Driving with a two-year-old.

Sometimes when I drive to Shekina Garden by myself, I notice the cows that graze at the bottom of the hill that leads there. I almost always notice if the baby blue-eyed buffalo is there, but sometimes I’m in a hurry, or I’m sad, or I’m thinking of other things I need to do and I don’t really see the cows. If Isaac is with me, on the other hand, the issue is settled. I will notice the cows, or I will notice the fact that there are no cows, like the other day. We drove down while the three oldest kids were in Thai class. Isaac was on his kid’s seat on the Pegasus, (our motorbike that is not the chariot,) and Solo sat on the back, and as we drove our conversation went something like this: 

“I’m going to see cows! No cows! Where are the cows Mama?”

“It looks like they didn’t come today.”

“They didn’t come today! Where are they Mama?”

“I don’t know, they’re somewhere else.”

“I will call them. Cows… where are you cows? I’m calling them, now they will come! Where are you cows, come hee-re!”

And it went on like that, and I was thankful for Isaac, because no interesting thing escapes him and he never frets. He never frets about big life issues, anyway. He frets about plenty of things like whether or not I allow him to look at the dog’s poo before I throw it in the toilet. 

We went to the garden to retrieve the three bottles of kombucha that I had left in the fridge there, and when we arrived, I said hello to the workers who are building our new workshop, the amazing new place that will allow us to separate garden and building tools from kitchen stuff, as all such things should be. Separate, that is, and in their own happy buildings. And any building looks better if it has a grass roof, so it was nice to see the builders building, piling brick on brick, getting the window frames ready. It's nice to see these things progress.

Solo turned seven last week and Kai turns thirteen on the first, and suddenly I’m this kind of Mom, the kind that has all these big kids with long legs. Kai is man-sized now, not nearly as tall as he will be, but as tall as many men around here, and he is still learning about holding himself back, not playing with full strength when he’s wrestling with a nine-year-old. I’m feeling stirrings of unrest as I wonder if I am skilled enough to parent teens, but the truth is that I wondered the same thing when we strapped Kai into our community’s shared car and left the hospital the first time. Why does anyone trust me with this? I thought then, but somehow we stumbled along together until I’m staring next week in the face, and my beautiful firstborn is nearly thirteen.

Like Isaac, he has his own way of pointing things out to me. Mostly ironies or silliness or grammatical errors made by his siblings. New buildings, differences between countries, the hilarity of being asked in his school book to try to imagine spending a week in India, the things we sometimes miss out on, the perfect additions to pasta (pepper), moments in books we have both read, new kids fantasy that I should read (because he knows I love it.) Soon he'll be beta reading my new book, and I can't wait to hear what he says, because he's so perceptive about literature. ("Villains always make two mistakes. They brag about what they're going to do when anyone can hear them, and they monologue.") And, like with Isaac, I am thankful for what he helps me see. 

 

Snap out of it!

(From a couple weeks ago...)

I’ve been having a bit of a rough time with the crazy that is my mind. Dreaming of cabins far away from the entire world, places where no children will look at me or talk to me. Trying to snap out of it, going to bed early, asking for help. I’m doing all the things, but all the things don’t always add up to equal normalness. Sometimes all the things add up to equal more crazy. But anyway, yesterday I had a day so chaotic that it sort of did snap me out of it. Maybe when all the rhythms and plans fall apart in a dose of Asian chaotic life, I can’t keep track of my insanity either and it slips away from me. Or maybe I’m finally on day 3 of my period.

The day started in the night, with a storm that took our breath away. Every person I talked to said they couldn’t sleep because of the heavy rains that seemed to get louder and stronger, louder and stronger, until it felt like the roof would fall onto us. (My Thai teacher said that her bedroom flooded and they were up cleaning out their drains in the middle of the night. In a storm.) Or thunder that sort of felt like an earthquake. It went on and on and I lay there and thought about the river that had already torn our bridge away. 

So first thing, I went down to the river to look at effects of several tons of water landing on our town overnight. It was overflowing its banks. There were people everywhere looking at it, and it was proud and spectacular and brown in the morning light. It was rushing like a thousand stampeding water buffalos. It was glorious, encroaching on our territory, threatening to flood. But the rain had stopped and the sun was out and we were in the clear. We are in the clear, for now anyway. 

Then I got a call from Neil, who told me that the contractor, who was supposed to come and help us on the next Monday was already at the garden, except that he was a different man. And Neil needed me to come and wrangle with a bit of Thai language. “How do I get there?” I asked. With the bridge gone, and the back roads a field of mud pits, we haven’t been able to reach the garden this week. But a group of truck driving angels had apparently filled the mud pit road with river rocks, so Neil was able to get through. I got in the chariot and went.

A brief side note here. I got in the chariot because I couldn’t find our little bike. Because it wasn’t at our house. Which happens sometimes, if one of us drives it somewhere and walks back, forgetting that we drove. (What can I say? We’re artists.) Chinua had no memory of driving it anywhere, and when I found it at the nearby 7-11, I accused him of sleep-driving, and he freaked out and we went so far as to discuss hiding the keys at night before I remembered that I had gone to 7-11 the previous evening and bought diapers. Then walked back. When you forget the motorbike and blame your husband for doing it in his sleep and then it turns out that it was you, I believe they call it eating crow.

So I got in the chariot, and drove over the river rocks, and we looked at the field and saw that the flood had come all the way to our kitchen door but had not come in. And the rest of the day became a dance between talking with construction workers and moving all of our things to get them out of harms way, piling things in mountains off the floor. To recap: surprise workers, lost bike, flooding river, no bridge. Just the sort of thing to snap you out of your melancholy stupor.

Update: The river had subsided a lot, to the point that unless there is another typhoon in China, we won't flood this year. We pray. And the bridge is still gone, but we are using the back roads carefully. 

Even if a lot of people stare.

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When I wake up in the mornings to write, the couple across the street are awake also. They make jok, breakfast rice porridge, and sell it on the side of another street, from a cart. So every morning they put all the tables and stools, pots and food, in their sidecar, drive them over, and then push the cart down the street to park it and sell their food. I make my coffee (these days it’s in my stovetop espresso maker) in my kitchen which is outside and open to the street, remember, and all the while I see them preparing for their morning. The couple has one other worker, a young man, and both he and the older man sing while they work. I put cream in my coffee; they sing Thai songs. 

My kitchen. Shall we talk more about my kitchen? I think I am pretty much completely resigned to the very public nature of my life, out here on this street, as I emerge in the mornings and walk down the stairs, meeting the eyes of passing monks who are up early to give blessings, or drunks still out from the night before. The occasional (very occasional) time I snap at a child, “Get out of the kitchen!” when he is racing around underfoot, and look up to see a group of tourists watching me? No sweat. We live in the middle of everything and we aren’t ashamed. Only sometimes we are. But, for the most part, I’m simply happy that my bedroom is tucked away inside my house. 

Every once in a while I am standing somewhere, or doing something, when I realize, I mean, really GET IT. I live in Thailand. The other day it was in the market, while everyone was scurrying because of a downpour. I walked from the tomato seller to the avocado seller, getting soaked in the process, and thought, whew, I’m once again getting caught in the rain. And then I looked up and saw a man wearing Hmong embroidery hurrying to cover his stall, and a Lisu woman moving her greens out of the gusts of rain, and it hit me that I was getting caught in the rain in a vegetable market in Thailand. And that this is completely normal to me. Normal enough that it’s slightly annoying. But not if I stop and look around and see the wonder of my life. It’s like what Kenya said one day: Her life is made of adventures that she loves, and when she gets caught in the rain while we're driving the chariot, it reminds her that her life is amazing. Hmm. May something like getting caught in the rain always remind us that our lives are amazing.

The Leafy Boy.

The other day, Leafy was sitting with me at the table. This boy. Do you have someone in your life who finds you at any time of the day to tell you seemingly random bits of information about anything under the sun? I do. Artificial intelligence, dinosaurs, superheroes, video games, scientific facts about cells and atoms. Requests for use of the kitchen so he can make food like eggnog (in July) or fried bananas. I never know what’s coming, or how fantastic it will be. So the other day, at the table, I was working on something or other and he sat down beside me. 

“I’m not sure if I can still do this,” he said, “but I used to be able to taste with… the top of my HEAD.” Leafy emphasizes his words a lot. I looked at Kai and he looked back at me with his new, nearly teenaged look of HUHHH? Leafy went on. “I could dip my finger in salt and put it the very top of my head, and I would TASTE SALT.” He rendered me speechless. There is a normal pattern to human conversation, one where a person says something and the other responds with something appropriate. But sometimes the thing said has never before been said in the history of the universe, and if I was more creative I might be able to come up with something appropriate, but no, I am speechless. Leafy. That’s what we often say, after Leafy says something to us. “Leafy.” And we shake our heads. “There is no one like you in the world.” 

Leafy has a habit of walking in circles, dreaming things up. Recipes, (“I love making sauces and toppings. Did you know that if you put vanilla or coconut milk in salty things, it makes the flavor amazing?”) or scenes in some world where he lives most of the time. I’m not quite sure. He talks a bit, makes motions with his hands. He does it outside our house, going from our tiny garden to the laundry line behind the studio, and back again. We call it his Leafy Walk, and he’s done it since he could walk.His best thoughts come when he’s walking in circles. He’ll grow out of it, I think, or else he’ll become a mad genius engineer, whose colleagues know not to interrupt him when he’s pacing through the offices, walking on the sofas, talking to himself. 

 

He has gorgeous things to say about his sister and brothers. He told me Kai has saved his life FOUR times. (Wow, he's been in danger a lot.) When we were talking about how blessed we are to have Kenya, he said, "Kenya totally keeps this place together! I’ve hung out with boys who don’t have sisters, and they act a little crazy. But if a worm comes out of an apple, Kenya uses her finger to PUSH it back inside.” Which I guess he appreciates. Down with worms. (Apple worms, which are actually maggots, not earthworms, which we LOVE.) He told me one day that Solo loves to work and is very kind, and that is a great combination. And he adores. Isaac. 

I think I just needed a post to highlight Leafy today, my gorgeous, wonderful, surprising, adorable middle child.

A quick trip (with creatures).

This is not a snake, but it is a creature!

This is not a snake, but it is a creature!

I got back a couple nights ago from a mini writing retreat of my own making. I needed to go to the nearby big city for routine tasks at immigration and thought, well, while I’m there, why don’t I stay an extra day, huddle in a hotel room, and write. So I did. It’s a luxury of living here, since hotel rooms only cost $10 if you know how to scavenge for the deals. They cost less if you don’t mind cockroaches or sharing bathrooms, things I have worked into my hotel-staying life countless times in the past, but I find I’m pickier these days. I think there are actually guesthouses in the big city for less that are squeaky clean, but I haven’t found them yet. 

Now that I’m back from that cheapskate rabbit trail, you probably want to know how the writing went. It went swimmingly, with a near blackout on social media thrown in to boot. My upcoming book, “A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging,” is with my lovely editor, but I’m working on the second draft of another book, the fantasy I was telling you about. I own my word count. It trembles at my touch. Sometimes. 

Back when I decided to go to the big city, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that it was Sunday on a long weekend, and there were no seats available on any of the buses that day. “No problem,” I thought. “I can drive!” And by drive I meant ride a motorbike in the rain on switchbacks for five hours, which I proceeded to do. It was… challenging. And cheap! I’m always looking for ways to justify my choices, unlike just say, making them, like normal people. What positive category could I put this motorbike experience into? Pleasure? Not at all. Beauty? A little, but the world was transformed by rain and gray and I couldn’t see much of it as I focused on the very wet road. Adventure? It was a little too adventurous, the kind where adventure tips into trial. Frugality? Yes! I had a winner and as I collapsed in my hotel room that night, I felt the happy tingle of justifying a hard experience by penny pinching. In my defense, there was no other way to make an impromptu visit to the city, and if it exhausted me a little more than I had been expecting, so be it.

The way back was nicer, with drier roads. However, I stopped to answer my phone on the side of the road when I was nearly back in Pai, and when I pulled away from the shoulder, I saw a little snake wriggling quickly away from my foot. “Awww,” I thought, “a little snake.” But then the sound of my bike startled it and it reared up to strike. It was a tiny cobra! A cobra! I shrieked and drove away quickly. Riding in the rain with cobras. Even when I try to do nothing exciting, excitement finds me.

Hummingbirds.

A while back, I got a custom order for a large watercolor piece. My friend in California wanted hummingbirds. I wrote back saying that I’d love to do it! And I did enjoy painting all these little hummingbirds, as well as my favorite kind of tree, which has many names: silk tree, saman, and my favorite: raintree. I loved working in a large format. The hummingbirds are done and the prints are in my shop! 

Detail.

Detail.

The mundane beautiful.

Sunday was a lovely, lazy day. I did wake up early, because I’m trying to do a bit of writing every day these days, but it was a sleepy, gray morning with a second cup of coffee. The rain poured straight out of the sky, completely vertical, it was not fighting rain or blowing rain. It fell, it gave itself up to gravity. I tried to cease my striving as well. 

Kenya made a doll, hand sewing stuffing for the head into a piece of cloth she dyed at our homeschool co-op. I made a note to help her find some tutorials. The kids lay around and read, watched Ninja Go, played games on the computer. I made noodle bowls for lunch. In the evening, I had a circle at the garden with Nay and Ro and another dear friend who is reading the Bible with us. In the dusk we swatted at mosquitos, ate passionfruit and mangosteens, drank rooibos chai, and read the first two chapters of Philippians. As the sky grew dark, the mosquitos lessened. I find myself aware of the beauty of the Bible in a new way lately. It is something I return to from my own frail attempts at depth and beauty and truth, and it is always home.

Monday was gray as well—we are in the month of gray, drinking the cool rain. It was a school day. I helped with math, read aloud to the kids, cuddled and tickled a very grumpy Isaac. For lunch, I loaded up on curries from the local vegan restaurant for lunch, as well as the vegetarian fried chicken (soy protein) at the request of my vegetarian son. My favorite was the green curry. 

Our other friends from the community are away for a week and a half and there were big goodbyes as all the Ford kids basically attacked the friends, hugging them, trying to keep them. We’ll miss them. I’m trying not to panic, but to think of the extra time to catch up on things I’ve been putting off at my house. My dear Leaf is away as well, one month down, only three to go. I miss her.

In the afternoon I went to the market. I bought three kilos of tomatoes for spaghetti sauce in the next days, as well as fruit and avocados. The steamed buns were tempting, so I bought a few of them as well. We ate bean bowls for dinner and the kids played Simon Says. I walked into the room to find Isaac as Simon, instructing his very large siblings. It was adorable. We watched an episode of Chopped before bed. Isaac leapt from my lap to the floor, dancing and hopping from foot to foot, barely able to sit for any amount of time.

The rain pours steadily this morning. Birds woke me; bulbuls and spotted doves, roosters and mynahs. The white flower tree in our courtyard is loaded with flowers, and the yellow flower tree down the street fills the neighborhood with fragrance that makes me dream. I’ll work on some editing soon. There are a thousand mundane, beautiful things to fill the day. Cleaning, cooking, sweeping up the white flowers. Stay, I tell myself. Stay.

Awash with kittens and books.

(From Saturday)

The rain is pouring steadily as I sit in my studio, and I can hear cats thumping around in the roof. Somehow all the cats on our street have pegged the empty space above the ceiling in our studio/kitchen as the ideal place to give birth to their kittens. They then raise them until they are big enough to get into trouble and move them to a safer, less gravity-vulnerable location. So there are a lot of little mews and squeaks, some claw scraping, some thuds. 

Today is Saturday, our busiest day at Shekina Garden. We eat community lunch together and later in the afternoon, have a devotion circle. Lately a lot of friends and travelers from around town have been coming to eat lunch with us and many people have been sticking around for the circle in the afternoon. Today I’m sharing. So the wet, gray morning is lit from within as I think about what I want to share. 

Yesterday I went to my friend Naomi’s house and we cooked together with our friend Fon. The rice paddies around Nay’s house are brilliant green again, the stripes of the earth around the paddies a deep brown. Everything is beautiful, everything is alive. Ants are alive too, and trying to take over our houses and bite our children. Fire ants are the downside to the rain filling the earth and turning it green. There is drought in much of Thailand, as well as in our beloved California and even my home in B.C., Canada. We don’t take any of this rain for granted, we’ll take the ants and the mosquitos. I am thankful for the rain.

So we cooked. Fon ordered us around the kitchen and we sliced banana flowers to make salad, and chopped vegetables to make stir fry and curry. Then we sat and ate together and I was glad I had skipped work to meet with friends and cook.

***

(This morning.)

Saturday was beautiful. It’s our most beautiful, busiest day. Many people came for lunch and the devotion circle afterward was inspiring as people discussed the words manifest, incarnation, and atonement, and we talked about God’s love as evidenced in the incarnation. 

The cat has moved her kittens to the grandmother’s house next door. The grandmother next door is already overrun with stray kittens that she has taken in. They like to break into our house in the evenings and steal Wookie’s food, so we have to padlock the door downstairs (there is no other way to keep it closed) and the other night I accidentally padlocked the door while Chinua was in the bathroom and he had to climb out through the window. Our upstairs is not connected to our downstairs, you know, so all the doors are separate and when we go out we have to lock three doors.

Today I have an early, two-year-old waker who is eating cereal opposite me at the table. A lot of it is on the table and some of it is making its way into his mouth and belly. He woke up saying, “I’m hungry Mama, can I have some pizza?” Which was odd. He settled for cereal. 

In work, I am finishing up with my big commissioned hummingbird painting, getting ready to send it off to my friend Linda in California. And now I turn to writing for a time. I’ve decided to self-publish my novel, A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging, and that should be coming out sometime in early fall. Finally! I’ve been waiting on agents for months and finally decided, no more. Let’s do this, I believe in creating things, making them as lovely as possible, and then making them available to the world. I’m not waiting on someone to do it for me any longer. 

The tree outside is again covered in white flowers and after I'm done with this post, I'll work on revising the first book in my fantasy series. I’m over the moon to be working on fiction again, and especially fantasy--getting up in the early hours of the morning to enter the world I’m making and write about all that people are doing in that world. I think you’re going to like it. It’s a lot of fun to work on this book. I get annoyed when I have to leave it.

Our life is made of books, actually. The kids read for school, they read for play, they write books, I write books. I read books to them in the evening, read alouds from school. Sometimes I don’t get finished until 9:30, and then I read myself to sleep. People ask me how I find time to read. Reading is my obsession, and I have transferred my obsession to my kids. Kai and Kenya count down days before their favorite authors release new books. We are swimming in books.

Summer Sale at my Etsy Shop!

Hi friends, just a quick post to let you know that I'm having a summer sale at my shop. Everything is 25% off, (including originals) from now until July 20th, when you use coupon code SUMMER. So if you've been eyeing any of my prints or originals, now is the time to buy them! Here's the link: Journey Mama Creates. 

Much love,

Rae

Home again.

I’m finally back in my chair at my desk, writing in the early hours of the day. I wrote my morning page (like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, but mine is just one page because I make my own rules and I only have a little bit of time) and I worked on my hummingbird painting, and now here I am, showing up at the blog.

Chinua’s brother and sister-in-law came to visit us in Thailand, along with his niece and nephew and a family friend. We met them in Bangkok, spent a couple days there, then traveled to Krabi, where the water is blue and the rocks look like they’re from another world, then traveled back up to Chiang Mai and into the markets, then drove through the curvy roads until we got home. We’ve been talking and shopping (I was translating, not buying) eating and swimming. It’s been a crowded, noisy, fun, happy time, as we took taxis that we really couldn’t fit in, and put way too many people into hotel rooms. I’ve been impressed by the way our brother and sister have thrown themselves into travel here in Thailand, trying all new things and dealing with heat and language issues. It makes me thankful for the way we acclimate, too. It’s all so normal to me, and I’m happy to be on this side of the adjustment. When visitors come, we see things through their eyes, new again, things we take for granted. The heat, the shape of the cars, the way Thai people smile and laugh all the time. And coming home is so sweet, because I see again just how lovely our town is, how we know our neighbors and the shopkeepers. I mean, we were only gone for eight days, but we missed our little town. 

One interesting moment was when our plane was landing and Solo threw up, but not in a bag because I didn’t get a bag to him in time, so we were just sitting in it, and we couldn’t get out of the seats. I have never been more thankful for a pack of baby wipes, and also, now I can say that I cleaned up a lot of vomit on a landing plane with a pack of baby wipes. My life is complete.

Today is diving back into homeschool, meditation, making shopping lists, bathing my stinky dog, watering plants, reading aloud to my kids, making to do lists that try to seem like they can be accomplished, and living in the light and love of God while trying to keep my cool with my beautiful, wild kids. Just life.

Gardener's paradise.

It was our own form of shopping spree and we were in heaven. 

“It’s gorgeous… I’ll take four,” is a phrase that doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. Nor do I exult in shopping sprees. Except, unless… I am in the Kamthieng Market, a blocks long garden market in Chiang Mai. Basically, shop after shop has the most gorgeous plants and trees and flowers for sale. It is a hippie’s paradise. We could have spent days there, but we limited ourselves to a few hours, roasting in the hot sun, (Leaf and I bought sombreros to keep our heads cool) while Brendan kept the kids in the air conditioning at the Tesco Lotus nearby. He watched as the kids played in the playground and stormed the arcade. We, meanwhile, stormed the garden market, determined to make the garden of our dreams.

“Avocado trees?” 

“Yes, let’s take more of them!” 

“What about these wildflowers?”

"We have to have pomegranates!"

“Let’s get three kinds of mango tree.”

“What are lamyai?” “Oh, they’re small fruit, really good. Let’s get one!” 

The enthusiasm was crazy. I quickly took photos of all the little trees, labeling them in my phone so we wouldn't forget which was which.

We are planting trees at Shekina Garden, and for the first time ever, all of us in our little community got on the curvy, sick-making bus ride to go to Chiang Mai so that we could buy trees together. We piled into the back of a song taew, which took us through the city to the market. Plants. Flowers. Heaven. We bought a lot of fruit trees that will take years to bear fruit. We bought climbers and ten crepe myrtle trees to stretch along the front of the garden, blocking the view of the new resort that is being constructed directly opposite us. (One day—the crepe myrtles are still pretty short.) When we got home I found a nursery in my yard, trees upon trees. We have planted many of them and every Friday, during gardening time, we plant more. Planting trees is always good, always right, and doing it together is a lot of fun. And a lot of work, but what beautiful work. 

A letter might work. Maybe.

I was messaging with Leaf last night, and I wrote, "The poo soup was not even the worst part of my day." 

I haven't written about poo for a while. Nearly thirteen years into my mothering career, I have mastered poo. Poo doesn't get to me anymore. Potty-training-outtakes-poo on the floor, the dog eating poo, poo explosions. Until, that is, the poo soup. And it wasn't even the worst part of my day. 

It begins with toddlers who love to put things in toilets. It continues with two blocked toilets that I have been plunging for weeks. We have a third toilet, all the poo is supposed to go in there, but we are forgetful people at times. Yesterday, with two blocked toilets, I woke determined to fix it all. I bought a plumbing snake, some hardcore toilet clearer, and a new plunger. The downstairs toilet was really and truly blocked. Do I even need to tell you what happened? I added the chemical to the water, it cooked the poo, the vapor rose to fill the house, and then I died. Or I decided to move. Or burn the house down. 

The septic guy came out and blah blah blah, something with a hose and stuff. I don't think it's actually completely fixed yet. 

The point is, it was horrible. But there are things more horrible than poo soup, like yelling at your dear husband. That was the worst part of my day. Because a slight criticism on his part (had nothing to do with the plumbing problem, and more with my tendency to fret) led to me getting VERY defensive and striking back, guns blazing. After all these years, I'm still not the best at taking criticism. And yes, it was the first day of my period, and yes, I started that day, not on some cushions with dark chocolate and a favorite book, but in the poo soup. And yes, I tend to worry about money. 

Fighting with my husband didn't make me feel better about any of this. Demanding to be understood never works. Bad days happen. But here's a letter to my future self:

Dear Rae,

On days like these, take a walk, lovely. Make a cup of tea. Go to your room and turn the lights off and put music in your ears and imagine forests. Go for a drive. Soothe yourself. Then open your hands, give your husband (your loving, kind-hearted, human, well-meaning husband) a big hug. Accept that he won't always say the thing that makes you feel the best. Move into the day with grace. Know that grace is there for you. Stand under the waterfall of grace for a while. Accept that he might be right about his critique of you, but that doesn't mean you aren't lovable. Remember that you are a monk, your spiritual work is taking care of kids and plants and making food and reading aloud. 

Only love and grace can heal. Hold it in abundance for all those around you, and especially for you, because when you want to return fire, guns blazing, you need to pour a little extra love in your cup and keep your heart and your mouth quiet. 

*

This letter might work for you, too. Or maybe you can write your own letter, for those days that start with poo soup. Put it somewhere safe, and pull it out and read it when you need to. I'm going to try it.

And my husband is kind and forgiving, and all is right with the world again. (Sort of, except that I think we're still stuck only using one toilet.) 

Do you know how beautiful you are?

When my friend Leaf pops into my house with her baby, they fill my eyes with beauty. The two of them together are so stunning, such a picture of love and sweetness and the beauty of a mother with a small baby. When I told Leaf this the other day she laughed and said, “I know I used to tell you and Winnie that all the time, but it’s strange how you don’t really feel it when you're in it.”

It’s true. When you are in the midst of mothering that small baby, you feel tired and worn out, sleepless and like your body is permanently curled into a ‘C’ shape from the weight in your arms. From your sleep-deprived, foggy brain, you can’t see just how beautiful you are. And isn’t that the truth about so much of life? At our most difficult moments, we are the most radiant, because something of the true character and nature of God shines out of us, but we can't necessarily feel it. Mothering is such a part of God’s heart, a little piece of the Supreme Nurturer, there on display for us every time we see the look of complete trust a contented baby gives her mother. There it is, a lesson through the most difficult and complicated of God’s creation: people. A beautiful lesson, a lesson like a jewel, because God is no boring lecturer; he teaches us about himself in startling flashes of light.

You are beautiful in the same way when you are at your lowest. When you feel that you might not make it, you shine with something more lovely than any of your effortless moments. Yesterday Chinua talked with our friends, Ian and Christy, for hours, on speakerphone from their hospital room where Ian is getting antibiotics for a mystery fever. I was supposed to be homeschooling, so I was only wandering in and out of the studio, but I kept catching bits and pieces of their conversation. Perhaps they don’t feel beautiful, Ian at times foggy with what he called Chemo Brain, both of them in the dullness and hyperawareness of hospital life. But I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything as radiant as those two, Ian with his heart full of hope and trust, Christy’s laugh ringing out in the hospital room, or the times she spoke passionately with tears in her voice. 

You are so beautiful. In your honesty, pain, weariness and love. You are beautiful to God, he reaches for you when he sees you walking through the grocery store, mulling over which tomatoes to take and which to leave behind. You are beautiful in your honesty before him, when you reach out for him, and that is all that you are able to do. You are beautiful in your stronger moments, too, but know deep in your heart that God finds you beautiful in your weakness. 

Original chickens.

It was evening and the heaviness of the sky kept teasing us with rain, but none came. The kids were cranky, the little ones not sharing, my two-year-old falling apart over the smallest of insults, injuries, or perceived threats. The tweens were embroiled in a crisis concerning whether they could stand to live with one another any more. The six-year-old was frustrated and whiny. There were beautiful extras around, little ones who call me “Auntie Rae,” little ones whom I love. But all of them were ganging up on me, a big writhing, sweaty, cute mess. I sat on the porch with them, resigned to doing nothing other than breaking up quarrels. Stay. I wished it was the next morning so I could draw hummingbirds with a cup of coffee in my hand. Stay. 

Leafy was the angel of the evening. He spent all day working on writing a book. “Can I watch videos of birds flying in slow motion?” he asked me at one point. “So I can describe the dragons flying in my book.” With five kids, at least one kid should be happy, even on an off day.

The uncle from across the street came to watch the madness. He wanders over daily to have conversations with Isaac about geckos. All of the people on our street are friends with one another, and all of them are kind to us. The uncle leaned on the fence and watched as Isaac took a swipe at Jazzy. He smiled and laughed. I smiled back and wiped sweat off my upper lip. I looked at the sky, hopeful for rainclouds. Nothing that looked promising.

There had been chickens running on the street in the morning, the long-legged, svelte jungle chickens of this region. Original chickens. One crowed me awake in the early hours, a visitor to our neighborhood. While I put the rice on to feed grouchy kids, a man drove into the empty lot next door, looking up into a tree and making cawing noises. Over the half wall in my kitchen, he asked, in Thai, “Did you see any chickens?” 

“I saw them last night,” I said. “And this morning.” 

“I got two this morning,” he said. “But I heard that the last one, the big black one, flew into this tree.”

“I didn’t see it,” I said. “But I will watch for you.” He continued to make cawing noises in the tree, then drove off.

After dinner I sat on the porch again. When kids started yelling at each other, I pulled them into my lap and hugged them, then said, “please try to stop screeching.” Holding them made me remember just how cute they were. I stretched out and lay all the way down, while they rolled themselves around on skateboards and the tweens quarreled over the dishes. I looked up at my house and the sky and noticed again just how pretty the lattice work on my roof is. It took my breath away. What a privilege to live here. Isaac came and lay down on top of me, then jumped up a moment later to play ball with the other two littles. They passed the ball nicely back and forth for a few minutes while I looked at the tall building above me. I sat up and saw the chicken man looking hopefully up into the tree again. It brought back memories of looking for our own jungle chickens and Kenya’s panic when we couldn’t find them. I shuddered, but smiled at him when he drove away on his scooter again. 

Naomi came and picked up her kids and gave me a hug of sympathy. We dreamed of running away from it all. Stay.

Chinua came home and he finished up with bath (bucket) time while I worked on painting the schedule sign for Shekina Garden. I had been working on it all day, on and off, painting a few letters and then jumping up to cook something or pour someone soy milk. Soon the wind called me outside, gusting up and teasing with hints of rain, lightning in the distance. The chicken man came by again and peered up into the tree, which was blowing wildly. I took a big, giant gulp of the cool breeze on my porch, part of me out there in the wild sky, dancing with clouds and messing things up. Leaves blew past, rolling down the street, and a towel flew off the bamboo fence around my kitchen. I let the wind take the weariness of the day and went back to paint a few more letters. 

Prayer.

Today I want to point you to this post written by my beautiful friend Christy. You will remember Christy and Ian, her husband, who battled leukemia and overcame with the help of a bone marrow transplant from his brother. 

They were in the middle of plans of moving to Thailand by the fall, and Christy was even here, looking at houses, when she caught an early plane back because of warning signs Ian was experiencing. He has relapsed and is in need of our prayers. They are back in the swamps of chemo and hospitals, but if there are two people more full of faith and beauty, I don't know them. These two are humble in heart, incredibly giving, and full of trust that they will be here with us within a year. Please pray with us for them. We want them in our community! We want Ian to be Well!. 

Thank you friends, I'm glad that I can trust you with this.

Running

I'm running again. I stopped for the fire season, and after some weeks of rain I realized it was time to start, the air was clear and bright and I had no excuse anymore. It feels better this time, as though, despite my long break, I've been getting more used to the gait of running. 

When I run I pass many people on motorbikes. Sometimes the market is already set up and I run past people buying mangoes and underwear. I grow incredibly flushed when I exercise, and it takes hours for my face to return to normal. I listen to music. I reach a point when I feel invincible, like I'm taming this beast that I call my body, it's working for me and I own it. Then I reach a point when I feel like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. I push myself a little longer and then I walk. As I cool down, I collect photos of flowers or interesting things. 

I don't run far. Yesterday I made 3 km. I figure that running shorter and more often will be better for me in the end. And I do feel a difference. I feel like my legs can carry me anywhere. 

A Thin Layer.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. An extra bit of brilliance just before the light disappears, like a thousand invisible lamps being turned on at once. We were sitting in the sala at Shekina Garden yesterday, finishing up with meditation, bamboo leaves rustling in a strong breeze. Brendan began riding Nay’s bicycle in circles around the garden, testing it or something, I never did find out.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” our friend Beau said. “And look, he’s riding a bicycle out there.” Brendan did make quite a sight, green and golden in the weird light, cycling on the grass. 

We were drinking kombucha and I felt the kind of happy settledness that meditation brings me. We lingered, the light keeping us there, our little conversations blinking on and off. We talked about light therapy and skateboarding, and then I told some stories about the Catholic shrines in Goa, out of nowhere, related to nothing. Snippets of memories. Leaf and I walked back over the bridge together, then lingered longer beside the river, talking. We meant to head in different directions, but we were caught there, talking by the river, as the light got dimmer and dimmer and finally it was gone before I even pulled away, my headlights guiding me along the narrow street. 

Earlier in the day we had looked at land, dreaming of a future with a bigger retreat center in it. Chinua is recording everything lately, every moment, so I drove while he held the video camera and we followed Brendan and Leaf on their red motorbikes, which are forty years old and aptly named Big Red and Little Red. It was all ridiculously photogenic—Brendan with his waist-length dreadlocks and Leaf with her brilliant hair on these old, beautiful bikes. They drove side by side and chatted. Chinua filmed it all. (Filmed? Is there a different word for that these days?) 

I left quickly when I realized I was late for my afternoon tea with my friend Rowan Tree. Ro and I ate cake. We ate too much cake, the pieces were twice as big as we thought they would be. I offered Chinua some when he wandered into the café later and groaned that he couldn’t go anywhere anymore without bumping into us. He looked at me suspiciously. We are competing to reach our weight goals, (people still ask me if I’m pregnant, nearly every day) and we have been known to offer each other food as a weapon because we both want to win. But I really just wanted him to enjoy the cake with me and eat it because it was too much. He took a bite and disappeared. Ro and I talked about learning Thai and how it can be an obsession, words tumbling over each other in your brain until you think you will go crazy. I was nervous about guiding meditation because I’ve been using up a lot of my courage lately and it seems to be finite, though rechargeable. I’m not usually anxious about guiding meditation but this time I was and Rowan Tree set me at ease as she clutched her stomach and groaned “I ate too many snacks…” 

We went to my house and I finished making dinner so it would be ready while I was away and Josh was watching the kids. Once the salsa was made and the lettuce was cut, we rode off to sweep the floor of the meditation space and put the mats out. Our friends began pulling up one by one on their scooters and the sunlight slipped further along the red floor as we settled in a circle and began. 

God is our refuge and strength.

Sometimes there is difficult work to do in community. I think this particular group of friends has fooled me away from my firm belief that community is a kind of suffering. I start thinking it is all fun and games and playing in the mud and get careless. But in talking about what really matters to us and digging to find each other and dream together, a wild fear of being seen or unseen, changing beyond recognition or being misunderstood can rear its head. 

A very present help in trouble.

Past days, memories and fears and stumbling, clumsy love can make me retreat into myself, can tempt me to isolate myself. Maybe you are the same. But as soon as we try to run from the knife of suffering, the iron of community, we give up on the depth and truth of love. It is the same in marriage, in parenting. We flinch away from pain, but suffering guides us to new depths of understanding. We learn more of what God is doing as he writes his story among us. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

We sat in the circle together, our minds close and far away, and birds sang above us, and one shrieking cicada tried for all our attention. 

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. 

*From Psalm 46

All the days that made you.

We never know how another person's heart looks. No one can know all the patches or stitches, the place where it got stretched out of recognition, the time it was run over in the street.

You are made of your days and weeks and no one can know how meaningful they were to you, how you grew up from a seed and you tried to do some things over when you failed, and you tried to believe the truth that God was always speaking in your ear, though you often couldn't hear him. No one can know the nights of insomnia that put lines under your eyes or the pure euphoric love of a newborn you have experienced. No one has you figured out, not even the people who have been through things with you because you are all shades and hues and lines of difference, and the resonance of a broken down car will make a different crack in you, and the beauty of a perfect cloud will radiate differently when seen through your eyes.

This is good news, though, because you have so many different tools at your disposal, ways you can tell your story or try to figure out what it is that you want to say. And you can listen with humility, knowing that you will never fully understand what it is to be another person, you will never reach the bottom of their well. 

And it is good news because the only person who knows completely and has touched and breathed on every stitched together, patched, tire tread-marked part of your soul, is full of nothing but the desire for the best for you. He will not pull away or be mad at you for being a mess. Your perfect days were his delight, your long hard roads brought him beside you, the many meetings you sat through, the unsafe places, the dark lands, the fire in the grasses, the time your house fell, the great seas collapsing, the hospital corridors, the oceans of paperwork, the crying in your pillows, the goodbyes and long lonely evenings, the way you've loved and not been loved in return, the paint strokes and endless breakfasts, the old days, the broken teeth and scratches, none of them, none of them are unfamiliar to God, who sees them all will perfect clarity and does not pull away, choosing instead to gently beckon you on, into the days to come. 

The jungle.

Thank you for your comments on my last post. They made me think a lot, especially about what Tj said. She commented:

"As for 'stay'. It would be meaningless if not for 'go'. There is a duality in all of life. Sometimes we stay, other times we go. I think the peace comes when we accept each moment before us. Our roots are not grounded in the here or there but in the Spirit of God, so it really matters not, if only we can get our hearts and minds around it." 

And somehow that right there is what I mean by Stay. It's not about not journeying, but about the ability to be at peace with what is happening in our lives and enter in wholeheartedly. To not run away in my heart. To stay near the mundane and near conflict. To be just as truly myself with days of homeschooling ahead as I am myself when I am on a bus in the mountains in India. But Tj is right: I don't have one without the other and we all have these different pieces of who we are. They dance with one another, sometimes peacefully, sometimes angrily. 

*

The rains have come, though the last two days have been dry. The rains coming back means that the earth is exploding in green, and my heart is shifting toward the color, the time of year when everything seems to be creeping and growing, moving nearly perceptibly as plants climb fences and buildings, grass springs out of the earth, and everything is very, very alive. 

Today we have school ahead of us. My plan is to buy a bunch of litchis and sit, peel, and eat them, to read aloud, to have a dreaming circle with friends. Leafy wants to invent a type of sugarless candy and I plan to allow him to try. Solo is drawing every day and the piano is never quiet. Who knows what beauty will grow up over us today, like the jungle taking us back?

And another new print: see it in my shop!


Stay

It’s a quiet morning and I’m drinking my coffee out of my new owl mug that my friend Christy gave me the other day when she was visiting from California. She was unsure of whether I would like it, because her husband, our friend Ian, had declared it hideous. What he didn’t know about was my tendency to become obsessed with objects (especially ones that I can call “he” or “she”) that are given to me with love. He will always be my coffee mug now, as long as he remains in one piece. (Time is ticking, our family is long-limbed and our tiles are unforgiving, but I will protect him as much as I am able.) I think I love him more because Christy was so smitten with him and Ian thought he was hideous. It’s everything good and funny about marriage and friendship, wrapped up with love in one mug. 

I believe in marriage and friendship, by the way. I believe in love. I believe in God.

I’ve been mulling over a concept lately, something I’d like to write about more. I call it “Stay.” Stay. It’s an ironic topic for a woman with journey in her blog name (and blood), but the idea is shaping around me as I live out my days. How to find yourself where you are. There are so many books and writings on people finding themselves while traveling, leaving everything, shucking off the old, being on the road. I deeply, deeply resonate with journeying. Sometimes I think my eyes are only properly open when tracks are clicking beneath me. But can I find myself when my feet are in the kitchen? Because if there’s anything that these years have taught me, it’s that as a mother it doesn’t really matter what part of the world you live in, you are still the center in your home, small people are orienting themselves around you, and you are still getting stepped on and elbowed and hugged and your ears are ringing. 

Stay. Is there a way to find yourself in a deeper way while staying still than while escaping? Sometimes when I am feeling claustrophobic in my life I think, “I wonder what it would be like to be a Korean woman living in Korea. I would like to be a Finnish woman and take a sauna every day. Or someone living in the Midwest of America with a dozen squashy couches and a bird feeder. But then I think, if I was one of those people, I would still need to grow roots in my own existence. 

I wake up really early in the morning so that I can write and paint and dream. I can tend to think, once the kids are up and the day is moving, “Okay that’s it for now, there will be more tomorrow.” By more I think I mean more for me. My moment is done, now the day is for everyone else, as I help with math and read aloud to them and preside in my wise judication of whether The Hulk is allowed to be invincible in a fight, or whether that is totally and completely unfair. (The rules of invincibility have given me more than one headache. Superhero legislation is beyond me.)

Is there a way to find myself in the center of it all, the storms and laughter howling around me, the hands and cheeks and hugs and tears? Can I really and truly Stay, with my heart, with my attention, with my deepest longings? Can my longings be merged with the deep calling of mother so that I don’t have to wait for my time? I believe so, in all of this life's crazy messiness and snap decisions, the broken honey bottle, the tweens grouching at each other. 

Perhaps I have been writing about this for years, but it’s breaking out of me more and more, especially when I read the opening lines of memoirs about finding ourselves by leaving. But what about those of us who stay? I wonder. And I wonder. And I want to be found. 

What do you think? Are you interested in reading more musings, meditations, essays on this? Also, here’s a question: in your blog reading, do you prefer more frequent, short thoughts, or rarer long posts? Thanks, friends, I don’t say it enough, but you are truly wonderful.