Infinite.

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The only place to be.

Morning and the spotted doves are calling to each other from under the eaves of my house. It’s cold and I can’t bear to go sit in my freezing studio, so I solved the problem by bringing my laptop into my bed, along with my cup of coffee. Still I got no writing done. I’m too busy stewing over other people’s thoughts to do anything useful. Too busy fretting over the long lists I have, reams of paper, to actually get anything done. I’ve let my head get bad again. Surely not everyone is angry with me. 

Writing is like breathing, if I don’t do it, I might die. 

What list of things could I tell you? I said goodbye to my husband yesterday. He got on a plane to go back to America. This is the real story, this is the only important thing: Ian is not doing so well. And that is a gentle and massive understatement, but I can’t bring myself to say anything else. He’s not doing so well badly enough that we thought it was best to send Chinua immediately. We scrambled around Chiang Mai doing a thousand necessary things—immigration, prescription refill, re-entry permits, permission for me to travel with the kids by myself— all adrenaline, all triumphant, we got it! We did it! He’s on his way, thanks to a kind person who bought a ticket! Thanks to all the friends -Leaf, and Ro and Neil, and Brendan, who helped us get everything together! Ah, victory! But then coming home in the glaring light of midday, the fields all turning brown again, dust on the road on the van on the sky. I’m so sad I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t want to see anyone at all. I love Christy and Ian and Asha and Fiona so much it hurts. And we are all helpless. And sometimes you pray for something and God says no. (Though light can break through at the most unexpected moments. This is the nature of miracles. I haven’t lost hope.)

It is not my story, but ripples of grief, as my husband told me, touch everything. 

And this, this is what I also know: this is a holy moment. A moment when we find that all we believe is on the line. Jesus waits to usher us into the ultimate healing, complete unity with him, finally being together after all this time. We can’t know when it will happen. It could happen after years or days for Ian. It could happen unexpectedly for someone else, an accident while hiking. It is holy, tender, beautiful to witness the faith and trust that Ian and Christy have.

And yet this sadness. I wish I could be sad without leaning toward depression, without feeling like buying groceries is a giant undertaking I couldn’t possibly achieve. Someone needs to write a book about being sad without being depressed. Maybe it is in slowing down, listening to doves call to one another. Maybe the dust in the air is radiant in certain lights. I haven’t been writing because I’m angry and sabotaging myself, and because I’m almost certain that everyone I know is angry with me, and I’m going through the motions but I’m deeply anxious, deep in my gut. 

When I cry in the kitchen, people walking by on the street can see me. But I can’t help crying in the kitchen. I would like to lie all the way down on the ground and pound my fists on the floor, like Isaac does, if I peel the orange when he wanted to peel it. “Come on in,” I would say. “You and the whole world can watch this. It’s okay, I had nothing more to give anyway.” I don’t do it, though. I slice tofu and carrots and let the tears run, try to keep my head down so concerned tourists in big hats, barefoot monks, or my own neighbors don’t get too worried. 

Softness, kindness. A loaf of fresh bread from a friend. A bag of milky green tea, the ice rattling in the bag. The morning coffee, all the birds, the seven cats who think they live here and who have utter scorn for Wookie, Chinua arriving in San Francisco to eventually fall into his friend’s arms (eventually because they have to make sure he didn’t catch anything on the plane), a beautiful mug, the way carrots fall in pieces when you slice them, salad from the garden. I’m tired and sad but not overcome. I’ll finish this novel, it may take some time. There are plenty of hugs to be given and received. And Ian and Christy, Asha and Fiona are in God’s hands, the only place to be.

Writing it all down.

Something unexpected has happened lately, which is that Kai has started reading my Journey Mama books. And rather than having the response that I might have imagined he would have, which is maybe a kind of teenaged embarrassment, he is riveted by stories of his life and his sibings’ lives. He loves reading about himself as a little kid. He tells me about things I wrote, daily coming up with new tidbits. “Leafy didn’t know what a milk jug was!” It’s always a surprise, because my memory is like a sieve. Starting the blog is the best thing I ever did, because all of  our moments would be gone if it wasn’t for writing it all down. 

And it makes me remember to write it all down now, even though I don’t do it from the sheer necessity of having to make sense of toddler madness, or the drive of needing my crazy to be understood. Because, as we sit around the table together, there are so many hilarious and precious things, so many things that are funny or cute or amazing, and I will forget all about them if I don’t write about them, don’t take the time to marvel over the shiny pile of stones we have been building out here in our wilderness. Like the way I was gone for a week (on a writing retreat of my own making—big sigh of happiness) and I knew on the bus coming home that Isaac would be so very happy to see me, and he might also say that he was “prying for me.” But he didn’t, and when I asked him if he was prying for me, he said, “No Mama, I wasn’t crying for you,” and I realized that his days of switching c’s out for p’s are over and the next time he sees his uncle and cousin who have the same name, he will call them Quran, instead of Poran. The thought made me sad. (I’m the opposite of Chinua, who is always teaching the kids to speak properly. “Don’t tell him popporn isn’t right,” I’m thinking violently, while Chinua is transforming our children into articulate beings. I’m wishing Kenya still said “wheats,” instead of feet.)

More things:

The way that Isaac makes little fans with his hands around his face when he’s pretending to be a baby, looking more like a star-nosed mole than a baby.

The thirteen-year-old voice breaking that is going on around here, and that I swear is more adorable than any other stage of life. Voice! Breaking! Cracking while laughing, while shrieking, while playing with a baby brother! 

Kenya making her best poker face while Kai tells me that “Kenya says that when you make a poker face, you feel dead inside.” Kenya in general, her goofiness, funny faces, silly moods.

Kai telling me that he read that I had a hallucination of the kids throwing berries over me and me dumping yogurt over store employee’s heads. 

“That wasn’t a hallucination,” I said. “That was imagination. There’s a difference.” But it prompted a discussion of my hatred of big stores, which led to us discussing how it was harder to re enter the US and Canada from India because there were no big stores where we lived at all (“We thought the purple store was big!” Kenya marveled) but here in Thailand we’ll go into a store like Tesco Lotus, a big giant store with a whole lot of the same things they sell everywhere, occasionally, if we are in Chiang Mai. 

“I still hate Tesco,” I said. “It makes me confused and sleepy.”

“You hate Tesco?” Leafy asked, incredulous. 

“You only like Tesco because they have that game on the trial tablets,” Kai said, his voice dripping with scorn.

“Well, you have to admit, Kai, that video game is awesome.” Could I ever properly communicate Leafy’s perfect delivery, his comedic timing and goofiness which cracks us up several times a day? 

Isaac dive bombing somersaults onto the mattress that serves as a seating area on our floor, forcing us to watch him again and again.

Solomon doing jumping push ups several times a day, then checking out his biceps and asking me if he can try to pick me up? (No thanks, I don’t want a broken head.) 

The way I call Chinua "Storm crow" with such delight sometimes now, because of the gray beard that he is growing out. (It's a Lord of the RIngs reference.) 

Holding onto Chinua on the scooter on the way to our Thai class, that we take together, romantically.

Isaac being a general pest in the studio while I’m working, but singing to himself so sweetly that I take a really long time to eject him, waiting until he is messing with his dad’s computer and needs to be removed from the premises. 

Before I left for my retreat, I was very, very tired. Life had caught up to me and I was dragging myself around, wishing every day was over long before it was. And my friend Tj is right, sometimes you need to think about leaving and sometimes you need to think about staying. I needed that time away. I needed the quiet. And I was a little nervous about coming back, worried that I would get tired out by all the different hats I wear. But our first dinner back together, I laughed more times than I had all week, and I sighed at drama, and I scolded when needed, and gave lots of hugs, and was alive, basically, the way challenging, incredible families make you alive.

World on fire.

This summer everywhere I look, I see fire. Fires rage in California and in my own B.C., the skies are filled with smoke and towns are evacuated. My heart hurts for the forests and people there. I pray for rain, for a year of rain that would wipe away this drought. 

And there is war, and people fleeing war, and people without homes, too many of them, overwhelming numbers. The numbers of displaced people alone cause people to say hurtful things, to tighten their borders out of fear, to determine to look out for themselves. I’m from a country formed by immigrants and refugees. Canada doesn’t really have its own identity, other than the identity that comes from collaboration of many different races. So it’s easy to forget that this is new to Europe- that each country has an identity that they fear for. Someone I was talking with recently said, “But the immigrants want to change things, threaten the way of life of the people of my country.” Of course, I thought, because countries are shaped by the people who come to them. That’s the way it works. But that’s the way Canada works. Vancouver is Indian and Chinese and Indigenous and a bunch of other cultures and all the second and third generation people of those countries and hipster of every race. This is who we are. But Europe is used to being a place of origin, not of landing, the countries there don’t have as much history with navigating multiculturalism and navigating citizen rights of many races. There is no one kind of Canadian who is more Canadian than someone else (other than an indigenous person, perhaps) but there are plenty of people who consider themselves a true German, or a true French person. It makes it complicated, but I hate the vitriol I see on the Internet. Let's extend compassion and kind words toward the people who have fled for their lives. As someone told me in West Africa, "That person is my brother. That person could be me." 

Here in Northern Thailand there are people of many origins too. Tribal people, Muslims from China, Burmese people, Thai people, foreigners. It mostly seems to work. But there are always things. “The owner is Lisu,” a Thai friend said to me when I was looking for a house for somebody else. “But that’s okay, right?” Him saying “That’s okay right?” was indicative of his open mind, and I don’t say that sarcastically. For the most part, people seem to get along, despite huge differences in lifestyle, dress and culture, but it’s messy, and people say hurtful things, and this is a result of many people living together. It's always going to be messy, like communities, like families. People are there, and where there are differences, there is mess. How we respond to differences says a lot about who we are and who we want to be.

I don’t know what the answer is for Syrians or Europe or the refugee crisis. But I know that we can’t hold back tragedy with fear and control, at least I don’t think we can. Opening our hearts changes us most of all. Refusing to give into fear for the future by clutching what we have keeps us open and human and good. But these are hard days, and I think everyone is being called on to be their best selves. I am praying. We’re having a benefit next Friday, to do our little bit of raising money for refugees. I’ll let you know where we’re sending money when I know, (our dear Naomi is researching NGOs) so that you can join in if you want to. 

With a hamster.

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Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. School went well with kids who were cooperative and sweet. I taught Kai and Kenya how to make rajma, Indian kidney bean curry. They’re studying India and were supposed to make an Indian dish. Lucky them- it’s their mother’s specialty. It was a delight to work with them in the kitchen, and we had plans for hiking, so we got the rajma done and put the rice on so it would be ready when we got back. (Rice cookers are the world’s best invention.) 

We all piled into the chariot and drove out into the countryside. Our beautiful house is surrounded by buildings, so we always breathe in happily when we leave the town behind and find ourselves in rice fields. Everyone was excited to hike. The rains have slowed, and it is the most beautiful time of year, so driving was heaven. Slow, because the chariot doesn’t go very fast. We saw a rainbow that was very close to earth as we got a light sunshine sprinkle on the way. Then, hills, corn fields, rice paddies, bean fields. Tall white trees with limbs bright against the green of the hillside. Little bamboo houses and friendly farmers. Brahmin cows. Flowers on the side of the road. The light smiting all of us, so that we kept exclaiming over the beauty. I seem to have kids who appreciate the beauty of nature as much as I do, even the young boys, even the two-year-old. 

The ruts from the mud were bad, so the kids kept having to climb out of the chariot and run along behind, while I tried to navigate through the massive crevices in the ground. When we were very far from home I realized that I had neglected to check the gas on the motorbike. It was very low. “Hopefully we’ll get home after our hike!” I said. “Adventure!” crowed Kenya.

We left the chariot at the point where the first creek crossed the road, and waded through it. The jungle rose up around us and vines threw themselves from trees, spilling from branches like water. Sometimes the jungle cleared a bit and we could see the trunks of tall trees rising up. 

“How is this a jungle?” Kai asked, thinking of the thick jungle we couldn’t even walk into in Goa. 

“Trust me, it is,” I said. It's the vines that do it, the humidity and frog eggs and one million types of plant life. Leaves as large as Isaac on certain plants. Tall banana trees. The fire ants that bit us if we stopped for any length of time. The low call of jungle birds. We crossed three more creeks, and then nature called me very urgently and I took shelter behind a tree. “Never say you have a mother who won’t poo in the woods!” I called as I walked back to the kids. 

They looked at me blankly. “Why would we say that?” Kai asked. Why indeed. I have never given any sort of indication that I would not poo in the woods.

We were aiming for a waterfall, but we had left home too late, and a hilltribe man who we met in the forest, long logs tied to his motorbike (he drives through those creeks) told us that we didn’t have enough time before dark to get to the big one and back. So we stopped at a short little fall and the kids didn’t waste time diving in. I sat and dreamed while they shrieked and played in the little pool. Isaac threw rocks into the water diligently, like it was very important work. 

When I see water lately, I think of refugees and homelessness, of boats on the wind and tragic accidents. And my heart hurts, and then I’m not sure whether it’s okay to be as happy as I was, sitting beside the waterfall, wrapped in my good parenting moment. But recently I came to the conclusion that we have two responses to the goodness God gives. One is giving to those who are in need. And the other is happiness in what he is giving us. Jesus directs ardent love toward us, and this love can take many forms. Yesterday it took the form of a day of harmony with my family, and I have to respond with joy. Joy is always an act of worship, despite the hardness of the world. 

On the walk back, the kids played twenty questions and I dreamed some more, thinking about all the forest paths I’ve been down. Some I would like to see again. Some I would not. Sometimes life feels hard and overly demanding, from the wee hours of the morning when I’m writing, until I finally have the last conversation with the last child, and I fall asleep, exhausted. Homeschooling is a whopper, and our life here at Shekina Garden is relational and takes our full hearts to make it real. There is very little that I can do while thinking of something else, these days, all of it takes all of me. But this is the work of dreams, to put your whole heart and soul into people and writing, and I couldn’t be more blessed. This is what I was thinking about yesterday, so thankful for my rented Thai house and our belongings, for the things that we do together, for the fact that I can hike with my kids and have a day where no one complains about it. Those of you with many children know how rare and precious these days are, that usually you offer some outing as a happy gem, and so often it doesn’t suit the whims of at least one child.

But then there are days like yesterday, when we drove home and every roll of the wheel made it a little less far to walk, if we had needed too, (our gas situation was that unsure), and we rolled along in the open air, and the sky rejoiced, and the whole way home the kids shouted out shapes they saw in the amazing clouds in the sunset sky, and I went past views that I’m sure I’ve never seen the equivalent of, and the chariot made it all the way without running out of gas or getting a flat tire, as it sometimes likes to do to challenge us. In the clouds, someone spotted a pig riding a slug with a hamster, someone else spotted a fiery dragon, there were elephants and planes and birds and houses and Pokemon. All I saw was love, the immense, deep love of God for me and everyone else under that sky.