Written on a bus journey

So much water. It rains and rains and the streets run with water.

The other day, I saw a monk sitting and enjoying a foot massage at the bus station. It seemed rude to ask for a photo, so I kept it in my mind, and I'm writing it down here. I'll forget it eventually, and then one day I'll read this post and t will bring to mind the monk sitting and smiling while his feet were being shaken back and forth by a machine in the grimy bus station.

I remember the sun, how it illuminates everything the way love does, bringing out all the color and texture. I am finding a way through, in being small. It has always been the best way.

The lights shine on the wet black road and I remember being a girl in the back of our minivan, my brother and sister beside me. We pretended the cars behind us were dogs and we were riding a large dog that ran away from them. My kids pretend something similar now, though we are rarely in a car these days, always a chariot, open to the wind. We drive down the village road, then the tree road, then the chicken road, then the flower road. Kenya has named all the roads. 

There are days when I grow weary of serving. And there are days when it seems like the most intense of blessings. Both are true; serving is tiring, and a blessing. My model is the giver of all life; Jesus also grew weary. There is that story where he went to look for a quiet place and the crowd followed him. I think of that when I'm just falling asleep for a short nap after lunch, when I've been up working since 5:30, and I hear the door open and Isaac comes padding into the room. He wants to take a nap with me. He lies beside me and tells me he loves me when I'm just about to drift off and I think of Jesus' compassion on that crowd and how I have such a small crowd in comparison. Just my family, my community, my circles of people. Mostly Isaac. He's the most needy of my crowd; a leper who needs to be healed again and again. A leper who throws food even though he's well past the age of throwing food.

An intense blessing: to be someone who can offer hope and comfort, even in the smallest ways. What a life giving thing, to be that person in the life of someone else. Even when they wake you up from the most lovely of sleeps, shoving their cute face into yours and saying loudly, "I'll be very quiet, Mama!" 

When you truly love other people, it is like loving yourself. You are affirming that the kingdom of heaven is a place that shines with love. It is radiant with kindness and grace, it is a place anyone would want to live, including you. A place where faulty, flawed people are accepted and cared for, not only tolerated. When you give that out, you are offering it to yourself as well. The more you truly love, the more you grow able to receive love, to offer it to yourself as well, in a square of chocolate, a nap (even interrupted), a walk on a busy day. Love without judgment softens your heart to receive that most intense stream of love, the one you can barely handle if you truly open yourself to it, straight from the heart of God. Love without judgment stops the cycle of love. Your first response becomes love. Whether it is your beloved, who can be irritable and short-tempered, a monk getting a foot massage, or your own tiny leper butting his way into your quiet moment, you look with eyes of love. 

This is the way to let the love in. Because "they" becomes "we." We are all loved, you think. We are all radiant with it.

Dear Solo, A Letter to my Eight-Year-Old Son.

Dear Solo,

Now you are eight. Let me just say that if I had known that the person who was the wildest baby/toddler of the family would become the most sensible one day… well, I wouldn’t have done anything different, because I’ve enjoyed you in all your different forms. Even walking the coconut grove at night with you when you were an infant. 

You are such a wonder, my son. Your dad and I marvel over you at night, when you are asleep. Your sweetness, your handsome face, your love for your siblings. We have to be careful with what we tell you, as you’ll take it very seriously. Suggest that as Isaac’s older brother you can gently guide him? YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF HIM ALL THE TIME FOR INFINITY DAYS, NO MOM, DAD SAID HE HAS TO LISTEN TO ME. With ideas, you’re like a dog who gets a bone in his teeth. Not a flattering image? Okay, you’re like Einstein, or any once misunderstood genius who pressed on forever until he finally found the perfect way to express himself.

We’ve always known that you prefer to teach yourself, ever since you were three and we first tried to teach you your colors and you were so certain that yellow was actually blue. And maybe that’s why the whole world seems to be breaking open for you, fourth, beloved child. Because you can teach yourself music, you can teach yourself to cook things, you can climb anything, you can watch videos to teach yourself contact juggling. You don’t have to wait for people to tell you things you wish you already knew.

Let’s talk about music for a second. You love music, and the best thing is, you love making music. As soon as you saw your dad’s new trumpet, you said, “I want a trumpet!” And then you tried it, and you could play it. So we got you one for your birthday, and you picked it up after you unwrapped it and played everyone Happy Birthday. Like a little trumpet genius. (I know, I know, I’m your mom, but it's true!)

I’m just so proud of the way you persevere, Solomon, my monsoon baby. You laugh off being the only one on your own team, you fight back when you’re feeling stepped on, you get up in the morning and pull out your school books to work because you prefer to do things without being told. I can see it taking you far, kid. You dance with crazy abandon, you make little kids laugh with your crazy sense of humor, and your mind is full of intricate, wonderful things. 

I have this one memory of you from your birthday party. Well, many, including each time you had pure delight in your face with each present that people gave you… unedited delight. But then you opened the present that was the big teddy bear your dad for you. I’d had words with him earlier. I knew you asked for it but I wasn’t sure whether you would be embarrassed to open it in front of everyone. He didn’t think so, and he was right, because you said, “Yes!!” and then you turned to the room at large and said, “Leafy’s not very snuggly, so I need something to snuggle with at night.” 

I love you, kid. Never stop being you. 

Love, Mama

 

In Ten Years

I wrote the following a few days ago:

"The rain is coming down hard, straight to the ground without wind, and I’m baking bread because it just needs to be baked, on a day like this. A man just walked by holding a large leaf over his head. And a few minutes ago Isaac sat in my lap, wiggled around a bit to get comfortable, and said, “I have a little nest. I’m a chicken.”

“Are you?” I asked, squeezing him tight. 

He turned his head to look up at me. “You’re my nest. Nests don’t talk.”

Okay!

I sat quietly, still rocking a bit, until he turned around again and said, “Nests don’t move, either.”

Days like this, I thought. I want some like this."

 

I was reading an article recently about crafting a writing career and it was asking about what I want in ten years. And I thought it was a good question, but in a totally different way from maybe the way the question was meant. I think the original writer meant you should figure out how many books you want to write, how you want to publish them, and how often. These are good questions.

But I have this driving question lately, about what makes a good life. And since I have finished and published a few books, what I know about finishing and publishing books is that it doesn’t really do anything. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s AWESOME and I get a little thrill every single time someone tells me that they read my book. (Every time. Like a dork.) But accomplishments don’t seem to have an effect on how you feel about life and yourself. You don’t keep them, if that makes any sense. As though your brain can’t store them. They’re not everyday things, not the things that get you through August 12th and February 2nd and June 10th. (Those are just random dates.) They slide on by and you’re already feeling like you need to accomplish something else, and the days keep coming.

So what are the everyday things that matter? When I think of myself in 10 years, I think of the practices and rhythms of life. What are the values, the patterns and points of light that I want my life to include in 10 years? And if I know that, can I reverse engineer the next ten years? If something won’t matter then, can I drop it now? (The answer is sometimes.)

Here are some of mine. 

* I want a writing practice that includes both fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction to record, understand, reframe, and treasure my life, and share that with others, and fiction because I have to. (Also to share, always to share.)

* I want a rhythm of visual art in my life that grows and changes.

* In ten years I will have one child under eighteen. (I’m about to start crying right now.) I want them to be well loved and well launched, with bright futures, meaningful relationships with God and people, and long-lasting relationships with Chinua and I. I also want Isaac to be a good sailor, so he can sail Chinua and I around the world when we feel like a little jaunt to Turkey. (Little joke. Sort of.)

* I want a home that is bright with creativity and hospitality—in my mind these have emerged as themes of our family. You are welcome come over for dinner and there will also be an eight-year-old playing a trumpet. I want to help people on their path toward God and do that often and well in my home.

* I want to help foster a thriving community that encourages love, devotion, learning, and experience of Jesus for people on every point of the path that ultimately leads to oneness with Him. 

* I want to be a good friend. I want this so bad. To live in love in my community every day. To pursue God and be strong in love through suffering. To be an encourager.

* I want to have the means to help my kids, help the people in my family who may need it in the future, to travel, to give, to live well but simply.

* I want love and friendship and adventure and romance in my marriage.

* I want health, strength, flexibility and the ability to run or climb mountains.

 

That’s about it. 

But when I think of it this way, I see that the future is actually now. These are all things I can immerse myself in now. Developing good habits, working through issues so I can be a good friend, writing, painting, walking, praying, continuing to ask God to form humility and love in me. It’s also interesting to me to note that I want to launch the kids well, and that means a lot of time with them during this next season. But it’s a huge part of what I want to see in ten years! So every little paper that I have to push them to write, or the moments I spend reading to them, or the time I take teaching them to cook? They all matter. 

Here I have this day in front of me and the rain is coming down again. I can be open to this day now, and all that it is growing in me. And that is good, and that is enough.

A brief glimpse of sky and a foxy friend.

The sun came out yesterday, and as I drove back and forth from the garden, it illuminated every single beautiful thing. Is my heart soft enough to see all of it? The whole wide world that belongs to my eyes? God's love in the sky and trees?

It was a challenging day. The small child within me wanted to be pouty and out of control. She insisted that she was all alone, that her shoes hurt, that past sadnesses were popping out of the dark woods.

I reminded her that we have a beautiful family in a beautiful world, that we are fully capable of making dinner or a cup of tea, and being exactly who we are is enough. I reminded her that we are not lost, though we don't always know where we are.

And the sun glittered through the trees and agreed with me. I am the smallest bird. The tiniest leaf. But I am loved by God and it is enough.

What else? (Besides the never-ending battle of my mind?) 

World Whisperer is having a cover redesign. The beloved illustration my friend Tom creating is not communicating the proper genre to new readers. I will always treasure it, but I have turned to my trusty multi-talented Superstar Husband for a new cover. And he turned to the ideas and sketches of another multi-talented person in our house... Kenya. So Kenya is helping Chinua design a cover for my Young Adult Fantasy novel and I'm over the moon about this; her sketches of Othra and her Kenya-ness being a part of the cover of a book dedicated to her and the other kids? Perfect.

So I am nearly ready to send World Whisperer 2 to my advance readers, and also waiting for my dazzling new covers. 

I also have a new foxy friend up in my shop:

You can see the details here.

I hope the birds are somewhere nearby, wherever you are. 

Fevers.

Remember that one time when the flood happened? And after we were all happy because we knew that all it would take was some good strong elbow grease and everything would be back to normal? 

Well. Then the fevers came. Dun dun dun duuuuuun. Brendan, Neil, and Heather came down with fevers and chills, and we learned about a little thing called Tropical Infection. Or Mud Fever. Or Swamp Fever. Or Swine herds’ disease. It has many names, and all of them have to do with water and mud because—dun dun duuuunn—it comes from water and mud. Or wading around in floods, looking for lost motorbikes or helping your friends try to salvage their home.

Brendan was in Chiang Mai with chills so strong they were shaking the bed. Neil needed to visit immigration for a visa extension and sad miserably through that, trying to hold it together. And Heather was throwing up in Pai, thinking that perhaps it was just a little sickness, just something that would go away… maybe tomorrow? But thanks to the grace of God, Brendan made his way to the hospital and found out about this infection and, being a very thoughtful nurse, passed the news along to the rest of us. Untreated, it can cause bad things to happen in your body. Like not good things at all having to do with liver and kidneys and lungs and stuff. Neil was admitted that day with a fever of 104.3 (40.2 for you Celcius people—I am a Celcius person who still doesn’t understand body temperature in Celcius.) And in Pai Winnie brought Heather to the hospital, did some blood work, and we got worried. The Pai hospital was full of sick people and it took five hours for her to arrive, get blood work and get the results. The rooms were full, and Heather was dehydrated. So with the help of Winnie (who took care of my kids for the night, since Chinua was away on an epic birthday adventure with Kai) I rented a car and drove the four hours (because I was slow) to Chiang Mai with Heather trying not to throw up in the passenger seat. 

Helpfully, the sky decided to get dark and then pour down rain, what we call “heavy rain” in asia. That means there are no gaps between the drops. There is just water in buckets. With a sick girl in the car, I drove very, very slowly, which was good because 1. I couldn’t see, and 2. I rounded a few corners to find rivers crossing the road. At one such river there was a man with an umbrella standing under a street light, directing us to the one safe place to cross. 

“Man with the umbrella just going to stand there all night?” Heather asked sleepily.

We got to the hospital and I tried to relax my shoulders, which felt like they were glued to my ears. We walked into the beautiful, cool, dry, spacious hospital where the people cared for Heather tenderly and with much confidence. They tsked over her dehydration as they tried to take her blood. They examined her carefully. It all felt very heavenly, except for the part where Heather and I were clutching hands and looking away because it was taking so long to get a blood sample and they were milking her arm like a cow udder. I got light-headed, which was embarrassing but typical for me. 

And then we were admitted, after midnight, ushered into another spacious room with a nice sofa. I put some lavender drops on our pillows and we slept. For a few minutes and then the doctor came. You know how it goes. But we were happy! Because that was what we signed up for! All night care, monitoring, people coming in and out of the room, all there to MAKE SURE HEATHER IS OKAY. Phew. 

Heather is young, talented, Canadian, and little (though mighty, as you know if you have teased her when you are too close to her). We sometimes shorten her name to HH. I like to call her the DLF, or the Dear Little Friend, although she is not a grumpy dwarf. She is Dear, and Little, and our Friend, and that is three for three. She’s better now, and we’re leaving the hospital today. (We were here for three nights.) 

Thoughts about the hospital here.

There is no Pokemon Go allowed in the hospital. This brings up questions of why rule needed to be implemented. People roaming around the ICU with their phones held in front of them? Hmm.

The nurses are unbelievably kind. Same with the doctors. 

After a week of lying in bed, Heather’s hair was a bit of a mess. One nurse volunteered to help her wash it. I left to get some lunch and came back to find Heather sitting on the bed with her hair in a wild cloud of knots around her head. The nurse stood with a hair dryer in one hand and a tiny comb in the other. 

“How do you do this?” she asked me in Thai. “I have no idea.” 

“I can do it,” I said. And then I combed Heather’s hair like we were at a sleepover. It was awesome.

Ro and Neil came to visit. Neil looked a bit rough. They helped themselves to the Ovaltine in our room and in the space of half an hour, Ro said more words and made us laugh more than we had laughed in forty-eight hours. Every introvert should have an extrovert friend. Neil married his very own and he is lucky. They bring the verve and fun. They blow into a space and with them comes something that smells like Himalaya mountain air. Adventure, in other words.

Our plucky sick friends are spread around Chiang Mai. My family and Josh and Nay’s family, and our dear Pai friends are back in Pai. This is all very strange. We are used to community rhythms of meditation, gardening, and food together, nearly every day. We’ve had a lot of joy lately, a lot of dancing (even Brendan in a tiger suit) and fun. We’ve gone through some difficult talks and decisions and still came out laughing. And then came floods and fevers, making us live life on the survival level as we are all separated and helping our recovering patients.

Today we’re leaving the hospital. I’m traveling back to my family full up on love, ready to help my oldest boy celebrate his birthday. I think in some ways weird moments make you feel brand new, make you realize God’s love in different ways. I can totally see his love in these moments, and I am thankful.