Pre-order The Woman in the Willow and get the free audiobook!

the woman in the willow novel by christine dente

Pre-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 before September 1st, the release date.

Just pre-order then email me at christineotg@gmail.com

On August 25th, 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 will launch into the world on September 1st, 2020!

If you pre-order before September 1st, 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

I’m Worse Than You Think!

finding freedom from judgment

Finding Freedom from Judgment

A Christian pastor announced he had decided to stop worrying about what others thought of him. He needed freedom from judgment. He chose to be honest with himself and say,

“If people are judging me, they’re probably right. In fact, I am worse than they think I am.”

finding freedom from judgment

Recently, a friend lamented how her mind percolated with criticism of a co-worker. Her ugly, unkind thoughts surprised her.

I said, “I’m glad we can keep our thoughts to ourselves. If everyone could hear what everyone else was thinking, the world would erupt with all our private judgments made public.”

Fake it till you make it makes a lot of sense in this context. Hide my biases until I can get a handle on them. When my heart is finally pure, I will present it as authentic to the watching world. This has worked for me many times. Or has it?

The Ugly Underside

Maybe my faking it is like a partying teenager who cleans up her trashed house just before her parents get home. Because they don’t see the breach in trust, the family is not free to deal with the underlying issues. The surfaces are clean but the lie hovers in the house. What hidden damage does the pretense do?

Lines of communication break down when we spray a sanitizing scent to mask our imperfect behavior or opinions. The scary parents are appeased but we are further from each other. Perhaps finding freedom from people’s judgments of me AND freedom from my own judgments of others is going to cost more than a hurried house cleaning.

Is there a better approach to finding this kind of freedom?

Hear My Confession

I was walking along with a crowd of typical American families recently — judgment alert— and noticed the many overweight people surrounding me. They all had soda straws pressed between their lips and the french fries pouching on their hips.     

I pulled my husband Scott aside and giggled, freedom from judgement “I just thought of a really mean joke.”

“What?” He grinned, warming to this rare confession of my judgmental cruelty.

I said, “Imagine a T-shirt for kids that said Destined for Greatness, but the Greatness is crossed out and Fatness is scribbled below it. Ha! Get it? All of these fat American parents are raising their kids to be fat!”

He was shocked. It really isn’t funny. It is quite mean and arrogant of me. Easy for me to laugh when I’ve done the parenting and nutrition thing perfectly—NOT!

Honesty Hangover

The next week we were hanging out with friends and Scott began to recount this story of my judgmental attitude. Midway through, he realized he was about to confess my sin. I gave him a sideways glance and picked up where he’d left off. I was embarrassed to finish the revelation of my prejudice in its undisguised detail.

I’m not sure if any of our friends thought it was funny. But if they had any lingering doubts about my proud heart, I certainly dispelled them. Self-righteousness can stink up a room.

That night, I lay awake regretting the depths of my depravity. An honesty hangover of sorts.  But the next morning it dawned on me that I could be glad that the blackness of my heart had been laid bare. Especially to friends that love me. No more pretending. I am free to be me. It was a taste of freedom from judgment. Yum!   

freedom from judgement 

Keys to Finding Freedom and Authentic Change

  • Showing and telling the truth about myself catalyzes an authentic conversation.
  • Authentic conversations free self-righteous or shame-filled people to tell the truth to each other.
  • Telling the truth opens the door for more communication and authentic change.

Christians and others imprisoned by the belief they have to present a picture-perfect, “what would Jesus do” kind of life shut the door on authentic communication. On the other hand, authority figures and public figures who admit to their own shortcomings can embrace the ugly underside of others. It’s like a parent who never shames their errant child because they are honest about their own struggles. They can challenge each other as equals from their humble vantage points. This is key to finding freedom from judgment. 

When we all stop pretending, we can also let go of the judgments we make and the judgments we fear from others. 

Show and Tell: Taking Chances

Showing and telling our shortcomings comes with risks. The risk of hurting others. The risk of losing (or gaining) a reputation. The loss of likes, friends, acceptance, and love. Lately, we may lose even more.

But, I have spent too much of my adult life trying to look good—be good—when in fact I am not all that good. 

Some of my sins I keep between me and Jesus. He says He loves and forgives me unconditionally. Not every confession need be public. However, other transgressions are painfully obvious so I’d better get honest with myself and others.

Pretending has created lots of space between me and would-be friends. I have presented myself as a whole-grain-cookie-eating, Bible-reading, clean-freaking woman. My question is:

Will you love me even though you know the truth? Can you bear with my mistakes?  

Now that I am not pretending and defending my own righteousness, I can look at you without condemnation. Admitting my own mess frees me to have compassion for your struggle. 

It’s true: I am judgmental, proud, and mean sometimes. In fact, I’m worse than you think. And now that you have judged me, we have something to talk about!

 

other related posts from me: Making Pretend and Closer to Free

My Moment at the Well

finding life

He startles me as I walk up to the well. I hadn’t seen him sitting there under the trees. I turn around to face him as he begins talking to me. He says he wants some water to drink. I think it strange that he is alone. We are in the middle of nowhere. In the heat of the day. He has no way of getting to the water. No jar and such a deep well. He’s obviously parched. What is he doing here all by himself?

 People come from all over to sit and drink where Jacob himself once watered his flocks. He and his sons had walked these surrounding fields. This place is holy to us even if it isn’t to the Jews.

I mess with him a little. “You’re asking me for a drink? A woman of Samaria?” I know Jews don’t want to have anything to do with us. With me. Yet here he is, needing my help because he’s worn out. Thirsty. He is depending on me. How funny.

He answers me, saying something about if I knew who he was, I’d be asking him for a drink of ‘living’ water. He seems a little crazy. Well, I’ll take the bait.

I say to him in my sweetest voice, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” I’m smiling at him like I do when talking to a little kid who tells me that the stones he’s holding are real gold.

Who does he think he is, anyway? This well has been here for thousands of years and probably took months to dig. Out of nowhere he’s going to produce this so-called living water and I’m going to beg him for it? I don’t think so.

“You’ll never be thirsty again,” he is saying. If I drink the water he could give me, he says it will become in me a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Wow, that sounds fantastic. Water that just wells up in my body. Exactly what I need so I don’t have to come back again and again to this damned well just to stay alive and keep my dishes clean.

I’m so sick of trudging up and down this path alone with an old container that empties as fast as I fill it, with no kids to help, no man who cares to lift a finger for me, and flocks of women moving aside when they see me coming. Sure, fella, I’ll take some of that living water.

Of course now he tells me to go get my husband. Always turns out this way: women need a man to speak for them. A man to head the household. A man to stay around and do what he said he would do. I haven’t had any men like that in my life since my first husband died. After that, the others left or divorced me as soon as they realized they weren’t getting any sons and daughters out of me. Those liars are long gone.

“I have no husband,” I tell him.

“You’re right,” he says, “and the man you have now isn’t even your husband.”

His accusation is right. But how could he know that? He hasn’t been in town or hung around long enough to hear the gossip. And gossip they do, those heartless witches. No compassion- only judgment for a girl who tried to live by the rules but got stepped on and left behind by those rules instead.

He must be a prophet or something. This is getting interesting… and a little too personal. I wonder what he’ll say about those rules for living God’s way. If it is God’s way. So many rules that I can’t seem to keep to satisfy anyone around here.

“You Jews say we’re supposed to worship in Jerusalem even though our fathers worshiped God here on this mountain.” That’ll get him talking about what all men want to talk about: religion and politics.

He’s looking at me with a sweet smile on his face. “Woman, believe me…”

The way he called me ‘woman’ just now almost made me cry. Like I was someone he cared about. Someone he knew.

He’s saying that the time is coming and is even now happening- that it won’t matter where we worship God. He says true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. He’s even saying that the Father is looking for those kind of people.

I’ve never heard anyone talk religion like this! It feels like he’s just toppled over a rock wall inside of me. I’m tasting the dust of fear and freedom at the same time.

I mumble something I’ve heard all of my life, something about the messiah someday coming to tell us everything we need to know.

“That’s me,” he says. And I know he isn’t lying.

All of a sudden, some guys are coming up to him, looking shocked that he is talking to me.

I don’t care. My insides feel like churning water. My legs are weak as if I’m ripe wheat, just cut down and gathered up into the arms of God. Something in me wells up and I begin to run for joy. I float and fly into town. Suddenly I love everyone and want to hug them and tell them about the man who knows my story better than I do. The man who saw right through me. The man who saw ME and still smiled as if he loved me, cared about ME!


That day they all followed me back out of town and down to the well. I must’ve sounded like a crazy person. But I must’ve looked like a prophet because they followed me and for some reason, they believed me. Like I was somebody that had tasted something they were thirsty for.

I don’t know what life is gonna be like around here now that Jesus has come through. He only stayed a couple of days. That was long enough to make believers out of a lot of people in this place. They said they know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.

Everybody’s talking about him. They feel the way I felt.

But I met him first. I got to talk to him alone when no one else even knew how awesome he was.

Now, every time I go to that well, Jacob’s well, I remember the man who gave me a taste of living water. Sometimes that visit seems more like a dream than a memory. But I know it’s real. I remember how he told me about my crazy history. How he said that he was the Christ. How he looked at me and loved me.

I don’t worry now that I can’t get to Jerusalem to worship. I don’t just hope that the Father knows I want to worship him the right way, because He already knows. Because even though I’m way out here in no man’s land, He came through once, looking for me.

Read next: Everyday The Dust Comes Back 

 

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