Stepping lightly, dancing to the music that carried on the wind, I find myself down by the lake shrouded in forest. My favorite spot since my memory began; I never feel more at home or more at peace than I do when I am here.

I lay my Bible down on a log. I have come for some getaway time with God, some time to not speak and just listen, waiting for guidance. So many choices lay before me, and I could use a little nudge from my Creator to show me where to go. Life has many open doors, but I can only choose one. Beyond that door, there will undoubtedly be others, and so on and so forth. I shudder at the thought of selecting the wrong one.

But first, a swim to clear my head.

The sun has not yet fully risen as I strip down to my bathing suit, or what passes as my bathing suit. It's just a pair of old swim shorts and a camisole top today. I couldn't find my actual suit and wasn't to bothered to search for very long. This would be fine.

The sun has not yet fully risen, and the white mist is rising from the cove's still-as-glass surface. I smile excitedly, remembering visions I used to conjure in my mind from youth: mermaids and fairies and all sorts of imagined creatures frolicking over and in the water. The memories feed my smile, and it grows.

In my heart, somewhere, I still want to believe. If I think hard enough, I can almost see a flash of scales beneath the surface, or a small winged being riding on a falling leaf. It is my personal Neverland, a place that keeps all of my secrets and encourages all of my dreams.

The black water is still cold from the night. It envelopes me. I feel a chill pass to my bones, through my sun-tanned skin. I shiver. I break the surface, disturbing the calm even more. Air rushes into my lungs. I feel awake and revived.

After a minute, I exit the water, dripping but not as cold as I should be. A chipmunk darts across my path, the black and white streaks on its back separating it from the pine needle dressed dirt. It scurries away into the wood's growth.

I dry off, changing quickly into dry clothes. There is no one around for miles, so I do not have to worry about being seen.

I sit on the log, thumbing through scriptures, looking for some place to start.

Then, I hear singing.

I look up, confused. There should be no one else here. Yet, I hear a song, composed of lyrics I can't make out, drifting my way. I close my eyes and ignore it, hoping to erase it from my private sanctuary. It works.

I read on, soaking up Psalms as if they were fresh water and I was a parched, weary traveler. In a way, that is what I am. I thirst for adventure and yet remain rooted in the same tired places, with all of the nutrients gone, leaving nothing for my garden. The Psalms provide me comfort and peace, reminding me The Lord walks with me always, and has better things for me. For a little confirmation, I read the corresponding verses in Jeremiah, reflecting that God has a plan and a future for me, and that His ways are not my ways, nor are His thoughts the same as my thoughts. "It must be nice to be able to see the whole picture," I muse, but I do trust Him. His existence has been proven to me too many times not to. If I trust Him, He will make a way where there is no way. That, too, He has done for me before.

I read on for a little while longer, wondering if I stay in the woods long enough, will a noble lion appear and steal me away to Narnia? The thought makes me laugh. I close the Word and reach into my bag, pulling out my sketch pad and a few colored pencils. They are a clean medium, light and easy to carry. I like to keep them on me. My hand floats over the page as of its own accord, and before my eyes, the very lion I was daydreaming about has appeared on the page.

"That's very good."

I leap out of my skin, twisting around as I jump up. One hand grips the paper tensely while the other keeps a tight grip on the knife in my pocket. "Who are you?"

Before me is a wide eyed, somewhat startled visitor. His hands are up to surrender, as if I was attacking, which I suppose I was. His green eyes watch me carefully, not breaking from my own wary gaze. His hair is black, and makes me think of the lake water behind us. "M'name's Cade."

"Cade?" I repeat. I've never heard of the name.

"Cade Jackson. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

He doesn't appear to be dangerous, but that doesn't mean much. Appearances can be very deceiving. I push a shock of my red hair out of my eyes. It's fallen from my ponytail, and is making quite a mess. It's still wet, so it sticks to my skin as I slide it out of the way. "Cade Jackson." I repeat again.

He nods. "Yes. I'm a painter. I came out here to get some sparks going." Now I see the pack on his back, loaded with supplies. A clear case containing paintbrushes is even sticking out of an exterior pocket.

"Oh." I relax. He's being honest with me. "Sorry."

"You're very defensive for a Christian chick." He smiles, swinging off his pack and leaning it against my log.

My face flushes. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He shrugs. "Nothing. You just seem really on edge. I thought Christians were supposed to be more mellow."

I draw a long breath. "I'm just me." I eye his pack on my log. "Are you staying?"

He lights up as if I have invited him. "Well, I wasn't, but since you invited me so kindly…"

"It wasn't."

"Wasn't what?"

"An invite."

"I guess not. If you wanted me to stay, you would have introduced yourself." Cade waits expectantly.

I give in just a bit. "Nora. Nora Reese."

"Hello, Nora."

"Please leave." I say, not unkindly. I really needed this time alone. The weight of life had been overwhelming lately, and a chance to refresh in the woods was what I hoped would keep me sane.

Cade's face fell. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was disturbing you." He gathered his things, slowly but steadily. As he opened his pack, I caught sight of a piece of paper sticking out from a book.

"May I?"

He looks at me blankly. "That would just keep me here longer."

"Right." I chew my lip, suddenly embarrassed. I hate being rude, and it seems I have done a fantastic job at achieving that title. "Listen, um-"

"Don't worry about it." A smile, of sorts, and then he is gone, fading into the trees as if he was a part of the very forest itself.

I sit down, leafing through the pages yet again, but I can't focus. I feel horrible. "Jesus, forgive me," I pray out loud. "Give me a chance to make things right."

I wait for an hour, but Cade doesn't return. I come back the next morning, but he does not. Still hoping, I go back the one after. By the third morning, I am feeling truly rotten, and I am about to leave out of sheer humiliation before he finally appears.

As soon as he sees me, he grows stiff, a blank look on his face. "I'll just be leaving. I don't want to bother you."

"Cade! I'm sorry." I rush over, grateful to have a chance to make things right. "I'm sorry. I never should have talked to you like that. Can you forgive me?"

His eyebrow, black as his hair, arches. "No one's asked me to forgive them before." His half smile is revealing itself, and I can tell his resolve is fading. "It wasn't that big of a deal, Nora. Everyone has of days. It was just unfortunate we had to meet on one of yours."

"I'm sorry," I say again. "Thank you for listening." I offer a smile of my own, coaxing the rest of his out of hiding.

"Come here." He drops his pack. I notice another patch on the bottom that had not been there before. He opens it up, and pulls out a folder. After a quick search, he brings forth the paper I had seen only a bit of the other day. It is a painting of a waterfall, so lovely that I can hear the torrents of water streaming down, crashing into the lake beneath. It almost seems to move before my eyes.

"Wow," I breathe. "That's amazing."

He signs the corner with a charcoal pencil. "You can keep it, if you like."

"No!" I say, surprised. "That's – you don't have to-"

He murmurs, "I want to. You really like it. Let me."

I can only nod. "Thank you."

"You know," he begins, "I liked the lion you drew the other day. It was very good, especially when it was done by- what did you use, colored pencils?" I nod. "You're really good."

"Thanks." My drawing looks like a child's stick figure compared to his painting of a waterfall. I can only imagine what the rest of his work looks like.

"You go to school for that?"

"No, just a hobby."

"Maybe you should."

I feel a little pull in my spirit. Something clicked when he said that. Was that God? I wasn't sure. "Maybe."

We walk over to the log in silent agreement, accompanied by the gentle noise of the forest. He takes a seat next to me. I don't object. "Did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Go to school for art?"

Cade chuckles. "Yes and no. I went to school for photography, but I figured out I liked creating the images in the frame more than just taking a picture of them. It did give me a good base to start with, though. There are a lot of similarities."

"That's cool." I liked what I heard. Cade interested me. He was like a sketch book- one thing on the cover, and an entirely new world inside.

"How did you start?"

"I used to like to draw animals in class instead of doing my work." At his laugh, I added, "When I was a kid. As I got older, I just kept it up on the side. It relaxes me."

"It definitely does." He agreed. "May I?"

I give him my book, and he flips through. I get nervous as he looks at my simple sketches, imagined but real. My eyes dart everywhere, but I am overly aware of his facial expressions and reactions as he looks at my pages.

"I really like the way you see things." He said, handing me back my book. I resist the urge to hug it tightly to my chest.

"Thank you."

"The mermaids and fairies on the water was cute."

I feel my cheeks grow a slight shade redder. "I used to imagine that when I was little."

"You come here a lot?" I tell him that I do. "Then how come I have never seen you?"

My private world feels a little less private, as if the knowledge one other person has of it makes it a little less mine. Logically, I know many have been here, but it's still always felt mine. "I was away at college. I just graduated."

Cade nods. "Will you draw something for me?"


"It'll make it a fair trade." He grins, pointing at the waterfall painting that is still in my hands.

I pull out my sketchbook. "What do you want?"

"Whatever you feel like. Just start and see where it takes you."

I roll the first pencil I pick up, a vibrant red, between my fingers as I stare at the blank page. I put a line on the paper, then another, then another. Soon, it comes to life. I can feel Cade watching me, but soon even the heat of his gaze slips away as the art takes me places. I am absorbed. I don't hear the birds anymore. I don't hear the water kissing the shore, singing it a love song. I don't hear the insects humming in the heat. The scratch of my pencils brush against the paper, creating images transported from my mind's eye.

It has to be an hour or two before I paused to sharpen my soft blue pencil, and another hour before the tip breaks off of my black one and I have to sharpen it as well. The drawing is almost done. It's coming out considerably well, maybe my best. I'm going to be sad to see it go. Maybe he'll let me hang onto it long enough to make a copy. It won't be the same, but at least I'll have something.

I finally rise from the ocean of my thoughts, brushing away a few bits of pencil dust from my piece. I blow on it quickly, just in case I have missed any. The paper feels heavier, somehow. "Finished."

"Me, too."

I look at him questioningly. But there, on a canvas, just beginning to dry, is a painting of me. My jaw slips open slightly. He's got it all- the exact gunmetal blue of my eyes, the shade of my auburn hair, tied back and curling. My face is wrinkled in an expression of concentration and my hand is under my chin. My sketchbook rests on my legs, and on the paper is a picture of the one I was working on- except the horses, which were running but stationary in my piece, seem to be racing the wind in his. It is amazing. I can't fathom the skill he has to have created that in the mere few hours it took me to make mine.

I exhale a stream of air through my lips. "Amazing."

Cade grins proudly. "Thank you, Nora. I really like this one, I must admit." He takes mine before I realize it, and to my delight, he smiles. "Really, really good. I might frame this."

"It's not that good."

He looks at me. Was that sadness in his eyes? "Don't say that. I think- I know- it's great."

I manage a smile. "Thank you."

"You're too hard on yourself." He opens a water bottle to clean his brushes with. "You need to relax. Actually, isn't that the point of this? To relax?"


"So do it!" he commands, and I begin to feel uneasy. He hardly knows me. How can he decide who and what I am so quickly? He doesn't know the pressures I am dealing with right now. The stuck feeling, the wait for God's best, the worry about where my life is headed- He can't know. He already is ahead of me on the path of Life. He probably can't remember what it feels like to worry.

"I'll relax when things go right."

"Nora, Nora, Nora." Cade shook his head. "When you relax, that's when things happen for you. A watched pot never boils? Ever hear that before? There's a reason why they say it."

There is another pull in my spirit. Is this something I need to listen to, Lord? I pray silently. Is this your way of telling me what to do?

I put this desire in your heart for a reason.

The voice isn't audible, not exactly, but I can hear it in the back of my mind, and it makes me think of the scriptures that mention something similar. I can't recall them, not exactly, but I know it's in there, and that's enough for me.

"You're talented. Something, somewhere, will break for you." Cade promised it as if he had control over it, but I didn't mind. "What did you go to school for?"

"Marine biology."

"Awesome!" Cade high fives me. "Go for it, do that. And do this on the side. Just don't stop creating. You're going to need that outlet."

I had to wonder if my marine biology degree was useless. Somehow, I had a comforting feeling that it wasn't. Instead of one door, maybe I got to choose two. I could be a marine biologist and an artist- it was entirely possible. The ocean had always brought me inspiration. Its creatures would as well.

I was beginning to feel like I was starting in the right direction.

"Your stress makes you jumpy, Nor. Maybe that's why you tried to attack me last time I saw you."

I frown. "Alone in the woods, I think I have a right to get defensive when someone sneaks up on me."

"I wasn't sneaking up on you!" Cade protests. "I was going to say something but I got curious about your drawing. Besides, I thought you heard me coming."

"I hear nothing when I am in the zone."

"Mhmm. I understand that. I should have guessed."

"I've been stuck for so long." I said. "I wonder if you're right. You can't imagine how many nights I'm up begging God for an answer."

"See, that's what you're missing." Cade holds up a finger. "Sometimes, He likes to give you bits and pieces, enough to light your path so you can see where your feet are going, but not enough to show you everything. I think He likes the mystery."

"You're a Christian too?" I wasn't expecting that.

"I'm not so into labels, but if you're asking if I believe Jesus lived, died to save me from my sins, rose again, and is still working miracles today through His people, then yes, yes I am." Cade says happily. "I'm not ashamed to call myself a Christian," he adds, noting the question forming in my mind. "But for me it's more about relationship than religion. Too many people get hurt by religion. Man-made rules can't bring you to God. A relationship with Him is where the real life is."

"Yeah, exactly." It's nice to hear someone who thinks the way I do. "I'm sticking with the label, though." I smile.

"More power to you." Cade grins. He runs a hand through that hair. I admire the way it falls on him. Maybe one day, he'll let me draw him.

"What are you going to do with the portrait of me?" I ask curiously.

"Sell it."

I feel oddly deflated, but painting is his job, after all. I can understand that. "Well, I hope you get a lot for it."

"I should. My subject is incredibly captivating."


"Yeah. The horses are perfectly framed by the girl drawing them. They're a real eye-grabber." Cade's broad smile makes me laugh, and I know he isn't really talking about his version of my horses. My eyes linger on his a little too long.

I suddenly look at my watch, if only to have something else to look at. "Shoot!" I collect my things, throwing them into my bag. I keep the waterfall paining in my hand, though, and carry it much more gingerly. "I'm sorry. I'm late."

"Where are you going?" His painting is still wet. I can see him glance at it nervously, making sure colors aren't dripping into other colors.

"I have to go home and make dinner. It's my night to cook, and I burned it last time so I want to be really careful tonight-" I ramble as I finish packing up my things.

"Will you be here tomorrow?"

"I should be."

"What time?"

"Same time."

"May I meet you here?"

I shoot him a smile. "I think you would even if I said no."

He grins. "I didn't come back for three days, remember?"

"True," I jot down my number on a torn scrap of paper and hand it to him. "Here you go. I'll see you in the morning." I grin, then wave as he grows smaller. I'm running up the path to my house.

My thoughts swirl. I'm excited. My heart is lit by a flame, and I can feel it grow. I've fallen in love; I'm sure of it. My smile is enormous. The idea of it is making my blood rush and my body sparks happily. I've found the one- I know it. The one career path that will make me both happy and successful.

I knew God wanted me in the field of marine biology- I've always liked science, and I felt drawn that way since I was a child. At the back of my mind, though, I have always dreamed of doing something more… creative. Something to keep a balance between the science side of my mind and the side that likes to experience the world, not just learn about it. I don't know why I had never thought about being an artist in addition to being a biologist.

Maybe it was because I never felt confident in my talent before, I think. Maybe I never thought it could go anywhere. But, maybe, God had been luring me that way all along, and I was too deaf to hear it.

I knew He had certainly used Cade to point me in the right direction, and I couldn't be more grateful. The cloud, the worry that I had wasted all of that money getting a useless degree, the fear that I would be forever stuck- it was gone. I was free. God had answered me. I realize, He has been talking to me the whole time.

As the days wear on, I meet Cade every morning by the lake. We talk while he paints and I draw. It never ceases to amaze me how much inspiration can be drawn from one hidden lake. Sometimes, he challenges me to paint and I challenge him to my colored pencils. Those days are always enjoyable. We are fast friends, and we better each other in the Lord and in our skills. Soon, we dream of opening a studio together, one where artists can come and work, one that would allow them to grow because of each other the same way we do. It is a dream I cannot wait to see turn real, though we argue about who gets to paint the interior. He wants the walls to mirror the lake; I want each one to represent a different scene. We will decide eventually, though, if we must.

When we are apart, I miss him dearly. Sometimes I look up at the framed piece of art hanging next to my door- the same sketch of running horses I drew that day. Cade did have it framed, and gave it back to me. Every time I see it, I smile.

The stranger by the lake has become my closest friend. Even when I finally move out of my parent's home and into my own apartment, I still meet him at the lake every day. Stepping lightly, dancing to the music that carried on the wind, I always find myself down by the lake shrouded in forest. My favorite spot since my memory began; I never feel more at home or more at peace than I do when I am here.