December musings: Abundance

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It is getting colder and the forecast says we will have a low of 8˚ C. That’s cold for us, riding our motorbikes in the morning, making food in our outdoor kitchen, wind coming in our uninsulated wooden house with no heat. I’m excited. I’ll work more on my ripple blanket, light candles, hold my cold hands around my coffee mug.

Isn’t this a busy time of year? We’re preparing for a thanksgiving/blessing for a friend’s baby tomorrow at Shekina Garden, and for our big Christmas preparation next week. I’m trying to fix the mud walls which are still damaged from the flood and from the overuse they get as large people vault over them. (Frowny face.) All of this requires lists of food to be bought and made, poems to be found or written, prayers to be researched. It’s the best kind of busy work, though I am running from morning till night. Running to guide meditation is not to a hard destination. I am abundant with good work.

Because I knew these weeks would be so busy, I needed to remove an element of work from my life, so I gave my kids an extra week off school. They’ve been playing Monopoly (a.k.a. The world’s worst game about losing your house because you can’t pay your bills) and Dixit in the mornings. The four oldest came with me to Shekina Garden to help me sift the red dirt for the walls. It needs to be sifted because we are doing the fine top layer. My kids saved me hours of work by helping me with an assembly line of dirt sifters, bucket fillers, bucket pourers, and pebble emptiers. They also immediately made names for everything. “Plebble me,” meant “add dirt to my sieve,” and “this needs to be plebbled” meant, “dump the rocks from the bottom of my sieve.” I am abundant with help.

They are all fun and memes and silly videos and laughter these days. Kai has come through some rough years of mind-altering natural substances in the form of his own teenage hormones, and has emerged with a lot of common sense and easy-going humor. It is amazing. And now Leafy is heading into that dark land, but with his Leafy-ness intact. I love these sunshiny days when we can work together. It makes all the difficult mind-wrangling fade into the distance. I am abundant with fun.

I’m working more with Leafy on bringing his mind back to the present. He’s nearly twelve, and I feel that he needs to learn the skill. He’s so often away, deep in his mind of invention or the Marvel Universe, doing his laps around the yard. With our learning environment he has had the gift of space, lots of space to walk and think and talk things over with himself. But I want to teach him skills of focus when it’s necessary. He can do it, he can be a vivid and sparkling part of conversations, but not always when I’m asking him to do something. (Do any of you with non neuro-typical children have advice for me?) I am abundant with quirk. 

And always there is Isaac dancing to make us laugh. He has always idolized Solomon (and fought with Solomon) and Solo went through a phase of trying to make ridiculous phrases with the word “chicken” in them. (Which is an inheritance from his father. And on down the line it goes.) Example: “How are you doing?” “Chickeny! With lots and lots of chickeny chickens!” 

Isaac is going to a bilingual gentle learning school now, which has about 24 students, and English and Thai teachers, and when I dropped him off at the gate the other day, one of the Thai kids shouted, “Isaac! Chicken chicken!” And they both squawked at each other like chickens. I gave of teachers, Kruu Lucy, big eyes and said, “So that has spread, has it?” And she said, “Oh, it has!” Oops. Poor teachers. Later I asked Isaac if he had taught everyone to talk about chickens, and he told me not everyone, then listed about half the school kids. Agh. We are abundant with silliness.

Whenever I can, which is a few times a week, I take a drive on my motorbike, into the light of the hills around me. It is so golden, so slanted and perfect in the afternoons, highlighting the falling teak leaves and the ripples and dips of the hills. I can drive all the way around the valley, stopping to talk with farmers along the way. There are clouds and more trees than I know the names for. How could I ever feel poor when I can find these views? How could I ever doubt the sustenance and joy that comes straight from the heart of God? I am abundant with beauty.

I am not lost, and either are you. We are held in his heart, very found, very safe. The road is unknown before us. Sickness undoubtedly waits for us, even if there are many years of wellness before it comes. There will be loss, and there will be more sad days. But today there is some window of beauty, something that gives rest and comes from God himself, who is always surprising and full of light. We are abundant with light.

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December musings: Love

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I often wonder what on earth can solve these spaces between us, and the way we see and don’t see each other. The way we barely skim the surface. In marriage, in life, glances from people just passing by, the best intentions of our friends. We can never truly know each other.

Money and goals and lists of things to do. Is this really what we’re made of? 

Oh, but in the advent, I am changed by hope. Lately hope has been a rare treasure. I reach for it in the mornings and find that I’ve misplaced it. But the object of my hope lives outside of me and beyond me. He is so much bigger than me, his breath creates stars, and he is not dependant on me for my consistency, thank the skies. 

I am as flimsy as a piece of paper. Oh, it is so good that the world is not mine to save.

So what can move in the gaping spaces? This is my big question on this retreat, as I move between what I aim to do and what I actually do, what I hope to understand and what I actually comprehend. What my life shape is, compared to the pictures of life around the world, the way the loudness of it all seems to silence me.

It can only be love. Love will change the way I see the story of my life. Love will expand each day into something more mysterious than failed goals, will breathe on me with holy breath that expands and sustains. My failures can be as huge as the failure to control my tongue or as small as an unreturned email, but love flies in with a cape and soothes the ache.

And it soothes it enough that I might actually begin to embrace failure, might believe that it is a result of risks taken, all our attempts at the large work of love in the universe. Failure is not the same as sin, but my mind says it is. 

Right now I do not embrace it. All my work is done with gritted teeth against its possibility. I think I embrace brokenness but truly do not. I embrace the romantic idea of brokenness but not the crying into the pillow. I think I would much prefer perfection, a smooth sky of unending blue. Trees are easier to be around than people because relating is so hard, but people are the landscape of love, the moving fabric of this whole long story of redemption. Love comes with a cup of honey, a soft song, and whispers that we are truly known, even when the spaces between us feel like the emptiness between planets. This act of love, the impending incarnation, is love taking an immense leap from far away and landing with all the gentleness of a small bird.

Oh Holy Night. Come to us again. Bring love, bring love. 

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December musings: Hope.

Going somewhere.

Going somewhere.

It’s December. It’s December! How can it be? How can the time fly by so quickly? 

I am of course thinking over the last year, and that is only helped by the fact that I am on an art retreat with Leaf. We’ve done this twice over the course of our friendship, mostly because we lived in two different places and wanted to find time to be together. The last time was when Isaac was a newborn. But since Leaf moved to Pai, we’ve talked about wanting to do it again, and since we both needed to come to Vientiane, Laos for visas, we realized we needed to grab the moment! 

So here we are. Yesterday we flew on the tiniest plane, landed in Udon Thani, caught a van up to the border, then walked out and onto a big bus full of Laos people with all their shopping bags. We got off the bus, made our slow way through the border, and into a taxi where we tried to get our heads around all the zeros at the end of the numbers in Laos kip. (I pulled 1,000,000 kip out of the ATM, which is a little over $100. Leaf said, “We’re millionaires!”) Coming to a country where we aren’t familiar with the money throws us back into traveler mode; aware that we can be taken advantage of, aware that there will be mistakes here and there as touts try to “help” us. 

I can understand Laos because it is so similar to Thai, but struggle with speaking because there are different words. But it is different here; more laid back, grubbier, with all of that charm that comes from things being a bit messy. It reminds me of other countries that I love, with smells that bring me into India or Nepal. The huge Mekong river seems to make the air heavy with a damp earthy smell in the evening. Outside my window as I write, there are three types of tin roof. I’m excited for a few days of writing and thinking, plotting my new book and maybe doing some painting. I’m excited to explore an unfamiliar place (but slightly familiar, since we’ve both been here a couple times before) with my dear friend. 

Life has been a bit crazy in the last month. Chinua has been unwell, as one of his blood pressure medications was making him anxious. This changes life for us in a huge way. I have been so busy in my life and in my mind that I sometimes feel like I can’t breathe. But we are muddling through and it’s such good work. The work of having compassion, of working together to be healthy, of covering jobs and tasks for someone with love. Ah, how I want to be made pure. I want the things that come from me, all my work and words and reactions, to flow from mercy.

Christy and Olga and I have been having Bible reading circles, and on Thursday night they came over for one. We had dinner together and then crept upstairs to try to sit and read the Bible in a house that contained eight children. Chinua was watching strange Japanese gameshows with them downstairs, so there was a lot of shouting and scream-laughing that was barely masked by our uninsulated teak floors. But somehow we managed, sitting on the floor in a circle around a candle upstairs. 

And we read and talked a lot about hope. About hope and how it purifies us. The words kill me, they slay me, my heart melts.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Is this the part of growing older that is the hardest? Continuing in hope? When you know all your own mistakes? And you read the news, and it is consistently disappointing—the depths of contempt people have for one another, the ongoing dismissal of suffering, the lack of empathy. The statistics we pull up to shove in one another’s faces, the ways we justify oppression. 

Come, Lord. Oh, the ugliness breaks my heart.

But it is the same that it has always been, our brokenness and lack of love as humans, the way we need God to fill every cracked place. The way we need to stand in love and continue to act in mercy, no matter the craziness swirling around us like a whirlpool of vicious words and acts. Now more than ever, may I speak in love. Now more than ever, may we have this hope that purifies. One day we shall see him as he is. This hope changes us, rearranges our molecules, lifts our voices, quiets us, reassures us. And right now we can walk forward in hope and love. 

Looking back and looking forward, I long for mercy. Mercy and hope, in my family and in the spaces around. I pray the same for you in this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate Light in the world. 

***

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Loved.

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Sometimes thoughts pile up like clouds scudding quickly across a blue sky and I can't quite follow them. Day after day, I'm busy with people and children and one small white dog, and it is hard to find time to sky gaze. So I come to the keyboard to try to untangle, to look deep within, to find a thread that I can follow along until it brings me to a place that can be used to face the day. 

Today is it something about the feeling of "not enough" that has dogged my steps for my whole life. By now I know that nothing I do can erase this feeling— it is caught in my arteries and my muscles, in the mysterious pathways of my brain. It will not go away if I do more. It will not go away if I help more. It will not go away when I publish books, or clean my house, or run a mile. My wild mind, the unsafe one, can find a myriad of ways to highlight how I am not living up to some standard. It will point out people who are more beautiful, fitter, farther along, wiser. It wants me to despair in my own home, the home of my body, my family, my wooden house in Thailand, to belittle the small things I do to bless the world. Not enough, it laughs, not enough. A cruel, cruel companion who motivates through shame.

"Step out of the circle," I tell people when I guide meditation. It's an imagination exercise when we prepare for the silence. "Imagine your thoughts as birds flying around you in a circle. Watch them go by. When you are ready, step out of the circle."

I step out of the circle. What I find beyond the birds is so lovely—maybe one day I will truly believe it. Maybe it will make its way into my veins and limbs, into my heart and the mind that holds me captive. 

It is not that I am enough. It is that "enough" is not a factor, in this wide space outside the unsafe mind. This is God's space, free and holy, and Loved is the only qualification here. Loved is the motivation. Loved is dancing, smiling, wearing clothes not to look beautiful but to be beauty. Loved is serving, loved is nestled like an egg in a very soft nest, waiting to break out and fly. Loved is a parent, loved is a child. Loved is sung over at night, gloated over. Loved is the same working and resting. Nothing can change loved. Loved is carried like a baby next to the heart of Jesus, loved is weeping at his feet. Loved is caught up and thrown into the air, shrieking with joy, and caught and kissed all over her face. Loved is so completely beautiful every single day, because every scar, lump and line has been gazed upon by its own maker. Loved gets more beautiful, more captivating, the older she becomes. Loved can't walk away from the lover. Loved is in the gentle gaze. Loved can't live by her own rules anymore. The wild mind stills, the hands are at rest, the cage opens, and all is lovely outside, bathed in golden light. Shadows dance across the ground and Loved dances with them. 

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Excellent at math.

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I've taken a break from writing after the last launch (which is going well, my loves, thanks for the reviews) and have been painting a bit. Painting, reading and writing poetry—trying to refill the creative well. I always have to remind myself that I am not a robot. I can't just program tasks for myself and then follow orders. And this applies to writing life and to home and family life. I have to be patient and kind with myself. I have to give space in the days for beauty and fun.

So painting is like breathing life into myself, like play.

Like Leafy making light sabers, or Kenya drawing face after face, in every pose and expression. Like Isaac dancing. 

(Right now I see Leafy walking past the studio door every few minutes, on his thinking circuit. He walks in a large path, throughout the day, thinking and planning. I'm fairly sure he will come up with the solution to climate change pretty soon.)

My older two kids have taken my advice about making schedules for the school day, carving the day into blocks of time when they will concentrate on individual subjects rather than facing the whole big lump of work. They're loving it. But they are learning that though schedules are helpful, they aren't kind taskmasters. We are not robots. We need to block in time for rest, too. 

(Tiny tip: the best advice I ever heard on time management is to put to-do items in the schedule, not on a list. If I want to paint, I have to block time out for it, not just add it to the end of an ever-growing list.)

But enough about lists. Here are some cool things:

- I found a spot on nearly-the-top of a mountain, and I discovered that I very much like to sit there and let the burdens and sorrows of the day flow away from me. 

- My favorite noodle lady came back to town and I have eaten at her stall three times in the last five days.

- Isaac is excellent at Math and I just found Chinua and him talking through some addition and subtraction instead of a bedtime story.

- Asha can recite a string of numbers from Pi, speaking of kids who are excellent at Math.

- Every day I am thankful that I get to shop in an open air market.

- We talked about our Christmas gathering today. We have a big one every year, and it's nearly that time again!

- Leaf and I are going on an art retreat, which we haven't done since Isaac was two months old. But we both need to get visas in Laos at the very same time, so it seems as though it was written for us.

- I'm not so bad at Math myself, although I don't have any part of Pi memorized.

- There are so many days ahead, so many days that we can fill with thinking, knitting, praying, creating. I can't count them all, I can't figure out how the hours and scheduling should work for of all them, but I know each day contains the possibility of experiencing God's love in a different way. A knitterly way. A caramel cheesecake way. A watercolor way. How good it is, flowing over us. 

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby, Alicia Wiggin, Kathleen Anderson, Timothy Silva, and Ami Thompson. Your support keeps this writer going!

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