Set Free


And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
— John 8:32
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Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
— Oscar Wilde

He stood at the door to her cell quietly, willing her to look at him.  It was cold in the room and she was shivering, the blanket beside her still folded neatly on the bed, untouched.  The thin mattress was covered in plastic and it rustled slightly as she shifted her weight.  His heart went out to her but he hadn't been invited in, so he remained outside.

She looked up at the small square window above her head and he could see the tracks of her tears glistening in the single ray of sunlight illuminating her face.  Her hands were clasped in her lap and her lips moved in silent prayer.  Her shame was palpable.  But to him... she was beautiful and precious beyond measure.  He would stay as long as he needed to. Until she was free.

He sat down against the far wall, his back against the cold concrete and remembered the day she was born.  All the plans he had for her, the gifts he had bestowed upon her, the times he had whispered to her in the dark and held her when she was afraid came back to him, each one a part of who she was, who he was.  She would grow up and forget... but he... he would always remember.  That's what love does.  It remembers the song long after the song is forgotten.

Days turned to weeks, and then weeks into years.  Seasons changed from winter to spring and then started all over again. He visited her every single day, often leaving a gift behind, some small token of his affection for her.  She eventually found her rhythm and she did the work expected of her; no more, no less.  Once in awhile, she would stare up at the stars through the window in her room and wonder if she'd ever be free.

As she drifted off to sleep, the lights on the cell block winked off one by one and he knelt beside her bed, praying for her. It was midnight and she opened her eyes.  Sitting up, she saw the door to her cell was open and in confusion, she stood in the space and peered down the corridor. Every one of the doors on the block was open, as far down the hallway as she could see.  He was standing in the light at the end, holding his hand out to her, a genuine smile on his face.  

She ran to him then, shouting for joy.  It had been so long!  Her cries woke many others, who found that their doors were open as well.  When she reached him, she threw herself into his arms and said, "Where were you?  Why didn't you come when I called?"

He gathered her close and said softly to all of them, "You are free to go.  All you ever needed to do... was believe it and walk out."  

Several called him crazy and said they'd only be caught and returned to the prison.  They turned away from him sadly and went back to their cells, closing the door behind them, and listening as the locks clicked shut.  But she held tight to his hand, and made the choice to follow him out.  

The next evening she returned and stood outside her old prison cell.  It was occupied even though the door to the cell was still open.  She sat down against the far wall, her back against the cold concrete and remembered the day he was born.  All the plans she had for him, the gifts she had bestowed upon him, the times she had whispered to him in the dark and held him when he was afraid came back to her, each one a part of who he was, who she was.  He would grow up and forget... but she... she would always remember.  That's what love does.  It remembers the song long after the song is forgotten. 

She would stay as long as she needed to.  Until he was free.


When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
— Luke 7:36-50

First Light

It was early and the light was just beginning to dance on the water but the birds had already started their cheerful wake up call and I got up to stoke the fire. A flock of geese flew overhead, honking and carrying on as if it was high noon. The mist was rising in silver columns from the surface of the lake and the air was rich with the scent of pines. I could hear the lone call of a loon somewhere in the distance and I climbed back into the sleeping bag, reaching for her. She was already awake.  There was another couple in the tent next to us and their muffled laughter made us both grin, the memory of last night still fresh on our minds. I smelled the bacon frying and could practically taste the hot coffee, fingers of scent drifting toward me… tempting. I was hungry, but not enough to let go of this moment just yet.  Two years was a long time… too long.  Breakfast could wait another two minutes. She smiled at me without a word… relaxed and content to speak her heart right now, only through her eyes. She always knew. This was my idea of luxury. I'd been coming here since I was a boy and this campground felt as much a home to me as the place I'd grown up.  There couldn't have been a better place to start over with her.

I flopped onto my back and let my mind wander.  Isabel liked being alone. It never made her feel lonely or afraid, like it did, some women. She told me a story once  about how when she was a girl, her parents had given her a small rock tumbler for Christmas and she was fascinated by how simply rolling the jagged rocks around and letting them crash against each other, could wear all the rough edges away and create something cool and clean and entirely different. She would keep the smooth stones in her pocket and run her fingers over their silky surface and it felt like a wonderful secret. She told me that being a loner and being with other people was a lot like that to her. When she was with others, she would collide against them and their ideas and perspectives and she felt it changed her in so many wonderful ways. But when she was alone and the tossing had stopped, she could wander peacefully in the stream bed of her own ideas, turning each one over and over in her mind, like a beautiful smooth stone, polished to a glassy sheen by time and tumbling. For Isabel, it was the best kind of magic.

I had always understood that on a deep level. Hell, I felt the same way. How two lifelong loners had somehow formed such a strong bond of connection was beyond me but I loved it. I would sit up on the porch, in one of the two rocking chairs she had picked up for the cottage and watch her wander, wondering at where she had gone off to, in that mind of hers. She enjoyed being by herself as much as she enjoyed being with the people she loved. When I could not find her in the house, I would often find her down on the sand, smiling to herself as she collected rocks and seashells by the dozen. Our home was littered with her treasures. She was a tidy person, but she liked to surround herself with anything and everything that reminded her of the ocean and I would often find bits and pieces scattered in the most unlikely places. The walls were also covered with scenes of our lives together; seaside, mountains and woods, painted in both soft pastels and earthy hues that always meshed together in harmony somehow. That was my girl. She worked so hard to take dark and light, shadow and detail, void and form…and merge them all together into a complimentary symphony of color and light. I found it enchanting. It was as much a part of her nature as simply breathing and it was so different from my own that I often found myself standing at a comfortable distance, watching in wonder. 

I recalled vividly when I had first started calling her Sunshine. She was a midnight owl and I was a morning person. She hated getting up early and would moan and groan and pull the covers over her head when I would tease and push and try to get her out of bed for an early morning run with me. I had finally given up in exasperation and had taken instead, to heading into town to my favorite diner for coffee after my run, while waiting for her to wake up. That first time I had gone, I had let the screen door slam behind me and thinking I was irritated with her, she had sprung out of bed and ran out onto the porch in her pajamas, but she was too late. I never even saw her. When I had come home with her favorite salt encrusted bagels in a brown paper bag, I'd found her sitting on a chair out back in the rain, legs drawn up under her chin, hair sticking up in all directions and tears streaming down her face. I got down on my knees in front of her and wrapped her up in my arms, distressed that something was bothering her enough to make her cry and at a total loss for what could have happened in the mere hour I’d been gone. When she told me what was wrong, I burst out laughing, assuring her that I was much tougher than she might think, and if she was trying to make me angry, she would have to work a lot harder than that. The smile she gave me when she realized I wasn't mad, made it seem as if someone had rolled the clouds back instantly and spattered my heart with sunshine instead of rain. Isabel beamed at me. "That's better, Sunshine," I had responded. 

“Why are you smiling?” she asked, her fingertips grazing the stubble on my cheek, tenderly, bringing me back to the present.  I knew she didn’t really need me to answer that.

Rolling over on my side, I propped myself up on my elbow facing her and took her hand in my own, bringing it to my lips.  It was cold and I warmed it gently between my own.  Moving a little closer, I folded her into me.  She lay down on my chest, as if I had just seen her yesterday, and I closed my eyes, understanding intimately in that moment, that home was a person… not a place.

Rock Solid Clarity

Time is a lot of the things people say that God is. There’s always preexisting, and having no end. There’s the notion of being all powerful-because nothing can stand against time, can it? Not mountains, not armies. And time is, of course, all-healing. Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of: all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Remember, man, that thou art dust; and unto dust thou shalt return. And if time is anything akin to God, I suppose that memory must be the devil.
— Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes

It isn't very often that I read an entire series of books, especially when it is difficult to classify their genre and each of the seven books in that series is more than 700 pages long.  But Diana Gabaldon says in the early days, when Outlander was just hitting the shelves twenty years ago and she was out at book signings if someone would ask her what sort of books she writes, she would tell them to pick up her novel, open it to any spot they chose and read three pages.  If they could put it down after that, she'd pay them a dollar.  She never lost a dime on that bet.:)  I love her gutsy confidence. She wrote Outlander, never intending it to see the light of day, but rather to practice and then decide later if writing fiction was something she really wanted to do. Twenty years later, she is still writing the series and that story she thought would only be a practice run has an enormous following. Historically accurate, romantic, adventurous, time travel, love, healing... I was captivated by every one of them. Even better, Starz picked up the rights to the first season of the series, which will chronicle Book One - Outlander, in about sixteen episodes.  I admire the craft of writing great fiction so much but her ability to keep her timelines straight across multi-levels while maintaining historical accuracy just blows my mind. It is not a series for the faint of heart. She explores some downright raw material that might offend some.

What a gift and a privilege it is to wake up every morning and put words to page.  I intend to remember that with rock solid clarity.

But just then, for that fraction of time, it seems as though all things are possible. You can look across the limitations of your own life, and see that they are really nothing. In that moment when time stops, it is as though you know you could undertake any venture, complete it and come back to yourself, to find the world unchanged, and everything just as you left it a moment before. And it’s as though knowing that everything is possible, suddenly nothing is necessary...
For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.
— Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Teachable Moments

A few months ago, in my quest to eat healthier, I purchased a Vitamix blender.  It was outlandishly expensive but I justified the purchase because I actually use my blender often and this one can pulverize just about anything you throw into it and turn it into a healthy smoothie. This morning, I found a recipe for a mango dressing I wanted to try, but it only called for a small number of ingredients.  I thought, no problem, I'll just take the lid off and tamp it gently until it's all smooth.  Simple.. no problem, right? Yeah.. you know where this is going. But, let me just preface the next paragraph by saying that the thing sounds like someone is trying to land a jet plane in my kitchen when it's turned on full blast. And the tiny amount of ingredients I dropped in there didn't quite make it up to the blade line.  Mmmhmmm.

To my credit, I did have the lid on when I started it up.  But when it wasn't going well.. I thought I could carefully take the lid off and use that nifty tamping arm that came with the blender, to mush it around a little gently and coax the blades to pick it up and run with it from there.  It really only took a nanosecond to realize that was a bad idea.  I quickly shut it off, but not before I launched mango, balsamic vinegar, and a few other choice and colorful ingredients all over everything in its vicinity - my kitchen ceiling, walls, cabinets, all down the front of my shirt, on my face, and might as well make a hair conditioner out of it while we're at it.  To my husband's credit, when he walked out of the shower and found me standing there, wielding a shattered tamping arm, covered in my healthy breakfast ingredients, mango dripping down the side of my face.. he did not laugh.  He just blinked and said.. "I think we can buy a new tamping arm for that."  Ok, then he might have laughed.

I've always been the kind of mom that looks for teachable moments with my kids.  So what was the teachable moment for me here?  Well.. it was readily apparent to me how quickly you can make a dumb decision if you don't take the time to think it through carefully. That boundaries are there for a reason, usually because if you cross them, you're gonna end up getting hurt or at the very least, it's gonna get messy. (Keep the lid on!)  That sometimes laughter is a better choice than anger when you find yourself face to face with someone who made a dumb decision.:)  And that mango smells good in my hair but balsamic vinegar.. meh, not so much.

Life is an amazing journey made up of many tiny teachable moments.  I spend so much of it not paying attention sometimes in the rush to do what, exactly?  I look forward to warmer weather, where I can sit down by the river again in the sunshine but, I think this year, I'll do that more often without my camera or my cell phone.. just thinking. Listening.  Remembering.  So I don't miss a thing. 

Morning Song

Rarely, am I able to resist treating a photograph like a painter would treat a blank canvas. Sometimes I see in color.  Sometimes I see in texture, form, and light.  It never ceases to amaze me, how you can start out with something you are used to seeing every day (and can often take for granted), and create a completely alternate reality out of it.  For me, that's the beauty of photographic art.  I don't think I'll ever be a documentary realist when it comes to photography. The magic is just too alluring.  Keeping a photo journal has really helped me in a more personal way,  to appreciate the early hours of the morning, but it has also taught me to look at the exact same scene, repeatedly ... in new and different ways.  I am so fortunate to have this particular canvas to work with.  I know this, and I am really trying to treat that with the respect and gratitude it deserves.  

It's so beautiful how water meets the sky in this place I call home.  How they mimic each other and complement each other in absolute and unquestionable harmony.  I can't tell you how many times I sit on my bench down at the water's edge and think, wow... I wish I could share this with my friends in person. The way it feels when the mist is crawling softly across the glassy smooth surface of the water, as much as the way it looks.  How good it smells when you breathe deep and the scent of earth and water mingle with mother nature's interesting mix of floral perfume and pungent musk on the air.  The loud squawking of hundreds of species of birds, competing for your attention all around you as you try to untangle their calls and surprise yourself with how many  you have come to recognize. The joyful splashing sound of fish after fish, leaping and breaking the water's surface with glee, as if celebrating the absence of ominous lazy fisherman who smacked the alarm clock and went back to sleep with a groan.  Tomorrow ... I'll get up earlier to fish...tomorrow.... Ah but what will they miss, today?  What will I... if I make the same choice?

When I looked at this scene before me, I could almost imagine a Native American woman standing at the water's edge taking it all in before she begins preparations for another busy day. Her black hair lays in a silky waterfall down her back with just the slightest gentle breeze lifting it up and down at the edges. A small child with huge dark eyes stands beside her, silently watchful. Her hand rests gently on his head and they breathe together in unison. I quietly ponder whether I am seeing the echo of an image from the past in this place.  The spirit is strong here. They look up at me and smile and I smile back, before picking up my camera reluctantly, turning back toward the house, and once again whispering a prayer of thankfulness with a deep sigh for my home.  There are stories here. Echoes of lives that came before. Memories of my own children playing on this riverbank.  It all sounds so beautiful to me in these quiet morning hours.  And so begins another day...

Trembling With Excitement and Ecstasy

If you know me personally, you know how much I love words.  I love reading them.  I love writing them. I love it when they are given as a gift from the heart.  I love how they somehow string together to touch hearts in books, in poetry in lyrics and letters.  I treasure a love note, like some women treasure diamonds and gold.  It's fascinating to me how words come together to create something out of nothing, how they can be understood or completely misunderstood based on interpretation and how their meaning can change with inflection, punctuation, and sometimes... an author's intention.  Words are a craft.  One I hone every day, in some form or another. They've been elusive lately. But I feel them coming back... and I tremble.

When I was a little girl, living in Southern California, I used to walk several city blocks in our neighborhood to a park, that had a library right beside it.  I smile when I think of it now. The library was actually across a very busy main road and you got there by traveling on a covered footbridge, over the road from the park, and back down again to the other side. It was all concrete steps and chain link fencing but in my little girl mind, I was crossing a moat to get to the sweeping library with brocade drapes and books from floor to ceiling in a castle surrounded by a moat, and a beautiful rose garden.  (someone plucked that scene from Beauty and the Beast right out of my head!) I loved that place.  It was my favorite escape and I would wander for hours choosing stories to read, often plopping right down on the floor in front of a bookshelf with one, to sample it.  And I trembled.

Vincent Van Gogh once said of William Shakespeare, 

How beautiful Shakespeare is, who else is as mysterious as he is; his language and method are like a brush trembling with excitement and ecstasy.

I think that is just about one of the nicest ways of describing a writer's work, as I have ever heard.  And I tremble.:)