Faith, Family, Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Plans and the Preposterousness of Them

I made a lot of plans for August. Confidently, I planned. It all seemed so reasonable. It felt good.

#1 was returning to a fitness routine. After four weeks, the mild back injury I’d been not-so-patiently waiting to heal was cleared up. I joyously began easing back into running and strength workouts. I set a goal to exercise in some manner every day of the month of August.

Secondly, I set up a giveaway to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Hidden Legacy. I pledged to readers to spend the week sharing tidbits about my experiences in the past year.

I plotted (pun intended) novel-writing plans.

I signed up my son and myself for a 5k fun run.

I bought tickets to attend a concert this week with my husband.

I planned. And God said, “Nope.”

Sometimes my plans align pretty well with what He has in mind. Other times, God shakes His wise head and plays the divine intervention card.

This time the card came in the form of appendicitis and an appendectomy. What started as (supposedly) some bad indigestion warped into terribly painful stomach cramps. After a full night of sickness of which I’ll spare you the details, it took until Saturday morning to identify that the pain was gradually intensifying on the right half of my abdomen. Cue the alarm bells!

Urgent Care, E.R., surgery, recovery, and now home, thankfully, sans appendix.

Plans change.

I won’t pretend I’m not frustrated. Or disappointed. Or sad. This simply isn’t how I wanted the last weeks of summer to look. When I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself though, I remember that my sister had surgery on the same day and it’s her fifth hospital stay in a month. I remember that unlike the woman screaming in pain on the other side of the E.R. exam room but insisting she couldn’t have painkillers due to a past addiction, I’m able to control the pain with strong medication. I remember that I have a husband who will do anything for my wellbeing, and a large family who rallied in prayer for me all weekend. I remember the Cross and the holy wounds. I remember this is minor and temporary, and “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Books, The Hidden Legacy, Writing

Eventful Times!

Hello, friends!

I’ve updated the Events page with details about upcoming book-related happenings in September and October. Check it out and mark your calendars!

As well, keep an eye out for an announcement soon on how we’ll be celebrating the fast-approaching one year anniversary of the release of The Hidden Legacy(Anyone enjoy a good GIVEAWAY?)

Until then, may you have good books, bright sunshine, and many reasons to smile!

Carrie Sue

Books, Catholicism, Fiction, The Hidden Legacy, Writing

Sealed With Approval

logo color CWG SOAI’m proud to share that The Hidden Legacy has been awarded the Seal of Approval (SoA) by the Catholic Writers Guild. Simply put, this signifies that the novel has been assessed for qualities that support and faithfully represent the Catholic faith. Sometimes this means a book was written specifically for a Catholic audience. Other times, like with The Hidden Legacy, it is written for a broader audience and its themes and plot make it highly recommendable to Catholic readers.

The SoA is a respected measure for Catholic bookstore owners and reviewers of Catholic works to be reassured that a book is worth their consideration.

With themes of authentic love, self-sacrifice, truth, and hope, The Hidden Legacy offers a story that can inspire and encourage you in your walk of faith. I hope you will consider it for your reading enjoyment!

Easter, Family, Gratitude, Midwest, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Home Again

IMG_20190425_142050_875.jpgThis is home. Where I spent my first 18 years. Where I fumbled my way through childhood and teenage ups and downs. Where I witnessed my six older siblings leading the way. Where my parents still reside, ready to feed us, talk Jesus, and start a 1000 piece puzzle any time we’re inclined. I treasure any opportunity to bring my children there so they can stockpile experiences and memories of the place. I’m well aware the opportunities will run out one day. I prefer not to think on that except to let it remind me of the value of those visits.

The kids ask multiple times a week when we’ll return. Well, not so much when we will return. They love more than anything to stay with Grandma and Papa on their own, without me or their dad. And I love allowing them to do so. I love their independence. I love their complete confidence that they will be happy and safe and cared for while they are with their grandparents. I frequently wish that my husband’s parents lived within a few hours drive too, so the kids could be collecting similar experiences with them.

We spent Easter Sunday at my parents’ home and the day was everything beautiful. It began with Mass at my childhood parish. Afterward, I cooked with my mom to serve a delicious dinner at the table that has gathered up our family and friends for countless meals. (Seriously, I didn’t want to stop eating. It was so good.) Then we spent a while soaking in the springtime sunshine.

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My fifteen-year-old stepson, who lives with his mother in a neighboring town, joined us for the afternoon too. Any chance to see the younger two excitedly enjoy time with their older brother is a heart-strengthening treat. Our family of five plus my father walked down the one road that I know better than any other road on this earth. We marveled at how high the creek is now that the snow has melted. We visited my grandparents’ former farm with its collapsing old barns. Lastly, we lingered at the pond, throwing rocks to splash in the water while I remembered all the summer afternoons spent wandering there and the winter days of ice skating on its hardened surface. It was one of those days when I couldn’t overlook my blessings even if I tried.

My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places. Isaiah 32:18

Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Personal Reflection

Head Colds and Happiness

This girl teaches me daily how to handle life. Sure, at times it’s more like she sets the example of how not to handle it (with whining and exaggerated tears). The rest of the time though, she handles it like I wish I could: with vigor, confidence, earnestness, and an eye for adventure in all things.

She’s been sick all week. Unlike her brother’s cold that is running a predictable course toward being well soon, hers took a different path of new and worsening symptoms that landed us in the doctor’s office today. The doctor looked at her face – pale, dark circles under her reddened, watery eyes, nose pouring incessantly – and asked, “How are you feeling today?” Annie grinned and said, “Good! I just have a bad cough. Want to pet my kitty? She’s really soft.”

I wanted to hug her so hard in that moment. Her genuine desire to share her happiness with others is a beautiful sight to behold. Maybe even more beautiful than usual when it’s expressed in a hoarse voice through a stream of snot.

A Stranger's Hands, Fiction, Love, Short Story

A Stranger’s Hands – Part Four

Read Parts 1, 2, & 3 here.

A Stranger’s Hands – The Beginning in the Ending

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Gil handed Cora one of the beverages he held. Her fingers curled around the cardboard cup, absorbing the warmth of the coffee inside.

“Thank you,” Cora’s voice came out in an unnatural pitch and she felt a blush creep over her cheeks. “I walked,” she added quite unnecessarily.

“I see that. Hope it’s okay if we keep walking.”

She nodded and willed her pulse to quiet. Taking a sip of coffee followed by a deep, slow breath, she stole a long glance at Gil.

His chocolate-hued hair looked freshly combed and his face freshly shaved. He wore a thin, black fleece jacket over a red and gray flannel shirt, which was untucked over his dark jeans. How comfortable he looked. How at ease with her. It softened her own anxiousness a little more with each passing second.

Gil led them further into the modest downtown stretch of shops, cafes, and bars side by side along Second Street. Cora took in the details of the picture windows of the various boutiques. It’d been too long since she’d strolled this way.

“Nervous?” Gil asked.

They were waiting at a crosswalk. Cora met his eyes.

“No,” she said, “not anymore.”

In between a hair salon and a music shop that sold used vinyl records and various instruments, Gil turned down a narrow alley Cora hadn’t noticed before. She followed with full curiosity. They arrived in a courtyard of sorts behind the shops. It was all grass, no sidewalks or paths, and bordered by a solid wall of waist-high shrubs. Gil and Cora entered through the single opening in the shrubs. A crowd of about twenty men and women, with a few kids in the mix, were already assembled there on folding chairs that filled the lawn. At the front of the gathering was a large area rug on which stood a six-piece band: five men, one woman, two guitars, one banjo, a fiddle, an upright bass, and a bongo drum. The band members all looked to be in their 50s and 60s. A single microphone stood front and center, connected to an amplifier, which in turn was connected to an extension cord running through the back door of the music shop.

When Cora’s jaw dropped, Gil laughed aloud.

“I take it you didn’t know about this?”

“What is it?” she asked.

“They call themselves The Alley Cats. They play back here once or twice a month, as well as in the neighboring towns. Mostly old bluegrass and folk tunes. I have a gut feeling you’re going to love it.”

“I think you have a smart gut.”

Gil led them to two empty chairs in the middle of the crowd. Nearly everyone they passed greeted Gil.

“You’re a regular here then?”

He nodded. “Yeah, and a lot of them are customers at the coffeeshop too.”

Cora’s mind tiptoed through the notion of sitting beside Gil every time The Alley Cats were playing here. The man seated next to her reached around her back to slap Gil on the shoulder.

“Gil! You gonna sit in on a song or two tonight?”

“No, no,” Gil shook his head, glancing at Cora. “I’m here to listen tonight, that’s all.”

Cora turned in her seat. “Sit in?”

He ran a hand over his face, a smile playing on his lips. “I’ve been known to, um, bang on a bongo drum now and then.”

“Oh, do tell me more.”

“Shhh,” Gil held a finger to lips. “I think they’re starting.”

Cora giggled, a sound unfamiliar to her own ears. She pointed her knees forward again and watched the band pick up their instruments. They kicked things off with a boisterous bluegrass tune. Throughout the hour-long set, Cora caught Gil watching her. Eventually, she leaned over, her shoulder against his.

“This is perfect, Gil. Thank you.”

On their return walk, they chatted about music and concerts and memories.

“You really enjoyed it, Cora?”

“So much. It was great.”

Gil slid his hands in his pockets, a satisfied expression on his face.

“Of course, there is one thing that could have made it better,” she said.

He frowned. “What’s that?”

“Next time I want to see you play the bongo drums.”

She watched him toss his head back and laugh. It warmed her even as the chill of the evening made her shiver.

“Next time. I promise,” Gil said as he removed his fleece jacket and handed it to her.

 

Gil unlocked the front door of Second Street Coffee.

“Are you hungry?”

“Very,” Cora admitted.

She stepped into the café, absorbing its stillness. Without the lights on or the sound of staff and customers surrounding them, it almost felt like a place she’d never been – someplace intimate and unexplored. She squashed the resurgence of her former nervousness.

“Should we find somewhere to eat dinner?”

Gil didn’t answer but moved toward the kitchen, gesturing for her to follow.

A motion sensor turned on the lights as they entered. Two high-top chairs from the dining room were pulled up to a countertop. Two sets of plates, utensils, and glasses were already laid out. On the stove was an empty wok pan and in a matter of minutes, Gil had chicken cooking in an aromatic peanut sauce. Bowls of vegetables he’d chopped in the afternoon waited beside the stovetop to be added at the right time, and rice steamed in a rice cooker. Gil kept watch beside the stove, occasionally stirring the chicken and sauce. Cora perched on one of the tall chairs, her legs crossed at the knees and her hands toying with her glass of lime seltzer water.

“Is Gil short for Gilbert?”

“You’d think so wouldn’t you?”

Gil gave no further answer but instead held her gaze in a coy stare. Cora crossed her arms over her chest. She matched his smirk and stare until he broke into a laugh.

“Fine.” He raised his hands in surrender. “My parents loved jazz and blues. My dad was an especially big fan of Dizzy Gillespie.”

“Dizzy Gillespie?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Your name is Gillespie?”

“Time to add the vegetables!” Gil tended to the food with exaggerated urgency.

“Gillespie,” she repeated.

“It’s not like I hate it,” he said with his back to her. “I used to as a kid, of course, but now it’s… special, I guess. Bit of my dad to always be a part of me.”

He turned to face her again, leaning against the countertop.

“Still, most people don’t know it.”

“I won’t tell.”

“How about you tell me something most people don’t know about you? Even things out.”

He said it casually enough, but Cora saw the way he shifted his weight and looked down at the floor as he made the request.

Let him in.

The voice in her head was so clearly Theo’s that it shook her from the inside out. Her mouth went dry as sandpaper and her hands trembled. She had to set down her glass.

“I’m sorry. Forget I said that.” Gil waved a hand in dismissal.

He finished the food and prepared their plates in silence.

Cora savored her first bites of the meal, then set her fork down.

“I tried to be a magician for kids’ parties as a side job for a year in college. I failed miserably.”

Gil’s fork full of chicken and peppers hung in midair.

“Miserably,” she said, drawing out each syllable.

She watched his smile widen and his brown eyes alight with humor.

“Every time I think about it, I thank God that kids didn’t have smartphones and viral videos weren’t a thing back then.”

He didn’t say a word. His smile every time he looked her way said enough and Cora didn’t think she could ever tire of seeing it. Her heart clutched with hope and worry together, but hope held a slight edge.

 

“Can I walk you home?”

They’d finished their dinner and shared a generous portion of the coffeehouse’s decadent caramel cheesecake. They stood now, facing each other in the doorway between the bright kitchen and the shadowy dining area. All their contented conversation ebbed into hesitant words.

“I think I’d like to go alone, if that’s alright.”

“I hope you had a good evening, Cora. That’s all I hoped for tonight.”

Ten steps from the front door, Cora brushed the edge of her hand against his and their fingers slipped together. Gil lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. Warmth radiated from the spot like the concentric circles around a stone tossed in a body of water.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Gil, I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in….”

“I know how long.”

She ran her other hand over their intertwined fingers.

“This day started with a stranger’s hands and all I could see was something ending. Tonight, with you, allowed me to see the beginning in that ending.”

Gil’s expression was a testament of confusion.

“I’ll explain some other time.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“An excuse to do this again soon.”

She spoke jokingly but Gil responded in earnest.

“You are the only excuse I need.”

A Stranger's Hands, Fiction, Short Story

A Stranger’s Hands – Part Three

Read Parts One & Two here.

Part Three – On Her Way

At 6 o’clock, Cora stepped out her front door in an emerald green, scoop neck sweater, people-2557423_1280with gray, skinny-fit pants and black ankle boots. She’d pinned back the front sections of her dark blonde hair and let the rest cover her shoulders. The evening was comfortable, no need for a coat yet despite October being days away.

Cora typically worked until three or four p.m. at Second Street Coffee, but today she’d wrapped up her most pressing tasks by one o’clock. Gil left at noon, to her relief. She’d felt indecisive over how to act or what to say whenever he passed her booth or she noticed him looking in her direction from the front counter. Cora had to shoo away the apprehension that their rapport (one of the only truly comfortable pieces of her daily life) might be altered by this evening. Now she pointed her feet back in the direction of Second Street Coffee, still telling herself not to worry.

She glanced at the time on her phone. She would be at least fifteen minutes early if she walked straight there. That was too many minutes to spend quieting her nerves while she waited to discover Gil’s plans for the evening. Keen for a delay, her eyes landed on a white chapel halfway between her house and the coffeeshop. It had a painted sign beside the sidewalk.

Prayer Chapel – Open to the Public Daily

No denomination or association was listed. The sign, as well as a new door and the bright white paint on the chapel’s exterior, had appeared several months ago. Cora stood outside the quaint structure now, contemplating how long it’d been since she and God had a frank conversation. Two years and nineteen days, she calculated quickly. The day after Theo’s funeral.

Oh, there were prayers since then. Many of them, in fact. She’d found herself unearthing the memorized traditional prayers of childhood catechism class. Most days those rote prayers were the only things preventing radio silence between her and God. Cora poured her soul into the ancient words and offered them to God as all she had to offer.

Maybe that could change today. Maybe she could find her own words again, the way she used to do at any given moment of the day, when her heart had anything to discuss with God.

With quivering fingers, Cora gripped the bronze door handle. The weighty door creaked as it opened upon a small, softly lit vestibule. Next, she pushed open an interior door and stepped into the chapel itself. It was modestly pretty and intensely peaceful. A main aisle divided the two sets of six rows of high-back, wooden pews. Each pew had space for only two people. Cora was a little surprised to find anyone else inside the chapel. An elderly woman with a crown of white curls sat in the last row, an open Bible resting on her knees.

Cora walked with gentle steps to the front row, trying not to disturb the perfect quiet of the intimate space. She sat down on the hard seat and absorbed the details of the sanctuary in front of her.

A cross made of thick beams hung on the front wall. Under it stood an altar of white marble. A white runner cloth covered the top of the altar and hung over each end. On the front face of the stone table was carved a verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Cora read the verse in a whisper, closed her eyes and waited for words to come, for thoughts to form. It took most of a minute before her mind was anything but blank.

“I’m not angry with you.” Cora whispered. “I don’t blame you and I don’t think I ever did. So, I don’t know why it’s been so difficult to speak with you. I miss speaking with you.”

Squeezing her already closed eyes tighter against the threat of tears, she added, “I miss speaking to him, too.”

Theo’s face flashed through Cora’s mind, with the small smile he had for her each time he came upon her mid-conversation with God.

“I think it’s time to get back to talking with you. I’m going to need to talk things through if…”

If what? She didn’t know how to name what had changed today so she settled back into silence, opening her eyes to stare at the marble inscription. Be still. Be still and know. An easy peace filled her chest and spread like a warm blush on her skin. Cora savored it, thanked God for it, and took it with her when she rose from the pew.

And then her phone rang. Its jaunty tune bounced off every surface, shattering the silence and causing the lady in the back row to jump in her seat.

“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Cora continued to apologize even as she reached the vestibule. She already knew from her phone’s display that it was her sister Tessa but she waited to answer until she was outside.

“Hello.”

“Hey, Cora. Thought I’d check in. Are you all settled on the couch with your dinner and a movie?”

Her sister knew Cora’s routines better than anyone. Cora was tempted to lie and answer in the affirmative. She could wait to tell Tessa about this evening until she knew what this evening turned out to be.

“Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here. Sorry, Tessa. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m well enough. About to meet a few friends at the movie theater.”

“I’m not on my couch.”

“What?”

“I’m not at home.” Cora waited for a response. When none came, she took a breath and pushed the words out. “I think I’m going on a date.”

Silence.

“Tessa?”

“Cora.”

“Tessa.”

“I might be crying a little.”

Cora laughed. “I don’t know if it’s a date. It might not be, and I’m not sure if I want it to be.”

“I don’t care if it is, or it isn’t,” her sister responded. “You’re choosing to let yourself enjoy time with someone. That’s all I ever wanted, Cora, all the times I forced you to spend the evening out with me. I wanted you to permit yourself to enjoy things again. Enjoy people again.”

“Now I’m crying a little,” Cora said.

“Well, don’t,” Tessa ordered. “Smile. Go have a wonderful evening doing whatever you will be doing with whomever is waiting for you, and then call me because I will want to know every detail.”

“I love you, Tessa.”

“Love you, too. Now, go, and call me later.”

They said goodbye and Cora hastened on her way, smiling. She was still smiling when she stopped on the sidewalk across the street from Second Street Coffee. Gil waited outside, two coffees in his hands and a smile on his face.