When I wrote An Empty Cup, it was during a very difficult period for me. I wasn’t certain how my readers would take to the story line which, at the time, mirrored my own life. So many readers, however, wrote to me to confide that they felt as if they were Rosanna Yoder when, in fact, I was Rosanna Yoder, too! It dawned on me that all women face similar problems and issues, perhaps not as pronounced as Rosanna faced with her husband’s business, a demanding family, or horrible neighbors. But the emotions that women feel—as if everyone wants a piece of you, even when there is nothing left to give! —is universal.
We tend to give so much of ourselves that we become depleted, just like an empty cup. We simply have nothing left to give and need to recharge our batteries.
This is no different for Amish women. Depression is no stranger to Amish homes. Women are the mainstay of the home and everyone depends on them. Most women thrive in that environment, but some women, like Rosanna, become drained.
If you haven’t read An Empty Cup, I encourage you to do so. While it takes place in the Amish community of Lancaster County, it is geared toward all women and the precursor to my journey into women’s fiction (I.e. The Faded Photo and my October release of Heavenly Blues).
I hope you will enjoy this brief excerpt from the book:
Rosanna sighed and leaned against the white pillar holding up the sagging roof of her wraparound porch. She felt as weary as the house and porch looked— both of which were in desperate need of fresh paint. The fence also needed to be painted and fixed— the horse kept wandering into the mules’ paddock. Given that it was already autumn, she knew Timothy wouldn’t get to any of the repairs this year. She was as resigned to this as she was to the fact that she lived in a loveless marriage.
Staring at the two-story red barn across the driveway, Rosanna watched as the sun rose behind it, the sky slowly transforming from dark blues to hues of red and orange. She heard the dogs bark from their kennel. A stray cat ran around the back corner of the barn, the likely cause of the interest from the dogs. It disappeared down the driveway in the direction of the road.
Unlike most Amish farms, their property was long and rectangular, the driveway cutting the land almost in half. The fields were closer to the road, while the house and outbuildings were tucked far in the back. The horse and buggy had to travel down the long driveway, which cut through the middle of two crop fields, in order to get to the house and barn. Bordering the back of the property were the paddocks for the horse, mules, and cows, facing south, and the family’s garden behind the house. On the western side, another road ran behind the fields and barn.
It was a strange layout for a farm, and Rosanna wasn’t particularly fond of the garden’s location. She felt it was too close to the main entrance of the house. As a result, every time she hung laundry or helped with morning chores, she was constantly passing it and reminded of how much work she had to do: tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting. At least now with the growing season behind her, she only needed to spread manure to prepare the dirt for next spring.
The barn, however, gave her some comfort. The gray river stones used for the foundation dated back to the mid-1700s, according to her husband. It was a pretty building, and with the red paint and white trim, it stood out as a landmark for anyone traveling past it on the back road. Unlike the rest of the property, the barn was in perfect shape; there was not one warped board of siding nor one shingle in need of replacement.
That’s Timothy, she thought emotionlessly.
Because the large red barn could be seen from the road, her husband kept it in immaculate repair. The windows were washed on a weekly basis, and no excuses for even one cobweb were accepted, harsh winters or illness included. Timothy was fastidious when it came to appearances. No one was going to talk about his family or his farm— at least not the people who mattered. In Timothy’s mind, the people who mattered meant everyone in the g’may . . . everyone except her.
Rosanna knew better than to complain to anyone about the truth. Her mother had always told her not to hang dirty laundry where other people could see it. The metaphor wasn’t lost on Rosanna. She knew that if she talked to one of the preachers, Timothy’s reaction would be worse than anything she’d already faced. She knew that he’d never change, so what was the point in confiding in anyone? Amish women didn’t get divorced. They just worked alongside their husbands and learned to keep a stiff upper lip even when sorrow dominated their lives.
Hearing his voice call her name was jarring. While she shouldn’t have been surprised that he was up, she had to dig deep to find the strength to face him. She dreaded returning to the kitchen and navigating the chaos of life, a life that felt increasingly out of control and overly demanding to Rosanna. The calm before the storm, she thought, was over. Every morning she rose early to find some time to reflect and pray— and be alone without Timothy’s presence hovering nearby.
It was still early morning, and that meant only one thing: the day was ahead of her, and like all of her days, it was going to be a long one. If she were lucky, Timothy would need to leave the farm to work with the Englische.
“Rosanna!” He flung open the door, the upper hinge squeaking.
Just one more thing to fix, she thought.
“Are you deaf?” His voice shot through her, his harsh words cutting and mean. He was in a mood; she could tell that without even turning around to greet him. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to remain calm. It was a method of coping that she had taught herself years ago. Deep breath in, hold it, exhale slowly. For some reason, it helped.
“Was just enjoying the sunrise,” she answered, careful to avoid speaking with an edge to her voice.
One look at her husband, and she knew that the morning wasn’t going to start well, despite the fact that he was dressed and ready to begin his day. As always, his clean white shirt was wrinkle free, and his trousers bore not a single spot to indicate they were his work pants. No, his clothing indicated nothing was amiss in the Zook household. After all, appearances mattered to him. It was only on the inside that the secret of his shame was apparent. Freshly laundered clothing couldn’t hide the real problem: it was written all over his face, even if she was the only one who recognized it.
Last night, as she did on most nights, she had retired early, putting the children to bed before retreating to the bedroom that she and Timothy shared. She read by her lantern light for a while, preferring the soft flickering of the kerosene lamp to the harsh brightness of the battery-operated lights that more and more Amish families were now using. The gentle shadows that danced on the pale-blue walls helped her relax, and after reading two pages of her devotional, she set the book on her nightstand and blew out the lantern’s flame.
She awoke alone.
She stole quietly into the kitchen, suspecting that she would find Timothy there, still in his clothes and fast asleep. Before she struck a match to light the propane lantern over the kitchen table, she looked at the large sunroom that opened to the kitchen. Sure enough, she saw his form sprawled out on the sofa along the back wall. He was still wearing his work clothes from the previous day, and Rosanna suspected he wouldn’t change. Again.
She found him there most mornings. It was a routine that was becoming increasingly difficult to live with. She knew divorce was not an option, but she secretly thought about it from time to time.
Now was one of those times.
“There’s no coffee brewing!” Timothy said, running his hand through his uneven dark hair. He had insisted she cut it last weekend, even though he had refused to sharpen the scissors. Luckily, he hadn’t noticed— or simply didn’t care— that the haircut was lopsided and his bangs were cut on a diagonal. He stood in the doorway, holding it open with his arm as he glared at her. “Is it too much to ask for coffee when I wake up?”
Rosanna dipped her head in silent acquiescence as she hurried past him. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
“And don’t burn it today,” he grumbled. “If that’s at all possible.”
The criticism would have stung if she weren’t so used to it. She had heard the complaints a hundred times: she couldn’t cook, she couldn’t sew, she couldn’t even make a good cup of coffee. The list of her flaws seemed endless when Timothy began criticizing her.
She wished she could lash out at him and point out that his constant criticism and belittling of her was driving a huge wedge between them. And it was affecting the children, too. They were beginning to see what was happening, especially Aaron, who had just turned thirteen.
It was a given that Timothy favored Aaron over Cate. After all, he hadn’t wanted a little girl. He’d wanted a farm full of boys. When Cate arrived, his reaction had been astonishing: “I didn’t know I was capable of making girl babies.” And then he’d left Rosanna’s bedside, never even pausing to hold his newborn daughter.
At nine years of age, Cate seemed immune to her father’s constant rejection. She preferred being with Rosanna anyway. Whether Cate was clinging to Rosanna’s dress or sitting on her lap, she didn’t seem to notice that her father paid no attention to her. However, every time Rosanna heard Timothy reference their daughter as “it” or “that thing,” it felt like a knife into her heart.
Initially, Aaron had been oblivious to the disparity in their treatment and to his father’s behavior. He delighted in Timothy’s attention. But more and more, Aaron was noticing his father’s erratic behavior in the evenings as well as his extreme grouchiness in the mornings. Coupled with his puffy face and bloodshot eyes, there was no denying the fact that Timothy Zook had a problem, even if he felt that it was under control.
“Moderation,” he had told Rosanna one day. “Even Jesus drank wine.” He had tried to make light of the situation. “Everything in moderation. It’s fine.”
But it wasn’t fine. Not by a long stretch of the imagination. As she stood at the stove, turning on the gas so that she could heat the water for his coffee, she realized that moderation was something Timothy might preach but demonstrated no ability to practice. And she wasn’t certain how much more of his “moderation” she could take.
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