The Blade and the Earth

A courthouse is designed to provoke obedience. Everything from the unforgiving stone floors and stuffy silence to the polished rails and guards in their creaking leather belts demands order. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a place where justice is meted out. A place where disappointments like us went to be punished.

We were nervous before we stepped inside, and the cop who checked us in certainly didn’t help.

“Sir!” he barked at my husband. “You can’t bring that in here.”

We looked around, wondering what contraband he could possibly be carrying.

The guard sighed and pointed at the waist of my husband’s carefully pressed black suit pants. “Your knife, sir. No weapons are allowed in the building.”

Born and raised in the country, my husband carries a pocketknife everywhere he goes. It’s as much a part of his ensemble as a watch, wallet, and cell phone, and neither of us had even considered our destination that morning as we prepared for what promised to be one of the hardest days of our married life.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” he stammered, sliding it from his belt. “Can I leave it here with you?”

“Nope,” the guard replied. “We’re not allowed to keep personal items at the desk.”

There wasn’t time to make the long walk back to the parking garage, and we stared, genuinely flummoxed and more rattled than we had been when we arrived. But then my husband saw a stand near the door that held plastic umbrella bags. He marched toward it, ripped one from the peg, and headed back outside to the courtyard. I couldn’t help but follow.

img_6399Choosing the closest planter, he wrapped the bag around the knife, tied it securely, and then began to dig a hole in the moist earth between a row of freshly planted purple and white pansies and the concrete wall. Then he dropped the bag in the hole and filled it in.

When he stood, I saw his hands were dirty—as dirty as I felt.

For weeks, I’d known this day was coming. It had been inevitable ever since we discovered the condo we’d bought, along with hundreds of others, hadn’t been built to code. Despite tens of thousands of dollars spent on repairs, which more than doubled our mortgage, the place still wasn’t close to passing inspection. In a few months, our savings account was siphoned dry, and bill after bill slipped into “past due” status.

Rather than continue to throw money into what had become an 1,100-square-foot pit (with new carpet no less), we’d opted to file chapter 13 and cut the rope keeping the financial albatross around our necks. Now, I imagined everyone who looked at me saw a scarlet “B” on my chest.

There was something so final, so disheartening, about stashing his knife that I couldn’t help but sob. It was like he was burying everything we’d worked so hard for—hopes for home ownership and putting down roots. Of finally being able to paint a wall yellow or blue instead of sterile rental white. All of it was going into the earth with that blade.

The rest of the day passed in a florescent-lit haze. We entered the courtroom and numbly sat down next to our lawyer. And when the time came for us to officially declare our insolvency, we stood and locked hands—more grateful than ever for each other. Shame, heavy as it might be, sits a little easier on two shoulders.

As the judge droned on for what felt like hours, we waited, letting the waterfall of meaningless words fall over us. The entire time, I imagined I could still feel that dirt on our hands, ground into the whorls of fingers and the crooked lines of life and love.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought. From it we were made, and to it we shall return—all at once or one piece at a time.

After the papers were signed, we escaped into the sunlight of a perfect Florida afternoon, exhausted and looking for the closest bar—unsure what to do now that we were, for all intents and purposes, homeless. We were so desperate to leave, in fact, that we nearly forgot the knife, but my husband remembered and went back. It reemerged as clean and sharp as when it went in, and—though it didn’t feel so at the time—the same would be true of us after seven long, lean years.

I won’t lie. Being flat broke and without credit was rather close to the bone, but it also had a way of clarifying things. The finances were tight, but somehow, there was always enough. The few things we did have were enjoyed richly. My husband and I grew to love each other in truer and more meaningful ways, and each day, we found the answer to Jesus’ question “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) was a resounding yes.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Jamie A. Hughes“The Blade and the Earth” was written by Jamie A. Hughes. Jamie is a writer, editor, and unapologetic St. Louis Cardinals fanatic who currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two adopted sons, and a pair of needy cats. A former high school teacher, she now works as the managing editor of In Touch Magazine and is struck dumb by her good fortune. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @tousledapostle. 

The More Interesting Route

One of our travel books called it “the less-straightforward but more interesting route,” which was all we needed to know. Of course we would go that way. There was no need to confer, even as extra-considerate newlyweds. We were, after all, celebrating what could certainly be described as a “less-straightforward but more interesting route” to marital happiness. Why opt for the utilitarian route now?

It was Day 2 of our honeymoon, and the route we chose was true to its description. Winding dirt and smooth clay paths led us uphill through a neighborhood of plaster-covered homes, crowded together all hodgepodge, like blocks set in place by a toddler. In some places, the walkway was close enough to the homes for me to touch the lace curtains fluttering in screenless kitchen windows, not that I dared to—just walking by made me feel apologetic for encroaching on what most Americans would label “personal space.”

narrowpathBut we were not in the U.S. There were no wide lawns or privacy fences buffering personal space from public. Instead, we could smell garlic and lemon wafting from windows, and hear the bang of a wooden spoon on the side of a pot, the voice of a woman calling to a child, and the mysterious foreign chatter of a television show.

We walked by dogs lying lazily on shaded stoops, never tied up but also not interested in us; only their eyes moved in the heat of the day, keeping watch as we passed. Brightly-colored laundry was hung out on lines in narrow alleys between the homes, coordinating with bright pink and red flowers planted in pots and window boxes.

As the path continued to switch-back and fork every-which-way, it became clear the travel book Jason carried was no help. “Do you think we’re still on the right path?” I whispered, hoping to avoid being an “annoying tourist.”

“We’re still going up, so that’s a good sign,” Jason whispered in response, with a grin. I smiled inwardly at how automatically my writer’s mind turned everyday comments and experiences into metaphor. Are we on the right path? We’re still going up! Anything is better than being stagnant and stuck. Life is a journey. What happens along the way can be more important than the final destination!

It was all so cliche, but how could I resist? I was on my honeymoon, celebrating the hope rooted in a second wedding after years of feeling stuck and deciding that marriage—the whole idea of it—wasn’t for me. Now I was exploring new lands with someone who made every step one of companionship and possibility. I was able to be in the moment, both to feel seen and to look around and enjoy what I saw—to consider who I was in that place and time, rather than living in desperate impatience for the faint idea of what I thought my life would be.

*   *   *   *   *

Just when I felt certain we were lost in the maze of quaint domesticity (which certainly isn’t the worst place to be lost, metaphorically or actually), we spotted a sign propped in someone’s garden, hand-lettered with the word “Acropolis” and an arrow.

signingardenSomething about its complete lack of official pomp and grandeur made us laugh out loud (and take photos). I imagined a man making the sign, perhaps at the request of his wife who had long grown weary of confused, insensitive tourists calling out to her while she hung laundry or watered her flowers: “Excuse me, is this the way to the Acropolis?” The sign communicated that wry note of impatience, but also one of pride, as if to say the people who lived their everyday lives along the way to this magnificent site fully understood the value of this treasure they had to offer the world. If tourists walked daily by their windows to get there, so be it.

Soon after passing the sign, we emerged from the jumble of garlic-sauteing and television-watching and dog-napping. We could see the Acropolis ahead. Having taken the “more interesting route,” we arrived at the back entrance of the fifth-century BC site, passing through the Theatre of Dionysus, where people were setting up a very modern sound system for a performance that evening.

We climbed further, up and out, toward the Parthenon looming above. Its ancient structure was partially engulfed by scaffolding, perhaps marring the view as seen through the eyes of a romantic, but also pointing to the reality of the architecture’s age and value; it had weathered much, and was worth meticulous preservation and care.

Jason and I stood silently side by side, taking it in, struggling to grasp the weight of history, the span of time lying between us in that moment and all that had come before—in our small lifetimes and for centuries and generations back. Then we walked on, ready to see what was next.



Kristin bio YAH


My home is a green spot amidst the brown barrenness of the desert. The wildlife is drawn into the coolness of the non-native trees, to the drip of the water faucet left barely on.

The birds add their notes, twittering and chirping, above the white noise of the wind moving throughout the property. Together, they are an omnipresent sound. At times, whispering. At others, roaring.

Drawn to the sprouts of new plants, the birds bounce around the garden plot, a fact my mother bemoans every year when her vegetables start budding. But she doesn’t leave them defenseless. A system of wooden boxes and rusty metal screens  protect the vulnerable plants in their first weeks.

Tap, tap-tap!  Insistently knocking on the window as if to rouse me from sleep, a roadrunner greeted me the other day. They aren’t know for flight. His appearance on the roof of the second story struck me as curious. And, the pair of swallows have returned to their mud nest on the front porch. They are a sight that comforts my heart, the promise that “the swallow herself finds a home.”

Every morning, my father pours bird seed into the feeder outside the kitchen window and we have the pleasure of watching the large and the small, the colorful and the plain eat together at the base of apricot tree.

Loudest among the music of our property is the bass call of the owl, “Whoooooo, whooooo.” Watching over it all, he lives in the tallest of pine trees on the fence line.

Last week, I pulled up the sandy drive and was greeted by the deep call of the owl as I made my way to the front door. “Whooooooo, whoooooo…”IMG_20160530_113911128

In my desire to respond to his welcome, I imitated the sound and sang back to him: “Whoooo, whooooooo.

To my delight, there was a response. “Whoooo, whooooooo…”   It made my heart flutter and my mind race with thoughts– Was I able to commune with nature?  Was I having a St. Francis moment?  I walked in the door filled with a deep awe at the moment that had passed between the owl and I.

A few minutes later, I heard the back door scrap against the tile. As his steps progressed into the house, my father called out, “Whoooooo, whoooooo...” It reverberated down the hallway and meet my ears.

A moment of realization flushed over my face. My St Francis nature moment had been nothing more than a long-distance communication with my dad, cleaning up for the day down at his shop.

Dad!!!  Was that you?!?!,” I yelled with a pretend accusation in my voice.

He laughed. I debated whether or not to tell him that I had been fancying myself a person with special animal communication abilities.

My parents have taken on the role of subduing the earth around our home. After his morning walk, my father reports on the tracks of animals and with a warning in his voice, evidence of snakes. From the high vantage point of the tractor, he moves dirt across the property, leveling and building up. My mother, when IMG_20160530_114020880_HDRshe has secured the garden’s defense, searches out the perfect combination of flowering plants to bloom on the patio and sweeps the blowing sand from the corners where it gathers.  

To celebrate their 40 years of marriage, my sister and I bought them a variety of plants. All have a red-colored leaf, blooming at different times throughout the year — a pomegranate bush, an elm tree, some others with fancy names that escape me.  Perpetual red; a sign of abiding love. But, really there is no need for the witness. Because doves, a staple of wedding and anniversary cards, eat breakfast outside the kitchen window and roost in the pine trees behind the house.


mary bio YAH

Where Are You From?

“This is my sixth time at this conference. Why do I have the jitters?”

I fired a short, honest tweet into the digital atmosphere, took a deep breath, and stepped into the halls of a Disney World convention center I knew so well. I scanned the crowd, simultaneously hoping to spot a friendly face and remain invisible until I got my bearings. My name badge displays a new city, a new company, and, oddly, my old name: Jen Rose.

The last time I was here, I was telling my engagement story and showing off a ring to anyone who asked. Two years later, marriage has changed more than a few things, but my former last name remains. Now it’s a radio name, belonging to a character on this networking stage.

Once I settled into the energy of the conference, I felt more like my past self. I spent the weekend laughing at old jokes with friends I grew up with, meeting newcomers, and struggling to give a short answer to every stranger who asked, “So, where are you from?”

IMG_6982“Well, I’m from here, Orlando, originally. But now I live in Massachusetts.” And I wondered every single time if that’s the right answer, if there even is a right answer.

Where are you from? Is it really where you traveled from? Because I’m definitely not from New England. Or is it where you work and live now? Is it the airport I flew from, Providence, Rhode Island, another state entirely? Do I tell them where my employer is – a small and sort of new CHR station in Worcester – or that I work from my apartment in another city over an hour away? I used to tell people I was from Orlando, but I actually lived in a small town an hour away. So should I tell them I’m from Boston because it’s a major point of reference and the only city most people out of state know of? No, definitely not.

Having two homes is weird.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s been about a year and a half since I said “I do,” packed up whatever could fit in a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda Civic, and moved into a third floor apartment 1,200 miles away from everything I had known. And since the day I arrived I’ve been wrestling with ideas of home and finding my place. Friends and family ask if I’m feeling at home yet, and I say yes. It’s partially true. I can get around without a GPS most of the time, I have favorite coffee shops, and I can finally pronounce some complicated Massachusetts town names.

And yet, still the displacement. Still the realization that I can’t go back to the past. And sometimes, the nagging voice that says “You’re different. You’re not from here.”

In some ways, the voice is right. This will never quite be home. That isn’t resistance to change, or bitterness, or resignation. It’s truth. And it brings some comfort.

IMG_6905The biggest move of my husband’s life was from the house he grew up in to our current apartment, eight blocks down the road. He’s a New Englander through and through. The rhythm of the seasons, the cadence of the language, the pride in the land and its history are all a part of who he is, and loving him teaches me to love this place more. So in a way, with him, this is truly home.

As for me… well, I can’t turn back time and grow up here. I can’t transplant my family, can’t rewrite history so my New Englander grandfather never married an Alabama girl and worked out his days in the orange groves of Florida. I can’t, and I’d never want to. The rhythms, seasons, culture, and history of my homeland have shaped me into the person I am, and though I never fully appreciated it then, I do now, every time I catch a glimpse of palm trees outside an airplane window and relearn how to breathe the heavy tropical air.

And you know, that’s okay. Home can be in two places, even many places. Home is where we first spring from seeds, and it’s where we replant our roots. But we still reach for the sun, for something more, for the home still coming, someday.

*  *  *  *  *

 Jen Rose“Where Are You From?” was written by Jen Rose Yokel. Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. She’s a poet, a radio nerd, and a regular contributor to The Rabbit Room. When not writing, she enjoys frequenting coffee shops, hunting down used books and vinyl records, and exploring nature with her husband Chris. You can find her thoughts and poems at and see pictures of mostly food and trees on her Instagram @jen_rose.

The Grown Up

Two years ago, I entered adulthood. Not by virtue of turning eighteen; I’d already done that. I found myself at thirty-one, untethered. Until then, I’d led a life of quiet habit and order, hoping that eventually I’d be recognized as a great talent. But I tired of waiting and so I quit my normal routine, church, and several lifelong friends.

There were now gaps in my weekly habits. I went around industriously filling them up by hanging out with people I hoped would become my friends, getting involved in bad romances, and spending money I didn’t have. I tried to get several people to marry me. Along the way I learned that the last thing that will endear you to someone is to suggest marriage in the first three weeks of a relationship.

My problems were threefold: I was not married (and badly wanted to be), I was a writer who did not write, and I was not in the kind of job I dreamed, when I was in college, that I’d have at thirty-one. Instead, I worked in a sleepy realty office, reading ebooks all day long, and dreaming of being the next Barbara Pym.

I tried to solve these problems by switching to a new job in downtown Hartford that promised a more lively environment, and moving back to my parents’ house. I’d spent the previous five years with roommates who married and moved regularly, which meant I always had to find a new place to live. Living with my parents again—in the basement no less—felt like a big step backwards. I continued seeing one of the well-intentioned but frightened men I was trying to convince to marry me.

But what had happened? Why had my life curdled and become so wretched? Why was I walking around in a desolate daze of dreariness?

Most days at at my new job, in the well-appointed office on the eleventh floor of a posh skyscraper, I forced back tears while balancing spreadsheets. My job performance suffered, something that had never happened before. I grew despondent.

I could not sleep, partially due to perpetually analyzing my life with its dearth of accomplishments and partially because I spent most of my non-work hours with the boyfriend I was afraid to leave alone for fear he’d have time to assess me and conclude we’d be better off apart.

I wanted peace, but I was heading toward an internal crisis of massive proportions. It was like drowning but not wanting to call attention to the shameful fact that I couldn’t swim.

Finally, in a fit of desperation, I told the boyfriend that I needed to be alone for good. I told my bosses I would start work an hour later in the mornings and make up for it in the evenings—I decided that time to read and write in the mornings was essential for my recovery. I began reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book Two-Part Invention, a memoir of her early artistic development and later marriage to her husband, the actor Hugh Franklin. I began writing in earnest. I began to listen to the advice of my worried parents asking me to sleep and eat more and go to writers workshops.

photo-1428790067070-0ebf4418d9d8The nascent grown-up in me began to move, struggling for breath and life.

I had tried to extend my adolescence for years: the naive expectation of what I thought life should  be. I thought it’d be an easy, pain-free way toward accomplishment, like the stories of people getting discovered by a famous producer and becoming famous overnight.

I quietly put the adolescent away in a shopping bag I used to deliver used clothes to the thrift store. She would be happier companioning a younger person, anyway.  

My grown-up was far more peaceful than the adolescent had been. Yet real peace was elusive for me. I think it is stated best by Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote: “O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu/ Some good!/ And so he does leave Patience exquisite,/ That plumes to Peace thereafter”. I clung to patience as a new adult. Peace could come later after patience laid its groundwork. Patience helped me start writing a book. Patience sat with me when loneliness made its frequent visits.

My grown-up showed me how to sit, to work, to choose to be alone, to be silent sometimes, to avoid bad relationships, to say “no thank you”. She showed me how to accept sleep as a friend and not a thief of time. To not get tipsy every time there was wine present. She showed me the promise of good work that only my hands could do.


image1 (1)“The Grown-up” was written by Elena Shekleton. Elena lives in Denver with her husband, the artist Dan Sorensen. She is currently working on a novel and a book of fairy tale short stories. Elena loves hiking in the Rockies, and exploring the breweries and book shops in her city.  Her apartment is now free of roaches.  

Dreaming of Feasts

Deep in sleep, I am dreaming of feasts.

I’m dreaming of a long table set for many, holding platters piled high with meat, the rich juices pooling below.

In my dream there is plenty—not just plenty of food, but plenty of everything that we crave: plenty of room, plenty of laughter and conversation, and, perhaps most of all, plenty of time. We are all around the table, feasting together, taking our time. There’s nowhere we need to be, no agenda beyond savoring the food and one another.

As I settle into a contented, even deeper sleep, my mouth salivates, and it seems my soul is anticipating the meal every bit as much as my taste buds.

*   *   *   *   *

When I wake up the next morning, the dream is still vivid—probably because the scent of slow-roasting pork shoulder is real. It fills the house, blurring the lines between my worlds of dreaming and waking.

Yesterday, my husband Jason came home for lunch just so he could unwrap the pork shoulder and prepare a rub. Rosemary, sage, garlic, fennel seed, salt, pepper, white wine, and olive oil became a rustic paste with the help of his mortar and pestle. As he applied the rub, Jason handled the meat lovingly, like a newborn getting its first bath.

photo (24)Jason’s respect for the piece of meat in his hands runs deep; it’s rooted not only in his knowledge of the flavor the meat is capable of producing—how the layers of collagen and marbled fat will soften and melt into the meat as it spends time in the oven—but also in his friendship with the farmer who raises the pigs and cattle we eat. Jason and Stan could talk about meat for hours, it seems. Could a cook’s ability to talk at length about meat be a direct measure of his ability to magically transform it into something that demands a response? It seems entirely possible.

After bathing the pork shoulder in the redolent rub, Jason returned it to the refrigerator for the important resting period that allows the flavors to penetrate and soften the meat. Then he hung his apron back on its hook, gave me a kiss, and headed back to work.

*   *   *   *   *

I spent the afternoon writing in my home office, for the most part forgetting about the resting pork until I went to make tea in the kitchen, where I smelled the remnants of crushed rosemary and sage still in the stone mortar on the counter.

A love for cooking is something Jason and I share. But Jason’s willingness to embrace a process—to cook something that involves multiple steps and often multiple days—is something I don’t find appealing. I’m too impatient, too eager to find out what a particular mix of ingredients tastes like in my mouth. I also don’t understand (or, I suppose, care to understand) the science behind cooking—what happens when meat is seared, fat is rendered, onions are caramelized, steaks are tented under foil after coming off the grill. I’m all about the results; the taste alone tells me all I need to know about the science.

But to be married to someone with that level of curiosity, patience, and knowledge about the many complexities of food? That is a gift I willingly receive. I’ll lend support with the sides and dessert, the texts to friends asking if they’re free for dinner, and the carefully set table. Perhaps my favorite thing about pork shoulder, after all, is the imperative that accompanies it: The 10-pound shoulder demands that we invite friends for a feast.

*   *   *   *   *

Later that night, while I was washing my face before bed, I  heard Jason downstairs in the kitchen—the beeping of the oven being set at 225, and the clatter of the roast pan being pulled from the cabinet. Finally, the well-rested and seasoned pork shoulder was tucked into the oven and the kitchen lights were turned off.

As we settled into bed, the only scents that reached my nose were soap and toothpaste, and a whiff of detergent on the fresh tank top I’d pulled on with my pajama pants. Falling asleep, we had only the knowledge of what was taking place in the oven downstairs, none of the proof.

*   *   *   *   *

Around 3:00 am, though, our noses are roused by the rich scent of roasting meat, as the juices begin to drip, soaking the rosemary that has fallen to the bottom of the pan. The scent tickles our minds and pokes gently at our stomachs as the other parts of our bodies continue on in sleep.

And the dreams that are triggered? They’re the very best kind: dreams of full tables and bellies, friendship and fellowship, and a meal that invites us to sit and savor, as if we have all the time in the world.

*   *   *   *   *

profile2014“Dreaming of Feasts” is by Kristin Tennant. Kristin and her husband and two teenage daughters are settled in a small, Midwestern university town edged by cornfields. Her days in Urbana are filled with freelance writing in her sunroom office or favorite coffee shop, learning (mostly by doing) everything she can about parenting teens, cooking elaborate feasts with her husband Jason, and feeding as many people as possible in their big old home. (The photo above shows Jason with the porchetta he made during a family vacation this past summer.)

A room of my own

Even before we were married, Ben and I enjoyed dreaming together about where we might live someday. Sometimes we explored the possibilities of different geographical locations, but more often we discussed the details of our future house. While we plotted ideal but realistic spaces for each of Ben’s many creative interests, I struggled to know what I would do in a room of my own.

I was a very imaginative child, but even from a young age I set impossible standards for the things I created. As I grew older, I took classes to teach me the “correct” way to create. I enjoyed art, writing, and music, but there was always someone better than me. I grew weary of feeling like a mediocre imitation of someone else.

After college, life was filled with expectations to meet—job interviews, performance reviews, housework, bills. I wanted something that was mine, with no one telling me what to do or how to do it. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but as I struggled to find where I fit in the adult world, I needed a place where I felt free to experiment, make mistakes, and try again.

Simply the act of verbally setting aside space for me to create, even before Ben and I had the means to make it a physical reality, was powerful. The point wasn’t to be fair, making sure each of us occupied an equal allotment of square footage. Instead, it was about recognizing me as a creative being. We were investing in who I was and what I could create, without guaranteed results. My room was a gift of possibility, not something I had to earn. I was entrusted with resources before proving I would use them wisely and well.

Knowing I had space with no strings attached gave me permission to take my time and explore. I didn’t have to try to measure up to anyone else’s standards. I could rediscover my creativity my own way. Setting aside physical space to create gave me the internal space to start believing in my creativity again.

00030In our 525 square foot newlywed apartment, we carved out slivers of creative space. Our bedroom was small, but it became more than a place for our bed and our clothes. Amidst Ben’s drawing easel, computers, and musical instruments, I found room for a sewing machine I purchased from a thrift store. Choosing a less common pastime relieved some of the pressure to perform, and, as a tall woman generally unimpressed with fashion trends, the possibility of making my own clothes appealed to me.

A heather gray pencil skirt was one of the first projects I tackled. I even sewed a back vent instead of just a slit, not realizing it was a more advanced option. I just preferred the way it looked. I didn’t have any sewing patterns and didn’t know how to use them anyway—I made things up as I went, cutting into a 25-cent piece of clearance fabric after examining a skirt I already owned. The resulting skirt isn’t fit to be worn in public—the seams are unfinished, the hem is crooked, and the zipper insertion is appalling—but it still makes me immensely proud.

When the time came to move from our first apartment into our first house, we only looked at homes with at least three bedrooms. Of course we needed somewhere to sleep, but we also wanted to finally each have a room of our own. The house we purchased was old and the bedrooms were small, but they were ours to arrange and use however we wanted—places to experiment freely without worrying about the mess. After the crowded drabness of our apartment, our house was full of character. Built in 1926 in a logging town, it had beautiful birdseye maple floors and decorative molding above the doors and windows. I painted the walls of my room a soothing mid-tone blue and furnished it with dumpster dives, free finds from Craigslist, and anything that made me smile.

It was hard to leave my room behind when we moved to a new city, but I still have a room of my own. For now we’re renting and I’m not allowed to paint the dingy white walls. Bits of thread and fabric beneath my sewing table tangle in the utilitarian brown carpet. But when I feed the coral colored satin and lace of the bridesmaids dresses I’m making for my sister’s wedding under the presser foot of my thrift store sewing machine, I feel completely at home.

*    *    *    *    *

JohannaSchram“A Room of My Own” is by Johanna Schram. Johanna feels most comfortable in places that are cozy and most alive in places that are spacious. Though the city changes, Wisconsin has always been the state she calls home. Johanna is learning to value wrestling with the questions over having all the answers. She craves community and believes in the connecting power of story. Johanna writes at her blog joRuth to help others know themselves and find freedom from the “shoulds” keeping them from a joyful, fulfilling life. She can be found on Twitter @joRuthS.

December 20th, 2013

Our destination was Toronto, straight north, about four hours, all highway driving. We were traveling to celebrate the union of two beautiful friends who would be wedded on the winter equinox. After the wedding, we would spend the night in Niagara so that I could see the falls for the first time.

But we never made it. We didn’t even get close. Barely out of Allegheny County, a tractor trailer truck merged into our Subaru Impreza. The police report would estimate that upon impact our car traveled 90 yards, almost the full length of a football field.

When we landed, I looked myself over. Somehow I was fine–not a single scratch I turned to the driver’s side where my wife sat.  She was not fine. The roof had compacted in upon impact, cutting her head. Blood, mixed with glass bits from the windshield, covered her face. She was conscious.

She was worrying about me.

Straddling the road’s shoulder and a grassy embankment, our car faced outward and I watched, terrified, as headlights from passing vehicles whizzed by. The ignition key remained in place but we were going nowhere. The front of our car had crumpled up liked a used soda pop can. The back and side windows were completely blown out. Far away from city lights it was dark and damp. The flashers hummed in the background: Tick, tick, Tick, tick.

I fumbled for my cellphone in the breast pocket of my coat, but before I could reach it, a Good Samaritan arrived, “Are you okay?”png;base645aaca8097519cafb

“Please,” I begged. “Please, call 911. Now.”

Taking off my downy brown winter coat, I used its sleeve to apply pressure to my wife’s head and draped the rest over her body. She was shivering from the shock and the chill of the night air. I didn’t notice the cold or the rain seeping through my thin gray cotton shirt.

I tried to remain calm, but my tears falling silently onto her face gave me away. Fighting the growing panic, I forced myself to focus. I reassured my wife, “It’s going to be okay honey. The paramedics will be here soon. Stay with me. Don’t leave me.”

Where was that ambulance? Why weren’t they here yet? What if they can’t find us? Taking a deep breath in and silently beseeching God to make an ambulance appear, I continued to hold pressure.

Finally, flashing red and blue lights approached us. My breath froze as I let out a deep sigh of relief, and  the paramedics  hurried to our car. Shouldering me aside they worked to remove my wife. I stepped aside.

On the side of Route 79-N in the wet grass and mud, my black and white converse sneakers squelched as I walked over to the stoic Butler County police officer.  I thought it odd that he didn’t offer me a blanket, jacket, or to sit in his car, while he rained down questions:

“Were you wearing seatbelts? How many people were in the car? Names? Ages? Is that your sister? What happened? Did the driver stop? What color was the truck? Did you see the license plate? Where did the truck hit you? How many times did you roll? How fast were you going? Did the driver see you?

Laying on a stretcher my wife was loaded into the back of the ambulance. I sat in the front. Fearful of being hit again, I turned my eyes away from the dark slick road and watched while the paramedics worked on my wife: cutting away her shirt, listening to her heart and lungs as she laid shivering and immobilized. An IV was inserted into a petite arm vein, a bag of fluids hanging overhead. No longer able to keep my fear at bay, my tears erupted and I sobbed for the rest of the drive. We returned to our city.

When we arrived, the paramedic went to wheel my wife in, “What about you? Do you need to be checked out?” he asked. “No,” I replied, but my wife cut me off, “Yes! She needs to be seen. She’s six weeks pregnant.”

Pregnant. Earlier that day, we were at a different hospital completing my six-week ultrasound. The printout of our baby was in my wife’s workbag. We were waiting to share the news with our families until Christmas, only five days away. We were elated. I had bought coffee mugs that read, “World’s Greatest Grandparents,” as a creative way to break our wonderful news.

Twelve hours after we arrived at the hospital, I told my mom the news in the hospital cafeteria among the sterile white walls, plastic trays, tasteless cardboard eggs, and a pint-sized carton of chocolate milk while we waited for my wife to get out of surgery. Despite my dirty blood-stained shirt, my mother engulfed me in a warm hug and we both smiled for the first time since her arrival.

My mother-in-law found out several days later. Combing through our things that had been salvaged from the accident, “What’s this?” she innocently asked holding up the ultrasound picture.

That ultrasound picture was our savior, a reminder of better things to come. A symbol of growth, love, and resiliency. During the weeks of recovery we would sit together and gaze at that black and white watermarked ultrasound picture, our hands resting lightly on my stomach.

In addition to the head laceration, my wife had broken her neck. The margin of difference between having full mobility and being paralyzed was less than a quarter of an inch. A quarter of an inch, in late December, just out of Allegheny County, that lay between a devastating loss and an abundant family of three. A quarter inch that changed the direction of my life and gave me new appreciation for every mile.

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png;base64d2e992f25f3ecfe1“December 20, 2013” was written by Kristen Stepanczuk. Kristen lives in Pittsburgh, PA where she is a licensed professional counselor and coach, and an aspiring writer, storyteller, and speaker. She loves to help and connect with others, and has made it her life’s mission to help women live healthy, happy, and balanced lives. Kristen counsels and coaches both locally and nationally. Additional information can be found on her website


The sign of windmills

There’s a curve in the freeway, just where the old Dutch Windmill waves its cheerful arms at passers by. It is nestled on the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s table top mountain, a gentle arc of land once populated by quaggas but now home to students from every corner of the continent. The freeway snakes away from the city, and I knew each twist: hospital bend, the little plateau as the freeway parts into two, the slight rise before the arms of the windmill break into view on the left. Even my muscle memory knew the camber of the road, knowing just when to brake, just how much to nudge the steering wheel to take the corner gradually, before flicking on the indicators to signal my exit.

It happened one day, driving home just six weeks into a fledgling relationship, that I knew I would marry this man. He was not at all my type: quiet where I’d always dated extroverts, cautious where I’d formerly been drawn to confident certainty. Our first weeks of dating had been rocky, too: an old flame was in town and was causing trouble.

And yet, as I drove home from a stolen lunch of perfectly spiraled sushi rolls and contemplated the unlikeliness of it all, it was then I remembered a prayer I had prayed some years earlier: an uncomplicated prayer, that I would find someone who loved me for who I was, who loved God, and with whom I could talk and laugh. I cheekily added a fourth request: Please God, if it wasn’t too much to ask, could he be tall, too?

7307290624_d6aeb0dc08_zI laughed out loud at the memory, just as the windmill came into sight. No, he wasn’t the life of the party or a teller of jokes, but we certainly did laugh together. He wasn’t a reciter of sonnets or the maker of grand gestures, but his quiet patience in the midst of my ex-boyfriend-tornado spoke volumes of his commitment to me. Yes, he loved God, and—Oh God, you remembered!—he stretched six feet and two inches tall. A man to look up to, in every sense of the word.

The windmill bore witness to it all. I flicked on my turning signal, grinning to myself. I’d been slow to realize it, but this was the one with whom I could be silly and cranky, and who could see my fissures and not run. This was the one with whom I could grow old. I felt the winds of change and sensed a deep shift, a milling in my own soul.

I drove home that same route the next day, and the next, smiling each time I drove past that historic landmark, noting its milestone. Six months later I passed by my windmill in the passenger seat, this time dressed in white. I rested my hand on my new husband’s knee. “Do you see that windmill?” I asked. “This was where I first knew we would get married. Driving home. One day after eating sushi with you. And I just knew.”

He smiled and flicked on the indicator as we passed under the windmill’s shade. Ever as always, it signaled home.

*   *   *   *   *

bronwyn lea umbrella“The Sign of Windmills” is by Bronwyn Lea. Bronwyn and her husband married and moved from Cape Town to California, where they now live with their three littles. Bronwyn writes about the holy and hilarious at, as well as other online places like SheLoves, RELEVANT, the Huffington Post and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Occasionally, she gets back to South Africa and always makes sure to drive by the windmill (pictured above, photograph by Ian Barbour). Follow Bronwyn on Facebook and Twitter.


A damp chill in the early morning air, unusual for April this far south, makes me shiver. My azaleas and dogwoods are laden with buds yearning to give a color show of pinks and whites.

“Maybe my wisteria will be in bloom when we get back,” I say to myself.

“Come here and tell me what you think,” Tom calls.

Milk crates and boxes filled with antique glass bottles are packed in the rear cargo hold of our SUV. Like a chess player contemplating his next move, Tom, my husband, is surveying the situation—rotating the multi-sized containers until he makes a space for “just one more.” We are preparing to leave for a collectibles show and sale in a small Virginia town nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Where in the world are we going to put our luggage, our clothes on hangers, and my tote bag?  I  ask.”Something’s  got to give.”


The April tax crunch and an impending audit of our family business have pressure-cooked the creative juices and energy out of me. Tom rarely smiles. Our tempers flare—often. Silence follows. We’ve settled into a rhythm: Work. Sleep. Eat. Work. Sleep. Eat.

Five hundred miles of interstate stretch from Memphis to the Virginia state line. West to east we follow a route we have traveled many times. Tom drives, with a slight hunch of his shoulders, leaving a space between the seat and his back. I absentmindedly reach over and rub his back, circling my fingers over flannel and the nape of his neck.

I see cows graze in a pasture, dots of black scattered across a pasture of brown and patchy green.

“There are your cows,” says Tom with a knowing smile.

As I begin to tell a childhood story about my pet cow, I stop myself and apologize for re-hashing a tale he has heard many times during our 30 years together.

“It’s okay,” he says. Tom smiles, reaches over, and squeezes my hand.

Nearing Nashville, the road begins a gentle climb, bordered by an irregular wall of layered rock. Small trees struggle to maintain their footing as they grow through crevices in the stone. A few reddish brown leaves have hung on to their spindly branches since autumn.


A sign greets us: Welcome to Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers. The interstate winds slowly, flanked by deep ditches and streams of water littered with broken Styrofoam, food wrappers, and beer cans. Tidy white clapboard houses, with painted shutters and porches for sitting, live in the shadow of houses with unhinged shutters and collapsing porches.

JESUS IS LORD. WE SELL GUNS. proclaim the signs nailed side by side on the back of a weathered shed with a rusty red metal roof.

“Oh my goodness!” I exclaim. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Our route leads us off the interstate to a two-lane highway with the occasional pothole. I hear the tinkle of shifting glass in the back of the vehicle and gasp. Tom assures me his careful packing will protect the fragile bottles from breakage.

Spring is coming slow here, also. The forsythia is starting to splash her cheerful yellow against the canvas of winter’s lingering gray. Slips of green are pushing through the pea-gravel at the side of the road. The mountains rise above this plateau, inviting us to travel to higher ground.


photo by Lisa Phillips