What would you be, if free to be anything you wanted?

Free to be anything? You might be surprised by your answer. I sure was.

3 Parts to the Story 

My friend, Melissa, asked this intriguing question one evening at a gathering of friends. Whenever she and her husband, Ken, throw their doors open, my husband and I join the party. The conversation spins up a notch when Melissa invites her guests to invest some energy beyond the small talk. She posed this question to a group of four couples who had gathered to eat and laugh in her kitchen:

“What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?”

Each of us eight answered with unpredictable and somewhat surprising dreams. My answer popped into my head and bounced out of my mouth before I could edit and filter it:

“When I am old, I will live alone in the woods. I will know the names of every tree and the songs of each bird I meet. My hair will flow long and silver-grey upon my shoulders. My name will be Willow.”

Everyone’s eyes widened, then slid sideways toward my husband, Scott. He said, with half a smile, “Where am I in this story?”

Okay, so it wasn’t very nice to erase him from my old age. But his absence in the picture made me wonder what was at the heart of my imaginary scenario. Was there a bigger story lurking in the shadows of my answer? Upon examination, I discovered 3 parts to my rough sketch of who I’d be if truly free.

what would you be if you were free to be anything?

Part 1: A Fairy Tale

First, living alone in the woods is my fantasy of freedom from the challenges of human relationships. I am an introvert. Social interactions sap my energy. Sustained focus on the faces and feelings of those I most love requires an output of energy that asks for rest and space—sooner rather than later.

Also, I grow calm and strong whenever my feet sink into the earth’s mossy soil and I can listen and look for God in His creation. Plus, learning the names of the trees and the calls of the birds has been my passion lately.

However, pure peace in isolation is just a fairy tale. Even though a hidden forest path enchants me, I realize any magical setting in a sunny wood could become a nightmare when the sun went down. The big bad wolf of loneliness would surely come knocking at the door of my little haven in the woods. Indeed, I love my husband and my people and I know I need them close.

Part 2: Observing the Woman in the Willow

But, the image of an old woman with silver-grey hair comes from an actual place:

Mrs. Zook lived close to the home I grew up in. As a child, I only glimpsed her across the parking lot that connected our houses. Her austere dresses and tightly contained hair—always up in a traditional Mennonite bun—created the impression of a stiff old woman. However, the graceful weeping willow tree that shrouded her lawn drew me with its mystery. I remember the day I dropped my bike to creep in for a closer look. Skirting the outer edge of the unfenced yard, I parted a few of the willow’s draping green branches.

Old Mrs. Zook stood beneath the tree in a cottony nightgown, brushing her freshly washed, silver-grey hair. It flowed long and lovely as the willow branches under which she hovered.

Unaware of my stare, Mrs. Zook seemed free from care in the cool shade on a hot day. That picture of the woman in the willow, one of grace and ageless beauty, enchanted my ten-year-old soul and touches me still.

Part 3: Going with the Flow

The third part of my free-to-be story is that 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, becoming pinned like a tight hair bun. On the contrary, I hope to stay open like a willow, 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.

So, those questions and hopes combined with the memory of Mrs. Zook elicited that unedited answer to my friend’s question. And they became the springboard for my next creative project:

I wrote a novel called The Woman in the Willow.

Finding Freedom in Fiction

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 wisdom. My fiction asks,

Can an old woman flower and flow, despite her heart’s instinct to tighten and close?

It’s the story of Catherine Hathaway, a woman struggling to forget her traumatic past by hiding away in her homemade haven. When a precocious and lonely child challenges her isolation, she refuses to open her gate or her heart to the neglected girl. The resulting tumult stirs unsettling memories and threatens to sweep the woman away in a flood of grief and loss. What part will the willow tree play in transforming Catherine into the woman she wants to become?

Stay tuned to find out. My book will launch into the world on September 1st, 2020!

Perhaps your answer to the question, ‘What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?’ contains an important part of your story.

In it are fragments of your dreams, shadows of your past, and seeds of what you want to become. In between is who you are now. Make that imaginary sketch to test the final portrait you will paint. Let the vision and the dream write the story of your becoming, like the woman in the willow has for me.

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Leave a comment about your answer to the question: “What would you be, if you were free to be anything you wanted?”


18 thoughts on “What would you be, if free to be anything you wanted?”

  1. I’d be a drummer in a band! That’s for sure. And I would always wear dresses.
    Thanks for your thoughts. At 61, I am afraid I am losing heart a bit (I need to re-read The Sacred Romance—for the third time!) and becoming, as you write, “…pinned like a tight hair-bun.” Just read your Lifelines and identified with a lot of it. Thanks as well for this post today. In heaven, I will be a drummer!!!

    • Great, Charlotte, be a drummer! Yes, the Sacred Romance taught me a lot–I should reread it, too. May your heart remain open and easy to access ( :

  2. I would be selling bridal gowns again…I miss that…I am on disability due to my bi polar disorder…always wanted to work for Vera Wang…this might sound crazy, but I miss the bridal industry. 🙂

  3. My wish to be free is an alternate life by visiting the last 30 years of the 19th century and the first 30 years of the 20th century to:

    a. See notables, such as Queen Victoria, suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, journalist Kate Field, president Teddy Roosevelt, vaudeville couple George Burns and Gracie Allen, singer Annette Hanshaw, and pitcher then slugger Babe Ruth
    b. Buy a first edition of “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy
    c. Attend the opening of the Eiffel Tower
    d. Be present for the first public displays of the telephone, motion picture, electric lighting, automobile, phonograph, radio, and airplane
    e. Enjoy the premier films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
    f. Support enactment of the 19th Amendment giving voting rights to women
    g. See my Mom and Dad as children.

    I’ve had this dream for several years but this is the first time I’ve expressed it in vital detail.

    I hope your fans will follow through as well about their other life stream dreams.

    • Jim, what a wonderful list! I am thrilled that you’ve thought through all of these details. Thank you for posting them here ( :

  4. Christine….lovely post! Hmmm, what would I be? Well, that’s an interesting question considering that I’ve been a pastor for the past 33 years (seven as a youth pastor, twenty-six as the founding senior pastor of my own church). I never planned on the ministry – I was a gerontologist after graduate school at 23 – but the Lord open up one door after another. I’m an ambivert – I get my energy from being with people, so I love preaching and teaching, and being with my church – but I also love being alone – biking, listening to music, being outdoors, reading….so, at this stage of my life, what would I love to do if I could? Be a FM radio disc jockey – I’m a rock n’ roll trivia nerd of everything 60’s, 70’s, and modern progressive music, but there’s really no such thing as FM disc jockeys like I grew up with in the New York (WNEW, WPLJ) area, so that wouldn’t really work. Maybe a park ranger in a state or national park – I’d be outside – not overwhelmed with people, which would satisfy the phlegmatic/introvert in me, but I would have enough interaction with people to feed my sanguine/extrovert personality. Well, now you at least got me thinking….and that’s good! Thank you! By the way, I’m the one who jokingly said, “Nice book cover” when you held up your book still in it’s mailing package! Love ‘Out of the Grey’ from the beginning. Looking to your book (A guy would enjoy it, right?)….Randy

    • Love it! You know yourself well. Are you surprised that you thought of being a progressive rock DJ? Yes, thanks for the joke about the obviously -not book cover. And yes, I think a guy would like it if you like fiction with a heart ( :

  5. I would create more….write more books and publish more authors….Paint….Rekindle my piano playing….Garden–vegetables and own-root damask roses. I would read every book in my library and add more. I’d live in view of the mountains, among the trees of the forest, within walking distance of the beach and a large body of water and refresh my spirit indulging in the glory of God’s creation. I would volunteer with my church and charities. And avoid corporate stress and drama by being independently wealthy. 😉

  6. Christine,
    Thank you an all who responded I used to drum regularly was a FM DJ just came back from trip in N Georgia Mountains while finishing read a Book called the Sacred Romance by J Eldredge & B Curtis and found your June blog notice while cleaning my email. I turn 60 In September an have been asking myself similar questions. Coincidence? Maybe a God wink? Thanks again Christine, look forward to reading the book.

  7. What got me more interested in your book was your introduction of Mrs. Zook. In the small town of 500 that I grew up in a friend and I mowed twenty-six lawns; about half of those were elderly widowed ladies that I assumed stayed in their houses, but some how or another most or all did have activities of growing a garden, manicuring flowers, making baked goods for the neighbors and staying abreast of the local news. When I was that age of sixteen, I wondered; would I do things differently; is old age something to endure; can it be the better part?

    A friend of mine in his forties had M.S. and he was one of the youngest people in the nursing home. This gave me opportunity to get to know many of the elderly living there, so over time I got to ask these and many other questions.

  8. Kelly, thanks for your perspective. Good questions for a 16-year-old and for those getting closer to “old.” Funny how, as a kid, I often saw the elderly as if they had always been old people, not comprehending that they were young once, too. They must have smiled at youth, as I am beginning to, knowing that the young will know soon enough what it’s like to be old.


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