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.

Traveling while sleeping.

Things I love:

Watching people take selfies. This brings me endless delight and entertainment, especially if he or she or they have a selfie stick. So oblivious to what people around them might think! So unabashed in cuteness and adorable pouty faces! I could watch for hours because he or she or they will never look up and see me staring. I walked out to a waterfall with my sister and we watched as a tourist, a girl from China, paused every few steps or so to take another selfie. 

Waking up on a train. I remember Solo waking up on a train once when he was two or three, and saying, as soon as his eyes were open, “I’m on a train!” It’s a beautiful feeling: My bed has been moving all through the night and I am somewhere else now. 

Driving a motorbike through jungle streets at night in Thailand. The scented flowers send out their fragrance at night, and around every curve you are greeted by a new wave of beauty. 

When my landlord and his wife come over, he nearly always turns to me and says, “Ampa (his wife) looks beautiful today, doesn’t she?” They are in their sixties and nearly inseparable. 

Flowers. Have I said that already? All the trees in Thailand are flowering. Everywhere I look, my eyes rest on beauty.

*

My sister came and visited for nearly four weeks. First she stayed at our house, and then at the end of her visit we went journeying together, just the two of us, something we haven’t done before. We went to Ko Chang, an island in the Gulf of Thailand with remarkable mountains and jungle. We rode motorbikes in the jungle, we swam in the sea and in a waterfall pool, and we kayaked out to watch the sunset nearby a ridge of mountain. It was beautiful and we had some laughing fits, the kind I only have with my sister and brother, the silent, can’t get a breath laughs. I feel thankful and full to the brim of love for her. 

I did have an accident and I do have a warning for you. I’ve been driving a scooter or small motorbike for seven years, and I laid my bike down for the first time on the island. We reached the island in the afternoon, rented bikes, and headed out to find ourselves the perfect beach/hut combination, one that would be the cheapest it could be. After looking through a few beaches, we headed on to Lonely Beach, reached by a curvy, hilly road.  I live in Pai, and have driven curves many times. Night fell, it started raining and we slowed down. We reached the top of hill where a van was parked halfway down with its flashers going. I only had time to wonder why it was stopped there before my wheels slipped right out from under me and I was skidding down the road. I jumped right up. “Is there an oil slick?” I asked the world at large, somewhat in shock. A French traveler (was he a French angel?) ran over to help lift my bike up. “You are very lucky,” he said. “It is just the road, the road is so slippery. Better to walk it down, your bike is fine.” It was pouring on us and it was night. The road was so slippery it felt like we could slip in our shoes. All along the road, people were stopped under trees, not even wanting to drive with the road like that. People were taking turns driving, in case the car or bike going down the hill couldn’t stop. So Becca and I got on our bikes and walked them down the hill, paddling our cute little legs on either side. On our way down we heard another crash and skid as another driver laid his bike down. It was freaky. I was only a little banged up- scraped elbow, scraped ankle, a big bruise on my leg. My shoulder was sore for a few days. So, my warning is to watch those island roads. When people say they are slippery, they are not joking! I had no idea a road could be like that. 

We took it very carefully from then on, not driving if it was raining, and the rest of our three days were without further incident, until the end of our very frugal trip, when I returned the motorbike and they charged me for every scratch. I may have cried. But that was not the majority of our trip: the majority was good food and watching waves, slow mornings and fire shows in the evenings, talking together and laughing. 

One thing we love doing is imagining people’s response to silly or clumsy things we do. For instance, we were in Chatuchak market in Bangkok before we went to Ko Chang, and I declared that I needed coffee. Becca pointed out a sign for coffee and we followed it, finding a cute little café with an espresso machine and a few benches. The woman at the café told us to take a seat and so I did, on one of the benches along the wall. Right away, she came back to me apologetically. “Sorry! This is a table!” I had sat on the table. Becca and I laughed about that for a very long time, imagining someone walking into a café in Canada and taking a seat on the table, then just sitting and waiting for her coffee. 

When we left, there were terns flying beside the ferry. It was a beautiful time.

I said goodbye to Becca, waved her taxi off, and went intrepidly to shop for mattresses in Bangkok. Why I needed to do it in Bangkok and not in my town is a quality/cost issue. I’ll spare you the details.

 Sometimes I squint my eyes and try to see Bangkok as the exotic place it is, the way I may have first seen it. But I adjust to things too quickly and it is all normal. Ordinary but exquisite. I saw an old woman watering her potted plants next to a busy street and felt inspired by her dedication to them. My own potted plants and tiny square of garden have been suffering. 

I took a river taxi, then a sky train, and then got on a motorcycle taxi, which, happily, was my very favorite kind of motorcycle taxi ride. It was the kind where we ride on the sidewalk and pay little attention to traffic laws, squeezing between cars in spaces where we can’t possibly fit, but we do. I loved it!

And then he dropped me off at Ikea and I felt the instant ice of fear in my stomach.  I took a deep breath. “You can do this, Rachel.” And I took a halting step forward. The irony of this is not lost on me. I am happy on a motorbike taxi in busy city streets and scared of large stores. But I overcame my fear, it was a success and soon I was on the train home, to rejoin the chaos and wells of love that my family consists of: playing music, fighting, laughing, singing, dancing. 

More on that next time. 

PS. Happy Mother's Day! And it's my birthday too! It's going to be a good day.

Facing it.

The world this week is heartbreaking. The small and oppressed suffer, those in power abuse their power, the condemned and the innocent die without fair trial, the very earth shakes and and buildings fall on the people who live in them or are walking beside them. I can’t look. I can’t look away. 

I have spent years looking away. Waking up in the morning has been hard enough for my fragile mind sometimes without adding the sorrow of the world. But today I’m staring sorrow and suffering in the face, trying not to turn away. And the truth is that we get the whole of the world’s sorrow delivered to us, much the same way God does, and we don’t have the heart or shoulders of God. 

Not a sparrow falls without God’s care. And somehow, the beauty that he witnesses, that lives in the universe and in his heart, is enough to swallow the pain. He is joyful and sorrowful, at once, even with all he sees. And the beauty is everywhere, it is in men who sing hymns as they are killed, it is in people who take care of one another when they are left with nothing but rubble, it is in children offering water to police, or people standing in front of police as human shields. It is in simple love between men and women. It is in you, as you care for your children or your parents. Love is more powerful than anything.

*

Nepal is deep in my heart. I fell in love in Nepal, and I held my husband’s hand for the first time there. In Nepal I attended some of the most joyful churches I have ever seen, filled with women who live in more hardship than I can fathom. I have felt darkness, seen madness. I spent a day with Chinua trying to help a madman in the streets of Kathmandu. I met one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, an older auntie who sells vegetables and dances when we sing songs to Jesus. So many of us love that country, we have fallen in love with its mountains and people, we cringe at the fallen buildings, ancient landmarks. 

And all around the world the unseen sorrows happen. The countries none of us have traveled to, the people who don’t make the news. The people killed by police violence when a video camera wasn’t readily available. And not even a sparrow falls without God seeing it. There are deep mysteries and my understanding can’t hold it all, but I know that the light shines brighter and will break forth like the dawn. All the sad things will become untrue, as Timothy Keller quotes from The Lord of the Rings. 

I usually choose to write about beautiful things. God draws us into Beauty and Love, and because of the evil in the world, we sometimes have to look hard to find it. This is our work—to see and acknowledge the beauty and love in the world, to be thankful, to live simply and give our money away to those who need it, to notice the small, to give a voice to those who can’t normally be heard, to pray, to tell the truth about what we see. It is what I want to do in my life— art is meaningful because it is another voice saying that the darkness does not overcome the light, and to live in the heart of God is to turn our faces to sorrow and then to live in joy. I fight hopelessness every day. And yet I see how prideful hopelessness is: to say there is no hope because we cannot see it ourselves, when all around us, those who suffer more take a stand and say that hope is with us and all around us, they sing as they die and refuse to hate. Do not give into darkness, friends. Light is so much stronger. (And in my next post I'll tell you a little about my travels with my sister.)

A Woman in Pink from Karnataka.

Pink and I have an interesting history together. I hated pink when I was younger, because it represented a kind of femininity that I didn’t want. My grandmother used to sew my sister and I matching dresses. Mine was always pink, while my sister’s was always blue (though once there was a wild peach and green diversion from the norm). Pink was fluff and curls. Pink was not trekking through the ravine in search of rusting old cars. 

Until India. India changed my mind about the glorious color that is pink. From bougainvillea to every shade of sari possible, an Indian man’s brilliant pink shirt, hand block prints of pink camels, it is the pinkest place I have ever lived, and it is glorious. I couldn’t live without the color pink now; it is a bright flower, a wild house, a woman whizzing by on a scooter with jasmine in her hair. It is an enticement to the eyes, and no one is ever too old to wear pink. I met the woman in this painting in a small village in Karnataka, India, sitting for a spell in the late afternoon, blooming quietly and brightly. 

The River

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

The River, 5"x7" oil on canvas board- Click here to see it in my Etsy Shop

I was on a Nepali river once, with my family and some friends, in a dugout canoe that was so low to the water, we were alarmed by the crocodiles we saw in the water, level with our elbows. The guides were not alarmed. The guide at the back of the boat dipped an oar into the water and smiled. When he pulled the oar out, tiny silver droplets flew across the water.

I sat back and opened my eyes as wide as they would go, as kingfishers and monkeys played around us and the day broke my heart with its beauty. At the time, my whole life felt like that river, crocodile eyes and all. A calm guide knew where we were going, but I didn’t. Every turn in the river was a surprise, and I didn’t know where the river was taking me. I could choose to upset the boat or to sit back and open my eyes as wide as they would go, so I wouldn’t miss the kingfishers or the monkeys. I still am on a river, I suppose, though I’ve reached a long straight stretch for once and can see a fair distance off. And really, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, water droplets catching the sun like tiny mirrors.

This and that.

The weather has done that strange thing it does here, where one day we are still cold, and the next dragging ourselves around in the very hot heat. It's reaching the forties, and we occasionally take refuge at the pool. The pool we love has little bamboo salas (the huts in the photo), perfect for sitting, eating watermelon, and watching the river. Chinua work on yo-yo tricks and we take turns in the cold pool and the hot spring pool. 

Sometimes at the same pool, the elephants from the nearby elephant camp come down for a bit of grazing. The elephants come down for a bit of grazing!!! One day Kenya and I will hop on and go off into the distant hills together with our new elephant friend. Maybe, just maybe, we'll come back. If the boys will be good.

Brothers are a thing into themselves. They are loud, wild, sweet, annoying, and heartbreakingly beautiful. They climb on things and fall off things. They tease each other and scream. They teach each other naughty things. They teach each other good things too, like forgiveness and how to behave in a socially adjusted manner, (even if they don't seem to get it themselves, they are excellent at displaying horror at someone else being rude) and how to play The Lord of the Ring scores on the piano. 

And then there are sisters, and these brothers have a good one. She is the one to go to if you need an idea, a picture, a clay figure, a hug, some comforting, or a bead necklace. 

We had the delight of going to a little friend's birthday party at her beautiful home. Her mom and grandma made a feast and it featured a lot of fruit! Hooray, because I only want watermelon and mangos when it's hot. The kids ran around in the grass and bugs bit them and they called wayward ducks and kept themselves from falling into ponds. It was an excellent day.

17077483036_6d47c78138_o.jpg

And this! I think I am the one receiving the best gift in this piano, because I get to hear the songs my husband plays. By the way, spoiler alert for all those who have googled "Who is Rachel Devenish Ford's husband?" He is not an actual superstar, not in those ways that have people holding their hands up to block the paparazzi, or buying multiple homes. He is a superstar to us. And it is true that he can play almost any instrument and sing any song and that he is the best dad ever. 

Dear Kenya,

We went out for dessert on your birthday, at a restaurant where your dad was playing music. The two of us sat in the resplendent wing-backed chairs (perhaps the only two wing-backed chairs in this part of Thailand) and chatted while we listened to Chinua play. You broke into applause after every song, causing the other diners to also stop what they were doing and applaud. At the end of the evening your dad playing "Isn't She Lovely," by Stevie Wonder, dedicating it to you. You sighed and wiggled and grinned. "He always plays this when I come here," you said, perfecting content in a little circle of love.

All day, you said, "People are so nice, people are being so nice to me." You said it as Naomi lit candles for you and Ro and a visiting traveler wove a crown of flowers for your head. It was such a simple birthday; no presents, we hadn't had your party yet. Just a day to remember that you were born, with a crown of flowers and candles in the cake we ate for community lunch. But you have always received the simplest things with joy. If you have a handful of clay, you are happy. All you need is a bit of something you can sculpt and bake in the sun, you don't need much, my love. And if people are kind to you, you are receiving a little of how people feel when you are so kind to them, when you make them gifts with your hands for goodbye presents, or do small things to make others feel better. 

Once, a traveler asked me if I get used to how beautiful you are. It was a funny question, especially asked right in front of you. And I guess the answer is yes, your face is more familiar to me than my own. But I never get used to the fact that your inner radiance shines brighter than your physical self. That is the gift we have all been given in you. You are an animal rescuer (most recently you have been nursing two baby rats), lover of justice, defender of the small. What a thing to be.

As we sat in our wing-backed chairs, you turned to me.
"Thank you for making me," you said. 
"You're welcome," I said. "But I didn't really make you."
"No," you said.
"I built you," I said. "No, that's not right. I was your house, while God was building you."
"Yeah! You were my house!" 

We sat and chatted for a while longer, you sculpted a bird with the malleable eraser that you always carry with you. A bird with one wing outstretched. And suddenly you lunged at me in a sprawling hug.
"Can you be my house again?" you asked. 
I squeezed you really tight.
"I will always be your house," I said.

The Smallest Bird

The smallest bird- 5" x 7" oil on canvas - click to see it on etsy

The smallest bird- 5" x 7" oil on canvas - click to see it on etsy

The sound of birds wakes me in the morning. Their songs and calls are what pull me out of bed. I lie there for a while, listening, and then think, "You are making something so beautiful; I should join you." And I do. Or I try, anyway. They are effortless in beauty.

Living with an anxiety disorder is hard, sometimes harder than others. I've been climbing back out of a long, dark pit. I'm very nearly out, but in the moments when I'm still on the bottom, gazing wistfully at the top, my head loops along strange pathways. One of these is the fear that I'll somehow ruin everything. It sounds silly in writing, but it can crush me. If I don't do or say the right things, I will burn it all down: family, community, relationships. On the other hand, if I can say or do all the right things, I will be able to keep everyone happy. 

I was telling a friend about this deep fear the other day. "Well, you're certainly very powerful if you can do that," she said. "Even God doesn't keep everyone happy." 

I sat back. Rationality doesn't really help in the deepest reaches of the pit, but I sensed the truth of what she said. Can I really ruin everything? Can I fix everything?

There is a beautiful Innocence Mission called a Wave is Rolling, that says, 
"A singing bird, I call your name
in the middle of the nighttime. 
I'm the smallest bird who calls your name
In the middle of the day."

Birds eat, they sing, they fly. They stretch even the tiniest wings and rise above it all. Maybe you also know the dangers of feeling over-responsible. But settle down, lovely one. You are the smallest bird who calls His name, in the middle of the day. 

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.