God’s voice remained muted, his message muddled and mysterious. Without obvious answers to her simple prayers, the girl put her search on hold. She held on to the image of a God-out-there-somewhere, hoping he’d show up later in life.

Now, in her old age, in her new haven, Catherine began to look and listen for him again. This time, she expected no audible voice. She didn’t look for him in every favorable turn of circumstances. Didn’t search for divinity in the people who pressed pamphlets into her palm. Couldn’t imagine that people in the pews had a relational advantage. Nor did she think she heard the Spirit when it was just the ladies’ rancor filling her head. She wished for no special deliveries, no secret notes behind the bookcase, no personal messages between the lines in a storybook.

She invited him instead to the secluded places of her mind, the empty spaces between breaths. Moments when the ladies were silent and Mother didn’t intrude, rare as those moments were. Catherine met with God on the lawn. She searched for his face in her flowers, strained to hear his voice in the trees, and even sought him in the flow of her days.

Her faith was primitive, a crude altar to the awesome God of creation, revealed in more than his glorious plants and animals. No, she did not think every butterfly and bird deserved her worship. But both her cultivated garden and her untamed surroundings spoke of a Magnificence and Power deserving her reverence.

Her heart held the tales of God’s love and redemption in a tentative embrace, resonating with the story of a sacrifice that set people free. With hope she imagined his touch of healing and forgiveness. With certainty she wrapped her head around the ideas of mercy and grace. The best ideas the world had going. She just didn’t know how to sift and shuffle them through her old gray head to the blood-red flow of life in real time.

Catherine did know that her best days were bare feet on the lawn. The voices of chickadees and nuthatches tuned to the creek’s musical chortling spoke volumes to her soul. When the wild wooded paths whispered of hidden dangers and the front door opened to chaos and decay, her world behind the wooden walls, beneath the arching sky, brushed up against her like the mingled breath of a mother and infant. The Spirit of God might be an invisible wind streaming along the surface of the creek, rising to fill her nostrils with fragrances from a distant land. Or it breathed in the tangible love of her dog. Perhaps it glowed in every graceful glory in between.

A gray squirrel scrambled along an oak’s high branch. Catherine stretched her neck to follow its scrabbling ascent. Effortless and fearless, it left the limits of its dwindling branch and leaped across space in graceful suspense. For less than a second, the common rodent transformed into a spectacular singularity. It landed on a solid limb and clambered down the other side of the tree.

Percy returned and leaned his body against her heavy leather boots. Catherine curled her toes inside thick socks to buffer the chill. She tucked one hand into a deep pocket. Her other clasped the crepe myrtle twig, concealing death or restoration. She would let it take its time to tell.

Closeness to God was more an idea than a feeling, more a longing than a fulfillment. But someday, if she believed what people said, she hoped to follow on his heels along the hidden paths that stretched beyond her homemade heaven.

What’s The Story About?

the woman in the willow by christine dente

The Woman in the Willow: A Powerful Tale of Hope and Redemption

(From the Ingram Spark Book Description)

Christine Dente delivers a moving story about a woman struggling to forget her traumatic past by hiding away in her backyard haven. The Woman in the Willow offers an exquisite invitation to engage in life’s flowering and flow despite the heart’s instinct to tighten and close. 

Catherine Hathaway has no intention of letting another child into her life.

Retired schoolteacher Miss Hathaway longs to be left alone inside her beautiful backyard garden. Just because the new family next door includes a precocious but lonely five-year-old named Tazzy, doesn’t mean the 70-year-old woman must open her haven or her heart to the neglected girl. Catherine is having enough trouble, losing her balance and her vision, without the disruptions of the unsettling memories that the child provokes.

Catherine’s 8-foot fence keeps her precious dog Percy safe in the yard but can’t keep Tazzy out. The spirited child finds a way through the unlocked gate, drawn by sweet Percy and the enchantments of the backyard garden. When she appears with suspicious red marks on her arm and other signs of abuse, Catherine spies on the family, convinced that the single mother is abusive like her own mother was.

The mysterious willow tree hovers throughout Catherine’s story. A refuge from her past, it is now the crown jewel of her garden. Waving from the creek’s edge behind Catherine’s home, the enchanting tree has a life and story of its own.

the woman in the willow by christine dente

Memories of the sister she lost and the mother who left her sweep Catherine toward her destiny with the willow, the river, and the child she must find to save her life.

Can this disenchanted old woman rise from the flood of grief and loss?

Will she find the spirit of God moving among the ferns and birds of her haven?

What part will the willow play in transforming Catherine from the woman she is into the one she wants to become?

Journey with Catherine in her search for growth and flowering in old age.

Read The Woman in the Willow

What would you be, if free to be anything you wanted?

what would you be if free to be anything

Free to be anything? You might be surprised by your answer. I sure was.

3 Parts to the Story 

My friend, Melissa, asked this intriguing question one evening at a gathering of friends. Whenever she and her husband, Ken, throw their doors open, my husband and I join the party. The conversation spins up a notch when Melissa invites her guests to invest some energy beyond the small talk. She posed this question to a group of four couples who had gathered to eat and laugh in her kitchen:

“What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?”

Each of us eight answered with unpredictable and somewhat surprising dreams. My answer popped into my head and bounced out of my mouth before I could edit and filter it:

“When I am old, I will live alone in the woods. I will know the names of every tree and the songs of each bird I meet. My hair will flow long and silver-grey upon my shoulders. My name will be Willow.”

Everyone’s eyes widened, then slid sideways toward my husband, Scott. He said, with half a smile, “Where am I in this story?”

Okay, so it wasn’t very nice to erase him from my old age. But his absence in the picture made me wonder what was at the heart of my imaginary scenario. Was there a bigger story lurking in the shadows of my answer? Upon examination, I discovered 3 parts to my rough sketch of who I’d be if truly free.

what would you be if you were free to be anything?

Part 1: A Fairy Tale

First, living alone in the woods is my fantasy of freedom from the challenges of human relationships. I am an introvert. Social interactions sap my energy. Sustained focus on the faces and feelings of those I most love requires an output of energy that asks for rest and space—sooner rather than later.

Also, I grow calm and strong whenever my feet sink into the earth’s mossy soil and I can listen and look for God in His creation. Plus, learning the names of the trees and the calls of the birds has been my passion lately.

However, pure peace in isolation is just a fairy tale. Even though a hidden forest path enchants me, I realize any magical setting in a sunny wood could become a nightmare when the sun went down. The big bad wolf of loneliness would surely come knocking at the door of my little haven in the woods. Indeed, I love my husband and my people and I know I need them close.

Part 2: Observing the Woman in the Willow

But, the image of an old woman with silver-grey hair comes from an actual place:

Mrs. Zook lived close to the home I grew up in. As a child, I only glimpsed her across the parking lot that connected our houses. Her austere dresses and tightly contained hair—always up in a traditional Mennonite bun—created the impression of a stiff old woman. However, the graceful weeping willow tree that shrouded her lawn drew me with its mystery. I remember the day I dropped my bike to creep in for a closer look. Skirting the outer edge of the unfenced yard, I parted a few of the willow’s draping green branches.

Old Mrs. Zook stood beneath the tree in a cottony nightgown, brushing her freshly washed, silver-grey hair. It flowed long and lovely as the willow branches under which she hovered.

Unaware of my stare, Mrs. Zook seemed free from care in the cool shade on a hot day. That picture of the woman in the willow, one of grace and ageless beauty, enchanted my ten-year-old soul and touches me still.

Part 3: Going with the Flow

The third part of my free-to-be story is that Old Age is creeping up on me. She will, God-willing, knock on my door in a few years. Beyond my desire to live a simple and contemplative life, is the wonder of what I will become. Already, I sense my tendency to stiffen and settle, to give way to a negative outlook. Instead, I’d rather keep stretching, stay flexible, and learn to go with the flow of life.

Will my body and spirit succumb to the stifling effects of gravity and pain? Or will I find the strength to keep growing and bending with the wind? I don’t want my heart to close, becoming pinned like a tight hair bun. On the contrary, I hope to stay open like a willow, sharing grace and beauty in the place God plants me. I pray my trajectory of 56 years has not taken me too far afield of the accepting, compassionate old woman I wish to become.

So, those questions and hopes combined with the memory of Mrs. Zook elicited that unedited answer to my friend’s question. And they became the springboard for my next creative project:

I wrote a novel called The Woman in the Willow.

Finding Freedom in Fiction

With The Woman in the Willow, I was free to try on my character, to create a drama exploring her choices. I wrote my novel, in part, to search for the sage in me, the woman who ages with wisdom. My fiction asks,

Can an old woman flower and flow, despite her heart’s instinct to tighten and close?

It’s the story of Catherine Hathaway, a woman struggling to forget her traumatic past by hiding away in her homemade haven. When a precocious and lonely child challenges her isolation, she refuses to open her gate or her heart to the neglected girl. The resulting tumult stirs unsettling memories and threatens to sweep the woman away in a flood of grief and loss. What part will the willow tree play in transforming Catherine into the woman she wants to become?

Stay tuned to find out. My book will launch into the world on September 1st, 2020!

Perhaps your answer to the question, ‘What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?’ contains an important part of your story.

In it are fragments of your dreams, shadows of your past, and seeds of what you want to become. In between is who you are now. Make that imaginary sketch to test the final portrait you will paint. Let the vision and the dream write the story of your becoming, like the woman in the willow has for me.

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Leave a comment about your answer to the question: “What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?”

 

My Daughter Shares in the Wonder of Being A Mother

my daughter shares in the wonder of being a mother

My daughter, Carina, is having a daughter next month. In early June, a new little girl will arrive in the world. My granddaughter.

At 8 months pregnant, the size and shape of Carina’s baby are obvious—Baby Callaway is definitely in the world though not quite of it. She can hear her parents’ voices, low hums rumbling through her muted, watery world. She moves with her mother in the motions of daily life, throwing punches to keep Mama on her toes.

I used to remind myself in the last month of my 3 pregnancies: the baby is already here, just hidden on the inside!

Waiting impatiently for each of my three to burst into the world, I would sit on the side of my bed, arms wrapped around my big belly, and stare at that waiting bassinet. What an amazing journey we both had to make, to get that baby from belly to bassinet. Never knowing when or how it would go. Oh, the wonder of being a mother.

Carina is 25 and my middle child. She was in a hurry to make her journey into the world. The doctor said when we arrived for her birth,

 “Were you going to have this baby in the car?”

Lately, my not-so-little girl has slowed down a bit. She has been sitting in her rocking chair beside a waiting cradle, filled with the wonder of being a mother. Preparing for something as close as her own body, yet far from her experience.

She already knows a lot about babies. Not only because she searches and researches what to expect now that she’s expecting. But also because she has cared for babies and kids since she was one herself. When her little sister, Chloe, arrived 2 years after her own birthday, Carina’s love of comforting and caring emerged. I can still see her skinny little arms encircling her baby sister. She adored Chloe from the start. Twenty-three years since have witnessed Carina’s love of baby cousins, cousin’s babies, day camp kids, and the foster children she served for several years.

With her early talking and walking and her endless questions and concerns, Carina challenged me to learn to listen well. And hone my answers to meet her scrutiny. These days, I am privileged to spend lots of time with her. Together we celebrate birthdays, holidays, but mostly everydays, enjoying life together as grown-ups. Our conversations bubble with the love and respect we have for each other. We listen and learn, asking questions and looking for answers together.

Last month for my birthday, she filled a card with words of love. Her gift was, as usual, the perfect equation of thoughtfulness + time. She had summed up her feelings for me as she sat in her daughter’s nursery. The parenting book she read as she rocked reminded her that I was the kind of mother the book described: one who would sit and listen and hold space for her, leaving room for her questions and fears.

She wrote: “I sit here in this rocking chair that soon I’ll rock Calla in, and I feel like the gift of your mothering is sitting right here with us. The love that will flow to my daughter will come from me, yes, but also from you, both in your interactions with her and in your 25 years of instilling acceptance and love into me. Thank you for that. We thank you for that.”

Now it’s her turn. Carina’s wonder at being a mother is just beginning. She and Calla will travel together, moving that baby from her belly to the cradle. Then growing that girl from an infant to a woman. And I couldn’t wish a better mom for the little one that’s coming. As Calla learns to walk and talk, Carina will jump to have an answer for the questions her daughter asks. She’ll remember that the answers don’t always add up or satisfy. She’ll have to come up with her own responses for the tough ones too hard for little kids to chew. She will likely say, “I don’t know” more than her mother did.

Most beautifully, Carina will also pause to recall all she and I have talked about across the years. She will recognize that sometimes the answers are placeholders for conversations yet to come. And in the room with the baby and the cradle and chair, she will rock and ponder ways to make space for the love and conversations to come.

Carina kept me on my toes from the first moves I felt her make. She still does. Inside and out, I have loved the gift of being her mom. I look forward to sitting and listening as she instills acceptance and love into her new daughter. And even as a grandmother, I will still feel the wonder of being a mother.            

my daughter shares in the wonder of being a mother
Here’s me at 8 months pregnant with Carina, 1994.

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Read more about families in Babies on the Bus: Trust in Life Unfolding

 

 

Mother’s Day: A Song for Mom

christine and her mother, Sandy on mothers day

You Were There

Verse 1
I can see you
Running beside my bicycle
Holding me up as I try balancing by myself
I can see you
Making the meals and making ends meet
Soup on the stove, snow days at home
Love in my lunch box wrapped around a treat
   And through all my days of playing outside
   The door was open wide
Chorus
You were there
You always made a place for me
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there
Verse 2
I can see you
Driving me everywhere I needed to go
Steady and safe, never afraid
Knew I was always gonna get back home
And I can see you
When it was time for going my own way
You let me leave and let come back
Never a question of where I would stay
    For a place to land and time to be
    I could always turn the key
Chorus
You were there
You always made a place for me
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there
Verse 3
I can see you
Standing beside my bed at night
Saying “give it a rest, just close your eyes
Wait ’til the morning, it’ll be all right”
    When I couldn’t see beyond that door
    I always knew for sure
Chorus
You were there
In ways I could and couldn’t see
You were there
You always made a place for me
Bridge
And if ever you look back
     and wonder where the days have gone
     Oh if ever you forget all of the good that you have done
     Just remember that you haven’t missed a thing
You were there
You were there
And I only made it here ‘cause you were there

I wrote this song for my mother. She will turn 80 this year. I wanted to remember her and remind her of the ways in which she showed up for me.mother's day song

My picture of Mom from childhood is one of constancy. I had no fear of her not being home at the end of the school bus ride or a long day playing outside.

She was always there. Even when she had to go back to work after divorcing my dad. A tough choice that she made for her 3 kids. When we were young, Mom drove us everywhere we wanted and needed to go. Whether on a one-day trip to the beach or a quick visit to the mall, she drove with steadiness and safety. I never had a doubt that we would get to where we were going.

mother's day
My mom, Sandy, holding her 13th great-grandchild

Eventually, I went to college far from home. Even then, she drove me to and from many times. And HOME was always there. A place for me in the summer months and on holiday breaks. I never questioned whether or not I was welcome. Mom offered a bed to sleep in and food to eat. Coffee to drink and a place to think.

Mom, I honor and thank you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if you had not been there, where you always were.

 

Villains and Victims: Is There More to The Story?

big bad wolf attacks little red riding hood

Villains

The young man sat in his truck in my neighbor’s driveway, laying on the horn. No one came outside, so he kept beeping. Five minutes of this and I’d had enough. I stepped out my front door and made a knocking fist sign to the kid in the drive.

He rolled down his passenger window, leaned toward me, and said, “I’m trying to get my friend to come out.”

I sighed and frowned. “Could you try knocking — or texting, maybe?” I was mad.

Just then my husband’s car arrived in the cul-de-sac and we greeted one another in the garage.
He said, “What was that about?”

I explained my frustration at the teenager’s obnoxious horn. Later, as we made dinner, he chided me, suggesting I pick my battles more carefully. He was right. A beeping horn in the middle of the day was the least of our trouble.

When the new family moved in next door, a mom and two teenagers, it was like watching a bad movie. Especially at night.

A variety of humans and vehicles passed below our bedroom window. Trying to ignore the nighttime disruptions, Scott and I turned up the volume on our Netflix and resisted spying through the blinds.

Victims

Two years ago, when these neighbors moved in, they were hard to miss. Their house angles in like the rest of the homes on our circle and their driveway slants close to our second-story bedroom window. Scott and I and the nearest families welcomed them and introduced ourselves to the lady of the household. I’ll call her “Cathy.” We had high hopes for this new relationship. She was friendly at first but distracted. Though we learned her name, she didn’t absorb ours.

Backstory: We have lived in this home for 22 years. The previous people were terrible to live beside: barking dogs penned up between our houses, dogs let loose at 5 AM to terrorize morning joggers, decaying vehicles in the driveway, etc. The final insult was the ranting man blaming us for the sheriff’s department depositing their belongings on their front yard. After years of reaching out to that family, we were glad to see them go.

Certainly, the new owners could only be an improvement.

In the weeks following their arrival, “Cathy” shared with us a part of her traumatic and tragic story. We connected and commiserated. Over the next few months, our interactions became intermittent, a mix of positive and negative. As their first year stretched into the next, she and the kids averted their gazes when we sought a natural hello across the yard or out at the mailboxes.

These small disconnections weren’t the worst of it. Many bizarre middle-of-the-night and early morning shenanigans aroused a lot of anger and sleeplessness for Scott and me, causing us to consider moving away for the first time ever.

More to the Story

more to the story villains and victims

Now, in a good movie, the trailer sets up a predictable plot without revealing its twists. For example, the preview for Phantom Thread tells a believable tale: a quirky older man taking advantage of a young, naïve woman. But this dressmaker’s story unfolded to reveal complicated histories and relationships motivating the characters. A triangle of adults using and abusing their separate and shared dysfunctions.

As in life, the personalities in the film are multidimensional. On the surface, the dress designer discovers a beautiful creature to display his amazing creations; the young waitress in the country restaurant discovers a man who will display her on his arm; the spinster sister who runs his business displays her domineering jealousy. Their deeper designs, unknown even to themselves, appear for the audience first.

It’s Complicated

In this way, the developing story among the man, the woman, and his sister exposed a mixture of not-so-simple ingredients that led to a complex tale: (Spoiler Alert here, if you haven’t seen the movie)

  1. The artisan dressmaker wasn’t just a selfish man using a woman for his ends. He was also a conflicted, mother-afflicted soul who had given much of his emotional and personal power to the whims of his older, competent sister.
  2. The sister wasn’t just a jealous and controlling woman who waited to get this young woman out of the home and their disrupted lives. She was a woman with a history of loss and learning to live with an eccentric, unpredictable, selfish artist who was also her brother.
  3. The young woman was much more than a naïve, attention-seeking natural beauty. She discovered and wielded her own power in the game of who-needs-who. Her warp and woof surprised me most in the materials she used to get what she wanted from the man.

All were villains and victims. I related to them and found compassion for each.

Which brings me back to “Cathy.”

Finding Grace for Neighbors

By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A glimpse of the woman next-door triggers annoyance. And judgment.

Oops. There I go again, making her life about how it affects me. I notice her garbage, her friends, and a thin slice of her lifestyle. What I do not see and sadly forget, is her history, her heartache, her humanity.

Like a character in a bad movie, “Cathy” remains one-dimensional to me — until I let the story unfold.

more to the story villains and victims

A first glance tempts me to frown and shake my head. A second look reminds me there’s always more to the drama. If I search for the third lesson, I see that I am a villain and victim in my own story. My humanity and heartache inform my relationship with the woman living beside me. My garbage may be well-hidden, but it’s there and has a smell of its own.

Someone more famous than Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that I shouldn’t judge unless I wanted to be judged in the same way.

My neighbor could tell herself stories about me based on a cursory glance out her front window. She does not know me, but if she gave me grace, she’d imagine I had suffered as she has. She might even walk across the lawn, offer a smile, and ask, “What’s your story?”

Please comment in the section below and let me know your tale of Finding Grace for Neighbors.

Read more about my perspective from the cul-de-sac in Happy With Your Lot In Life?

Finding Freedom In Confinement

finding freedom in confinement

Are you finding new freedom in this self-imposed confinement?

Living With Limitations

Social distancing and sheltering in place in the time of Coronavirus have created a unique situation for many of us.

For example, a friend who lives alone is now working from home. This could double the loneliness for her, but at least she can spend more time outside in her yard. And she’s finding ways to connect with friends at a distance. I’ll be seeing her face when we talk via screens this weekend.

finding freedom in confinement

I know an older couple in my neighborhood who thrive on shopping and dining out. They will suffer from cabin fever, no doubt. But the neighbors are checking up on them through calls and texts, keeping tabs without touch.

My default mode is homebody. Staying put to avoid contaminating crowds isn’t much of a hardship. Walking in the small creek behind our home is as good as going dancing for me.

However, my husband, Scott, and I have a baby grandson and a daughter and son-in-law who are expecting in June. Should we stay away from them? We adults are trying to decide if full quarantine is smarter than the less extreme social distancing we are practicing. Can we actually keep from seeing and hugging family members? Some unfortunate people are truly cut off from their families. They are choosing this for safety or because someone is sick with this invisible, insidious virus.

The new limitations and tough choices are shocking.

Sudden Seclusion

One of my greatest fears is being disconnected from my family. The horrors of history tell of those who’ve suffered in gulags and POW camps. I do not linger long with thoughts of solitary confinement. The idea of forced isolation, alone with no husband, no kids or grandchildren, makes me ask, “How would I fare; would I find a way to be free inside a cell?”

If I had access to books, I would be free to read, read, read. With pen and paper, I could write, free of distraction. But without family interactions, could I survive through meditation or cogitation? Or die a slow death in lonely rumination?

I guess I’ll never be locked up in solitary. But I’m feeling the walls closing in. What do the walls of my home offer that I haven’t grasped? From those whose worries are weightier, I ask, “Are you finding any freedom in this sudden seclusion?”

Chance for Change

finding freedom

Our limited choices, whether chosen or thrust upon us, magnify our chances for positive transformation.

Obviously, no one looks for change by putting on chains. But when we find our wrists shackled by circumstance, we naturally crane our necks for different ways to move, to live, to be. For some people, the challenge is discombobulating. For others, this season is downright earth-shattering. Yet, it’s an opportunity for all to discover freedom within our confines. Our physical, mental, and emotional health depend on our healthy response to this stress.
Here’s what I’m thinking:

I Am Finding Freedom From…

  1. Choice. Choice can be overwhelming. Like a restaurant with a ten-page menu, my lengthy to-do list is more of a menace than a blessing. Self-employed people, such as Scott and I, wake each morning to a bottomless pit of a list. Or an agonizingly blank slate. Either way, we start from scratch each day. I have been enjoying the simple menu of fewer choices.
  2. Worries. When the bigger story concerns a killer microbe, I worry less about writing perfect prose or if I should exercise more.
  3. Myself. Okay, it may be a stretch, but I am free to forget my face for a while. My body, my clothes, the pimple on my nose. Who cares? Yes, many working people are video-conferencing and Face-Timing and Insta-gramming like crazy. But lots of us can just stay in our jammies. Skip the mirror and quit the navel-gazing for a minute.

I Am Finding Freedom For…

  1. Creativity. More reading, more writing, yay!
  2. Thinking or not thinking. Quiet sitting or a slow walk are no longer a waste of time. I’ve got lots. Like today: I haven’t accomplished any tasks except trying to write these ideas about freedom. It’s rather liberating.
  3. Being Present. No outside events call to me. I’m not missing anything because nothing is happening. I am here. Now. In the moment in which I am.

Are You Finding Freedom To…

  1. Connect with your kids more? Your spouse?
  2. Let go of a busy schedule?
  3. Be thankful for what you have?
  4. Share with others who are suffering more than you?

People suffer without human interaction. This virus crisis amplifies our discomfort. The current limits on our ways of life have added countless new stresses. I suspect, though, we will unearth certain blessings in this mess. What freedoms have you come up with in confinement?

For more thoughts on health, read: 3 Creative Ways to Move Toward Emotional Health

 

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