Birthday thoughts.

I just had a birthday, and it was my 36th

I love the way a birthday makes me think about the years; what has been working, or not working, where I’ve come from, all the corners and edges and horizons of my life. 

I’ve been writing it all down for a while, now, almost 11 years of writing in this space. It has changed for me, become something different as I’ve grown. Writing a book has gone from a dream to a reality, a few times over. I’m no longer the mother of three preschool aged children. I’m a little more stable, a little less desperate. But I still battle anxiety every day, and sometimes depression too. I have found many, many things to be joyful over. I still seek beauty. I’m a little less whiny. I’ve lived in many houses in a few parts of the world. I have used a squat toilet on a moving Indian train while 36 weeks pregnant. 

God has led me down many paths, and stretching in front of me, as far as I can see and beyond, are more paths, roads, mountains, rivers. I love him so much, I have been carried and kissed by the Lord of the Universe. I am thankful for the fields and valleys he has guided me through. For the family that is larger than I imagined, the different countries of my mind, the different countries in real life. I go through hard and dark things, and they sometimes leave me gasping, but the softness is there, the love, the way God is so tender and good. I wish my anxiety away, and it does not leave me, and neither does my confusion about the way people work, or the sensitivity I curse sometimes. 

And then the morning comes, with its light and birdsong, and Isaac comes to surprise me and there are all these children in my life, keeping me humble and sharpening my sense of humor. It is a beautiful chaos, with a thousand ways of being, living in a culture that isn’t mine (for SO many years now), always trying to understand, always with the chance of being a little more loving, receiving and giving a little more love.

We are often hard on ourselves. (I’m sure you are too.) And because of my mind and the way it works, I wrestle with the meaning of life, with suffering and messing up, with why on earth we exist, what it’s all for. (“Just sing the Mini Coop Coop song,” my Superstar Husband would tell me.)

If your mind doesn’t ever seem to want to let you rest, here is my advice for you. (From the wise old age of 36.) And I will try to take my own advice.

Imagine yourself on a hillside, surrounded by birdsong. The warm grass you sit on is the stable love and understanding and acceptance that God holds for you. The sky above you is filled with a thousand tiny birds, swooping and diving and singing for you. This is all the joy of the days ahead. You are surrounded by love, both inside and out. 

Write stories. Draw pictures or make something the way you love to make it. Play with your kids. Sit on the floor with them. Being with God, receiving and giving love, this is the true meaning of life. Giving love in all of its forms; to the people you touch during the day, to your friends and family, to those in need. Inject small moments of love. Reading aloud for half an hour, picking flowers together, family drawing time. Look for the beauty, look for the tiniest shining things. Fill your mind and heart with thankfulness for these things, because this is presence of God with us, this is Jesus walking beside us, saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” The dishes when they’re done, the teasing of a 13-year-old, the hugs of a 10-year-old.

 

It means everything. It will form another beautiful year. Thanks for reading, dear friends. 

A Poem for Mothers Everywhere

I couldn't find a poem that said what I wanted to say for Mother's Day. So I wrote one. Here it is, this is what I want to say. This is for my own mother, and for all the mothers, especially the ones I know and love. But it's also for you.

Mother

She was caught
smiling
in a net of sleep
cushioned in the softness, down and down,
diving under, lost in it, turning
stretching, weightless, anxiety free
unconscious of desire or
loss, unfettered.

until
the cry. 
It came from the darkness, razor-like, cutting
through the ribbons that suspended her from
her life and
she crashed back down
opened her eyes, rubbed them, remembered.
hauling herself to her feet,
she remembered love,
again and again she remembers
she falls out of sleep and into 

love, 
the hopeful eyes
the waiting mouth, the full breast
she holds and soothes and gives the perfect answer
I am here, 
I am exhausted, I am irritated, I am barely awake
but I am here.
She will always be here
in the night, in the early morning
In the dog-tired noon of the hottest days,
for small, soft, little ones
for the big ones, the sun-warmed long limbs and anxious tics
for gulping and burping and the most annoying questions
to untangle the knots of the arguing siblings
to lose it, and apologize, and sit quietly
to play, sometimes, hopefully

she remembers upon every waking,
that love— its ribbons can never be cut—
And like a lion she says it again: I am here. 

Dear Isaac, (A Letter to my 3-year-old son.)

Dear Isaac,

You are three years and three months old, and you are the funniest little boy I know. People often say that it is right that your name means laughter. How can I describe you? You are tough, soft, dancing, stubborn, you love beauty and fruit, you insist on your own way. You are excited by life, you sometimes confide in strangers and sometimes scowl at them.

You were bitten by a dog in a bus station the other day. None of us saw you walk toward it, thinking it was another dog, and getting a bite on the cheek for trying to pet it. A sudden scream and you ran toward me with blood on your face. We taped you up, got you on the bus, and six hours later, we went to the hospital in Chiang Mai. You were very brave. You got two shots, one in each arm, before they injected your face and you decided that you had had enough. It was hard to watch you being sad and getting injections, but mostly I was proud of you, because you were so courageous, so fun, so interested in everything, (you sat up on your gurney at one point and asked, “Mama, why do these neighbors have medicine?” and I really had no idea how to respond to that) and so full of life and sweetness. You told me that coconut is better than any chocolate. And then we walked out and caught a red truck to get back to our hotel and go to sleep.

You are very quirky. You get places mixed up. You get the words, Hospital, Hotel, and Hotsprings mixed up. So sometimes I say, “We’re going to the hospital,” and you jump up and down and cheer. Because you think we’re going to the pool and hot springs and you’re going to get to swim. 

You get bigger places mixed up too. 

A while ago you said, “In America, there are a lot of chickens and dinosaurs, and the road is broken.” I blinked at you. “Are you talking about India?”

“No! America!” 

“Are you talking about Chiang Mai?” I pushed.

“No, America!”

Okay.

Or people, and relationships.

“What’s a wife?” you asked me.

“A wife is…” 

“No! Kenya said a wife is… Uncle Neil’s wife is about… Auntie Ro. Uncle Brendan’s wife is about… Auntie Leaf. Uncle Josh’s wife is about… Auntie Omi.” 

“That’s true.” I said.

Kenya filled in, “And then he asked, is Jazzy’s wife Elkie?” 

We laughed and said, “Elkie is Jazzy’s sister. Jazzy doesn’t have a wife, just like you don’t have a wife.” 

“I do have a wife!” he said. “My wife is in America.”

Hmm. 

Practical life with you can be an exercise in patience.

“I will brush my teeth by myself.” 

“Okay.”

“After I do my breathing.” 

And then you proceed to do some very interesting breathing exercises, as though you are going to give a speech or try to make your way through a difficult childbirth.

Time is also a bit difficult. Everything in the past for you is Yesterday. “Yesterday I was a tiny baby.” “Yesterday I was in India.” 

You are learning letters, and can tell us the letters on packages you find. “Why does this say K-L-I-M?” you asked the other day, about a box of soy milk that you found. 

You have learned to swim. You taught yourself. You kick your feet and dive down, learning to love the feel of your body moving through water, the way the water holds you up and surrounds you. And I watch you swimming, and you come grinning toward me with your face wide open in smiles, your dimples, your little fish body, and I feel so much love for you. We have a favorite game, one we play when you are being "a trial." 

"I love you when you're happy and when you're sad," I say.

"And what else?" you ask.

"When you're sleepy and when you're excited."

"And what else?" 

"When you're mad and you're sweet. I love you all the time."

"And what else?"

The game goes on, and it will always go on.

I love you Isaac, my little bear,

 

Love,

Mama

Infinite.

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

Ian, our beloved friend, has gone cosmic. I’m jealous, not of him—because I’m not ready to leave this world—but of God, because Ian is our friend and we wanted him here. That’s why I keep looking at pictures of him. He was with us! The pictures say. He was here and he loved us. Now he’s famous. Glorious. Pain free. He’s gone on to heights we can only dream of. And we’re slightly glorified because we got to know him, his glory reflects on us a little, on our upward-turned faces. (Like my friend Ro said the other day, the whole family gets to claim reflected glory when a family member does something cool. Something cool like going cosmic? That too.) But we’re also left behind, on this side of the door, and it sucks. 

Yesterday Leaf guided a meditation on 1 Corinthians 15. I wish you could have seen her, heard her voice as she spoke the holy words, holding her tanpura (an Indian instrument) and singing. She is unearthly. We all are, glowing with something that is not flesh and brain and bone. We have something else. The verse describes these bodies we have as seeds that are sown. What is sown in dishonor is raised in glory.

We held delicate seeds that fly from our nearby trees. Ro can testify that the seeds take root and grow, as she nearly weekly uproots the tiny trees seeded from the flamboyant tree. They want to grow everywhere, in the vegetable gardens, with the flowers, on the road. I held my seed and thought about that seed’s one-dimensional potential. It holds the potential of a tree. It cannot become a piece of sky, or a bird. It can grow straight and tall, it can throw out leaves. It is a small miracle, but it only holds a tree inside, nothing more.

How infinite, then, is Ian’s potential! The Jesus devotee, scuba diver, dancer, philosopher, excellent drink mixer, programmer, father, husband, incredible friend? This is only the seed? This glorious, kind, thoughtful, generous person? (He was our friend, I’d like to point out again. We knew him!) 

We saw more of this incredible seed’s potential when he got sick. Because then we saw his ability to suffer with great love. To endure and trust. To smile and be generous with his humor even when he was in the hospital for 100 days, when he was in pain, when his poor body was withering. His soul became all the brighter for it. 

Infinite. Now Ian’s soul is lit aflame in the light of God, sown into the heavens, and it is unbearable to think of how fantastic, how magical, how mighty a being he is now. I imagine him striding around, thundering through the cosmos, his laugh shaking the rafters of heaven. I imagine him diving into infinite seas, breaking important things with wild dancing. His soul expanding, exploding with all that potential, so narrowly contained in a human body for so long, confined no longer.

And it sucks. All of this is true and is comforting but infuriating. Even as I write this, my heart hurts and hurts and hurts. One of my dearest friends has lost her husband. Much loved little girls have said goodbye to their father. Chinua has lost his best friend. So many of us have said goodbye, are jealous of heaven, are basking in Ian’s reflected glory with deep, deep pain in our hearts. We knew him. He was our friend. We are so, so thankful we got to know him. I am so thankful that he pursued us, that he and Chinua talked for hours every week, that they crammed approximately 20 years of friendship into these past years. I am thankful for every single time Ian turned to me and said, “You’re so gracious,” and I instantly felt like maybe I wasn’t a failure after all. I’m thankful that he spent his life giving others the courage to be, telling us the truth about ourselves.

And I’m thankful that I get to walk longer with Christy, the mighty, fragile woman whose very soul is a poem, who has shown us what grace truly is. I’m humbled by her, reflecting in her own glory a bit. (She’s my friend! She’s so beautiful, and she’s my friend!) I’m thankful for these friends and with a heart full of sorrow and wonder I’m looking to the years ahead of remembering Ian and loving Christy and the girls. 

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53