Maggie and James were married quietly, two weeks later, before the hearth in Helen’s house. Besides the parish priest, only Gram, Bill, and Keziah were present. James moved into the house with his few belongings—Maggie could hardly believe how few. Some clothes, a box of books about farming and sheep, and the beautiful little copy of Paradise Lost that she had given him for Christmas. That was all. She saw little more of him than she had before—he was up before dawn to head down to Stonewold and out all day, though most days he came home for lunch. Home. Maggie smiled at the word. This was home now, for both of them.

In the middle of February, as she and Gram were cleaning out the middle bedroom upstairs, Maggie pulled several boxes out of the small closet and began sifting through their contents. Books mostly, cheap yellowing paperbacks, and school yearbooks—if that’s what they called them over here—and a few photographs of people she didn’t recognize wearing hideous clothes from the ’70’s. At the bottom of the box was a dusty flannel bag, and inside the bag—Maggie gasped as she pulled out a large, heavy book. “Gram!” she called. “Gram! I’ve found it!”

“Found what, dear?” Gram looked up from the pile of clothes she was tossing, one at a time, into a garbage bag.

“The Bible!” It was a deep mahogany color, with the words Holy Bible etched deeply into the boards, which were fastened with a brass clasp. Maggie’s fingers trembled as she opened it. Gram crossed the room and lowered herself onto the floor beside Maggie. Together they slowly turned the pages, old and brittle, and breathed the faint but wonderful scent of old books that the pages gave off. It had been well-loved, Maggie could tell. The corners of the cover were worn, and the pages, tinged with yellow, bore unmistakable marks of having been read and turned—a smudge in the corner, a faint outline of a fingerprint. Generations of her family had held this book in their hands.

Between the Old and New Testaments were several pages of a family tree. The last entry was the birth of Maggie’s grandfather, George Lowell. “They didn’t even mark down your marriage to him, Gram,” Maggie said. “I wonder why.”

Gram shrugged. “Perhaps the Bible was already in this box. Though why they’d have packed it away I don’t know.”

Maggie ran her finger lightly up the Lowell family tree. George’s parents, Helen James and Jared Lowell, married in 1906. Jared’s parents, Margaret Wright and Henry Lowell, married in 1879. Henry’s parents, Jane Elliott and another George Lowell—Was Grandpa named for him? Maggie wondered—married in 1836. George’s parents, Elizabeth Bradford and Samuel Lowell, married in 1818.

1818. Maggie’s eyes went wide. Elizabeth Bradford.

“E.B.,” she whispered. “Oh, Gram, I’ve found her.”

“Found whom, dear?”

“E.B. Remember? I asked about her—last fall—when I found the—” She caught herself just in time. “The books. In that trunk. In the attic.”

Gram nodded. “Oh yes, dear. You were so excited about those books. So they were hers, were they?” She looked at where Maggie’s finger rested on the family tree. “She died in 1889. 100 years ago next month.”

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. “James!” Maggie called. “James! Come here! Come look!”

As James entered the room, Gram held up her hands to him. “Be a dear and help an old woman to her feet,” she said, and he did. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’m going to go make lunch.”

“We’ll be right down, Gram,” Maggie called after her. “James, look!” She pointed to Elizabeth Bradford’s name. “I found E.B. She’s my—” She quickly counted the generations. “My great-great-great-great grandmother.”

James sat on the floor beside her, one leg behind her back, an arm across her shoulders.

“He married her, James. See?” She pointed to Samuel Lowell’s name.

“1818,” James said, scanning the other names and dates. “It’s the only marriage with just a year. No month, no day.”

“He was protecting her,” Maggie said softly. “And legitimizing her child.”

So E.B. had known love, the caring protection of Samuel Lowell. They’d had four more children, three boys and a girl. As Samuel was the only son of his parents, Maggie thought he must be the son mentioned in the fifth sonnet—“mother, father, son”—and also the man with whom E.B. had fallen in love, the man to whom she had written the sixth sonnet. Maggie wondered what it cost Samuel Lowell, in that day and age, to marry a woman who was pregnant with another man’s child.

“They named him George Samuel,” James was saying, “after Samuel and his father.”

They must have been very loving people, Maggie thought, to take in this young woman, to consent to their son’s marrying her, to record the birth of her child as their own grandson, and with his grandfather’s name. Another thought struck her.

“Samuel had three sons of his own, but still he left the farm to George,” she said. “If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. It would belong to some distant cousin somewhere.” Tears filled her eyes. It could have been so different—if E.B. had never come to this house—if Samuel had not married her—or not treated her son as his own—if James’s wife hadn’t died in that horrible car crash—if he hadn’t run out of gas just over the hill—if Brian hadn’t been such a prat—if any one thing had been different—she would never have come here—or James would never have come here—their paths would never have crossed—they would never have met. “It feels like a miracle,” she whispered, her throat aching.

“It’s not a miracle, Maggie,” James said tenderly. “He loved that boy, and love is stronger than blood.”

She leaned her head against his shoulder. “I think that’s a miracle, too.”


A month later Maggie took down the Bible from its new place on a shelf in the parlour. In the days after she’d found it, she’d brought the family tree up to date, right up to her and James’s marriage. Tonight she was going to record the birth of Samuel James MacKinnon.

A fire crackled quietly in the hearth. Upstairs she could hear Gram walking across the hall to her room, and the squeak of a floor board as she lay down on her bed. Otherwise the room was quiet.

She set the Bible on the low table in front of the sofa, where James lay crashed out with Sam cradled against his side. Babies were exhausting, that was certain. She had never been so tired in her life, or so happy. She perched on the edge of the sofa and smiled at her husband and her son, and her heart so ached with love and gladness that it brought tears to her eyes.

As she unclasped the Bible and turned to the family tree, its pages fell open to the first chapter of Matthew. Wedged into the spine was a folded square of paper, yellow with age. She stared at it. Then, with trembling fingers, she picked it up. “James,” she whispered. “James.”

He turned his face toward her, his eyes half-open.

She held the paper up. “I think—I think it’s another of E.B.’s sonnets.”

James smiled and squeezed her free hand. “You already know how her story ended,” he said gently. “Why don’t you open it and read it?”

Maggie nodded and slowly unfolded the paper. She swallowed the lump in her throat and read.

No Mary am I, but Joseph you are—
To see beyond my sin and fear and shame
And place upon my finger your ringed star
And shelter me—this child—beneath your name
As Salmon Rahab took and loved though she
Was crimson as the cord that saved her kin—
As Boaz sheltered Ruth, redeemed to be
His wife. Hosea loved despite her sin
His faithless wife, and faithful did remain,
As God above His people loved—and loves
Us still. However far we flee in pain
And shame and sunken rage He moves
To seek and find and hold and heal—His grace
A vast and wide and high and deep embrace.

—E.B.L., 1818

Photo by Joysaphine, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Being Broken Bread

Three years ago my second book, which I had written as an act of obedience, was published. Since God called me to write it and clearly carried me through the writing of it, I thought He would make it commercially successful. He didn’t. In terms of sales, it was an utter failure. I was confused and hurt and angry: had I misheard? Had I wasted my time? What was going on?

Six months later I found myself at Laity Lodge. Early one morning, I got up and walked out to Sanctuary, an interactive sculpture on the grounds. Seating myself inside and looking up at the Texas sky, I asked God for clarity, for a vision: what was my writing for?

Immediately, an image came to mind. A plate filled with pieces of broken bread. I shoved the image aside and waited. Again, I saw in my mind’s eye a plate of broken bread. I shook my head, cast the image from my mind, and stared harder at the sky. No use. Broken bread again filled my thoughts. Well, that’s rich, I thought. A prosaic plate of passive bread crumbs. Thanks a lot, God. And I promptly forgot about this little vision-quest.

I shouldn’t have been so insulted. And I certainly shouldn’t have been surprised….
Friends, I am thrilled to say that I am now a contributing writer at The Cultivating Project, a beautiful blog dedicated to Christians in the arts, hosted by the lovely Lancia Smith. It is one of my very favorite places online—quiet, thoughtful, and beautiful, and I am honored to get to participate in it.

This is the first piece I’ve written for Lancia, and it would bless me (and her!) no end if you would take a moment to hop over, read the rest of the essay, and leave a short comment. Thank you so much! While you’re there, you might want to poke around—Lancia takes beautiful photographs, and her interviews with artists are rich and satisfying. I think you will find that The Cultivating Project blesses you, too.



This Promise Land of plenty is not mine.
A foreigner I feel, a Moabite

At table eating Boaz’ food and wine—
I cannot raise my face to meet your sight.
Would I were noble, loyal, like good Ruth,
I’d clasp your feet upon the threshing floor—
No shame would mar my countenance; the truth
And faith and firmness of my state would pour
Like water, shine like light, from out my eyes
And you would wake and see and smile and stroke
My face—your work worn hands, so kind and wise,
Would gather me beneath your garment’s yoke.
I am no Ruth but Rahab scarlet stained—
In dreams alone is such a future gained.

—E.B., 1818


The next day was misty from dawn till dusk. Maggie felt tired these days and the grey light made her sleepy and her conversations with Gram and her parents last night had exhausted her, so after lunch, instead of going for her usual walk, she took a nap. That evening, as she washed up the dinner dishes, she could hear rain still splattering on the windows and occasionally hissing in the fire in the parlour. The baby kicked, hard enough to take her breath away for a moment. Only eight more weeks until her life changed forever.

No, her life had changed forever last July when she found out she was pregnant. She found she was no longer angry. Would she really have wanted never to come here? Never to know the feel of the wind from the river on her face or the blue of the sky above the emerald of the fields? Would she wish away these months with Gram, hearing her stories of growing up on these hills? Or the privilege of sorting through a century of her family’s belongings, touching each one, learning more about who she was because of this place she’d come from? Would she want never to have discovered E.B.’s sonnets? Not to have spent hours puzzling over who she was and what her story was? Never to have met James? Her heart shrank at the thought.

One by one she pulled the plates out of the rinse water and set them on the drying rack. No, she could not wish away these past months, no matter how dramatically her life had changed, was about to change. She wondered if E.B. had felt that same way, felt glad somehow for the pain and shame she endured because of where it brought her in the end? In this house, she had met compassion and kindness. Here, she had loved—someone—probably the son mentioned in the fifth sonnet. Did he love her in return? What had happened to him? What had happened to her? To her baby? Maggie didn’t know the end of E.B.’s story. Gram had said all those months ago that there was a family Bible around here somewhere, and perhaps it held a clue to E.B.’s identity, to her future, but they still hadn’t unearthed it. Maggie wondered if it even existed anymore.

A knock sounded on the kitchen door. She dried her hands on a dish towel and went to answer it. James stood on the stoop, dripping. “I didn’t see you today, and I wanted—” He looked around and lowered his voice. “I wanted to hear how your conversations went yesterday.”

Maggie invited him in and put the kettle on for tea. As they waited for the water to boil, she finished rinsing the dishes and told him of her conversation with Gram, which had gone far better than she’d expected. And her parents, though disappointed, bore the news with remarkable calm. “They’re concerned for me, of course,” she said, drying her hands. “This isn’t the path they imagined for me.” The kettle whistled and she poured the water into the teapot. “It isn’t the path I imagined for myself.” She rested her hands on her belly, gently, tenderly.

James said, “I never imagined I’d become a sheep farmer—not in a million years.”

Maggie glanced up at him. He was looking at her hands on her belly. She wondered if he were thinking of his own unborn child, of the life he might have had, and in that moment she knew she loved him. When he met her gaze, a question in his eyes, her smile was a little wobbly, but she took his hand and rested it on her belly. After a moment, the baby kicked, a one-two punch that made them both grin.

“Sometimes,” James said, “the path chooses us, and it’s better than what we’d have chosen for ourselves.”


It continued to rain for three days. The river rose, half the roads were flooded out, and power lines and phone lines were down all over the county. Isolated from the world by flood and phone failure, Gram and Maggie finished cleaning one of the upstairs bedrooms, the one closest to Maggie’s. She smiled as she scrubbed the last of the dust from the floor planks. It would make a fine room for the baby, once there were curtains in the window and a rug on the floor. There was already a crib in the corner, and a rocking chair. Helen had thrown away nothing, it seemed, and Maggie was increasingly glad of that.

After supper on the third day, when the rain was coming down harder than ever—the fire in the parlour hissed loudly every few seconds as a raindrop made its way down the chimney and into the flames—Gram had gone upstairs with a headache and a cup of tea, and Maggie sat quietly on the sofa, watching the fire dance and sing. A knock on the kitchen door pulled her from her reverie. She heaved herself off the sofa and went to answer it.

“James!” she cried when she saw him, drenched and dripping, on the stoop. “You’re soaked through!” She stepped aside and gestured him into the kitchen. “What on earth possessed you to come out on a night like this?”

“I haven’t seen you in three days.” He shrugged off his coat and hung it on a peg by the door. “I missed you.”

It wasn’t just the words. It was the tone, the tenderness of it.

Maggie’s heart lurched into her throat and she found that she could not speak. It took several swallows to return it to its proper place.

“Come,” she was finally able to say, and led the way into the parlour. “Sit by the fire and dry off. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

When the tea was ready, Maggie brought it and the cups on a tray to the parlor and set them on the low table in front of the sofa. She found that she could not look at James as he crossed the room to sit down beside her, and that her hand trembled a little as she poured the tea.

They sat in silence, sipping their tea and staring into the fire. But after a few moments Maggie found she did not mind. The silence was strangely comforting, and she slowly ceased to be aware of it. She finished her tea, set down her teacup, and leaned back on the sofa. The fire hissed and popped. The baby stirred. James reached over and clasped Maggie’s hand in his.

Her heart slammed into her ribs at his touch, and she looked at him sharply, but he was still gazing into the fire, seemingly unconscious of what he had just done.

“James?” she said after a moment.


“You’re holding my hand.”

A smile played at the corners of his mouth, but he still did not look at her. “Aye. Does it bother you?”

“No,” Maggie said slowly. In fact, she rather liked it. If the tattooing of her heart was any indication, she liked it a lot. “But I’d like to know what you mean by it.”

He looked at her then. “I mean to marry you if you’ll let me.”

For one moment all the air seemed sucked out of the room. Maggie felt plastered in place. She could neither breathe nor speak nor think. Then—“Marry me! But we—you—I—I’m pregnant! And—and you—you don’t know me well enough!”

James squeezed her hand. “I know you’re pregnant. I’ve known it almost as long as I’ve known you—ever since the day you showed me those sonnets that you’ve been carrying around in your pocket.”

Maggie felt her cheeks flame.

“And I’ve spent part of almost every day for the past six months with you, Maggie. I know you well enough to know that you’re brave and adventurous and loyal and kind. I’ve seen the way you treat your Gram, the way you treat Floss and the sheep. I’ve seen the way you’ve wrestled silently with your anger toward Brian and never once maligned him.”

“But I have! Oh James, you don’t know how hateful my thoughts toward him have been!”

“But you’re not giving in to those thoughts, Maggie. Of course they’re there, but you’re fighting them—you’re wrestling them to the ground and pinning them there. You’re not letting them rob you of laughter and joy and love. You love that baby—and—I think you love me—perhaps not as much as I love you—perhaps not in the same way—”

“Oh, James.” Maggie’s voice was a teary whisper.

“I know that marrying a Scottish sheep-farmer wasn’t in your plans, Maggie, any more than moving to England or having a baby was in your plans. It certainly wasn’t in my plans to fall in love with a poetry-loving American lass and her baby. But you’ve become part of the fabric of my life, Maggie; you’ve woven yourself right into it.”

“Oh, James,” she said again, still teary but almost smiling.

James squeezed her hand again and rested his other hand on her cheek. “I love you, Mary Magdalene Lowell. Be my wife?”

Maggie’s heart was thumping so hard she could barely speak. “Oh, James.”

James grinned. “You’ve said that three times now, Maggie. Do you think you could say something else?”

Maggie grinned through her tears. “Yes,” she whispered.


Photo by Joysaphine, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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