The Long Labor

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

The Long Labor- Oil on Canvas Board- See it on Etsy

My fourth child was born in a monsoon after a long labor. Somewhere after the 35th hour of walking, I rested and my husband took a photo of me. I felt that I would be walking forever, waiting forever. Not knowing when it would end, I somehow had to get up and keep walking.

It reminds me of the long endurance of life with God- When I don't feel like I'm changing. When I am lost in my own tricksy mind. When I cannot love myself, from my heart comes a prayer for endurance, for the ability to get up and keep walking. 

In birthing Solomon, what carried me through was the memory of how precious the first moments with a new baby are. I thought about when we would meet and I would kiss him all over his face. Love, in other words, and rarely do we get to have a love as pure as between a newborn and a mother, but it is truly love that will carry us through the long labor of life. Love, the ability to soothe, to illuminate all the best things in someone else, to take great joy in seeing the best in one another, to look forward to the days to come. We are surrounded by love and the great love will carry us through.

Grandma

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

It was nearly a month ago that my grandmother died at the age of ninety. I wrote this poem for her. 

Grandmother

I remember water.
A lake, to be precise, 
a clear one, large, but not so large that we couldn’t see the other shore.
I was twelve years old.
My grandmother was thigh deep,
wearing her bathing suit, a one piece,
the kind of old woman who swam
in the cold, clear water of a Canadian lake. 
The cousins and my sister and brother and I rowed a canoe out.
We found a small rocky island, 
and it was like we were the first who had ever been there,
we clambered onto it, lay on the sunny rocks
fell asleep and woke up burned by the sun
red as flames

I remember the canoe making its way through the rushes
thigh deep, my grandmother laughing with my mother
and later, consoling us
when a water snake decided to swim alongside
without our permission.
It came onto the land
“Don’t worry, it’s harmless,”
my grandmother said, and I wouldn't be surprised if
she whispered the same to the snake:
“Don’t worry, they’re harmless."
 

There were leeches in the pools, mosquitoes in the dusk.

I remember water.

I remember the screened-in porch of the cottage,
sitting together, books and old magazines
afghans and the smell of warm wood,
My grandmother playing checkers with me.
Rain came one night and dashed itself against the wood boards 
of the little cottage
but we were dry inside, towels strung everywhere
from the day’s swimming. 

“King me,” she said. 
And I did.

Transplanted.

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Pothos on Red. Click to bid.

I used to admire my friend Leaf’s plants in India (that could be a confusing sentence- the name Leaf closely connected to the word plant, but that is the real way of it) and she told me they were called money plants, and that they grow and grow.

You can cut them and stick them in water and they grow some more. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, they just grow, and perhaps in a desert they would die, but perhaps not, perhaps they would find the perfect bowl of water. I would like to be like a money plant, or a pothos plant, as they are also called. Maybe I am, heaven knows I’ve been transplanted enough.

This is a painting of my own little pothos plant, sitting on a scarf that I found in South India on a hunt for the perfect red. I painted it a couple days ago, outside under the hazy sky, with leaves falling around me. The things that touch us often go unexalted. This plant reaches me every time I see it. Growing and growing.

A long loop.

I drove a long loop on the motorbike tonight. The moon was ripe and waxing. There were ropes of fire on the mountains; the ones nearby, and the ones in the distance as well, at the very tops. 

When the moon hangs like that, like a gold piece of fruit ready to fall, it seems to be calling to be seen. So I stopped and looked. 

Can I actually be loved? This is my eternal question. Some days I dive into the question with joy, with the promises of God spooling out behind me; all the days of sunshine and love. But other days, with the weight of my peculiar anxiety curving my spine, I can barely believe it. I can't believe it. 

I drove again. Sweet frogs chirped in the fields, and I tried not to run them over when they hopped up onto the road, though a few came very near, mindlessly approaching me, perhaps to say hello. I read today that one reason the forests are burned in Northern Thailand is because of the fast-growing kudzu vines that take over and choke everything out, including the light. 

There is some kind of analogy here. We will be cleared, we will be scorched. John the Baptist eating wild honey in the wilderness, scorching the way to Christ. 

If anxiety was something that made me cool and brooding, well, that would be something. But it isn't. It often makes me immature, fearful, and petulant. Inconsistent. It is the worst part of me. (Is it a part of me?) These are not attributes you want in your wife, your mother, your friend. And this is the truth, and this is what I face as I drive under the moon, the smoke from many fires stinging my already tearful eyes.

I would like to write a poem for everyone I lived with, everyone who has been touched by my anxiety. 

Hello (the poem would say)
I'm sorry about the times I was fighting
when there was nothing to fight
but the empty air of my fears,
and you blinked at my fists in confusion.
"Oh," you must have thought. 
"I didn't know we were boxing." 
I wish I could stop the constant hum
the thousand cicadas in my veins.
But anyway, I love you.

This is it, here, because as much as I have learned and adjusted to what it means to be myself in this unsafe mind, I don't want to bring my friends into it with me. I look at my friend Leaf's eyes looking back at me and I think, No, no, I don't want this near you.
I don't want these beautiful new friends to be scorched. And it is worse somehow, that they meet me with love, because I can't run from love.

But this is the great mystery. That I greet God with my tiny fists raised, and he sends back love, in the form of sweet singing frogs, a waxing moon, my friend's kind eyes, and the inky night with its ropes of fire beating back the encroaching jungle. This is the great mystery, this is what redemption means, this is my question, Can I be loved? And somehow, the answer is, "Yes."

Fire and earth.

1. The burning season has begun. Last night a line of fire glowed off a nearby mountain as local villages began their yearly burning of the forest undergrowth. It looked volcanic, or ancient. It looked like something out of the ordinary, a dragon maybe, or a fire flood. It looked like a burning wave, cresting on the mountains. I drove up and watched and could nearly hear it crackle. This morning the sunrise is very smoky.

2. Chinua and I are running together now, aiming for three times a week. We ran together for the first time on Sunday, up to the Buddha statue because of its amazing stairs. "I don't know why I believed you when you said it was close," I gasped as we ran. "It is close," he said. "It's high though." I walked the stairs of course. "How many do you think there are?" I asked. "Around 400 or so," he said. "One day I'll be able to run all of them." 

It reminded me of when we used to do Kung Fu together on rooftops in Nepal, back when we were really young (I was nineteen.) He had this one exercise that involved holding a bucket of water with arms outstretched and alternately pouring from one bucket to the other. How I cursed him as my arm muscles trembled and burned. I felt the same way about those stairs. But I'd run anywhere with him, any moments alone together are precious.

3. The big wall is nearly finished. We have to add the highest part, and I have to make the niches for candles, and then we have to make a slurry to cover all the walls. This has been the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken. It's a bit like those stairs, but stretched out over a month or more. And more beautiful than stairs. Shaping the walls with our hands has been wonderful. My house is falling apart slowly, though, and I am ready to be done with building. 

4. Isaac is a belly-greeter. You know belly laughs? Well, Isaac greets with his belly. Everyone who comes to our house gets a huge hello, the most excited, over the top "Hi!" he can muster. Even me, after just twenty minutes of shopping. I pull up on the scooter and he skids out of the house and shouts, "Hi Mama!" It's pretty wonderful. 

5. We are finishing with the cold season and coming into the heat. The cold has been hanging on longer than usual, and I am ready for the heat. I realized recently that I love this season, with its muted colors and hot, dusty breezes. Everything is gold and pale brown, dry leaves gust along the streets, dust devils briefly rise into the air, carrying a swirl of detritus with them. The sounds are clatters and dry wheezing. The spaces between things widen, as jungle falls back and dries up. The heat is a desert heat, not so hard to take. I love it because it is seasonal, and in three months or so, the rains will come back and the shells of things will burst open again to become their vibrant selves. I hope the same for me.

A poem for my daughter

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how could I have known
when i pulled you to me--
shaky as i was with that last effort--
that i had given birth to such a friend.
we were strangers,
but immediately
your heart caught at all of me. and i was gone.

you have this way
of gazing off toward the sky
and the look on your face has 
the very same wedge of longing and joy
i often feel in my own heart,
when the evening blue slips over the sky
or a flock of birds rises
or the branches of a tree shudder with happiness.

i am growing older as we speak
my face surprising to me in the mirror
and you surprise me in a different way,
no more roundness to your cheeks
as your bones show us who you will be.
growth like a sudden crash,
an outburst of shouting,
that flock of birds.

strength, is what i want for you
my daughter,
and hands that race across your pages,
you the master of your land,
your thoughts, your paper.
and i think, as i come across you 
in the tree with your book again,
that you will have these things,
that i couldn't wish them for you any more
than they have been written for you,
in the heart of who you are.
 

(I read this poem at a spoken word evening in my town, and just after I read it, my friend Jay told me that she had taken a photo of the very look I talked about in my poem. So this photo comes from Jay.) 

Building walls together.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

 I finally borrowed some photos from a new friend who is visiting for a few weeks, so all but this first one are Josh’s photos- thank you so much Josh! When I went to look at what Chinua had taken of wall-building, I found, egad, that it was all video. On the unedited video I watched I saw myself make this statement: “I’ve never been happier than I am building these walls.”

What can I say? It has been a lot of work for a lot of days, and I have made mistakes and floundered a little, but sitting there in the afternoon at our beautiful garden space, the trees on the hills in the distance slowly turning red, using our hands to grab mud, smoothing it in between the bamboo lattice of our wall—oh, I am truly happy as I tell the wall that I love it and the wall tells me that it loves me too, somehow in Ro’s creepiest voice.

(There is a cast of characters that has come riding into our lives on white horses, singing loud songs. We are smitten with them, and their names will litter these pages from here on in. Get ready.)

But the mud, the mud. We take earth, beautiful red earth, and we add water to it, smoothing it and stomping it with our feet until the hard bits are gone and it is the loveliest soft mud. The kind that Kenya desires to swim in, and does. Then we add a lot of straw and rice husks and stomp more and more and more until we all fall over because mud stomping is very tiring. But what we end up with is something very pliable and soft and buildable, with long strands of straw that catch on the bamboo lattice and hold the whole thing together. 

And then we build, taking handfuls of it and moving up the walls. Neil coined the term “poo-shaped slug” to describe the shape of the mud that we form to push into the wall, and soon after the words poo-shaped slug came into our lives, a song was created, and that song worms its way through my mind for days and hours on end.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Travelers come to help us build and we initiate them into the methods of building. There is a lot of laughter. And the golden light moves across the hills and our hands are in the dirt and it’s rather hot in the middle of the day and the sun feels good on our backs. And I feel so blessed to be doing this work— I wake up thanking God for it- this work, this community, the hills and the future garden plans and the wide sky that surrounds us. 

Barn owls and muddy feet.

Friends I am eating, sleeping, and living earth walls right now, mud, basically. There is mud everywhere and I am loving it, with barely a minute to spare for anything else.  Happiness. I will share as soon as I can get photos from Chinua's camera (such bad timing to lose my ipod, I had planned to Instagram the whole thing).

For now here is another print- available in my Etsy shop. For Kai's twelfth birthday this summer/fall, we went to a birds of prey center outside of Victoria and the barn owl stole my heart, so I played around and made an illustration to keep a tamer version around. 

 

Adventures in losing things.

It might be a two cups of coffee kind of morning. Usually I'm pretty strict at sticking with just the one, but this morning... well. Yes, I'm headed to put the kettle on. Be right back.

Okay, here I am. It's still cold here, though not storming the way I hear it is in parts of the world. I hope you're all keeping warm. Here it gets hot in the middle of the day. Near 30 degrees celcius hot, which is a big difference from the 10 degrees or so it is in the morning. 10 degrees isn't that cold, but we don't have heat and our kitchen is outside, so it feels chilly.

The past week has been beautiful and wild with a tinge of annoyance or sadness depending on how you look at it. We took a really quick trip to the big city to extend our visas, which is an all day event that started at 4:30, when I got up and shivered myself across the city on my motorbike to sit in a line for two hours, waiting for my first queue number that would enable me to get my real queue number and so on. We had rented two motorbikes to make things smoother and faster, and drove around, back and forth, picking up documents, visiting the doctor for Chinua's check up, buying our bus tickets back to Pai, sitting in line at the visa office. It was a full day, and successful, as we left the office with visas. The kids were great. They sat, and rode, and sat again, and rode again with expert patience. Even Isaac did pretty well.

The tinge of annoyance or sadness came when I discovered that my iPod touch (very similar to an iPhone without the phone part) had most likely fallen out of my bag while I was driving the motorbike on the last drive to catch our bus. I had pulled it out to check the time at a stoplight and not pushed it back down enough I suppose. Bad mistake. For the last two years I have been using it to take every single photo you see. I read on it. It is the device for me. I have thought about upgrading to an iPhone, but it will be a couple months before that can happen. Oh well. Tears may have been shed but I remembered that it is just a thing. A very useful thing for art, but just a thing. 

I had just edited a photo of Leafy, our family's newest nine-year-old, for you, and hadn't been able to upload it yet. Bummer. You'll have to take my word for it: he's gorgeous. The sweetest, most imaginative boy, the one who always gets my heart in a different place than any other. How can Leafy be nine? Time, that's how. Also, Isaac turned two yesterday. Two! 

Birthday parties have been postponed due to wall building. We put our first mud up yesterday and it was a lot of fun. It's a big learning process, and I'll have some photos to show you once I get them from others. 

It's a full, strong, wild time! I have to prepare for meditation this morning as well as get the groceries for the day and prepare for another day of building. Definitely a two cups of coffee morning. 

 

 

 

The week in pictures.

This week has been about learning, creating, planning, and wandering-- all favorite things. We received two loads of red earth last week and are nearly ready to begin building the earth walls on our meditation space. Most of the walls will only be a meter high, to preserve the view, but one wall will be tall with windows. I'll certainly tell you about it. 

We dug into school last week, beginning our year with study of China, which the kids love. It's often chaotic, schooling with four kids and one toddler who is pulling the room apart around us while we work ("Hey," Isaac says, "It seems like a good idea to pull every colored pencil out of the pencil cup and throw it, and then maybe eat one. Sunscreen? Why thank you, my shirt could use some sunscreen. And the walls, too!") but I love it. Calls for help come from every direction and I dance from kid to kid (ever so gracefully) and redirect distracted ones as well (Leafy). Our curriculum focuses on reading aloud, and I am working through two different years, adapted for different ages (Kai and Kenya learn together and Leafy and Solo learn together) so I am always reading aloud. I read in snatches throughout the day and bring the books into our bedtime routine as well. Homeschooling is such a privilege. I love seeing how the kids grow their minds and figure new things out. Solo in particular is exploding into new learning.

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I had a post office run this week and I took a moment to admire our post office. The fake flowers are a bit kitchy, but the real ones are beautiful, and it's colorful!

At some point I made Vietnamese vermicelli bowls for dinner, with grilled tofu. One of our favorite things to eat is a good bowl of noodles or rice with fresh ingredients on top.

Then some of us (in our community) went exploring to be inspired by earth buildings in the surrounding villages. There are a lot of creative people making beautiful things around here.

This place is a little guest house with all earth buildings, as well as a little restaurant. I'm always inspired when I visit.

I also had to go to Chiang Mai for a few days on my own, which I took as a sort of artist's retreat in between appointments and errands. I'm really into Julia Cameron's idea of the Artist Date, and when I'm looking for inspiration I search for vistas, flowering trees, and markets full of cloth or handcrafts. I also love the flea market for inspiration. 

When I'm away from home, morning coffee is always an issue, if I don't want Nescafe. But I found a little "coffee in a bag" place and my problem was solved.

I worked on a few different paintings, including this barn owl.

And I watched the trees and the sky and listened to birds and dreamed about God and a day when I will know him better. The longer I live, the more I need him.


What we've been up to.

And a week has passed! I can't believe how quickly time goes lately, it seems that I blink my eyes on Monday morning and it's time to make lunch, blink them again and it's Saturday. Now that our meditation center is fully up and running, our lives are full of good things! It's the way I love to be. Cooking things, making things, caring for little people, teaching, meditating. If I get flustered I always have to stop and remind myself just how blessed I am, that this is my life.

For instance, I get to hang out with this little guy. He's all about bubble baths in our bucket, lately. He hides his hands in the bubbles and asks the room at large, "Where go hands?" then pulls them out and answers, "There go hands!" He is into everything, full time, full tilt, happy and talking and speaking a bit of Thai and learning everyone's names and greeting everyone by name and shouting "Bye bye!" at random people walking down the street. You know how our house is right on a well-trafficked street, and windows make up our walls. Last night he chopped Solo in the neck with a plastic sword, just as a man was walking by. Solo cried and the man cackled all the way down the street. Ah. 

Modeling clay was a theme of the week, as Chinua held some "competitions." Here was Solo's entry. Two little pots and a platypus. I love that of all things he chose to make a platypus. Love it. 

Kai made lungs, which was extremely impressive to me because he was using modeling clay! He is often so very adamant about the fact that he doesn't do anything artistic. He loves to box himself up and I am always trying to tear that box open. But he was tempted into this competition and he managed to make his entry very "Kai" by making a model of human anatomy. Hmmm... my brain is mulling over future project possibilities.

The only time Kenya doesn't have modeling clay in her hands is when she doesn't have pen and pencil in her hands. She is a non-stop creative factory, her mind a non-stop story, a delightful one, full of animals and animal families and quirky cartoons and beautiful dreams and poems. If she can find actual clay in the earth she will form pots, bake them in the sun, and then paint them. No one showed her how to do that. She's amazing.

We planted some arugula seeds in a pot this week and will replant them soon, to give them more space. First I have to get some compost from my compost pile because the little bit of soil I have in my square inch of garden space is not very good, and needs a healthy dose of compost. The globe amaranth flower seeds we planted did nothing at all. They were duds. I need to find some good ones, because I need some globe amaranth in my eyeballs.

This is the basil and marigolds we planted a few weeks ago. We have some in the garden bed too, but it's not doing as well, see soil complaints above. Soil is everything, guys. Everything.

I managed to get a little bit of painting in as well. First I asked my friend Naomi to model some striding for me for a painting I'm working on (not pictured here). I take so much joy from directing photos that I sometimes think I need more of that in my life- putting photoshoots together. Of course, I think that about a lot of things. 

I've had some ideas about paintings I want to work on, featuring animals in watercolor and ink. So I played around a bit and had a lot of fun. Watch this space for paintings going into my shop. Cows or water buffalos with egrets are beautiful images that have been all over the place in my life for years now, so I started with them. The gentle cow, the cheeky bird, the relationship between the two. I love them. I also think brahman cows are gorgeous.

Finally, we unboxed our next year's curriculum. Details: Kai and Kenya will be doing Sonlight's Core F, while Leafy and Solo are working on Core B, but Leafy actually flip flops between the two. Sonlight is made up of read-aloud books, and he listens to both. Solo, Leafy, and Kenya are working on Singapore Math, while I just switched Kai over to Teaching Textbooks and will switch the others over in seventh grade too. After Singapore 6, I was able to put him directly into pre-algebra, since Singapore is a little ahead. 

And with that, I'm off to prepare for the school day! 

New Year Dreams.

"Good work finds the way between pride and despair.
It graces with health. It heals with grace.
It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.
By it, we lose loneliness: we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other’s arms, and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance, and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments."
 Wendell Berry- What are People For?

What a beautiful thing: the gift of a new year. In a way it is a fake construct, in a way it is as real as it could be. There is something so exciting about looking forward and saying, What work will I do this year? Last year I took on a photo project with my friend, what creative things will I do this year? 

I don't really set resolutions in a strict way, but I do find things that I want to focus on in my life, and looking over my past journals, I'm happy to see that these intentions have born fruit. Slowly, slowly, it's true. But with one small step in front of the other, I am building a creative life, for myself and my family.

This year I want:

* More art in my life. From pictures on my walls, to my own paintings, I want to continue to sketch, paint, make things. Sew things. Fill our lives with color. 

* More beauty here at Journey Mama. I want to breathe more life into this blog and when I think of what I want it to be, it's very simple. I want it to be a space of beauty here on the web-- a place where people can come to rest and sigh and dream. It also has to be honest and representative of my life, a little journal.

* My hands in the dirt. More gardening. 

* Creative schooling. We are headed into our next school year, a little later than usual, but we have lots of time, days ahead of us to learn. Solo, who has been slower with reading than the others, is diving into reading. Kai needs to work on his writing. Kenya on her math. Leafy is blooming and thinking creatively. I want to talk about homeschool a little more on this blog, give you an idea of how it shapes our days.

* Deeper friendships. I am putting time into connection this year. We have a beautiful community and lovely family and friends far away. I want to be a good friend, sister, and daughter.

* To live without fear. My words for the year are Do not be afraid.  I'm undertaking some counseling this year to get a little more close to healing the deep fear in me. (Ironically, I'm terrified of counseling.) Will I ever really be fixed? Probably not in the way I wish. But I have a deep desire to grow, and I pray that I will.

* To have deep spiritual practice. My life work is to know that I am loved by God and to love others. To do that, I need to grow in my spirit and spend time close to the knowledge of God's love, in prayer, in dreaming, in reading, in meditation, in fasting. 

* To continue a good writing practice. I am attempting to publish my new book traditionally. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have finished a first draft of a middle grade/YA fantasy, and am scheming up a series. I also want to hone my non-fiction, to write with clarity, to remember how to tell a good story, and to not get complacent or stagnant with writing. 

* On that note, to broaden and deepen my journaling practice. 

Oh, and there are so many things. I take the opportunity often to review what I want to do, a month at a time, a week at a time, a day at a time. In fact, the plans we make at the beginning of a new year won't have much effect without taking stock at other times of the year. I rarely get all I want to do done, but if I set some things forth, I always get some of them done, whereas if they go unplanned, nothing may happen at all. 

What about you? What are your desires for the year?

It was a good year.

I hope you had the most beautiful Christmas and are gearing up for a wonderful New Year. We had a beautiful evening with dinner together in the meditation space on Christmas Eve, and presents with friends on Christmas morning and evening. A few travelers came to share with us, and there were lights, and candles, and a lot of good food. 

It was almost a year ago that Leaf and I started our photo blog, an idea of mine to bring us closer together. Little did I know just how much closer together we would become, as the year brought so many surprises. She just arrived yesterday, and after this year of moving and traveling and having a new baby, we are together here in this place, and we will be ending our blog today. Wow. I'm going to miss it.

It was a quiet blog, but mighty, I think, in that we documented something unusual: the lives of two friends from Australia and Canada, living in different countries, visiting different home countries, exploring the world with their cameras. I felt very honored to receive Leaf's photos, to see the world through her eyes. 

Here are just a few of my favorites. 

Don't forget to check out the rest at http://iwantedtotellyou.com to see 365 photos shared between us. 

Maps.

Every morning starts out with birdsong. Lately I wake before my alarm, meaning that I really need to go to sleep early, because it doesn’t seem to matter whether I go to bed at 10:30 or 11:30, I wake up by 5:30. The world is still dark, but the birds are just beginning to sing.

Birds are fascinating, with their fast little heartbeats, the way they rush the power lines, rocking them back and forth in an effort to make the loudest, best songs. They compete and threaten each other. They peck away at insects and steal things to build their nests. We have a lot of mynahs, they are our “crows,” and they are versatile. They growl and mutter, click and belt out notes. They fill the air with the flutter of wings and the trills of songs, and if things get hard, they can just turn a wing, lift up with a rush, and fly.

If I was a bird I could sit at the tops of all my favorite trees. If I was a bird, my heart would beat faster. I would be even more nervous than I am now.

 

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a creature plagued by fear. I have admitted for a long time that  I struggle with anxiety, but that is somehow removed from me. Anxiety, yes, it is a disorder, it plagues me. But I realized recently that no matter how many good things come to me, I am still afraid. And I will be that way until healing comes or until I am transformed in a flash, a great mystery. The circumstances don’t matter. I think if I succeeded with writing and made a lot of money, I would be worried that it would go away, or that it wouldn’t happen again. 

I can almost draw maps of fear. Cities have places that I have been afraid. That’s where I worried that my father wouldn’t meet Isaac if he wasn’t born that week. That’s the place I cried because we lived in a new place that was so foreign. There I worried that our new friends didn’t really like us. There I was afraid of the bright lights, the rows of products, the crowds, the fish in buckets, the days stretching on forever. I drive through streets and the spots echo back at me. 

The weirdest part is that I struggle with fear when things are the greatest. 

Oh, enough. If I was a bird I could fly up to the highest branches of the trees I love best. 

Maybe you are also often afraid. When fear is like a sickness, like something that flows through your veins, just facing the day is often the bravest thing you can do. Facing the blank page, the blank canvas, the question of what to cook for dinner can require bravery big enough to scale a mountain. I’m sure that even if you are afraid, you are very brave.

But what I know is that I am not made of my fear. And I don’t have to let the maps of my heart be written over in fear’s red pencil. That’s where we learned that Isaac was going to be okay. That’s where I found the best spring rolls. That’s where I spent hours looking at paint colors. I met my husband in that city. My son put his hand in mine on that street. Every single day, just as every morning I woke to hear the bird’s sing. There were hundreds of beautiful evenings, all the birds shrieking from their trees. We are more than emotion. We are more than emotion. We get to tell our story, to decide what is recorded, what will take over, what will be remembered. 

And that is what I am recommitting to, looking forward into the New Year. This place has been a place to remember all the beautiful things, to draw the map in bright blue pencil, making notes, drawing pictures along the way. A map of life, of the childhoods of my family. I’ve may have lost my way slightly, but I’m finding it again. 

Sustained.

I went to Chiang Mai the other day. I shopped and walked through markets, attempting to unravel the secrets of commerce and goods and money and how it flows and doesn't flow. I drove back and forth along freeways on my motorbike several times due to people believing things were located in places that they weren't. I drove and drove, I got really tired and I drove some more. I replaced stolen things, things that had been taken from our meditation space in Pai. 

I ate at a little alley restaurant, and used the tiniest bathroom, squatting room only; concrete and a bucket and a pail, reassuring because it was so familiar. I understand this. 

I saw a man putting socks on while driving a motorcycle. Driving. Putting socks on.

I took deep breaths in the early dusk, just after sunset, with all the birds shrieking from their trees. 

I took a bus home on the second day, when it was already dark. Cows lay in the road, drawing the last of the warmth of the asphalt into their bodies. I understood this too.

And though there are so many uncertain things in the world, whether injustices will be allowed to continue, whether my mind will ever start being a safe place for me, what the next years will hold, I understand and am certain about some things. The place between Isaac's jaw and shoulder, how it is sticky and soft and kissable. The way Leafy will walk for hours in circles, imagining worlds in his head. I know that Kenya draws worlds on paper, pages that become scattered around the room, sometimes crumpled. I find them and smooth them out, rescuing beautiful rejected things. I know that Kai will joke teasingly, his wide smile and I know that light in the corners of his eyes. I know that he will laugh at Leafy's jokes, at least some of them, and he'll meet my eyes wryly over the other ones. I understand Solo's freckles getting darker as he grows taller every day. I know that he loves snacks and will ask me for one dozen frozen strawberries over the course of a day, eaten one at a time. I know that banjo strings will be plucked and strummed, that the voice of my husband is more beautiful than any instrument. I know that I will make food, that it won't taste good enough for me but everyone else will like it. 

*

Come away with me, I heard Jesus say to me yesterday, a day that began to decay with a tiny bit of rot that spread quickly and nearly took me with it. I was panicked and wracked with anxiety, not thinking properly, going over all the ways that I was becoming my worst self, the ways my fears were coming true. My mind was my enemy, but I wanted to think it out, to figure out all the ways I could be better, could do better. Your mind can't help you with this one, I heard. Come away with me. You need to feel my love.

I got on the motorbike and drove and the hills opened up around me like flowers blossoming. There were fields, there were ten thousand kinds of trees and sheer rock faces. Tears and tears. How can I see all this beauty and not be anything like it?

Come away with me. Every time I started obsessing over the mistakes I had made, the things that were done to me or made me feel small, I heard this voice. Come away with me. I love you.

But there is nothing lovable in me, I said back. 

I love you. Look at this beauty. All this is yours.

But I can't feel it. Why can't I feel it? 

Stop fighting it. I love you.

I leaned into the wind. I drove for an hour and a half, then turned around and drove back again. Sometimes I shook with sadness. But slowly I straightened as I realized that I (like all of us) am protected by this love that sustains, invites, accepts, and stands up for me in my moments of weakness. By the time I was home, my heart was steady again and I was ready to dive back into my life.

Some thoughts in the wake of the Ferguson verdict.

I don’t normally write about race. I don’t consider myself any kind of an expert. But the news has been distressing me lately, until it’s almost all I can think about. Michael Brown, gone from his family, his death unnecessary and the wrong not righted by the justice system. Tamir Rice, a boy my own son’s age, gone from his family, taken also by a police officer. It’s heavy, so heavy.

The response of some people on Facebook and Twitter has been so disappointing. I've seen people writing about the fact that there are also black people who kill white people, as though that somehow is relevant to the matter at hand. This is not about that. Yes, crimes are committed by criminals of every race. Yes, media doesn’t cover all of that. Yes, cops of all races are over-stimulated to commit murder. But this is not about that.

This is about our brothers and sisters turning to us and saying, “We’ve had a huge problem for a long time. We are not safe in our own neighborhoods, we are not safe from police.” Is our response going to be “No, no, you must be mistaken?” Because that was the response of the L.A. Times toward my mother-in-law, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who spent her career in the eighties and nineties trying to expose violence by the LAPD toward the black community in LA. She must have been incredibly frustrated, as the paper acted as a great big gatekeeper of her words, only allowing her to publish what they wanted, turning many of her articles away. And then came the video tapes of Rodney King, and there was proof! America had to take notice. Unfortunately, the justice system didn’t. My mother-in-law passed away in 1999, but I’m sure that today she would be happy about the increased ability of her people to have a voice, to photograph and record violence, to show that the force used against unarmed black people is unnecessary.

Since the verdict that Darren Wilson will not be indicted was announced, there have been peaceful protests around the country. There has also been violence and rioting. (Let me be clear that I am not describing the previous peaceful protests as "riots" as many news channels did.) 

Here’s the thing about riots. When a system is against you, and the justice system you are supposed to trust it continually works against you, you protest. And sometimes your protest turns to rage and you say Jeff it. That’s it, just eff it. Nothing is going to work for us anyway. Because for white Americans, it’s just a verdict. But for people living in projects or the ‘hood, it is another nail in their coffin. Another time that someone says, “No one is going to stick up for you, even in death, even if your death, or the death of your child, or the death of your father, is unjustified and at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect.” 

And here’s the thing about crime. You don’t need to tell black people that crime happens, by black people, in ghetto neighborhoods. Believe me, they know. Housing segregation is part of an ongoing, difficult reality that most white people will never have to know. (Here's a good podcast to read to learn more about that.) But here’s the question, what do you tell people to do when they’re in trouble? Should they call the police? Because when I was a young white girl in Canada, my parents told me to find a police officer if I was lost or in trouble. We don't tell our kids to do that. We tell our sons, (if we’re in the U.S.) be careful of the police. I tell them, be wary. I tell them to find a nice business owner or woman if they are in trouble. 

“The police?” My husband would say about his childhood. “Why would we call them? For one thing, they wouldn’t come for ages. For another, it’s dangerous. Who knows what would happen?” (I'm paraphrasing.

He has stories. Once, when he was a kid and running through a neighborhood in L.A., he and his brother found themselves surrounded by squad cars and screamed at to “Get down on the ground!” Do you think that should happen to any kid running through their own neighborhood? That they should find themselves with their faces in the dirt? For running? Do you think Tamir Rice’s parents told him, “Be careful of your new BB gun? If you play with it in public, you might get shot and killed? By the POLICE?” 

Just recently this issue came home to me very clearly. We were in L.A. on our recent trip to the U.S. and one day we went to visit a friend. When we arrived at his house, we decided to walk with the kids to the playground nearby, and as we were sitting and playing there, a man came running out of our friend’s grandparents’ house, screaming, “He’s got a gun! Hide your kids! Call the police!” Behind him was another man, following, with his hand behind his back. (Neither of them were black.) We gathered the kids quickly and headed to the other side of the park. A woman next to us called the police. Chinua and his friend decided to pull our cars away from our friend’s house so we could leave. They drove the cars to the other side of the park and stood in the street there, far from the house, as the police pulled up from our side.

When the policemen saw Chinua and our (Asian) friend, they made some quick assumptions and stopped near them, jumping out of their cars, guns locked and loaded. Chinua and our friend made some quick motions, gesturing at the house on the other side of the park. “Over there! Over there!” It felt tense for a moment, as the police officer weighed what they were saying, then turned and drove toward the house, other officers following by running through the park. We left quickly.

It was only later that I saw the danger Chinua was in. Officers saw my husband, a tall black man in a mostly white neighborhood, and immediately assumed he was the gun threat. Thankfully, they were quickly convinced otherwise, or things could have gone very badly.

Here’s the fear that exists if you are a black male: if the circumstances are slightly off, if the people around you feel uncomfortable, if you are walking through a white neighborhood, if you are too close to a crime being committed, if you put your hands near your waist, if you are wearing a hoodie, if you walk a certain way, if you are too tall, too big, too black, you could end up dead. The likelihood of you being killed by an officer are much higher than you being killed by terrorists. We don't execute without trial in the U.S., except, sometimes we do.

And it feels like an accusation to white people. Being called privileged feels like an accusation. White police officers being held accountable in the media feels like an accusation. But no one is accusing you of anything. What people are doing is revealing a wrong. And what can we do in response? As white allies of our black brothers and sisters, we need to not begrudge the media attention these tragedies are getting. It is warranted, and white rights are under no threat. Police rights are under no threat. What is under threat is the same thing that has always been under threat. The lives of black children, youth, adults, and old people. For hundreds of years.

Here’s what you can do, America:

Don’t say it’s not a problem. Don’t listen to the cries of our brothers and sisters for help and turn to them and say, “You’re wrong. Racism doesn’t exist.” 

Stop being afraid of black people. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be afraid. Next time you see a group of tall black men, think, “That’s probably Rae’s husband, cousin, and brother. They’re the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.” Because it’s true. Being tall, being big, being black, doesn’t equate to being violent, being a criminal, or being scary. Every black man has a story of a woman clutching her purse while he simply was trying to walk by. Of being side-eyed while walking down the street. It happens to Chinua all the time. The kindest, gentlest person you will ever meet. 

Stop letting your kids watch movies that vilify black men. I wasn’t ever allowed to. My images of black men growing up were Bill Cosby and Donovan Bailey. (A Canadian Olympic runner, one of the fastest sprinters in the world. In Canada, we don’t have nearly the same amount of racial tension, so I didn’t really grow up around racism in the same way. I notice it now as soon as I cross the border into America.)  (And here's a good podcast about being profiled.)

Oh, I hate racial tension. It makes me crazy. And I know, I know that it doesn’t need to be here. I know there are deep, old stories, frustrations that go back for centuries. But God has deep forgiveness and love for all of us toward one another. I know because I have the blessing of being within a family that contains people who have been wronged,  and hurt by white people, who completely accept and love me without question.Let’s not use our black friends’ grief as an opportunity to polarize each other. Let’s try to understand, to grieve together, to make amends. Let’s tell the police that they may not take any more of the lives of our citizens. The good news is that because this has been going on since forever, though media coverage may make it look like it’s getting worse, it’s not. It is coming into the light. And that means it will get better. It must. But it starts with the rest of us not daring to invalidate, contradict, or negate the cry for help from our brothers and sisters, who are trying to tell us that something is desperately, terribly wrong in the world, and it takes all of us to make it right.

I'd like to know what he'll name his first band.

The mornings are cool now, cool enough to wear a sweater, especially on the scooter. The sun still burns strong in the middle of the day, so that you look down at yourself suddenly and wonder why on earth you are wearing a sweater. It’s hot! you think. Why am I wearing this? Because the chill of the morning is a vague memory, and you don't even remember how uncomfortable it is to wash dishes in cold water on a cold morning.

I love this weather.

Tonight I lost it and shouted at the kids a bit, because they were fighting over turns on the computer and it drives me batty. Batty enough that I tell Chinua, "you'd better come in here because I'm pretty sure I'm not cut out to be a mother. I don't know why I'm realizing that right now." 

We worked it all out, and I apologized for shouting. We shared our vision again, of a family that helps the younger ones and looks out for each other, and spends time together and doesn't get rigid and miserly over things like computer turns. Most of the time my kids are the farthest thing from miserly, practically showering affection on our friends and visitors, the first to invite people over or suggest more hang out time or set their friends up on the computer. But with each other? Well, it's hard to live with a lot of siblings. (Great preparation for the real world.) 

Kenya suggested a game of Phase 10 after dinner, which turned into Phase 3 when Isaac was too sleepy for us to finish. Not that he was playing, but I needed to get him to bed before he keeled over. Suggesting Phase 10 was a good idea on Kenya's part. My kids love the crazy goofy mood I get into when playing any board game; part evil competitor, part wild encourager. I'm known to gloat a bit and also to start singing songs like, "I think you're amazing!" to the tune of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, if anyone gets down on themselves for not finishing a phase. It's a strange combination, but it works for us. They love it. They basically love it when I leave off of being the super serious, slightly frazzled mother that I can be, and start having fun. It's a lesson to all of us. They also love it when I lie in bed with them at night, for the same reason.

Halfway through our game of Phase 3, Leafy went to get a glass of water. He's a budding chef, and he came back into the room and announced, "This is my famous drink, called Disheveled Puppy." 

I lost it. Wha? Leafy only gets quirkier as he gets older and he is always good for a lot of non sequiters. It turned out that I had heard him wrong and he had said "Shoveled puppy," because the spoon in the glass of plain water he brought in was the shovel and the water was the puppy. Still strange. 

I've started enlisting one kitchen helper per night so I can teach them more about cooking, and the way that I can tell Leafy is a budding chef is because he can't leave the food alone. "We have to sauté the onions and garlic slowly until they are really soft and almost see through," I tell him, and he says, "That looks and smells so good, can I eat a little bit of that plain, right now? Can you put it in a bowl for me?" And then when we add the tomatoes he's hopping up and down, he can barely wait to taste it.

He also comes up with good names, like Disheveled Puppy. 

Our friends from Australia arrived a couple days ago, two couples who are coming to be part of this budding community that is starting here. Of course, today I discovered that a weed whacker in Australia is called a whipper snipper, and though I have promised myself to stop laughing at what things are called in Australia, I couldn't help myself. Whipper snipper. Snort. I'm so happy I can barely contain myself. 

I've also been battling depression and extreme feelings of unworthiness and despising myself, so hey, how's the roller coaster? It's all over the place. I found myself googling "signs of depression" the other night, and I don't know what I was expecting to find. Maybe "Number of times per week it is normal to drive through countryside sobbing on a scooter?" or "degree of self loathing permissible for food that doesn't taste quite the way you wanted it to?"

I'm teetering. I'm not deep in it, but I tip over into it easily. I'm working on it, and I'm always afraid of writing about shame and depression, because that is what it does to you. But I'm going to continue, because I know it helps someone out there somewhere. And for all the reviews I get that say I'm too whiny, I get twenty more that say, thank you, you helped me. That's what matters. I'm glad that there are people out there who don't know what it feels like to be crippled by anxiety or depression, but I am not one of those people. 

I'll tell you the truth, because I can't always believe it myself, and in telling you, I'll tell myself. You are beloved by God and you don't need to be ashamed. Every day, every beautiful thing is a gift from His heart to yours, and you need to learn to reach out and take them. Take the Disheveled Puppy and the game of Phase 3, take the hug from your husband and truly feel it. Don't tell yourself you need to justify your existence by making money or giving a lot or being wise. Take the love from your kids or your parents, take it openhanded, because it is from God. Don't let the shame pit drag you down into it. You don't belong there, just because you got a little shouty, just because you over salted the food. You belong in love, and friendship, and safety.

I'm about to show you a scary picture, but everything turned out all right.

On Tuesday, I wrote this:

I know I go on and on about how awesome it is to have a fifth child, or perhaps I really mean, a later child, but it really is. We are always shaking our heads over Isaac. The other day Kai said, "I really don't know how we were even happy without him." And I said, "That's how I feel about all of you."

But I know what he means. 

I think my favorite thing about this late baby is how everything toddler related falls into perspective in a bigger family. When Isaac is protesting at the top of his lungs because he wanted to brush his teeth a little longer, it can't help being funny. Even as I'm guiding him toward calmer, saner behavior, I'm laughing inside, because he's trying so hard to run the show, but he's, like, two inches tall. 

When I had my first kids, I was young, and I think they did seem big to me, even at 21 months old. But with a twelve-year-old in the house, a nearly two-year-old seems like the tiniest of guys, so him asserting himself with all his might is adorable. 

"A bath! A bath!" he yells as I wrap him up in a towel and carry him away from the bucket we call a bathtub. It's time for bed. And as he continues to yell "A bath! A bath! Brush teeth! Brush teeth!" (he has a love of grooming) I look up and my eyes meet Kai's and we straighten our twisting lips and I say, "You really liked that bath, didn't you? Don't worry, you can have another one tomorrow." 

And don't worry kid, even though heartbreak over bath time ending feels like the worst kind of tragedy, the other six of us will be here to reassure you that it's not. 

*

That is what I had written, and then what happened is that Isaac found Chinua's blood pressure pills and was playing with them. Usually, of course, Chinua keeps them far out of his reach, but he had taken them earlier and left them on the bed in our room. I was in there with Isaac, reading to him and playing with him. I turned away to write an email and when I turned back, he had the daily medicine container in his hands. 

There was half a pill in his mouth, and then when we counted the pills, we found that one was missing. I still don't know if he ate that other pill, or if it disappeared, but when I googled it, I found it on a list of the most lethal drugs to kids, medications that can kill in one pill.

The. horror.

Chinua immediately took him to the emergency room here in Pai, and I stayed on the phone with him to figure out how they were treating him, googling madly as we went. It was terrifying. "Have they given him activated charcoal?" I asked. I heard Chinua ask the doctor the question. "He says he's too young for charcoal," he told me. "No he's not!" I cried, looking at a page where it listed the dosage of charcoal for kids over one year. "Tell them to give him charcoal." 

"We have to take him to Chiang Mai," we decided, realizing that the care here was not sufficient. They began to get the ambulance ready. He was growing very sleepy from the side effects of what he had taken, and at one point, Chinua told me, "We can't wake him up." "I'm on my way," I said. "Tell them to give him the charcoal. Right now! Right NOW!" 

When I got to the hospital, they had just inserted a nasal tube and were pumping his stomach out through it. They then gave him the charcoal. He was very sleepy but protesting the tube. The fear was like long waves of water that doused us. I thought we were going to lose him and I so desperately wanted to rewind, rewind! How could we have been so stupid? The doctor told me that he would be very sleepy from the medication but that they would monitor his pulse and blood pressure in the ambulance. I decided to go along, and flew home on the scooter to get passports and diapers-- the necessary things. 

We took a three hour ride in the back of an ambulance, and when things like this happen, I find out how superstitious I am, despite the fact that I think I'm logical and trusting. I watched the pulse monitor excessively and it was very reassuring because I could see that his pulse and oxygen were normal and steady. But when I thought of closing my eyes (it was near midnight by this time) I felt that if I even took my eyes off him for a second, he wouldn't be okay. So my brain was somehow telling me that I was keeping my son alive with my attention. And I don't think that's how that works. I thought and prayed deeply about it, and had a moment of release there, in the back of the ambulance. Whether or not I closed my eyes or stopped praying, he would be in God's hands. I closed my eyes. I managed to keep them closed for about five minutes. I may still have some growing to do.

At the hospital things immediately got better. It was still very very scary, but point by point and hour by hour we checked everything out and as time passed, we realized he was going to be okay. He had an EKG and some blood work. He woke up a little more and said, "Up peese Mama." He got mad at the tube in his nose. They admitted us into the ICU and kept him on the heart monitor all night, with a blood pressure cuff on his leg to take his blood pressure periodically. Every once in a while it would start up and he would wake up long enough to lift his leg straight in the air and stare at it, like what on earth? I slept in the bed beside him, and with the beeping and the nurses coming in, I didn't get much sleep.

In the morning, he was his spunky, active self. Pissed off at the tubes coming out of his arms. He was so annoyed with his nose tube that he just pulled it out, and we didn't bother putting one back in. 

He. was. fine. And the nurses and I scrambled to find ways to occupy my twenty-two-month old in an ICU bed for the hours before we could be discharged. They came up with latex glove balloons, which were a big hit. And before we left, nurses took turns taking photos with him and playing with him. They were so kind.

Here's the thing. Every doctor I talked to said, "Oh, well, he only ate one pill. He should be fine." But then when they researched that medication, they got very serious very quickly. Because I think we feel that kids taking a whole bunch of medication is dangerous, but one or two pills is no big deal. Did you know that there were medications, prescription medications, that could kill a child with one pill? I didn't. I had no idea. 

This terrifying incident has made me realize, no, hit me over the head with the realization that I need to know every medication in my house and what it can do. We all need to know that. And then of course, we need to keep medication out of reach, all the time, even in our bedroom, where the kids don't normally hang out. 

I am so, so thankful that Isaac is all right. I am so thankful that some stupidity on our part didn't hurt him. I'm so thankful for this beautiful boy in our lives. I hit a point when I thought there was no going back, that everything was going to change terribly, but then, very quickly, it did go back to normal, and we were allowed to start again.

Isaac recovered very quickly but I think it will be a while before I do.