Kat’s Dreams Now Available

A few months ago, I shared some of my pain points as a spare-time writer of fiction (“On the Valuable Use of Time”). Now, I’m thrilled to finally announce that the first novel in my new Sacred Grounds series is available on Amazon*.

From the back cover of Kat’s Dreams

Kat’s Dreams: A Sacred Grounds Novel Book 1 follows Kat, a woman I think of as both a faithful and a feisty heroine. She’s facing some very difficult things, which make for a good story, but they also gives us a chance to find out who she is. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing Kat’s story is how it’s given me a chance to reflect on what faith means in some of the more painful moments of life. 

Kat is, after all, on a #MeToo kind of journey. Yet she also has this very stubborn streak of gladness inside of her. She insists on enjoying the world and the people around her, and she’s determined to find a good way forward. That’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed working with her as a character.

Many, many thanks for the support and encouragement to get to this moment of publishing my first novel. Kat’s Dreams is now available on Amazon,* and my website has additional resources for individual reflection and group discussion of the novel. I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

– Callie

The Beauty of Rest


His brakes screeched as the bike came to a stop. I caught up and slowed to a stop behind him. My friend pointed to the side of the trail. 

“Do you know what these are?”

I looked down.


“Mayapples. You know they’re native to Indiana?”

I nodded. With that, he dove into a story of Indiana-grown mayapples helping to develop the anti-cancer extract VP-16. 

Our rides went like this. Though born and raised in Indiana, I learned quickly that my Syrian-born cycling friend knew vastly more about Indiana flora than I did. He kept pausing to share what he’d learned. He slowed down to describe culinary uses of Paw Paw fruit or virtues of the Osage Orange wood as those trees came into view. He stopped to gently nudge fungi and point out a slug he found breakfasting on the surface of it. Suffice it to say, our rides included many pauses. 

At first, this troubled me.

I felt defensive. I knew all too well that I had fewer bike skills and less speed than he did. I suspected that his botany lectures were, in fact, him surreptitiously taking pity on me and slowing down so I could catch up. The idea hurt my pride.

So, I focused on gaining speed. I had a clear goal. Soon, when he braked and paused with his bike, my friend found me right there behind him.

In retrospect, it doesn’t surprise me that I set my goal on speed. I’ve used speed and similar types of accomplishment (e.g., productivity) to evaluate many activities. When I first met this cycling friend in 2021, that tendency of mine towards accomplishment had gone into overdrive.

I’d thrown myself into my professional life, a satisfying thing since it involved goals and missions I value. I took my work’s problems and ideas with me to the bike trail to mull over. I had work to do with people of faith in settings that sought to serve God’s transformation of the world, and there were tight timetables on which to do this work. How could I not keep on and keep up with the tasks at hand?

Then, I met my friend. Neither of us had many cycling buddies who liked morning rides as we did, so we began riding together. Over time, I discovered a couple of important things about this man’s relationship to speed, productivity, and related metrics of success.

First, I discovered that my friend had plenty of reasons, himself, to value speed and accomplishment. An intensive care doctor in a local hospital, he had people to care for and lives to save. He had crucial work to do and much of it. Though he spoke very little to me about the stresses and strains of an intensive care ward during the pandemic, I saw those days take their toll.

“So sorry,” he’d text me some mornings after an overnight shift in the hospital, canceling our ride. “Need to sleep.”

I could only imagine. Voices of the frontline people I knew had been registering exhaustion for some time. In my own work with religious leaders, I’d heard inspiring stories of creativity and adaptability, of fearless ministry in the face of one strain of Covid-19 after another as our culture made its way through 2020 and 2021. I also heard their weariness, and I heard it at a level I’d not heard it before. In my own little corner of ministry I hopefully helped some people, and I also I felt myself wearing down.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, “and I will give you rest” (11:28). At different times in my life, different images have suggested to me what that kind of rest might look like. Lately, I’ve pictured my cycling friend pausing along bike trails. I’ve been noticing that he seems to relish those pauses. I’ve realized that my speed (or lack thereof) has had nothing to do with how refreshed I felt after a ride.

That was the second thing I learned about my friend: he measured good rides by what we stopped or slowed to see. Even when he no longer needed to pause for me to catch up to him, he still stopped to examine redbud trees in vivid bloom, grape hyacinths in the brush, a blue heron perched in the shallows of a river. He was eager to share words and wonder at what we’d stumbled upon. When I realized that, I realized that I enjoyed those pauses, too.

In fact, I needed those moments to stop and notice the world around me. I needed pauses in my days, and I needed them in my value system. The Jesus who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves is also the Jesus who offers rest as part of God’s kind of love. He must have known people needed rest, even people committed to doing good in his name. Perhaps the God who commanded Sabbath tends to have more sympathy for the ebb and flow of creaturely energy than we sometimes do.

I’m still learning this. Though I’ve worked with congregations for years around topics of rest and renewal, I’m not immune to the call of speed, productivity, and accomplishment. They do measure meaningful things. However, other measures, equally faithful but vastly different measures, do exist. Take rest, for example, and a faithful balance between accomplishment and rest.

I’ve needed a lot of rest lately, more than I needed before the pandemic. I’m still experimenting with rest as a faithful choice. I’m practicing saying “no.” I find that can feel especially difficult in religious settings and ministry. In any given situation, though, I’m honestly not certain if people around me associate faithfulness and worth with unending work. It might only be me who’s making that association. Regardless, I’m practicing that balance of “yes” with the adequate rest carved out by “no.”

I’m also continuing to pause with my cycling friend. I’ve found those morning rides can help balance my day.

“Oh wow,” my friend said recently, lowering his phone. We’d paused so he could take a picture of morning mist over a field of wildflowers. “What a beautiful ride. Isn’t this gorgeous?”

“It is,” I agreed, taking a couple deep breaths before we moved on.

When we approached the long incline of a hill, my friend called to me.

“You were getting so fast that you could leave me in the dust when you wanted to. I’ve been training harder, though. I’m ready to race you,” he said. Pointing at the hill up ahead, he added with a grin, “Get ready. I’m going to beat you.”

“We’ll see about that,” I said, returning his grin.

And off we went.

This essay originally appeared in the June 13, 2022 issue of Bearings Online.

Remembering Hope

All winter I watched a neighbor’s deck lights from my back window as they glowed against the grey and cold. The string of lights stretched between tree branches above the wooden deck. Morning and evening, I watched those lights create a small space of warmth against the dark woods beyond.

I suppose I needed that sense of warmth. Winters have felt colder and greyer to me these last couple of years. Weather data might not support that impression, of course. My sense of lingering cold may have had more to do with pandemic time, with watching people still consider COVID case numbers and hesitate to gather with a lack of outdoor options. Perhaps my sense of relentless grey had more to do with news of war and civilian casualties in Ukraine. I’ve wondered how much pain a world can bear. I’ve craved peace, health, warmth, sunshine, comfort, and so many things. 

Wondering, craving, waiting in the cold and grey, I’d sometimes wander by my back window and be caught up short, surprised: I was smiling at the sight of the deck lights. Gazing out into the dim grey light of a morning or evening, I’d find the deck lights glowing gently nearby. They brought a smile to my face before I’d even realized it. These moments at the back window surprised me again and again. Something about the warmth drew me. Something about those lights, alone lighting the land as far as my eye could see, stopped me. They kept making me smile.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the grey, or night, or cold. I love darkness, nighttime, winter, rain, snow, and all sorts of occasions that send a person inside in search of warmth and light. I appreciate, too, the seasons of life that invite us inward. Outward constrictions come in many forms: constrictions on physical space, on extroverted activities claiming our attention, on energy-consuming habits we could once afford. Outward constrictions on these can offer a us gentle nudge to pause and rest, to dwell in smaller, glowing spaces that comfort us.

As I get older, though, I become more and more aware of how times of needing comfort will come sometimes and linger. They may linger long past our tolerance for them. Perhaps this awareness fed into what became my unplanned winter practice of pausing to behold the string of lights glowing above my neighbor’s deck each morning and evening. They brought me joy.

Joy calls out to joy, after all. Light reminds us of light. Those string lights sent my memory back to my grandparents’ house at the end of a small, winding road up a wooded hill. Evenings fell there with not a single streetlight in sight. To a city girl like me, darkness felt deeper there. When I’d spend a winter night with them, I’d wake before dawn and follow a trail of nightlights that my grandmother left leading to the kitchen. She and my grandfather would be sitting there at an island counter, drinking their first pot of coffee under the warm glow of two overhead lights. I loved finding them there together, waking slowly and gathering their energies for the coming day in that small spot of warmth and light. 

Photo by Callie J. Smith

I find that memory tells me a lot about what is possible. Good memories bring me not only comfort from the past. They point me towards the future, as well, and towards hope. Those small spots of warm light reminded me of the comforts I still carry with me that will, in one way or another, surely come again.

In the summer of 2020, after months of lockdowns and restrictions, I gathered outdoors with a few friends on someone’s back deck. String lights ran between their house and a stand of trees in the yard nearby. Our chairs socially distant, we sat underneath the deck lights and made a feast out of cheese, crackers, chocolate, and chit-chat until well after dark. Under that string of lights, friends lingered at a time when I think that many of us dearly needed that kind of pause together. It felt like regrouping and gathering our energies for the long pandemic months still ahead. Sitting on a back deck with friends, I remember feeling lighter, more glad, more relaxed than I had in months.

What memories call out to you? What moments remind you of what’s possible?

Our best memories can serve as promises, too. Making our way through days, months, or years, we’ll stumble across a moment that glows, a moment that captures our attention at a deep enough level that it reminds us of what’s possible. Even during the cold, grey, rainy, and snowy spring days we’ve recently had here in Indiana, I’ll still pause by a window with the warm glow of my neighbor’s deck lights. I’ll remember to trust that longer days, days visiting with friends in the evening sunlight, even days of a deeper and more just kind of peace, will come.