Wet Season

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The air is wet and old and full of life. It feels ancient even though it must be brand new, though maybe it has wound its way through ancient places, into the caverns, deep crevices of the earth that hold memories that go way, way back. 

It helps me to think of the air like this.

This morning Isaac woke up in a mood. Anything I asked him to do, he couldn’t do, because he was too tired. Getting dressed? Too tired. Using the front bathroom instead of the back bathroom (because it was occupied by a teenage sister who wasn’t delighted by his loud demands that she get out)? Too tired, and plus he doesn’t like that bathroom, not even a little. I was in a bit of a hurry, needing to drive for three hours for a morning appointment, so I had to turn over his small grumpy self to his aforementioned, long-suffering sister.

Our friend Claudia is visiting. She has appeared in these pages before, our dear friend Claudia who lived with us for a month in Nepal, dealing with children all little and amazing. She held Solomon a lot when he was a baby, played with him when he was three, ran down to the lake when he got lost, to look for him and now she gets to see him as a lanky almost-ten-year-old. “I love Solomon,” she told me. “He told me stories for an hour on Sunday, in the kitchen. About bears and America.” 

I know the stories. They are the same stories Solo often tells when he meets someone he hasn’t seen in a while, or someone new. He opens up by telling stories. And he loves hearing stories. I love this about him. It’s like he’s saying, “This is me and these are some things that have happened to me.” I remember when he was a little guy and he didn’t really know how to join in with family stories around the table, so he would say, “When I was on the mountain…” and launch into a long-winded imaginary happening. Yesterday, we were sitting around the table with Olga and Vrinda, and we somehow got into talking about toilets. Solo told us a bit about how he hates the loud toilet sound, so he gets up from the automatic ones and just runs out the door! But then sometimes it is hard to get the door open. It’s difficult, getting out the door ahead of the loud toilet sound.

Everything grows in this season. Things feel perpetually wet. The air is full of life: spores and molds, living things that land and grow and spread new life in new places. On walls, under cars, in the sponge of my motorbike seat. You have to admire it. It doesn’t stop.

When the rain pours hard, it feels cozy in the house, but not the kind of cozy where you are warm and insulated. It’s in the house (not well sealed) with us, fresh rainy air that isn’t enough to get us wet, but has us breathing in the mountains, the season. We are not insulated. We are in it, all the struggle of living things, the streams rushing down steep hills.  We are in the wet. And once you are wet in living things, it is hard not to be.

Like the heart. Like living where you allow difficult things to touch you and change you. Where you live among the stories that people tell you and the hurt or excitement of those stories come wafting to you on spore-filled air. You sit in the midst of joy and pain and feel what God always feels. And sometimes this is the air and the season of your work. It’s wet season.

And then sometimes, even in wet season, there is the clearest light that comes at the end of a soggy day. It turns all the water into diamonds, every tree is edged in light. You take a breath and feel the love of ancient things, the cloud of witnesses, the Eternal Love that remains throughout all the stories. Ancient and brand new, all at once. You can remain here in all this teeming life, because he is here as well. Transforming and making all things new. There is mold, yes, but also  there are flowers.

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Today.

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I am okay. I will be okay. Thanks to anyone who checked on me and thanks to those who didn’t, because I sense that you know I am okay.

I wrote and read the love letter poem because a great amount of the suffering that comes with depression is the fear and experience of judgment. I get it all the time, in little and big ways. Why can’t I just be normal? Why is someone like me, apparently accomplished in many ways, still like an injured bird? 

I also have a tribe of loving people around me who understand, either from their own experiences or just from being awesome and caring and understanding. I wish that for everyone. I wish people who suffer from mental illness to feel validated and cherished.

And today is always new and fresh. While it is called today, I will not harden my heart, but strive to enter the rest of God, as it says in the book of Hebrews. 

Rest. Ah… how I would love to have a restful mind. I don’t, so my rest looks like reading, writing, painting, riding a motorbike through jungly growth, and sitting with fireflies. 

“While it is still called today.” The day is always called today. It is another way of saying, It is never too late.

I am out from under the heaviest of this, and today I give thanks for breezes, for birds, for Isaac hugs in the morning, for Chinua my beloved, for music and fun and breath of new days ahead. For good hard work and the gentle touch of God, who loves, who loves, who loves.

The things that help us remain.

 The punniest ones.

The punniest ones.

Well, May has taken me by surprise. I forgot how busy I always am, and how much emotional space is taken up by my life in my family and community. It leaves me breathless. I am sinking in, settling and staying and remaining in it all. 

This morning the world feels full of possibility. It rained all last night, which had me wakeful because of the tin awning next to my window, where I could hear the drops amplified like large beasts dancing around in our eaves. But gray is a color that the sky can be, and sometimes large beasts spend the night trampling around and you flow in and out of sleep, waiting for oblivion.

I have found a spot for quiet moments- a large boulder where I can sit and see the whole valley beneath me, a place away from people. I love my house in town, but I can’t see very far from it; only into the friendly eyes of my neighbors. Sometimes I need a farther view. The other day I drove out to my spot after a long day of talking, and found sweet breezes in the hills as I went. The day had been hot and humid, in between rains, but the breeze on the bike cooled my hot eyes. 

The spot I love is in the midst of a litchi orchard, and since the litchis are ripe right now, there were bikes that belonged to the farmers who own the orchard. They were harvesting and also, I noticed, pruning the trees, probably preparing for next year’s harvest. Litchi season is so short. So the trees were barer and shorter than when I had last seen them, and large branches were piled at their bases. 

I wondered what the farmers would think of me sitting there, but I went and sat. I hoped they would know I wasn’t trying to steal litchis. I read a few lines from Anne of Green Gables, but was too keyed up to go very far, so I lay back on my rock and watched the light change and the trees move in the wind. 

There is truly no way to order your life to escape hard things. Sometimes you have to settle into them. But what is the reward? What is the thing that helps us remain? I guess there are many. Cloudy mornings like today. Poems. Quirky kids. 

Quirky kids: all of our teenagers (my own and others in their group of friends) are currently obsessed with puns, which is killing me. I try to discourage them by telling them I’m not impressed, but they see behind my words to the amusement and love beneath. They know I think they are amazing, so they keep pulling out their shiny puns, offering them to me grinning, and no matter how mean I am in response, they know I secretly love it. 

Yesterday Leafy was missing when we went to do read alouds, and we called for him until it was apparent that he wasn’t in the house, or around the house anywhere. It was very unlike him to be gone during a part of school that he loves, so eventually I got worried enough (kidnapping! I would kidnap Leafy, he’s a prize!) that I called his friend Taran. 

“Is Leafy with you?”

“No, but my mom saw him out running.”

“Out running. Hmm. Good to know.”

He came back shortly, dripping with sweat. Apparently he’s in a fitness contest. He lifts weights that he made out of milk jugs with water in them and pvc pipe. And he had finished most of his school and gone out for a run. 

And I had five extra boys over for a while yesterday. One of them kept walking around wearing our Power Rangers costume. I’m so glad to be in a life where I get to see people wearing Power Rangers costumes out of the corner of my eye while I’m baking bread in the kitchen. 

So yes. Quirky kids. Also, color and bread dough in your hands. Rising like a mad thing.

Deep conversations during Bible circle. Deeply smart women making incredible discoveries about the words of God. Salad. Music. Possible future travels.

And behind it all, layered behind all the layers, sheets and swathes and reams of God’s love for you. He loves you and loves you and loves you. You walk around in a spotlight of love. He thinks you are adorable. He loves your laugh and your quirky ways. So that’s a thing that helps us remain.

I watched the sky from my rock and then a farmer spotted me as he turned his motorbike around, ready to head home. He smiled and called out, gesturing for me to come, and then he piled as many litchis into my hands as I could hold. I went back to my rock and sat with my lap full of litchis, and it felt like a lapful of light. 

 

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Dear Ian,

 Radiant.

Radiant.

It has been two years since you died because of stupid leukemia. And I know you are alive somewhere in some amazing existence, possibly storming through the universe, involved in shenanigans on a cosmic level. But we miss you. 

Christy and the girls came to live in Pai, did you know that? It has been the most beautiful thing, to have them near us. I wish you could see Asha reciting the first 26 numbers of Pi, rattling them off effortlessly. She is a sunny, radiant being, irresistible in smile and nature. And Fiona keeps your face fresh in all of our minds—she looks so much like you. She is deep and creative, passionate and lovely. She has a great sense of humor and loves playing tricks on people. Do you remember how it was hard for a while, when she and Isaac played together as toddlers? He was a year younger but strong and not careful with his strength, and she was a tender flower. I remember we had to keep them apart. Now Fiona says Isaac is her best friend, and they play for hours. She runs around with her long braids flying, chasing and running and leaping around him.

I think you would love the fact that Chinua plays trumpet now. You know how he likes to challenge himself, so he picked one of the hardest instruments and pushes himself every day. He could just choose to stick with instruments he has mastered, but he won’t do that. He played trumpet during a concert last month, and it was beautiful. He misses you. I know he wishes he could have those long talks. I know if you were here you would join the guys on their birding expeditions. You would probably order them all special gear. And find some far off place to plan for, a birding trip like no other. I know you would bring the enthusiasm to another level, a special Ian level. One I have only ever seen mirrored in Asha. 

When Asha visits, she sometimes sits on our steps and says hello to people passing by my house. The people she greets seem delighted to see a red-headed freckled angel talking to them. I often look at her like she is an alien creature. Why would you want to bring more attention to yourself? Now people are talking to you! But she loves it. You would be so proud of her and Fiona. They’re resilient and fierce, kind and joyful. You would be proud of Christy, too— the way she greets her life with openness every day, even on the hard days. She is always pushing for more adventure— going camping at a music festival, heading off to Nepal for visas. Sometimes it amazes me that she is not bitter, but I know she works hard to release feelings of anger and bitterness. She stays hard at that work— she is working to be enveloped in love, to stay close to the heart of Jesus. She blesses everyone she comes close to because of who she is and the generosity of her spirit.

I like to sift through memories of you. Christy and the girls look at your photos and videos, nearly every day. I remember when you came to India, how you and Chinua went on motorbike rides and took photos in banjara camps, playing with flashes and slow shutters. I remember how hard you worked for us to be able to stay in Santa Cruz for three months in 2010. I remember you and Chin going on adventures together, diving or just driving. I remember walking through the Chiang Mai Night Safari together. A staff member let you hold a kinkajou and you fell in love with it. You held Fiona when she was too tired to walk. I remember your open questions to me. “How are you doing? Let’s talk about it.” I can hear your voice asking. Sometimes I imagine what you would say in whatever situation I am in. I imagine you putting your arm around Christy or playing with your beloved girls. I imagine laughter. Lots of laughter.

You are probably having a great time, with no more pain, no more misunderstandings or any of the peculiar foibles of the world we are in here. But we still miss you. We love you, and we’re still mad that you’re gone. 

Long drives, lots of curves.

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We’re back and we just had our six year anniversary of living in Thailand. No wonder it feels so good to be home. Remember when I was searching for a home around the earth? My friend Winnie reminded me the other day, “You found it!”

I can be forgetful sometimes. It seems as though as soon as I leave my home I forget it. I start searching for it. "Where is it?" I panic. "Is it here? Is it there?" I am working lately on finding a home in my heart.

But here we are, back at our physical home. When we first got back to Thailand, we spent time with our friends who have a kids’ home here in the city. They are like family, hospitable and easy with their hospitality, and it’s a good place to land. Two large families live on the same property and when we arrive we bring the kid count up to 19! They all play together well, and I find it so soothing to be around big families and feel normal and not compare myself to single people’s time management skills. (I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone at all. I’m working on it.) 

The families flow effortlessly between English and Thai all day long and I love the music of it. I’ve borrowed a Thai story book and a Thai Bible from my friend to practice my reading. 

After we spent some time with the families—Chinua teaching some of the kids how to make a trumpet make a sound (you’re welcome, parents) and Leafy and Solo effortlessly absorbed into a group of eleven-year-old boys—we drove home. We dropped Kenya and Leafy off at camp first. (More on that later.)

We arrived home in Pai to rediscover the furniture that our dear friend gave us after she downsized from a family home to a condo. (All of her own kids grew up.) It was delivered on the day we left for India, so we had just put everything in the house and locked the door behind it. Arriving home to find it was like a very grown up Christmas. I’m most excited about the bigger dining room table and the dresser in my room. (No more pile of clothes to tear through when I’m looking for something to wear.)

In going through new stuff, Chinua and I thougt we should use our fresh eyes to do a whole spring cleaning and rearranging. So we moved the school stuff from the front room to the back, and made a table space outside under the tree. (Finally! I have been wanting a table under the tree forever. When we first moved in, there were a couple of falling-apart tables that I used to sit at till they truly fell apart. Now I have one again and we’ve been eating every meal out there. So happy.) 

After two days, I had to leave home again (what?) to pick up some Kenya and Leafy from camp and drop off Kai and our friend Vrinda for Senior High Camp. I left Solo and Isaac with their Superstar Dad and keep looking around to see if my kid is yelling, only to remember I left the yelling ones at home. The camp didn’t quite live up to Maple Springs fame, (nothing does) but it was fun and they had a great time. Leafy missed me, and today he seems a little like he needs to go home. To be fair, it was weird to land in the airport and then be dropped off at camp without even getting back to Pai. Yesterday we roamed the mall like a bunch of teenagers (well, they are teenagers and I'm sort of like one sometimes) and wandered through the art store and book store. We’re in a SPENDNOTHING month, so I restrained myself to buying two pens and an eraser, and a pour-over coffee filter. Which isn’t nothing, granted, but I’m out of pens and our coffee filter broke in the travels. 

My friend Prang and I went for a long walk around the neighborhood last night, and talked and talked and watched starlings darting around in the dusk. Leafy played Settlers of Catan with three of the girls, and Kai, Kenya, Leafy and I played Taboo with my friend Cindy and the other kids. We did away with points and competition and just yelled out guesses.

This morning I woke up to the sound of spotted doves, bulbuls, and koels, and soon kids were playing in the yard and I heard those sounds too. We may or may not be able to drive home after Kenya’s dentist appointment this evening (I’m not so great at making myself drive at night, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to, but this time I may do it, just because I want to be home so badly) and I can’t wait until Thursday, because it's art day and Kai and Kenya and I have plans. Right now four little girls in this house are preparing for a birthday party with scissors and tape and lots of paper folding, while listening to Zombie by the Cranberries. They're not so little anymore, these girls, but they are the same ones who told me they loved eating fish eyes, back when they were adorable five-year-olds in princess dresses. And I realized, I am in another country. And I realize I am now again, and all the little details of life—the shopping and chopping vegetables and cleaning out the old stuff— they all feel new and beautiful. Traveling does that, I guess, helps you to see your home through new eyes. Helps you to fall in love again.