……there was a princess. The princess was everyone’s dream girl. Which is why, in reality, she wasn’t married. No one wanted to spoil the dream with reality.

The princess didn’t think of herself as beautiful, due to what the other children of the village had told her all her life. Not just the children. The adults too. Oh, they never said it to her face. It was always in whispers, around the corner where they thought they were out of sight and away from listening ears. They all thought she didn’t deserve to be a princess, that she didn’t deserve Him as her Prince. They conspired to make her feel unworthy, so that she would run away and never return, leaving Him for their beautiful but shallow daughters

Their plan worked. The princess, unable to take the cruel words and looks, fled into the deep and dark forest. She ran and ran until she could run no more. Then she forced herself to continue running. She wouldn’t allow the tears that threatened to fall overflow. Not one. For she feared that if she did, she wouldn’t have the strength to go on and that they would continue falling forever.

She hid in the forest for many years, slowly building a tall tower around her with rocks. Soon, no one could get in. So she stayed there, cold and alone, pretending that she was happy. She told herself that this was for the best. This way, no one could ever hurt her again. There were days when she thought she heard Him calling. But she stubbornly stayed in the tower, not daring to peek over the wall, lest she find Him glaring up at her with the look that she knew so well from the villagers.

One day, the princess heard voices outside of her tower. Voices and music and laughter. When she dared to peek over the wall, she discovered a band of gypsies had made camp outside. They had built a blazing fire. The smell of smoke and food drifted up to her, causing her stomache to twist and knot in hunger. She watched as they played music and danced and laughed and told stories. There seemed to be a group of leaders among them and occasionally, one of them would get up to speak.

The other gypsies listened with great attention to the leaders, except for one group who were constantly joking around. They got yelled at by the gypsy speaking on more than one occasion. But somehow, they also seemed to be the group that got the most out of what was being said.

After many days of watching them, not daring to let more than her eyes peek over, the princess was startled when one of the head gypsies came to the foot of her tower and called up to her to join them. His smile was kind and she could detect no malice in his eyes. But the villagers had been good at hiding their contempt as well. So she shook her head and ducked back behind the wall. Still, her curiosity got the better of her and she continued to watch them.

The leaders who spoke had powerful voices. So much so that she could hear them all the way up in her tower. They continuously spoke of a story, an overarching story, that tied all of humanity together. Intrigued, the princess slowly allowed more and more of herself to appear over the wall so that she could better hear what they were talking about. One day she almost fell from her tall tower because she was hanging so far over in order to hear. She decided that she was being silly and so ventured downstairs and outside her tower. (Not without trembling of heart but courage is not an act without fear.) She still remained close to the tower, running back in if anyone dared approach her. But she returned every time to hear about this magnificent story.

One chilly night, the same gypsy who had first called up to her in her tower approached her. Seeing that she was about to run again, he stopped and merely called to her from where he was standing. “Don’t be frightened. I wanted to invite you to join us at our table. (He sat at the table that always got into trouble. In fact, he seemed to be the ringleader.) There’s plenty of room and we thought you might be hungry.” The princess hesitated. She was hungry. But could she trust these people? All her life, she had been taught that gypsies were not to be trusted. They drank too much and used inappropriate language and allowed anyone into their camp. Their mixed marriages were what had brought them to the bottom of society. Still, there was a kindness in their eyes that had not been present in the villagers that she had grown up with. Not to mention these same villagers were the ones who had told her the stories about the gypsies. If she couldn’t trust them in one area, why should she choose to trust them in this one?

Slowly she nodded her head and followed him to the table. Everyone sitting there smiled at her and welcomed her. Even the leader who was speaking came over and said hello. Everyone was friendly and she couldn’t detect any hate in them. She was still wary though. She kept reminding herself of how good the villagers had been at their act. Besides, these people probably didn’t know who she was or what she had done. Once they found that out, they were sure to reject her. Just like everyone else. So she kept her guard up. But she always listened. This story, this overarching story, there was something about it. It spoke to her. Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, something was telling her that this was true.

Her routine continued for some time. Sometimes she would join the gypsies at a table and other times she stayed back by the wall and left when the meeting ended. Regardless, the gypsies always managed to make her feel welcome. They even encouraged her to join in what they called a Love Feast. Even though she had nothing to offer they made it clear they wanted her there. Slowly, as they continued to show her love, she allowed her heart to open up to them.

One day she noticed cracks in her wall. They weren’t big at first but within time, large chunks of the wall came crumbling down. Soon, the wall was only as high as her waist. She still returned to it every night though, hiding behind what was left. Some days she would get scared and frantically try to rebuild her wall. Even then the gypsies were patient and loving. If she came to their meeting but stayed back by the wall, one of them almost always came and sat with her. They never forced themselves on her but she knew that they were there if/when she was ready.

Eventually she started taking part in activities outside of their meetings. They had nights where everyone played music and danced until all hours. She accompanied the ladies when they went to wash clothes in the stream or cook the meals. She helped care for the children. Some of the gypsies even had smaller meetings in their tents where everyone who came pitched in for the meal. They then would discuss ideas and thoughts that she had never heard of. But again, like with the overarching story, the ideas weren’t so unfamiliar because they resonated with her heart. She was allowed to ask any questions she needed to and they never laughed at her for them. In fact, most times the questions she thought were the most ridiculous were the ones the leader said were the most thoughtful.

She learned many things while she was with the gypsies. As a girl, she had loved to dance. But the circumstances of her life had forced her to forget about it until she met them. They showed her the joy that could be found in anything. Dancing, talking, eating, writing, walking, everything. And always, there was the overarching story. The more she heard about it, the more she realized that this story encompassed all of humanity. Her, the gypsies, even the villagers. And yes, even Him.

She had nearly forgotten about Him. Like her love for dancing, it had become necessary to block all thoughts and memories of Him out. Otherwise she couldn’t focus on building her wall. But now that her wall had come down, she didn’t have to focus on building or maintaining it. She was finally allowed to remember Him. She wanted to go looking for Him but was afraid of what she would find. If she had forgotten Him, who was to say that He hadn’t forgotten her? Or if He hadn’t forgotten her, what if when she found Him, He had the same look in His eyes as that of the villagers? She couldn’t bare it. The gypsies constantly reassured her that if they still loved her, despite everything she had told them, then He certainly would. But she would merely shake her head and say that they didn’t understand.

Spring arrived and the princess was still living with the gypsies. The gypsy leader, who had coaxed her out of her tower so many months before, and his wife had all but adopted her as their own daughter. One warm evening, a small gathering of the gypsies lead her down to the nearby stream. They told her that they were going to take part in a ceremony and that she didn’t have to participate if she didn’t want. The princess was apprehensive but had resolved not to run. These people loved her and she wouldn’t disappoint them for the world.

The ceremony was a strange one indeed. It was a foot washing ceremony. The princess was shocked. Only the lowest of servants in her father’s castle had been subjected to this humiliation. Yet the gypsies seemed to be happily performing this act for one another. There seemed to be no shame in it. So when the princess was asked to wash one of the gypsy’s feet, she agreed, still vowing not to let anyone wash her own. She was unworthy of such an act. When she finished, she continued to kneel, perfectly happy to wash everyone’s feet and somehow repay their kindness to her. But then one of the gypsies told her that he was going to wash her feet.

Determined not to embarrass herself or the gypsy, she moved to let him be near the water. As he gently washed her feet, a wave of love swept over the princess. It was so strong she could barely breathe. But at the same time, it was not unfamiliar. She had felt this love before. Long ago, when she was in His presence.

Slowly she raised her head. At once all of her best dreams and her worst nightmares were coming true. He was standing on the other side of the river. Quickly, she stood, ready to run. She didn’t want to face Him, face the contempt that was surely in His eyes. Had He seen her washing the other gypsy’s feet? Was He laughing at her? Did He believe what the villagers had surely told Him? Despite the war raging in her head, she couldn’t move. Everything within her cried “Flee!” But she was frozen.

He crossed the river and came to stand in front of her. Unable to look at Him, she instead fell to her knees, certain He was about to pronounce her judgment. None were more surprised than she when He instead brought her to her feet and lifted her chin up. Through the tears, she looked into His eyes, fully expecting condemnation. But there was none. Only love and compassion. The same love and compassion that had been in the eyes of the gypsies. She realized that they had been following Him all along. He had sent them to protect her and watch over her and love her, when she wouldn’t allow Him to. He hadn’t believed the villagers lies because He knew the truth. And now she did too.”

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