Stories from Moldova: I am Liuba

“I am Liuba! My name means love!” Tears stream down her face as she grasps Tanya’s hand through the bars. Her other hand clutches a scarf to her cheek, a new one Tanya had brought and passed through the iron barrier between them. “I need communion,” she says, reaching for Tanya as if for an anchor in a storm. 

Liuba’s voice rings loud through the inner courtyard, and she stands tall, bright and unmistakable in orange. It is not the orange of a prison uniform, but her own winter coat. She is in isolation for two weeks, just back from another facility where she was sent due to health issues. She has served more than five years of her sentence, with another two to go, and has two children waiting her release, currently being fostered by a Christian family.

Tanya holds her through the bars of the door, praying calmly yet firmly in Romanian, and there is a transfer of holy energy here. Leslie and I step back a few paces, leaving them to this exchange of tears and prayer.

The spring sun shines on the white buildings of the compound and the brave green shoots coming up through the grey soil. A cat moves silently to a sunspot in the grass. But the north wind is cold here at Rusca women’s prison.

We have just had a writing session in the Prayer Room at the top of the hill, also known as the “Miracle Room.” We had surrendered our passports — Canadian, American and Moldovan — and been given a full pat-down by a female guard at the front gate. Leslie and I are here with a few local ladies that regularly visit this prison. Luminița carried in a stack of boxes loaded with placinta, the delicious pastry I had fallen in love with at first bite. We walked the steep road up to the Prayer Room where the women were waiting for us (and the placinta), crowded around three sides of a square of tables. One of them, beaming in a black wool vest, enveloped each of us in an enthusiastic hug. We took our seats at the front of the room, smiling at this rather unusual class and the curious murmur of Romanian and Russian.

The women wear their own clothes here, and jewelry. There were young women, with eyebrows carefully and thickly drawn on, and old women, grandmas in colourful scarves tied beneath their chins. There were Roma women, some women we were told who could neither read nor write, and others with eyes turned at odd angles, deformities which made me wonder who must have taken advantage of them on the difficult path to this prison. Most seemed eager. A few were reserved, the person inside retreating behind a still face, holding secrets, averting gaze.

Plates of placinta, hot tea in paper cups, notebooks and pens were passed out. The slide presentation Leslie had prepared would not load on the prison’s smart screen. Leslie dove in bravely without it, Tanya there to translate everything into Romanian. When Leslie introduced herself as a mother of six (five boys!) and a grandmother of four, the room erupted in applause. Here was something they honoured greatly. 

As Leslie began to speak of her own survival in a place where her voice did not matter, I saw a hungry sort of hope in the quieted room. Faces glimmered with tears and nods of understanding. She went on to tell about how God asked her to forgive her own abusive father, and how writing helped her to do just that. But we did not dwell on heavy things. For there was a story of Seabird Soup to be told! And this all from memory, for the only copy of the story was on the missing slides. Crinkly-eyed smiles met Leslie and Tanya’s dramatic retelling. 

Then, it was time to write. Leslie prompted, “What were you good at as a girl?” “Tell a story about you and food!” Some did not touch their notebooks or pens at all. Others opened them eagerly, sending their neat script onto the waiting lines without any hesitation. Eyes brightened with remembrance of long-forgotten days.

As the sound of scribbling and low voices filled the room, I sipped my tea and looked around at the pale orange-pink walls, shelves of living plants, photos of children, a full bookshelf, and a picture of Jesus holding one lost sheep. In many ways it did not look like a prison — simply a meeting of women, gathering around stories and sweets the way women have through the ages.

When the time came to share what they had written, some of them were fairly bursting. They were good at cooking for the family! At baking! One grandmotherly figure, who told us she was a kindergarten teacher, spoke of taking care of her siblings as a girl — this naturally led to her career. I wondered what had led her to this place? What other identity did she own besides kindergarten teacher? And the lady sitting next to Leslie, whose silent tears had been flowing almost since Leslie began to speak, turned and poured forth her story to us, her voice rising almost to a wail as she spoke of how important her family was to her, how grateful she was that they had not abandoned her here in prison. When women first begin to awaken to their voice, it is hard to silence them.

But our time was limited. This was not, after all, a tea party. These women were due for a routine check, and the schedule would not wait. Empty cups and paper plates were cleared, notebooks and pens claimed. Perhaps more stories would follow? 

On the way out, the lady in the black vest puts something in my hands — an exquisitely crafted card decorated with delicate rolled paper flowers and a tiny ladybug. Inside, the inscription reads:

Înainte ca să Mă cheme, le voi răspunde; 
înainte ca să isprăvească vorba, îi voi asculta! Isaia 65:24

Later, I look it up in English:

“Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.”

We hug one last time. Doesn’t every miracle start with being heard by God?


“I love you! I love you all!” Liuba declares boldly, arms thrown wide toward us. “We share this love in Jesus!”

Her presence seems to me a beacon in this bleak place — a desperate cry of need and yet an affirmation of the identity she has found and is still in the tumultuous process of living out. A name that is more than a name. A name which needs the touch of loving hands to get her through this sentence of suffering. But her words pass beyond the bars, out into the air where the birds are singing, singing, unbound by the chains we humans fashion for each other and ourselves. 

“I am Liuba! My name means love!” These words will always have the snap of north wind and the colour of orange — the truth which is setting her free, even here. The truth which echoes in my ears and into my heart, which does not know enough about love yet either. This is how she wants to be known. In a place where the penalty for her sins has taken so much away from her, she has this — her name. Her voice. 

We must go — the prison guards are telling us so. We push the button marked “Exit,” a privilege for the free. We walk one at a time though the metal turn-gate and collect our passports. My passport will not have the stamp of Rusca on its official pages, but Liuba’s words have inked something in my soul. I will remember that there is a love that connects us. Jesus, I need this love too. I will remember your name, Liuba


~ Lindsey Gallant
S. D. G.

Between the Red Road and the Sky

It is a dull morning, lionlike for the beginning of March, with a biting north wind sharpening the edges of muddy snowdrifts. I step through the gritty crystals in my familiar hiking shoes, hat scrunched low, to take the road I always take in these before-school walks.

I have walked this particular road as therapy, as labyrinth, as prayer, and as protest. If pavement could talk, this stretch would have a lot of dirt on me. Despite its familiarity, this country lane has been the scene of many small epiphanies. It is no Zion, but I am yet a pilgrim, even to the summit I have called Drunk Skunk’s Hideaway, and down to the stream where the kids take their bikes to catch minnows in spring. A thin place, the ancients might have called it.

Grey clouds meet grey road today, and nothing feels too inspiring. I am ok with this. I pause to greet the rosebush, even dirtier now than in January, with one or two winter-gnarled hips still attached. I nod to a spruce in the field, one that still has its full top after the big fall storm. Where the road bends to go up the hill, I stop to listen to the water as it gurgles from the culvert beneath me into a pool with a soggy beer carton at its edge. None of this is particularly beautiful, but it is familiar. Loved in a well-trodden way. These simple landmarks have become friends, companions in the quest to live within my boundary lines and make peace with limitations. I know this road. 

When I turn to head for home, the wind hits me full in the face, clawing across the corn field. The pungent smell of silage from the cow barns hits too. I tuck my face down and think about the days ahead. In a week I will be on a road completely different and new to me – in Moldova, a tiny Eastern European country on the fringes of war. It’s not the first place I thought I’d travel to after all these years, but it feels fitting, like the road was meant to lead there all along. I am excited to meet friends I have only seen through a screen, and share stories with women and men who are looking for the deeper meaning in their own lives.

The thing is, I’ve spent so much time and thought in the place of small that I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to walk on roads that aren’t island red, or past signs that say “slow” or even “stop.” I have made such peace with small, perhaps I am afraid to leave it? What first terrified me in its tightness now fits like an old pair of shoes. 

Will I know how to walk off the runway? Will my eyes adjust to a wide new view? Will my story fit anywhere else?

A barn swallow flits overhead, darting erratically around the smoother flight of pigeons lifting from the metallic ridge of the barn roof. Even the small can fly. The sun almost breaks through the rolling clouds – I can feel the warmth for half a moment, a lamb’s defiance against the wind, the thin veil almost lifted. Then it is gone.

Will spring be here when I return? Perhaps I will have new tales to tell the rosebush and the red earth and the swallows. Perhaps I, too, will fly, and be breath-taken by what lies beyond. 


This week I will be landing in Moldova along with the author Your Story Matters to share the power of story! After being involved in the Your Story Matters online writing community for almost 3 years, I am so excited to meet up in person with Leslie Leyland Fields and Tanya Onu for a week of workshops, training and ministry – serving the people of Moldova and Ukrainian refugees there. Sharing our stories is a powerful form of connection and healing. I would love your prayers – for health, safety, and that our time would be a blessing to those we meet.

~ Lindsey
S. D. G.

Mrs. Potato Head Prayer

“Two for each person, and one for the pot.” I count out the smallish russet potatoes for supper tonight, just another ordinary Thursday meal. I’m rushing to get them peeled and sliced so we can eat in time before heading out to dance class. Pay attention, I tell myself, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words still echoing in my head. “Only he who sees takes off his shoes.” Only she who sees…. peel, peel, plop.

What’s to see here? I wonder, shaving the earthy brown skin off the potatoes. My fingers are getting slimy with starch. These spuds are starting to sprout here at the bottom of the bag. With the pointed end of the peeler I dig out one of the eyes and the tubular beige bud poking out of it. Eyes. I gouge another one out. This potato has around half a dozen. I think about other creatures with more eyes than me, houseflies and starfish and cherubim. Gouge. 

The eyes are where the life sprouts, from each dimple a potential new plant. Just multiplying away at the dark bottom of a paper bag. The more eyes you have, the more life can grow. This is a new thought. I picture myself walking around like a giant Mrs. Potato Head, googly eyes in all directions, with a hot pink purse, and cartoon flowers. Perhaps it’s the most like an angel I’ll ever look. 

I reach for the eleventh russet and peel it white – one last dig and it is rendered blind. I feel a little sorry for it, lifeless on the board. But the slicing and dicing must go on. Soon a pack of hungry stomachs will appear. I take a final look into the paper bag and am strangely cheered by the last few sprouting spuds. They’ll wait for another meal. 

Give me more eyes, I murmur, for the first time in my life praying to be like a potato.  

~ Lindsey
S. D. G.

Barefoot in 2023

Happy new year! 

May I ask where your feet are right now? Are they in cozy slippers or thick wool socks? Or gloriously stretched out to a fire? Will you shove them into a pair of winter boots later on? Perhaps they are tiptoeing around the crumbs on the kitchen floor, leftovers of last night’s party?

In the waning minutes of 2022, I was meditating on a few famous lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Aurora Leigh.” 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude. 

And then it hit me, how I want to walk into the new year – barefoot. Browning’s words resonate in the deep places of my soul and my beliefs about God. God is found in the familiar spaces of our lives. He is a commonplace God. First comes the eyes to see Him, often disguised or dulled by our disenchanted vision. Then comes the response – to stop and take off our shoes. 

When Moses tiptoed over to that burning bush, the fiery Voice told him to take off his sandals because this was now holy ground. This action is something ancient priests would have done as they entered the temples of their deities, to prevent bringing impurities into a holy place. Yahweh made a temple of a common desert shrub to pull Moses into His presence. And Moses responded by loosening the leather ties of his own wanderings and stepping into the purpose of God.

Barefoot – leaving the dust of his own path behind. Barefoot – sense of touch heightened to the subtleties of sacred ground. Barefoot – vulnerable to the Mystery that claimed him by name. 

This poem is my own response to Browning’s imagery and a prayer for the year ahead. 



Let this be the year you catch me
barefoot in the blackberry patch,
and the kitchen din, 
the track-worn tread up the back road,
and the quiet, child’s bedside.

Oh child, behold. 

Let my toes dig deep into spark-warmed soil,
grounded in the love that bedrocks every landscape.

Oh child, be called. 

Keep me rooted to the holy place
till even my soles have eyes for glory,
and they can see their way to run the mountains
with beautiful news.

Oh child, be swift.


May you, too, be drawn into many barefoot moments in 2023. 

~ Lindsey

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful: A Year in Review

View from my “writing hut” camper

The last day of 2022 dawned warm and clear on the island. I snuck out to my writing hut camper for a couple of hours this morning for some quiet reflection time, and I didn’t even need to plug the heater in! My layers of wool and hot cup of Christmas Morning tea kept me quite comfortable. 

As I look back on the year that was, I am thankful for how all things worked together to bring growth and connection in my life – the good, the bad, and the beautiful. 

I went into 2022 wanting to make the year I turned forty a meaningful one. I knew I wanted eyes for glory. I knew I wanted to invest in my family. And I knew I wanted to invest in my writing life and community. 

The year came with its fair share of challenges, including concussion setbacks, exhaustion, discouragement, and trying to make sense of a world where war was raging in new ways. I couldn’t always see the glory, or the way forward. But despite the days when my vision felt dark and strained, I know the Light never left me.

I began vision therapy back in March, a continuation of the physiotherapy work I had been doing for about a year already, to retrain and strengthen my eyes and eye-brain connection. It was a challenge to my system, but has proved fruitful, and I’m so thankful for the progress I’ve made. I’ve been able to enjoy reading actual printed books again!! I was able to take on much more visual work this year with reading and writing – at times I wondered if it was too much. I’ve made these hazel eyes work hard, but they’ve rewarded me in many ways.

I’m so grateful for the work I’ve been able to do in my writing life this year! I’m honoured to have written with and for so many great individuals and groups. Highlights include:

When I think of the limitations I’ve lived with over the last two years, this list feels just a little miraculous! I’m excited to see where my writing life will take me in 2023. 

(And I can’t forget the creation of my own writing space this year – a fifty year old mouse-infested camper I poured my time and tears and travail into. It has been transformed into a sweet, sacred space which has housed dear ones who came to visit this year and is a little sanctuary for my thoughts and words. It is a dream come true!)

Thank you to each of you who have connected with me in some way – reading posts, commenting, sending emails, sharing stories, and generally cheering me on. This connection is a beautiful thing, and I hope this online space continues to serve and encourage you!

If there’s something you’d like to read here on Rise Heart in 2023, a challenge you are facing, a prayer request, a question, or anything else you’d like to chat about as we live out this resurrection life we’ve been given, reply to this email and let me know!

That’s all for 2022 – I’d love to leave you with a blessing as we cross the threshold of a new year:

Be blessed to bring the good, the bad, and the beautiful
of the year that’s past
into the hands of the timeless One –
the Giver of all good things,
the Healer of your brokenness,
the true Beauty ever ancient, ever new.

Be blessed to know Him whose presence

renews our hearts,
redeems our times,
and re-sources our life in the depths of his freshness.

Happy New Year!

~ Lindsey
S. D. G.