The Inner Room

I am at the front of the room, facilitating conversation with the ten teenage girls who signed up for the seminar. I don’t have any experience with youth ministry but I was willing. In a small country parish, that is enough.

I recognize a few of the faces in front of me, members of faithful families who have “regular” pews.  I’m not sure why the others are here. Perhaps someone convinced them to come or they were so desperate to get out of the house during the summer weeks that they showed up. Their faces are a blend of emerging confidence and awkward child-likeness. They are lovely and quirky, innocent and fear-filled.

On brown paper, written in my fanciest handwriting, is our theme: You Were Made to SOAR! The themes are bulleted below: Sacraments, Silence, Service and Renewal, Relationship, Real Joy.  At the moment, I’m setting the stage to talk on the topic of silence.

Some describe silence as going into your inner room. A place inside where you are safe and calm and you can talk to God — even if everything on the outside is crazy.

We flip to Matthew’s Gospel and read about going to your inner room. I talk about the holy witness of people who were imprisoned and couldn’t “do” anything to serve God that we still recognize as saints. Their eyes indicate engagement; the ever-so-slight creases on their foreheads show it’s not quite clicking yet.  

I hesitate for a moment and glance downward around the bland classroom, a little unsure about sharing something vulnerable. When I was their age, I always felt like I was on the outside from my peers. The little girl in me is still afraid: Were they going to judge me? To ridicule something precious?  

“For example, when I am trying to get serious about silence, I envision a cozy cabin in my mind.”  I glance up to see if it will be okay to continue with the illustration. Seems so.8a4c4b877410e253d9c7e52aaa7afd74

I roll up the thick carpet on the floor to reveal a trapdoor. With a candle in my hand, I open the door and descend into the dark cavern below. It’s a cool, safe space –no spiders!– and when I am ready, I blow out the candle.That’s my inner room.”

From the looks on their faces, I *think* the concept has clicked now. It’s okay to transition to the next step.

We walk over to the church, and I prep them, “I am going to play two songs and then, we are going to sit in silence for three minutes. It might feel like a long time but I’d like you to think about YOUR inner room.” My nervous energy hasn’t dissipated. Something in me wants their approval, wants them to think I am cool. I push the arrow button on my outdated technology and the songs fill the space, a musical repetition of the phase: ”Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.”  

When it’s time for us to be silent, the seconds creep by, and the creak of the pews is a telltale sign of the girls shifting uncomfortably in their seats. When I glance around the open space, there is a definite awkwardness lingering in the air; a couple of the girls are giggling into their hands. I’m tempted to cut it short but keeping my eyes focused on the rounded edge of the pew in front of me, I push forward with the plan.

The time of silence blessedly comes to an end and when we walk back to the hall, the girls fall into small groups to chitchat. I trail behind and try to come up with a backup plan to fill time if needed.          

As we settle back into the session, I pose the question, “Would anyone like to share about their inner room?” My voice is upbeat and confident but my spirit fears that awkward silence will again fill the space. A moment passes.

But then, they begin.

“I was at the ocean, the noise of the water blocked out all the other noise.”

“I thought about the couch in my house…I knew my family was nearby but I was alone.”

“I thought about crawling inside the tabernacle in the church.”

“I imagined myself in bubble that was filled with love.”

My heart rejoices at their responses. “Thank you, Lord”, I shoot a silent prayer.

One brave girl pushes back. “I don’t get it. I don’t know what everyone is talking about.”  The blue streak in her long hair is apparent as her fingers seek out split ends.

I affirm her willingness to speak the truth of her experience and try to say it another way.  “You know that voice in your head that can be really mean, that tells you all sorts of nasty things about yourself?!? I am trying to suggest that there is a place inside of you where even that voice is quiet.  And that’s the place that you talk to God.”

Her eyes shift slightly and a flicker of impact is momentarily revealed. She continues to push back but now, it is for the sake of rebelling. “Yah well, I don’t get it.

That’s okay. Stay open to the idea and maybe some day it will make sense.”  

We push on to the rest of the day’s content, talking about how a sacramental worldview and silence help you to understand how you are to serve. Service is a theme the girls connect with easily and the conversation flows naturally. The tension I have been holding in my shoulders begins to release.

At the close, we gather around a candle and I invite everyone to share their prayer intentions out loud.  Their voices ring out in the silence as we make our requests known to God. I am troubled by the magnitude of what they carry.

“For my mom who is fighting for her life with cancer.”  

“For my friend who has to leave her foster home.”  

“For my cousin who is in jail.”    

That night, I open the door of my secret place, the rustic cabin of my mind.  The floorboards creak as I walk to the center of the space.  Lowering to my hands and knees, I roll the thick carpet and raising, stash it in the corner.  My fingers grasp the metal handle of the square door to reveal a wooden staircase and raising it, I descend, bringing the glow of a candle into the space momentarily. 

In the silence of my inner room, I recall each of their faces.  I sit on the cool of the floor in the dark chamber and I pray.

mary bio YAH


Flying Home for Christmas

The black suede coat my sister passed down didn’t fit me quite right, but it let me play the part of the cosmopolitan European with a little more believability, so I cherished it. I loved wearing it with my knit burgundy scarf tucked in at the collar. I loved how it trailed around my shins as I clip-clopped through airports with bags of gifts and luggage I bought to blend in.

I was flying home for Christmas. I remember changing planes in London, walking down the dismal beige corridor from whatever low-budget airline I’d just taken to the bright spacious British Airways international terminal where I would board my usual flight to Denver. I had been living abroad for a couple years and flying often enough to want to appear confident, worldly, and self-possessed as I navigated the airports of the world.

On this particular day, I got into the line at the gate and stepped up close — very close — to the person ahead of me, just as I was used to doing in post offices and grocery stores in eastern Europe. But I only stood there a moment or two before I started getting strange stares from my fellow passengers.

I was standing less than a foot behind the person in front of me, near enough for my long, ill-fitting coat to graze the back of their boots. All of a sudden I was painfully aware that I was applying my new-found eastern European personal space rules to a bunch of Americans.

Embarrassed, I stepped back a few feet and sheepishly looked around. Surveying the line, I realized I was surrounded by a field of North Face parkas, Denver Bronco hats and Colorado college team t-shirts. These were my people. We might have been in a boarding line in London, but these were westerners, used to wide open spaces and neighborly elbow room that spans miles.

Personal space is one of those secrets you learn only by trial and observation —by finding yourself on the receiving end of strange stares, or by being cut in front of when you habitually leave too much space between you and the postal clerk. My moment of embarrassment in applying the wrong personal space rules to the wrong context was a moment when I became aware I had left one place and arrived in another without realizing it.

Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out where you are.

3995564048_0d9bc6fb97_oFurthermore, airports are full of another type of ambiguous space, places of boundaries and thresholds. Doorways or hallways, corridors, waiting rooms, boarding lines —  these are not destinations in and of themselves. They are liminal, or in-between, places; places where we make transitions or where changes happen. 

Liminal spaces can be places of discomfort, anxiety, and self-consciousness, but also of freedom. What I experienced during my years of frequent travel was both the anxieties of transition, and, more significantly, the presence of God in those spaces. Liminal spaces were where God met me more intimately because I was in motion, open to surprises.

There was the Christmas morning flight when I spent an hour in on a layover, reading from Isaiah in the Bible laid open on the airport chapel table; or the times when the music in my earbuds would transform an ordinary security checkpoint into a holy sea of pilgrims. One flight, two missionary women were seated in my row and we spent nearly the whole flight sharing struggles and praying together.

And once, a German woman in a train station who saw me crying in a moment of frustration promised, “Morgen Besser,” which I understood as, “it’ll be better in the morning.” In the enchanted terrain of liminal space, I felt carried and carried along.

Morgen Besser. God has always spoken the most clearly and dearly in these secret spaces of travel, holding me as closely as baggage that might be lost along the way.  

When I think now about how vividly God met me in those turbulent times, I am tempted to think that I no longer have access to knowing Him with that particular intimacy.  Then I remember, life itself is a liminal space. I don’t have to be on an actual journey; there enough metaphorical ones to keep me alert. We’re all moving between birth and death, between one identity and another almost constantly, and God is still waiting to meet me in these in-between, unsettled places.

* * * * *

jenniferJennifer Stewart Fueston writes in Longmont, Colorado where she lives with her husband and two young sons. She has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as internationally in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania. This year, her poems have appeared in Windhover, The Other Journal and The Cresset.  Her chapbook of poetry entitled, Visitations, was published in 2015. She blogs very sporadically at and uses Twitter (@jenniferfueston) primarily during playoff football and for ranting during election season.

Photograph by Kevin Dooley


We Are Sardines

In the quiet, we huddle together and scold those who speak too often or above a whisper. I shift my weight carefully on the old wooden floors of the closet that protest with creaks at even the slightest movement.

Eight of us have piled into the utility closet off of the church parlor and are waiting for the rest of the “sardines.” Every muscle in my body tightens with the anticipation of voices or movement from the other side of the door. The must of old choir robes mixed with the generic old church smell that gets trapped in between the pages of pew Bibles and hymnals is particularlyphoto-1442706722731-7284acc0a2d7 dense in our close quarters.

A paper palm frond tickles my elbow, the trunk of its tree standing tall in a bucket of cement. This prop is one of many artifacts left from Vacation Bible Schools and church events where the sanctuary was transformed into a tropical Island or the Sydney Olympic games, depending on what the Sunday School curriculum companies were pushing that year.

There are only so many spots in the church building that can fit all the sardines attending youth group on any given Wednesday night. Each hider imagines they will find the new, most secret of spots. Everyone ends up in the same rotation of hideouts: the closet with the Christmas pageant outfits and fake floral arrangements, somewhere under the pews in the choir loft, or this closet off the parlor where we wait now for the rest of the kids to find us.

Once I join the cloistered youth group members, the act of hiding alerts my dormant primal instincts to survive. We all become prehistoric cave people, sheltering ourselves from a wooly mammoth, and we communicate with grunts and nudges in the darkness of our enclosure. We are alert, ready for fight or flight, knowing that at any second we many be startled by someone looking for the group hiding spot.

There is no real threat among the signs for long passed rummage sales and supplies used for church coffee houses, but for the thirty minutes the game lasts, we are in mortal danger. In the dark, in the secret place, we belong to each other. We are at the mercy of the loudest sneeze or the kid who clumsily knocks something glass off of the shelf.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr: Le Luxographe

Photo Courtesy of Flickr: Le Luxographe

Next to me, a girl leans into her boyfriend, emboldened by the covering darkness and closeness  implied in the game of Sardines. One person finds a hiding place, and everyone who finds them must join the person in that spot. You win if nobody finds you, you lose if you’re the last one to find the group. In a couple of years, someone would wise up to the fact that shoving a bunch of horny teenagers into a small dark space wasn’t the best move  for promoting a culture of chastity and purity.

It’s very popular to bring your boyfriend to youth group. I had a grand total of one boyfriend during my middle school and high school years, and we were too shy to interlace fingers during the gathering time or to cuddle during movies at lock-ins. In the presence of my peers, my limbs and extremities became clumsy and sweaty, each finger unable to coordinate with its neighbor to reach out and show affection.

The boyfriends who came to youth group were often sullen, tall boys with baggy cargo pants and shirts silk-screened with bands whose faces were frozen in eternal screams. Some wore sweatshirts made from the material of Mexican blankets, while others had long hair that hung down over their eyes.

We were encouraged to bring our friends and boyfriends, an evangelism tactic as old as the tent meeting revivals held by our ancestors, or perhaps as old the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. All the same, friends and boyfriends were brought to church to hear the gospel or to play ultimate frisbee or to eat a shake made from a blended happy meal.

I often found excuses to slip away during the loud games that ended with youth group members accidentally putting their hands through windows or face planting on the cement floor. In these situations, I imagined that all eyes were on me, ready to notice the way my feet bowed out when I ran or the inevitable sweat circles under my armpits.

Sardines was the great equalizer.

We are in the dark, we are all the same, we must not make a sound. I am caught up in the energy of the game. In an era when I am most singled out and exposed, I am blissfully anonymous, another set of shadowed shoulders, a counted head as we wait for the next youth group member to join. All I needed to do was find my people, to wait and breathe, and be.


No One is the Boss of Us

You know how to light a match, don’t you?

I looked up at her and lied.

7716987146_ea11952132_oShe gave me the book of matches and watched me slowly draw the bud against the scratch. She grabbed it back, You’ve got to go fast, see? Boom! Zip! She laughed and gave me the lit match with her brown wrinkled hands.

Put it in that hole there. See the flames? You just lit the grill! Now you can cook steakettes whenever you want. I confidently dropped the frozen patties from the butcher paper onto the grate.

Little girls aren’t allowed to touch matches.

* * *

Alright. We can do whatever we want today! No one is the boss of us! We can swim, play cards, eat popsicles, eat your Reese’s! It’s the Lazy Lagoon! Anything goes!

I smiled and nodded eagerly. This was every 8 year old’s dream.

I’d been in my rainbow bathing suit since 6:30am, excited for the day at my beloved Gramma’s. We started by making her big circle king bed with the furry leopard bedcover. I watched her put on bright coral lipstick, pose in the mirror, and spray White Shoulders on her neck. Then we went downstairs to make Grampa breakfast in the iron skillet before he went to work.

Go get me a beer and we’ll watch my Cubbies. I got her an Old Style from the fridge next to the TV outside in her covered patio and joined her on the black porch swing for the late morning game. I leaned on her soft arm and we rocked.

After eating I wandered around her Southside Chicago backyard. There were big bright flowers that matched my Gramma’s clothes along the high white fences, and a deep cement pool. I jumped off the diving board.

You in the pool, Aimee? Be safe in there! Don’t let the sharks getcha!

She cackled, slapped her thigh, and shouted out the Jaws theme. I rushed to the ladder and decided to clean the pool. I knew how to work the long brush without hitting the electric wires above and how to skim bugs and petals out with the net. Then I floated on the raft with my hands behind my head.

Little girls aren’t allowed to swim alone.

* * *

After a while Gramma came out from under the patio, stretched, and clapped her hands.

Who’s ready to play cards? No Go Fish. No Old Maid. We’re playing Rummy, and we’re playing for blood. You’re going to have to win fair and square.

I scrambled out of the pool, my eyes twinkling.

She shuffled the deck three different ways and flicked the cards across the table. When I won a hand she shouted, Ah! You got me, kid. But no more! and she got up, walked around her chair, and declared, The Worm Has Turned! She cursed my cards. I cursed hers. We laughed so hard.

Little girls aren’t allowed to sass grown-ups.

Before cooking dinner she went to vacuum and I walked down the kitchen stairs to the basement bar.

I loved it down there surrounded by beer signs, fancy bottles, swizzle sticks, and napkins with jokes on them. I cleaned the counter and put out glasses. I asked imaginary guests about their families, just like Gramma would ask her dozen delighted siblings and their seventy kids when any of them came over. On earlier visits I learned the boring colors – vodka, gin, bourbon, wine – did not taste good. But liquors tasted great.

I poured myself some of the emerald green Crème de Menthe, my favorite. It coated and warmed my throat. I had another.

Little girls aren’t allowed to drink.

I woke up on the floor behind the bar with my Gramma leaning over me. Hey, you alright? Come on upstairs. I stood up dazed and followed her. In the kitchen, I ate some Reese’s peanut butter cups while she cooked dinner. She bellowed out a German song, acted out scenes from The Honeymooners, and danced with her spatula. I giggled and joined her. She told dirty jokes, too.

But don’t tell your Mom. She wouldn’t like it.

* * *

We watched the best shows of the 1980s at night: Family Feud, Archie Bunker, and Facts of Life, taking breaks for popsicles and HoHo’s. The vertical blinds lazily clinked against each other in the soft breeze. The room smelled like chlorine, cold cream, and Jean Naté.

After the news Gramma brushed her teeth and put on more lipstick.

In case I die in my sleep.

I laid awake between my Gramma and Grampa, licking chocolate off my smile in the dark. I had three more days to be a grown-up with Gramma. Then my Mom would bring me home and I’d have to be a little girl again

* * * * *

aimee-fritz-bio-picAimee Fritz is an introvert who delights in telling long, true tales about everyday absurdities in her suburban life. She finally believes in an unseen God, hopes to someday feel qualified to parent her kids, and is now allergic to every food she used to enjoy. Read more of her stories about world changers, souls, and big mistakes at

Matches photograph by Simon D.



The Church Who Never Locked Her Doors

Mt. Olive Methodist Church was just up the road from the house where I grew up, at the top of a steep gravel hill. Many a sticky summer day, my brothers and I would ride our bikes or walk the dogs to the church and back. If we rode our bikes, I had to be careful–the hill going down from the church entrance was a big one. Most of the time, I walked my bike down, while my brothers left me literally in their dust. The few times I worked up the nerve to ride my bike down the hill, I ended up falling.

Even though we weren’t members there, I always felt comfortable inside the church. Looking back, I realize why.

The Holy Spirit was there. For the Israelites in the wilderness, He appeared as a cloud by day and fire by night. The Church symbolizes His presence with water. A mighty wind. A whisper. In my childhood, the Spirit of God rested right by my side at Mt. Olive Church. The church never locked its doors, so it was always open to me. I know they say people make up the church, but those four walls meant church to me as much as any group ever has.

daughter-on-mtolive-steps-trI’d run up the four carpeted stairs to the red front doors. Opening these, you’d enter a small foyer. I always wondered who it was that thought to put the wooden swinging doors between the foyer and the sanctuary, but it must have been a smart individual who realized these doors wouldn’t make as much noise when a squirmy child has to be taken out of the service. My mom could have used doors like that, in our own church, with an unruly daughter like me.

I spent hours “playing church” at Mt. Olive. I’d sing and play piano from the hymn book and give mock sermons to whichever dolls I’d brought with me. There was always an altar call at the end. Later, that same altar called to me in some of my darkest moments as well. To this day, I do my most serious business with God at altars.

When my granddad succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, I’d never lost a close relative, and I grieved at the altar of this little church. I spent some time reliving the memories I had of granddad’s farm. After a short while, I found the peace I’d been seeking. I knew Granddad didn’t have trouble remembering things any more; and if God had any fence posts that needed mending, I assured him he’d found the perfect helper.

Not quite a year later, my uncle died tragically in a car accident. I went to that same altar, shed more tears, and asked God to watch over my cousins, my uncle’s daughters, who would now grow up without a daddy. I wondered at how difficult that would be for them.

Years went by and I moved away from home. From time to time, I’d visit the graves of family members in the cemetery across the road from Mt. Olive, but I rarely went inside her doors, until one rainy day in April of 2003. For months, I’d been planning our outdoor wedding. We had the chairs rented, the tent raised. and I dreamt of the picturesque setting by the pond where we’d say our vows before God, family and friends.

The first crack of thunder woke me up at 5:30 in the morning.

From the couch where I’d slept that night, I heard Mom walking down the hallway of my childhood home and called, “Mom, isn’t it a great day for an inside wedding?”A few hours later we’d called the caretakers of Mt. Olive, who were also our neighbors. They had no problem with us moving our wedding ceremony indoors. We’d still be able to use the chairs and tent for our reception.

Soon I found myself having yet another conversation with God at the altar of that little church. I made a vow before Him to love and honor my husband. He responded with another crack of thunder! We all smiled, thankful to be safe and dry inside the church. It wasn’t our original plan, but I knew letting this church be a part of our special day just fit somehow.

I heard recently Mt. Olive had closed her doors. One of our neighbor’s kids has bought it, and I don’t know what his plans are for the building. She’s not a church these days – not physically. But the work God did there over the years surely lives on. I know it does in me.

* * * * *


Traci Rhoades lives in southwest Michigan, somewhere in a triangular section connecting Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids with all things Lake Michigan. She and her husband parent one daughter. They have dogs, cats, ducks, pigs and chickens–a number that is always changing, as farm animal counts tend to do. She enjoys watching sports, reading, cooking and all things Bible study. She is  a writer. When she first started blogging, she wondered about what unique voice she could bring, eventually landing on this one line: A country girl goes to church.

Chaos in the Garden

…therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.” (Gen 3: 23)

We have been eating zucchini for weeks. It’s that time of year. At first, each squash picked from the garden is cherished and celebrated. Now, we are feeding them to the chickens.

Joy fills my mom’s voice when she speaks of the garden, and when she harvests, she coos all sorts of endearing things. “Well, little one, aren’t you a beauty!?!” and “Oh my goodness! I can’t wait to taste you!


My dad walks past the green beans, climbing in full splendor up the rack he built just for that purpose. The seeds were a bit old when we planted them weeks ago, and thinking they wouldn’t all make it, we sprinkled them close together. Now in full harvest, the plant has filled in thick and lush, bearing long twisty green beans on both sides of the planter. The soil is moist from the shade and regular waterings.

But then, hidden among the beauty of the plants, Dad hears the telltale rattle of a snake announcing its presence. The presence of danger is unavoidable.

The first order of business is to get the dogs inside. The younger of the two, Annie, hasn’t shown any restraint in recent encounters; she has attacked three javelinas as well as a porcupine. It’s better not to tempt her.

Dad yells at the dogs, using a very loud voice, commanding them to obey. “Annie!  Buddy!  Now!”

Hearing my dad’s stern voice is my first clue. It is out of character, not the normal end-of-the-day sound.

Soon, my phone rings and it’s Mom, who has now gotten involved.“Where are you? There is a snake in the green beans…

I am confused and a little sarcastic, “You want me to come look at it?!?!” Snakes are fairly common to our desert property and I am working on something that seems more important.

“We need you. Come now.”

I join the snake hunt, complete with nervous energy and raised voices. The snake is moving around and is hard to keep track of.  

“Mary, go get something long…we need to figure out where he is.”

I return a few minutes later with a twenty-foot stretch of plastic pipe, long enough to keep a safe distance while trying to rouse a snake out of hiding. Mom has a hoe. Dad has a gun. We are ready.

At the far side of the planter, I poke the bottom of the plant, trying to push the snake toward my parents. “Please don’t shoot me,“ I yell, only half joking. I am out of their sight, and the wall of green beans will not stop a bullet.

With a half-hearted laugh and a touch of exasperation, Dad snorts. “Got it.

Suddenly, the snake is on the move, unhappy with being poked and seeking safety. He crawls high into the bush, his movements shifting the leaves.

I use the pipe to lift a branch, and the snake’s crafty eyes and active forked tongue are now in plain view. Two feet off the ground, its body is wrapped around the planting rack.

Dad takes the shot, and 14102730_10154471164007943_7187211199284778346_nthe snake falls to the ground and continues to slither away.

Somehow, Dad now has the pipe and I have the hoe. Instinctively, I move in for the final blow, separating the snake’s head from the long body now wide open in the dirt.  It takes a few whacks to ensure the job is done.

This is the first snake that I have personally killed. For most of my life, I watched this kind of activity from a distance, fearfully.

The body continues to writhe and slither, the mouth bites the air, still on the attack. It is terrible to watch, this snake, seemingly alive but not. I feel the crashing sensation of adrenaline and the clammy feeling of sweat, but mostly relief that it is over.

We stand together, reliving the experience and dreading being the next one to have to pick green beans. I text my boyfriend to share the experience, and true to his roots, he texts back: “I can get $10 for the rattle.  $45 if you skin the snake.

We laugh and, with another whack of the hoe, the rattle is separated. We briefly discuss the possibility of skinning it. It is a big, worthy skin. But none of us is interested in getting that involved.

The mood begins to lift and normalcy settles back in. My dad, anticipating the release of the adventure-seeking young dog, gathers up the snake carcass to bury where it won’t be discovered.

I pick up the rattle, the silvery scales electrifying my fingertips, and head toward the house. As he drives by on the golf cart, my dad jokes, “Wait, how much for the skin?!?” He is always interested in a deal.

I shake my head. “No thanks, Dad. I’m going inside.

* * * * *

mary bio YAH

Trading time for breath

It’s Monday, the day I most need yoga and least have time for it. At 3:58, I rush across the bamboo floor of the studio, flustered and sweaty. Calm, centered-looking people who are already on their mats dot the studio, assuming some type of restorative/meditative/stretching pose that seems to highlight and mock my perpetual race against time.

Does being centered make a person on time, I wonder, or does being on time make a person centered?

Maybe I’ll never know.

I unfurl my pea green yoga mat, then make too many trips back and forth for various props, with each pass noticing another one I’m still missing. As I set up a block to sit on, my mind bounces around: a client I forgot to email; my daughter stretched on her bed as I left home, promising she would start her homework; a dinner ingredient I forgot to put on the list for my quick grocery run after yoga.

Ginger root ginger root ginger root ginger root, I chant to myself as I wind my hair into a hasty top knot. Even as I try to commit the necessary ingredient to memory, my brain ricochets its response: You’ll forget you’ll forget you’ll forget.

Scolding my unhelpful pessimism as our yoga instructor welcomes us to the practice, I settle into a cross-legged sukhasana, replacing ginger root and you’ll forget with that calming word: su-KHA-sa-na.

I feel the word rolling through me slowly, syllable by syllable; it flows and spreads rather than ricochets. Sukhasana. Its mere foreignness and lyrical rhythm help me shift from a day marked by meetings on my calendar, check marks on my to-do list, and billable hours measured by my laptop’s digital clock.

Yoga class was one of those calendar items—the last one of the day. Now that I’m here, I do my best to let go.


*  *  *  *  *

“Observe your thoughts. Acknowledge them,” my yoga instructor says. “Then let them go with your next exhale. Transition from your day to your yoga practice. Your only task now is to turn your attention inward and follow your breath.”

I’m not good at letting go. I’m good at making things happen, by pure force of will and careful strategy. In almost all other parts of my life, time equals progress—steps walked, words typed, hours billed, rugs vacuumed, cakes transforming from formless batter to sliceable delicacy. But in yoga, time is liminal. It speeds up or slows down according to my ability to access more breath, to find the far reaches of my lungs.

I am here. I am here.

This is the mantra I turn to most often to quiet my mind and deepen my breath—an adagio in four counts, inviting my breath to dance with parts of my body it hasn’t visited all day.

Inhale: I – am – here – (rest)

Exhale: I – am – here – (rest)

When I’m surprised by the instructor’s gentle voice saying “Begin to bring your awareness back to this space,” I know I’ve done it: I put time in its place, if even just for a short spell.

*  *  *  *  *

“Your back legs can be straighter. Even straighter. Reeaach through those finger tips, getting as much length as possible in your waist!”

Our instructor is walking among our mats as we all exert ourselves toward the best Warrior One poses we’ve ever achieved. She gently taps up on knees that aren’t straight enough, and lifts up on rib cages that could find another millimeter of length. As she wanders to my side of the studio I straighten and lengthen even more, hoping my back leg is one she won’t tap. At this moment I want to impress her as much as I want to punch her.

“Good! OK, hold it. Hold it. Just one more breath.”

One more breath my ass, I think. My deeply bent front leg begins to take on a trembling life of its own as our instructor forgets the definition of “one more breath,” pausing to align someone’s uneven hips.

In the agony, time becomes time again. There isn’t a clock visible in the studio, but there is a second hand ticking in my mind, mocking me as it did in middle school PE class when I was being timed for the dreaded “flex arm hang,” my arms betraying me in violent tremors.

Finally we are released from our deep lunge misery and allowed to “rest” in downward facing dog.

“That was wonderful!”

I’m a sucker for her enthusiastic praise every time.

*  *  *  *  *

6449941549_23f87d5c87_bFinally we transition into everyone’s favorite pose: savasana, or “corpse pose.” I’ve worked hard, so I sink into it gratefully, like one who has earned the right to release every muscle in her body.

But my love for savasana stems from more than my immediate need for a rest; I love it because there are no other moments in my busy life when I give myself permission to fully let go. No control. No effort. No holding what has been or what’s next. No seconds ticking into minutes.

For a while I am only a body, existing outside of time.

*  *  *  *  *

(Savasana photo, above, by Robert Bejil.)

Kristin bio YAH

The Lake House

I stand on the white planks of the dock, listening to the gentle sloshing of water against the grassy shore. The sun is setting behind me on this mid-August evening, earlier than it did last night, and the windows of the cottages on the eastern shore of Lake Chautauqua reflect its rosy glow.

Behind me, I hear the faint clink of wine glasses being refilled. The murmur of after-dinner conversation is punctuated with wild giggles from five-year-old Isaiah as his dad tickles him, doing his best to rile him up before bedtime.

lake-2016-bAs I walk back to join my friends on the shady side porch, I hear the teenagers laughing together from the kitchen. They have finished clearing the picnic table of ravaged corncobs and remnants of hamburger fixings, used paper plates and empty tortilla chip bags.

Once upon a time, I would have been the one standing at that sink, stowing leftovers, choosing dish duty as an introvert’s temporary retreat from the stimulation of too many people. But on this evening, I am content to lower myself into a cushioned deck chair and join the twilight conversation circle with my friends.

One combination or another of us have been gathering in this place over the course of so many summer evenings over so many decades—since we were barely older than the teenagers who are in the house now. They are singing selections from the U2 catalog, the soundtrack of their young lives—a legacy from their parents and their parents’ friends.


I was barely 18 when I first visited this cottage on this lake.

It was mid-October, a little over a month into my first year of college, and the Christian fellowship group hosted a weekend retreat at Lake Chautauqua in western New York State, an hour or so away from my northwestern Pennsylvania campus. There were too many of us to fit into one house, so a student’s family offered up beds and floor space in their vacation cottage for the overflow.

Little did I know then that the student whose house this was would become one of my best friends. And little did I suspect how many times I would return to this cottage on this lake and be comforted by how little it changed, while so many other things changed too much.


In our 20s, our lakeside reunions were carefree and action-packed. After many hours spent on the water, skiing and tubing, swimming and sunbathing, mealtimes were dictated by our hunger pangs, and bedtimes put off as long as possible as we basked in each other’s company. There were often more bodies than beds, and so sleeping bags and tents popped up on the side lawn. Those of us lucky enough to end up on the living room sofa bed were the last to sleep and the first to wake, as early-risers stumbled into the kitchen for morning coffee.

In our 30s, we negotiated whose turn it was to go out on the boat by calculating the appropriate ratio of adults to children, and then negotiating whose turn it was on the skis or the tube or the raft. Others of us stayed on shore to stand guard during toddlers’ nap times or to keep dinner preparations on schedule for the sake of the little ones. Bedrooms were assigned based on family sizes and necessary floor space for sleeping bags. The grownups cooked and the older kids took turns cleaning up.

This is the place we celebrated college graduations and engagements and anniversaries—and mourned broken relationships and divorces and losses of many kinds. It’s where we laughed together over shared memories and oft-repeated stories. It’s where we comforted each other during hard seasons that seemed like they may never end.

And always, the twilight conversation circle.


Isaiah has been tucked into bed. The singing teenagers are still in the house, busy with projects which will keep them occupied into the wee hours of the morning and cause them to sleep until noon the next day. And we—the grownups—sip wine and solve the world’s problems by the yellow glow of a citronella candle.

Tonight, a month shy of my 50th birthday, I soak in the familiar summer ritual. I listen to updates about friends’ “kids” who once-upon-a-time were with us at the lake, but who are now newly married or starting a first job after graduating from college. We commiserate about the most divisive presidential race of our lifetime. We pass around smart phones to share photos—and drugstore reading glasses so that we can pull them into focus. We joke about graying hair and thickening waists and, with broad yawns, our regrettable need for a full eight hours of sleep.

I think about friends who aren’t with us this year and how I wish they were. I think about singleness and marriage and divorce and remarriage and blended families and grief and brokenness and love and redemption. I think about the ways life has turned out how we hoped it would and the ways it has not.

I think about the grace of another late-summer evening at the lake house.


Amy bio YAH

Library Girl

The first job I ever had was in a library. I was seventeen, bored, and in need of cash so I put away books for a whole year. The library was small with one large main room with computers in the center, a children’s nook and video shelves to one side, and fiction stacks and study carrels to the other side. There was a dark little room off to one side with biographies and Sci-Fi and probably every single book L. Ron Hubbard had ever published—no small amount of wall space for that collection.

I spent a lot of time shelving in that little back room—Howard Stern’s Private Parts, Fran Drescher’s Enter Whining, Piers Anthony’s omnibuses, and at least three times a day, multiple copies of Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. It was the nineties and people were gobbling up books written by stars and adapted for the big screen or television by the same stars. It’s funny to think that these books have likely been carted out many times over the past ten years with fifty cent stickers on them at library book sales.books-1617327_1280 (1)

In that back room, I was accosted by a man wearing what could only be described as a strap-on. It was plumed and colorful—almost a holiday outfit, if you could outfit that particular zone. He told me he was taking a survey of people’s reactions. At first I didn’t know what he was referring to. He was obliged to gesture at his varicolored nether regions. I laughed because I thought it was funny and shelved two Battlefield Earth’s. He disappeared. I told a librarian about the encounter, and she let me know that that was not OK. It was not OK at all. An interview with the police after my shift rounded out my education on how not OK it was to be flashed.

In graduate school I worked in a research archive. I catalogued children’s books in an enormous cement basement with motor-powered movable stacks. I was often the only person there for hours at a time. Patrons stayed safely behind glass doors upstairs in full view of the archivists. There was no way anyone who did not have business there could cause a commotion. The librarians and archivists stayed in their offices, oblivious to the public; what mattered was the materials, not people. Patrons came in to look at Charles Olson’s personal papers, or eighteenth century chapbooks. There had to be a specific reason to hang out there. I determined that I would never work in any other kind of library.

    * * * * *

Seven years later I found myself without a steady job, living in a new location, but with seven or eight applications submitted to libraries in the area. “This time it’ll be different,” I said to myself. “I love libraries. Always have.”

Of course I love them. I have only worked in libraries for a total of three years, but I have spent time in libraries my whole life. After months of applying, I received an invitation to work as a substitute library associate on the weekends. I found myself wheeling around the wooden cart, shelving books, and being schooled in how to alphabetize properly by a well-meaning associate. I was right back in high school. There were no flashers—that might only happen once in a lifetime—but there were many confounding problems of the twenty-first century to negotiate.

One patron asked me to help him write a letter to Donald Trump: “Dear President Trump” it ran, “I suggest you consider Russia as a top tier ally when you take America.” Another patron explained to me that he was allowed to visit the Ukrainian brides website on the library computers. It wasn’t porn. He’d already gotten the OK, alright?

I stayed for three months. It was all I had in me.

* * * * *

IMG_20160831_191540There’s nothing more exciting to me than backpacking in the library, carrying around tiny papers with call numbers written on them, finding the corresponding books in the stacks. Just today I picked up Barry Fell’s Bronze Age America and America B.C. on a whim. Alternative, badly received pre-Columbian history might help me write my book. Who knows? Libraries are pools of glorious random finds.

But there’s one thing I now know. Visiting a library and working in one are two different things. They might as well be two completely different places.

* * * * *

Elena bio YAH

More Than A List

Remembering may be a celebration or it may be a dagger to the heart, but it is better, far better than forgetting. ~ Donald M. Murray

I sit cross-legged on a pillow, playing tug-of-war with shelved books. I find it hidden, stacked between Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever and a large rectangular volume of maps. Dust tickles my nose as I run my hand over the linen-covered yearbook embossed with the class’s gold emblem.

Beside me, my laptop is open to a Facebook group page, Gone But Not Forgotten. It lists those from my class who have died. How many could be gone from our 450+ class of 1977? I squint, adjust the brightness of my computer’s screen, and strain to read the list. As I turn each page of the yearbook, matching faces with names, I hug myself around my waist. Sharp grief elbows my stomach. Tears puddle in the knot-holes of the pine floor beneath me.

I cover my eyes, hoping the names will fade back into the screen if I don’t peek. But, like a monster in a horror film, death doesn’t evaporate during my game of peek-a-boo. I uncover my eyes.

* * * * *

 A shy boy with smiling eyes, long curly bangs, and a slight tilt of his head stands dressed in a black jacket and tuxedo shirt with bow-tie. I imagine he is, like me, eager to pack his suitcase and throw off the constraints of high school. His name is written in a plain font on the list. I don’t know when or how he died—or why.

I remember sitting next to him in an economics class. Our marriage was arranged by a creative teacher who divided the class into married couples and assigned each a starting sum of money to work with. Every week we withdrew a sliver of paper from a bowl, on which our teacher had written a financial difficulty to test our ability to create a budget and stick to it. I gave birth to twins, had to purchase a washing machine and dryer, and my husband’s hours at work were cut back. Groans of despair, lusty laughter, and sidewise glances at my spouse filled the class hour. I was a little bit in love with my husband.


Turning glossy page after page, images of the dead remind me how I categorized each person in my class, even the ones I didn’t know. I remember faces, voices, the bounce in someone’s walk, and the shuffle of another. Classmates resurface in my memory: the popular, nerds, band nerds, jocks, hybrids, and the ones who gathered outside a designated entrance to the school for a smoke break. Their group was known to me and some of my friends as the freaks.

Questions sometimes floated around the hallways: Do the freaks smoke weed? Do they “fool around” in corners? I mixed harsh judgement of them with my desire to join them. Incognito.

Plagued by hormone-soaked daydreams of cigarette smoke exhaled in dark corners, I thought the freaks must be bad people; some even scared me. When one, a girl wearing a frayed denim jacket and low-slung jeans, spoke with genuine kindness to me, I was perplexed. At that time in my life, God was a square: predictable, with clean corners, a deity of certainties.

* * * * *

I did not choose my first college roommate. The housing office paired me with someone from my high school class. But, I didn’t know her.

She was a freak.

The entire month before classes started, I worried. Does she know who I am? What if she doesn’t want to be my roommate? Should I call her and ask her if she wants to have matching bedspreads?

I told my mother I wanted sheets and matching curtains for my dorm room in a blue tie-dyed pattern I had seen in a catalog. While different from my usual love of pink and blue florals, I thought a hippie style would give my roommate the impression I was chill.

I remember when she arrived to our dorm room. My wooden Coca-Cola crate painted high-gloss blue was hung on the wall, filled with knick-knacks and memorabilia. New sheets were cornered tight on my bed accompanied by a matching sheet draped on a curtain rod at the window. Towers of textbooks, notebooks, folders, and magazines were already stacked on my desk.

When she arrived, she said something like “this looks nice” and plopped a bag on her bed. We introduced ourselves in an exaggerated fashion, shaking hands, and laughing about What are the chances that…?

Her smile was crooked, and she studied my face like she was mining for truth, or that’s how I felt.

“Do you mind if I crack open the window?” she asked. “I need a smoke.”

I said sure, even though I wasn’t sure of anything, except that I didn’t want to be a party-pooper.

As the semester went by, my roommate partied. Beer was a staple in our mini-fridge, and when an uncooperative breeze changed direction, her cigarette and joint smoke wafted under our door into the hall. I became the doorkeeper, listening for the approaching footsteps of our strict floor captain. Even though I did not participate in her activities, I knew I was her friend. I had her back.

When I vomited my way through a wicked stomach virus, she ran to the Quik Mart, bought ginger ale, and wedged it beside her beer in our fridge. She had my back.

God was smoothing the sharp corners of my world, rounding and rounding it into a growing, multi-colored circle.

* * * * *

I scroll down the list and stop. Her name is there.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine her in a black and white photograph. She is tipped back in her chair, legs crossed, feet up, smiling after taking a long drag from her cigarette.

* * * * *

Lisa bio YAH