Sustained.

I went to Chiang Mai the other day. I shopped and walked through markets, attempting to unravel the secrets of commerce and goods and money and how it flows and doesn't flow. I drove back and forth along freeways on my motorbike several times due to people believing things were located in places that they weren't. I drove and drove, I got really tired and I drove some more. I replaced stolen things, things that had been taken from our meditation space in Pai. 

I ate at a little alley restaurant, and used the tiniest bathroom, squatting room only; concrete and a bucket and a pail, reassuring because it was so familiar. I understand this. 

I saw a man putting socks on while driving a motorcycle. Driving. Putting socks on.

I took deep breaths in the early dusk, just after sunset, with all the birds shrieking from their trees. 

I took a bus home on the second day, when it was already dark. Cows lay in the road, drawing the last of the warmth of the asphalt into their bodies. I understood this too.

And though there are so many uncertain things in the world, whether injustices will be allowed to continue, whether my mind will ever start being a safe place for me, what the next years will hold, I understand and am certain about some things. The place between Isaac's jaw and shoulder, how it is sticky and soft and kissable. The way Leafy will walk for hours in circles, imagining worlds in his head. I know that Kenya draws worlds on paper, pages that become scattered around the room, sometimes crumpled. I find them and smooth them out, rescuing beautiful rejected things. I know that Kai will joke teasingly, his wide smile and I know that light in the corners of his eyes. I know that he will laugh at Leafy's jokes, at least some of them, and he'll meet my eyes wryly over the other ones. I understand Solo's freckles getting darker as he grows taller every day. I know that he loves snacks and will ask me for one dozen frozen strawberries over the course of a day, eaten one at a time. I know that banjo strings will be plucked and strummed, that the voice of my husband is more beautiful than any instrument. I know that I will make food, that it won't taste good enough for me but everyone else will like it. 

*

Come away with me, I heard Jesus say to me yesterday, a day that began to decay with a tiny bit of rot that spread quickly and nearly took me with it. I was panicked and wracked with anxiety, not thinking properly, going over all the ways that I was becoming my worst self, the ways my fears were coming true. My mind was my enemy, but I wanted to think it out, to figure out all the ways I could be better, could do better. Your mind can't help you with this one, I heard. Come away with me. You need to feel my love.

I got on the motorbike and drove and the hills opened up around me like flowers blossoming. There were fields, there were ten thousand kinds of trees and sheer rock faces. Tears and tears. How can I see all this beauty and not be anything like it?

Come away with me. Every time I started obsessing over the mistakes I had made, the things that were done to me or made me feel small, I heard this voice. Come away with me. I love you.

But there is nothing lovable in me, I said back. 

I love you. Look at this beauty. All this is yours.

But I can't feel it. Why can't I feel it? 

Stop fighting it. I love you.

I leaned into the wind. I drove for an hour and a half, then turned around and drove back again. Sometimes I shook with sadness. But slowly I straightened as I realized that I (like all of us) am protected by this love that sustains, invites, accepts, and stands up for me in my moments of weakness. By the time I was home, my heart was steady again and I was ready to dive back into my life.

I'd like to know what he'll name his first band.

The mornings are cool now, cool enough to wear a sweater, especially on the scooter. The sun still burns strong in the middle of the day, so that you look down at yourself suddenly and wonder why on earth you are wearing a sweater. It’s hot! you think. Why am I wearing this? Because the chill of the morning is a vague memory, and you don't even remember how uncomfortable it is to wash dishes in cold water on a cold morning.

I love this weather.

Tonight I lost it and shouted at the kids a bit, because they were fighting over turns on the computer and it drives me batty. Batty enough that I tell Chinua, "you'd better come in here because I'm pretty sure I'm not cut out to be a mother. I don't know why I'm realizing that right now." 

We worked it all out, and I apologized for shouting. We shared our vision again, of a family that helps the younger ones and looks out for each other, and spends time together and doesn't get rigid and miserly over things like computer turns. Most of the time my kids are the farthest thing from miserly, practically showering affection on our friends and visitors, the first to invite people over or suggest more hang out time or set their friends up on the computer. But with each other? Well, it's hard to live with a lot of siblings. (Great preparation for the real world.) 

Kenya suggested a game of Phase 10 after dinner, which turned into Phase 3 when Isaac was too sleepy for us to finish. Not that he was playing, but I needed to get him to bed before he keeled over. Suggesting Phase 10 was a good idea on Kenya's part. My kids love the crazy goofy mood I get into when playing any board game; part evil competitor, part wild encourager. I'm known to gloat a bit and also to start singing songs like, "I think you're amazing!" to the tune of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, if anyone gets down on themselves for not finishing a phase. It's a strange combination, but it works for us. They love it. They basically love it when I leave off of being the super serious, slightly frazzled mother that I can be, and start having fun. It's a lesson to all of us. They also love it when I lie in bed with them at night, for the same reason.

Halfway through our game of Phase 3, Leafy went to get a glass of water. He's a budding chef, and he came back into the room and announced, "This is my famous drink, called Disheveled Puppy." 

I lost it. Wha? Leafy only gets quirkier as he gets older and he is always good for a lot of non sequiters. It turned out that I had heard him wrong and he had said "Shoveled puppy," because the spoon in the glass of plain water he brought in was the shovel and the water was the puppy. Still strange. 

I've started enlisting one kitchen helper per night so I can teach them more about cooking, and the way that I can tell Leafy is a budding chef is because he can't leave the food alone. "We have to sauté the onions and garlic slowly until they are really soft and almost see through," I tell him, and he says, "That looks and smells so good, can I eat a little bit of that plain, right now? Can you put it in a bowl for me?" And then when we add the tomatoes he's hopping up and down, he can barely wait to taste it.

He also comes up with good names, like Disheveled Puppy. 

Our friends from Australia arrived a couple days ago, two couples who are coming to be part of this budding community that is starting here. Of course, today I discovered that a weed whacker in Australia is called a whipper snipper, and though I have promised myself to stop laughing at what things are called in Australia, I couldn't help myself. Whipper snipper. Snort. I'm so happy I can barely contain myself. 

I've also been battling depression and extreme feelings of unworthiness and despising myself, so hey, how's the roller coaster? It's all over the place. I found myself googling "signs of depression" the other night, and I don't know what I was expecting to find. Maybe "Number of times per week it is normal to drive through countryside sobbing on a scooter?" or "degree of self loathing permissible for food that doesn't taste quite the way you wanted it to?"

I'm teetering. I'm not deep in it, but I tip over into it easily. I'm working on it, and I'm always afraid of writing about shame and depression, because that is what it does to you. But I'm going to continue, because I know it helps someone out there somewhere. And for all the reviews I get that say I'm too whiny, I get twenty more that say, thank you, you helped me. That's what matters. I'm glad that there are people out there who don't know what it feels like to be crippled by anxiety or depression, but I am not one of those people. 

I'll tell you the truth, because I can't always believe it myself, and in telling you, I'll tell myself. You are beloved by God and you don't need to be ashamed. Every day, every beautiful thing is a gift from His heart to yours, and you need to learn to reach out and take them. Take the Disheveled Puppy and the game of Phase 3, take the hug from your husband and truly feel it. Don't tell yourself you need to justify your existence by making money or giving a lot or being wise. Take the love from your kids or your parents, take it openhanded, because it is from God. Don't let the shame pit drag you down into it. You don't belong there, just because you got a little shouty, just because you over salted the food. You belong in love, and friendship, and safety.

The water fell and my heart got lighter.

The joy part of this year hasn’t been going very well, unless by joy you mean Falling Completely To Pieces, which actually wasn’t the idea at all, but tell that to my body, which reacted to the flu by throwing me into an anxiety meltdown tailspin car crash, BAM, your brain hates you. 

It seems I’d been saving it up. Truthfully, the past month was rather strange. Chinua was hospitalized, we had an earthquake, I got the flu and so did Isaac, and we are in the middle of a coup. I saved it up until it was too much and it came pouring out and my mind was in the dark place, the one where I am like a small child cowering on the sidewalk and every car and stranger that goes by is exaggerated and looming. “I need to buy milk,” I might think, opening the refrigerator, and the words leave my  brain as creepy silent shapes mouthing “milk failure, milk failure.” “That doesn’t even make sense,” I say back, but it doesn’t matter because I feel afraid of everything: the sky, the idea of a day, the country I live in, the people on my street, my dog, the fact that my children depend on me. Dread, really, I feel dread. The huge thing that loomed up during this time was how much I miss my homelands. Both of them, the wild northern country of my birth, and the one I adopted when I married Chinua. (Let’s not even start with India, better to not go there.) It became unbearable in my broken mind. The milk and the fact that I couldn’t get on a plane right that second mocked me. The fact that Wookie needed a bath nearly sent me over the edge.

What was there to do? I couldn’t even taste food, the inside of my mind wasn’t safe. One day I cried in my bed until I sat up and said “enough.” I got on the bike and drove. I went up the mountain, I wanted to go to the very top, so I could see everything from a distance, but I couldn’t find a road high enough, so I went to the waterfall. Perhaps a poem will come out of my mouth, I thought, perhaps I can get this bike to fly. Maybe I can go through my days and collect all the scraps of beauty, hold them close to my heart, protect myself from wandering eyes, convince myself that I am not sad. Oh, it has been a long loneliness and there have been so many times that we’ve said, we’ll get back somehow. 

I sat and looked at that water throwing itself down the rocks, and I watched the kids who let the water sweep them down along the rock slides, unhurt, incredibly, every time. How do I get bravery like that? I wondered. The water washed the rocks and it washed my mind. I closed my eyes and asked God to fit himself in all the strange creaking places in my brain and my heart. 

The beautiful things are these: 

1. I am coming out of it. Yesterday was nearly normal, today was a bit wobbly. 

2. My mind hasn’t been sick like this for a long time. The last time I can remember it being this strong was when we first moved to India (I wrote that it felt like a large cat sitting on my chest every morning), but it’s possible that I’m just forgetting. I know it’s been a long time, though. 

3. I held it together for my kids. There were no fits of rage, the Crazy Town girl was successfully kept on the inside, I probably seemed normal to them, though a bit tired and recovering from the flu. 

4. There will be so many more days of light and joy in my life. I feel like a newborn baby right now, raw and vulnerable, but close to the heart of God and needy of him. I told myself the story over and over, remember when you felt like this before? And God brought you out of it, he has you, he won’t let you go.

A better container.

I had a birthday on the weekend and I spent some time thinking, as I always do, about the last year and the coming year. Fater a birthday call with my sister first and then my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and parents, I walked away from the computer with that feeling that only comes with the bigger holidays— happiness for a good Skype call and a deep sadness at missing them for so long. 

Then I folded that sadness right up and put it under my necklace, next to my collarbone, and went to bake some cakes. I’ve become very good at holding a lot of sadness I thought. But I don’t think I’m very good at joy.  

It’s true. I can live with sadness well, I’ve learned how to grit my teeth and keep making food through hormonal lows and anxiety. To be faithful. But happiness? How do you do that? And I think God wants me to be happy. I don’t mean that God wants me to do whatever I want in the name of happiness (I need to write a book called Wash, Bow, Love) but that he is sometimes waiting for me to open my heart and know that I am allowed to feel happy. I don’t have to scrap around for reasons I shouldn’t be happy. I can look at that sunlight and know that dinner is going to be good and we’re at peace and we might even have some fun.

So here it is- this year- Happiness! Joy. Peace. Lightheartedness. Cheerfulness. A good sense of humor. 

I’m making playful art. 

I’m playing more board games with my kids.

And I’m taking selfies. I’ve been a bit of a snob about selfies, like why do you need so many pictures of yourself? Preferring to be behind the camera. But what I see when I look around the internets and find friends who have a lot of photos of themselves is that they are being joyful. Or at least saying, “Let’s be happy for this photo right now,” and of course, doing something happy leads to being happy. Dear friends, if you are struggling with a deep depression I am not advising you to “act happy,” this is not for you. But for me, I am coming out from under the postpartum cloud (I just weaned Isaac) and I am in the habit of containing sorrow. I want to be a container for joy. I like the way self portraits say, “I was here and maybe this other person was here too and we were being silly and I don't care about eye wrinkles or my wolf tooth, I'll show it all off and it was just another day but we will remember it.” 

This is the year for it. I know it. I'm pretty sure that it’s going to be an amazing year (almost as if God is just pouring the blessings on right now), and I have a book nearly ready to publish and I’m painting, and money is not something I should worry about, and my husband is going to get better and my preteens are lovely, my toddler is adorable and my middle boys still cuddle me. We’re holding meditations and gardening at Shekina. Friends are coming, friends are here, the rain has come back and the sky can sometimes be so, so blue. 


Healing words

Lately I’ve been dwelling in a broken down cardboard box with a few scraps of newspaper and items of canned goods around me. I’ve got nothing but one can of peas left, and an opossum just stole my can opener. It’s time to come out. I carefully put my head up over my box, peek out to see if it’s safe, but no, it’s not. The sun is out there.

The whirling and seething of the broken lands are all inside me. I find myself watching people, wondering, “How do you do life? How is it possible for you to keep going, to do things so effortlessly?” Every night when I go to sleep, I think tomorrow I’ll do better. But every day I mess it up: I snap, I despair, I leave things undone that should be done, I make the mean face at my kids, I hold pity parties for myself, I retreat, I retreat, I retreat.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to live with myself in the darkness. I don’t want to be with me, who could want to? I want to approach something like consistency—to wake up and be the same everyday, not on this emotional roller coaster.

It doesn’t help that we’ve been sick, including Isaac, (whom Leafy suggests we should call Isick) which means that nights are not times to sleep anymore, but times to fall into a deep pit of slumber, only to be pulled back out every hour or so. Isaac and I do a non-sleeping dance together, he finally falling asleep only to be woken by his own coughing. He hasn’t had croup, which I am extremely thankful for. It’s just some bronchial virus. Healing is onits way, but it’s taking its sweet time.

Yesterday I watched some bits of The Two Towers with the three older kids. Abby, the superhero reader champion managed to read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers to the kids in three months, which is a marathon of reading. I’ve allowed them to watch the movies, now that they’ve heard the books.  I love the movie The Two Towers (except for its rendering of Faramir— so unjust to Faramir, who is supposed to be the shining antithesis of the more fallen men in the book) and especially the part in the beginning when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running for three days to save Merry and Pippin, who have been carried off by the urukhai.

The orcs pick up the scent of the following three and begin running faster. Oh no! We worry. Our heroes won’t know that they are going faster. But no worries, because Aragorn has his ear to the ground. He’s listening to the deep sounds. “They’ve quickened their pace,” he says. “They know we’re following.” He goes on to tell the story of everything they’ve done and are doing. He pieces together the truth based on his sharp eyes and finds hope in the midst of despair.

Ah, the magic of fantasy. The heroes face the biggest obstacles, but they have exactly what they need to combat them. At every turn we worry for them, only to be reassured by the fact that Aragorn is not only a man, he is a man who has skills beyond anything that any dark and deadly orc can throw at him.

 *

I’ve been thinking about healing words for a while. It came up when I was having a really rough day after losing my temper with my kids. I told a friend of mine, “I so often feel like I’m not a good mom.”

“I would love to have you as a mom,” she said.

I stared at her in shock.  “Seriously?”

She was someone who knew me and observed me as a mother from a close place. I knew she couldn’t be faking it. With her words she put a healing balm over a sad, lonely place in me, where I never know if I’m doing a good job or if I’m messing it all up.

I received an email from someone this week that did the same thing. A little scared sad place in me was comforted by the words this person took the time to write to me. Her words spoke directly to the wounded place in me.

We all have an enemy of our souls, and he would like nothing more than to destroy us and drive us out of the arms of our Maker. Our Maker’s love should appear to us to be brighter than any dim and frustrating day that we have, any old wounded place within us, because it is blinding in its brilliance. But we are forgetful and we hide in broken down boxes. We peek out and are afraid of the sun. God has made us to need the healing words of our friends.

We can look at each other and speak the truth, like Aragorn stooping to the ground to hear the deeper sounds that echo in the earth. We tell the real story, with our deep understanding and the eyes that God has given us to see the beauty in one another.


You are doing okay.
You are loved.
You are lovable.
You are blessed.
You are beautiful, blinding really, in all the brilliance of who you are, who your Maker has made you to be.

Never underestimate the power of healing words. They are as strong as a hero reaching into their strength at the moment when you think all is lost, pulling the truth of a greater story out of the rocks and the earth, finding signs of hope when all you can see are the edges of your fraying cardboard box.

We need to speak healing words to one another. We also need to hear them, really hear them when a friend stops, opens her beautiful mouth, and speaks words that will comfort our souls.

I know what this is.

Detritus.jpg

It is far too familiar-- the taste in my mouth hot, rancid, bitter on the edges. I back away from it, shaking my head--no--but I know what this is. The looming self-loathing, widening darkness, the new world I am thrust into, far from anything like cheerfulness, lightheartedness. It's all familiar, the way I am deadened, irritable, unable to focus. The whispers when I am shopping:

"I'm not very good at this." I shrug them off, or I try.

"Nonsense," I whisper back. "What's to be good at? I know how to look for wormholes in the tomatoes, I know how to tell a bitter cucumber."

"All of it, I'm not good at any of it. At life. I hate myself," the whispers say.

"I am loved," I say back. "And this is only shopping."

"Soon the fruit will crash all around me, I'll be slipping on the market floor. They'll be angry. They already are." That's the whisperer again, the whisperer who is me with a bag over my head, led from place to place like a hostage.

"Nonsense," I say. And I flee. 

I know what this is, and it comes at what seems like the most unfair time, it spirals into my life, an out-of-control car through the glass of a flower shop, just when I'm heady with delight over my new baby. It dulls the beauty of this first year, it has done the same four times before. This thing, postpartum depression, has marked up six years of my life so far, and here it is, back again. I can't bear to look into the coming days.  

I drive off on my scooter in the dark after midnight, unable to sit with my own self hatred any longer. I know, I think . I just won't talk anymore. I'll go far away inside, where no one can find me.  

But even as I think it, I know it can't be. I'm in the market, I'm under the sky, I'm surrounded by people. By children. I can't turn away, they won't let me. God wouldn't let me.

And it wouldn't be good.  

I know what this is, and here's the one good thing-- that I know. I have its number. It's not quite under my thumb perhaps, but I can talk back to it. Swirls of heat and pain steam from me, but I can smile and be calm and be kind. Most of the time. I can pretend, but it's really so hard for me to feel any different. I act in ways I don't feel, because action determines the quality of my days, rather than feeling. Action determines the health of my family, the strength of my marriage. I write my lists, I pay attention, I somehow propel myself through what seem like unending days. I act lighthearted, sometimes funny. I act happy. And underneath, all the while, the streams of sadness.

It won't be forever, I know this too. Around the time I wean my baby, when he is fifteen months or so, this will lift from me and I will be reintroduced to myself, a girl who is never free from shades of melancholy, but often happy, recognizable, smiling even on the inside. It's not forever.

I know what this is and I find that I am angry about it, that I see again how many years I've lost to this. 

But the years are not quite lost, and this is why writing is all the more powerful to me. Even if I can't feel enjoyment, I can write about beautiful, funny, and poignant things, and in the telling, they come alive, they are as real as if I felt them. I write down my stories and in them, my husband is a Superstar, my kids are funny and quirky, my life is beautiful. God is all around, giving gifts in every day, his voice muted by my own panic, but still there. This is the way these beloveds always are, even when my vision is foggy and I only want to hide away. In forcing myself to pay attention, I don't get totally lost in the swirling darkness, it will not take me away and get the better of me. In acknowledging the simplest, most restrained things, I become free.

Retreat

My friend Leaf and I went on an art retreat last year in Kerala, India and it was beautiful. Over the last few months we've talked about whether something like it would be possible this year and happily we decided yes.

I traveled down to South Thailand by bus.

Next, the VIP night bus.

Leaf flew from India. In her home city she waited for a train, but it still hadn't come after five and a half hours and she only had a six hour window. So she jumped on an express train and barreled across the country, hiding out from the conductor's eyes, jumping in a taxi and racing across Kolkata to reach her flight in time. (On her way to the airport in Kolkata, she witnessed a car crashing into a bus and lighting on fire.)

She literally fought her way to us.

Isaac is getting to know the reason for this trip: his beautiful Auntie Leaf.

.

We knew this trip might not take the shape of an art retreat completely, since we have a little friend with us. (Leaf says he is just our kind of guy.) But it is a rest, a time to grow our friendship, to believe in each other and this crazy inter-country friendship we have.

And I have to say that he is the perfect age for this, just between sensitive newborn and active land, when nothing is safe. Of course you can travel with older babies, but it isn't exactly restful.

We came to Koh Samet, a little island not far from Bangkok. We've watched people posing in the surf, lying on their stomachs like mermaids while their friends or husbands take pictures. I've considered posing like this myself, I'm sure Chinua would like a mermaid picture of me as a souvenir.

A boat, and an island. And after a full day of travel we found a guesthouse and are settling in for our art/friend retreat. I'm so thankful.

There are many many tourists here in our little cove, and truth be told, I'm not sure that I would recommend this island. The coves are small and when it's crowded there's not much of a way to get away from the crowds.

But it has been beautiful for us. It's all we need-- some space to sit and talk, some food to eat and a little room for dreaming and writing or singing. There's nothing like writing in the morning while Leaf is singing.

This forested, jungly island is so different from the coconut trees I know in Goa.

I take Isaac for walks in the early mornings, since he is a six-o'clock kind of baby. The sun is already hot, since we are on the eastern side of the island. The sand is very white and the jungle comes right down to the beach. There are no coconut trees. It's very different from Goa, with turquoise water.

I find that I am sad. Sadness runs underneath everything like a stream these days. And I'm dealing with more anxiety than I like. The postpartum time is no joke, for me. So I worried a little about coming here with Leaf, not sure if I'd be pleasant to be around.

Detritus.

I'm messy now, and as we talk and talk, my eyes often fill with tears.

But Leaf doesn't mind. We talk about sad things and then we're laughing again and deep down I'm anxious but I know it will pass. How can I express how thankful I am for my friend.

She has had her own sorrows and there are times when her eyes fill with tears too.

But in no time at all, we are laughing again. Laughing and cooing over the little friend.

I love swimming with my baby.

Night is a gentle friend.

It's 10:30 at night and I'm just getting around to making the yogurt. It'll take a while for it to cool, so despite my best efforts, it's going to be a late night. Again. But I couldn't help myself, I thought about yogurt and about boys who always want snacks and how I told them I'd make a new batch today and I had to get that milk cooking.

The good news is, I'm writing a blog post. The other good news is, I don't seem to be afraid of nighttime anymore.

For years now, as soon as the sun has gone down, the world has shifted into an unfriendly place for me. My thoughts scatter and retreat into corners, I only want to go to sleep. I've explained it away as the fact that I'm a morning person (which is true) but that doesn't quite justify the fear. There have been deeper anxieties beneath it all, thoughts of days that end when you haven't made the grade yet, when you feel deeply unsatisfied with yourself.

A while ago, I started to ask myself, "What would it take for me to feel like I've done a good job, at the end of the day? Or even to get the phrase, 'done a good job' right out of my head? What would it take for me to simply enjoy night, the deepening indigo of the sky, the night frogs and geckos, the quiet of the house?"

I can't say that I know when it happened. Was it when I stood on the street at midnight at the beginning of the New Year, watching thousands of lanterns forming rivers of light in the sky? Was it when Isaac came to me after nights of walking? Did I sweat it out? Did God set me free?

Maybe it started with that question... What would it take? It seems that with all bad thinking we need to get to the root, and I've been thinking about the story that I always seem to tell myself: that life is a list of things to get done and done well. In truth, there is so much more to life than that. There is so much more to God than that.

There's nothing that messes with to do lists and self-expectation like a baby in your arms who doesn't want to be put down. You have to slowly reel your mind back in, focus on his face rather than dinner waiting in the distance, unweeded garden beds, the laundry that needs to be strung on the line, the chapter you were smack in the middle of reading to the kids, clutter everywhere. You pull yourself back to the baby and slowly he comes into focus and you realize how relative time is, again. Days fly like leaves do when the wind is strong and they rain into your kitchen. Moments are slow and sluggish, then speed up again when dinner should be ready by now and the kids are arguing because they're hungry.

My lists will stretch on ahead of me all of my life. But life is not about finishing, life is about continuing. Continuing in love and patience for helping the pettiest of heartbreaking arguments between small kids. Continuing with the daily things that grow mind-numbing in their repetition. Continuing to notice each other and breathe the same air in peace. And continuing to be thankful at the end of the day, to meditate on all the good things, even all the mediocre ones because continuing often is mediocre.

A long string of mediocre moments extends like a dream into the past, and this is what life was and is. Every video I have of the kids is precious, only because it was picked out. In the moment I'm sure I was just as antsy and bored and ready to get things done. But we pick out these moments and we remember them and write them down and photograph them and record them. We make songs out of them and draw all over them and somehow the mediocre is the real life, far beyond getting the laundry on the line. It's almost laughable, when you think about it that way. Oh my overflowing shelves need to be organized, but YaYa is learning to play the ukelele, and Isaac is gurgling and talking more and more, and the morning breeze is like heaven.

The yogurt is probably cool enough for me to stir the starter in now, so I'm going to go and do that. And then I'll shower, and go to bed, and breathe in all the rest the night has to offer before I fall asleep.

Reworking.

Limes for morning tea.

All the things for Ginger Lemon Honey

Making Ginger Lemon Honey tea, (without any tea- it's actually an infusion) my very favorite comfort drink. And these are limes, but Asian limes and lemons are interchangeable.

I've been doing some deep thinking. Good thinking:

I've drawn back

sketched a little

thought about how things are going

why I've been breaking down inside

what's going on

what to do now.

One thing I needed was rest. I've somehow skipped all of my rest days in the last month. There have been birthday parties, meetings with friends, reasons galore to be racing around the house instead of sitting in the swing chair with a book or some knitting. On the weekend I had a meltdown, got sick, and spent two days in bed, watching Project Runway. I arose feeling like I'd come back from the dead. I walked outside and thought that things were beautiful again. I looked forward to going to the market, finding something to cook, and coming back to the kitchen to throw it all together. I didn't feel dark inside.

It's my schedule for myself that has gotten out of control. My schedule comes from another season in my life, when it worked. I thrived on getting up at 5:00 or 5:30, writing on the porch in Goa with the sun rising over the hill in front of me. I thrived on spending every waking moment that I wasn't working with the kids on some writing project or creative thing. But that season is no longer with us. That season is what I'll call the un-pregnant season.

I've entered a different season, or should I say re-entered. Pregnant season. Dear ones, I'm having a baby. And I find that I simply can't keep up. Not keeping up is making me loathe myself. I clearly need to reprioritize.

Part of it I know is money. This has been a hard season in the financial sense. You know it's hard when you're seriously considering whether toilet paper should be considered a luxury, or when your son is holding a one baht coin that he found on the ground and you're all, "THANK you," and then you kiss it before you put it in your wallet. When I encounter money trouble my response often is, I need to move faster, work harder, get that thing done yesterday!

And work begins to feel like something I should have finished already, I'm failing before I've begun. I was praying and journaling the other day about this relationship between work, trust, and money. Just that day I came across Psalm 127. In verse 2, it says:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.

As a result of reading that, I wrote this in my journal.

...We work as monks--we do--I do-- my work because it is the work God has set before me- in my heart, mind and will. But my provision comes from God, not from my own hand, so when in need, I pray, rather than frantically trying to figure out what more I can do. We work on in peace day by day, fulfilling what we feel God has asked us to fulfill, not fretting about money or success-all these things are in the hands of God--we approach him with our needs.

Does this happen to you? You find yourself trying to race along in a difficult time at the same speed as always and it comes to pass that your joy is sapped, your strength is gone? If it does, ponder it for a while. Do things a different way. All the little pieces can come together, I'm sure, but maybe everything will happen a little more slowly. Things can always be reworked.

My own reworking is going like this:

-No more setting the alarm clock. I'll wake up with the kids, usually around 7:00, make breakfast, journal for a while, and start school.

-Novel writing will happen on my writing day. It's terrible, it hurts me to do it, but I simply can't stretch my mind in a thousand different directions right now. I'm homeschooling four children, cooking all the meals, cleaning the house. Something's got to be set aside. Not for good, and I know from experience that I can get a lot done on a single inspired day a week, but I realize that I've been trying to bend my mind a little too far. It's feeling brittle.

-All these hormones make me strong in other things. I adore the kids, love to hang out with them. My love for them reaches ridiculous levels when I'm pregnant. I feel domestic, I want to cook, make things I've never made before. I need to excel in the things I'm feeling right now.

-We're starting with some different kinds of schooling that I think will be exciting and bring a lot of joy into our days.

-And more rest, more time for thinking, more things that have nothing to do with work.

-With the meditation center, small achievable goals will bring great results.

I've been on the right track for a while now, remembering to read and journal in the morning. But I needed a little more insight, and that came from boiling over and fizzing out. It's important. We all know that Pregnant Season is the doorway to the journey through Newborn Land, which requires its own gentle, gentle touch.

New everything.

What it looks like under the tree, after the rain.

I wrote this post days ago. Actually, I wrote it at the same time that I wrote the post about our new friends in Chiang Mai, and then I looked at the two things and thought-- those are totally not related. Except that they are. Because they all reside in my brain at the same time- thankfulness, joy, self-hatred, admiration. I tend to talk myself out of the parts that are worse. This type of post is that kind of self-talk. I post it because I hope it helps you, if you ever find yourself in the same place.

I've been hanging out in Struggle Ville lately, as Chinua likes to call it. Just checking the scenery out, doing some knitting. I'm bored of Struggle Ville- it's a bit bleak. Too many railroad crossings, not enough lakes. I'm-- lost. I was telling Chinua about it last night, after I warned him not to be flippant with me when I told him too many emotional things.

"You have to give yourself time to deal with all this change," he said. I may have been talking about how I feel like a failure. I hate to even write that, because I don't want any other person in the world to think of themself that way, so I hate admitting that I do, but I do! What can I say?

So-lost- looking around, scratching my head, learning a new language, in a new place, with new people. I feel remarkably sane, which is excellent. But... down.

*

Some things are always the same. Even if you feel afraid of the phone, you can pick it up and call your friend Maria. You can ask her over for dinner. She'll come over with her wonderful family and sit with you at your table. She'll pick up a knife and cut the tomatoes. She'll like what you cooked.

You don't have to be afraid. Every house is better with a few more people inside, eating at your table. Even when it's a new house, in a new neighborhood, in a new town, in a new country.

*

The tree outside my window rains flowers on the ground with every single storm. The stones in the driveway are covered in white flowers. Yesterday my friend kept thinking of photographs that could be taken under the tree. YaYa with her violin, the girls playing music... It made me laugh, in a really happy way, because my friend loves beauty and I love that. What a gift she is to the world, to my life right now.

*

Sometimes I wish my whole life was a table covered in white flowers, but at the very same moment, I know that it wouldn't matter if it was. I look at beautiful photos that make me feel a certain way- peaceful, inspired, and I know that if was in that photo, I would still be me, with my inability to sit still, to believe that I can do anything right, my inability to relax.

I have little capacity for self-deception. I know that no change of place or circumstance will change me. Only time and God can do that. And the endless work of cultivating joy. The beauty of service that is completely outside of yourself. Even service doesn't make you feel different. But it does make you different.

*

This is the problem with anxiety. It lies to you and you cannot believe it, cannot trust your mind. It tells you that the white flowers are not really there, that you can't sit and enjoy them. That's for other people, it says. That lotion you like, it's for other people. Joy is for other people.

Lies! you shout, and right you are. Lies!

*

The problem that I have with the internet is that there are too many words and I don't always know what to believe. It's the same problem that I have with my mind. The things I love about the internet are those moments of pure inspiration, of connection with another person, of understanding or beauty. A video, a story, a song.

The opinions get me down. They're like ants, swarming in the kitchen when I only came in for a cup of tea. They shout opposite things in my ears at the same time. Right! Left! Up! Down! Today! Never! It's hard for me to filter out the noise.

I don't sit down here very often these days, but when I do, I write and write because I can't stop it. The words keep coming. I have so much to tell you, but not much to say.

*

Sometimes I wish I was a kid on a swingset, pumping higher and higher. When you're that kid, there's nothing else in the world that you need to be doing. I still feel that way on the motorbike, maybe. The air rushing past, plants breathing all over me.

When I was twenty-two, I had crazy thoughts and I couldn't quell them. Now that I'm thirty-two, I can always talk myself out of a tree. I'm hoping that when I'm forty-two, I don't even hear the crazy thoughts. I hope when I'm seventy-two I can be crotchety and plainspoken and tell crazy thoughts to go to hell.

Narwhals.

I saw, I repinned, I created. Now I am perfectly happy.

Dear ones, I have responded to your comments on my last post right there inside them. This may be the way, from now on. I have always felt clumsy, responding to comments, but whatever. I'm clumsy.

The day before yesterday was such a beautiful day. It was as though all my expectations for a giant depression crashed around me in giant shards of glass and from the glass emerged bubbles! And unicorns! And narwhals (but gentle ones).

*

I was feeling really down when I wrote that last post. It was all I could do to hold up my head. I thought to myself, how can I keep coming here to say the same thing for seven years? Does anyone want to hear this stuff anymore? But I know when I feel like that I have to crack open and be even more transparent. And it's true, honesty is always rewarded in my life.

This kind of clarity and light is essential to the Christian faith. Honesty is not some muttering of sins in dark corners, harshly demanded penitance or guilt-extracted confessions. It's being clear as still water, so all the stones are visible and loved despite their stoniness, or maybe for it. Being gentle with one another, accepting one another, these things clamber like vines over a foundation of honesty.

If we make it about appearances, about trying to be a certain way for each other, never showing what's going on inside, we are in terrible danger. This is how deep deception comes about, how leaders crash into the rocks, how whole ships sink. And it's no fun at all.

I remember a dear friend of mine asking me about The Eve Tree. "It's obvious in your book that you write about anxiety from a place of really knowing it personally," he said. "Are you ever afraid of people knowing that about you?"

I stared at him. What I wanted to say (I can't remember what I did say) is that if I don't tell the story, it will kill me. Anxiety loses its power in the light, because there is love in light and softness, and things can grow other than the mold and fungus that will eat away at your insides. Often, when I get negative responses to The Eve Tree, they are from people who really didn't like Molly. And I get that. Anxiety is not pretty. Being married to someone with anxiety is not always easy. But love is bigger, love is stronger. Love covers a multitude of sins, covers it like a blanket of flowers.

Don't ever let anybody tell you anything different.

*

Back to my beautiful day. I felt, the whole day before, that I was sinking and I felt that it was going to be a long plummet. So when I woke up the next morning and stuck my toe out of the bed to test the waters, I was shocked by the warmth around me, in my heart, even. It's often like that-- waking up. I pat around, look for my glasses, try to get a reading from my heart. Are you going to be trustworthy today? Any strange voices? How about my mind? Are you going to try to get me into a headlock again, tackle me at the knees?

I got up to a morning full of birdsong. I drew circles in my journal. I read your comments, which made me love you more. I made smoothies for the kids.

My landlord showed up and what a miracle! He had all this bamboo fencing and some extra workers, and he spent the whole day reinforcing my fences so the street dogs can no longer get in to poo and dig up my gardens. It was a very special present. He is a very special present, I couldn't ask for a better landlord.

It was cleaning day, and the kids and I cleaned and cleaned. I scrubbed the kitchen shelves. They badly needed it. YaYa and I made refrigerator pickles from a recipe that I pinned. I ate four large cucumbers, not including the pickles that I ate before they were even pickled. (There is certainly something wrong with me.)

In the afternoon I went to the market and bought bags and bags of vegetables and some new pears that I have never tasted before. I cooked brown masoor dahl and aloo ghobi and new, beloved friends came for Indian dinner and made just the kind of fuss I love over my food. Usually we eat Thai food, so it was a special night. They spent eight years in Goa and miss Indian food just as much as I do. Not that I'm complaining, with all this fruit everywhere.

After dinner we sat with a pile of fruit in front of us and sliced it up, piece by piece. Mangosteens, the new pears, which are sour and crunchy and might turn out to be a new obsession, watermelon, dragonfruit. We sliced fruit and talked and talked.

Truly, it was a beautiful day. The surprising kind that takes you softly by the hand and leads you gently. That is God and his way. Be soft, he says. Be soft.

Nose kisses.

Planting the seedlings: mixing the soil.

I haven't been so well, emotionally and physically. There is this grey thread that loops around my eyes, my hands, my heart. I know it well, but never get used to it, never stop wishing it wasn't there. I would send the thread, the thick web, out into the void, out into space to follow the Mars rover if I could. One blast from the true heat of the sun and it would be gone.

But this is the mind I have been given, prone to anxiety and depression. I fight depression, fight fiercely. I don't give in to it. But it's hard. I wake up with no joy for the coming day, and then I have to work at joy, work hard, like a farmer with a scythe. Bent, like Indian women in the fields, swinging, swinging. Cultivation is tough work, more difficult than gathering, harder than shooting something with a bow and arrow. (A "bone arrow," Solo says. "That's the bone and that's the arrow.") Sometimes to find joy you have to swing the scythe until your shoulders are burning, or if you are only just now planting, you have to move a lot of stones. You have to slam the pick into the earth, again and again, until the dirt is finally soft and loose.

*

Last night Chinua rescued me, his poor headachy tired wife, by making dinner. While he did, the two little boys and I were upstairs, cuddling in my bed. There's something lovely about being sick and unwell. I slow down and lie for an hour with these little guys, their poky legs and arms jabbing me occasionally, their beautiful brown eyes laughing and loving.

Non sequiteur is Leafy's middle name.

"You're going to be drinking milk soon," he says, out of the blue.

Solo turns to me, excited. "Yeah! Mama! You're going to turn into a baby and drink milk!"

"That's most likely not going to happen," I say.

Leafy is indignant. "I was talking to the baby."

Leafy plans his playtimes with the baby already. He's going to teach his little brother or sister to crawl. This part is really fun. The kids were born so close together, they didn't have nearly as much awareness about pregnancy, but now they wriggle with joy, thinking of tiny toes. We look at illustrations of what our baby looks like now, in my belly.

"He has angry eyes," Solo says.

"He has a nose!" says Leafy.

I'm brought back to the old days, to their baby-ness. I tell them stories of the things they used to do, the funny things they said.

Solo is very much not a baby anymore. Sometimes I can kiss him, but more often if I do, he looks at me with his own angry eyes. "I said, I don't like kisses."

"Sorry," I say. "I forgot. You used to like them. I like kisses."

"So I'll kiss you," he says. And he does. He kisses me on my cheeks and chin and eyelids. And we do nose kisses, like Inuit people. We get along okay, despite his dislike of kisses.

Planting the seeds: Superman gives us a hand.

*

Today I was reading one of my favorite books: Sadhu Sundar Singh, Essential Writings.

Sadhu Sundar Singh was an Indian man who followed Jesus, living as a wandering holy man. He died in 1929. I love to read his writings, as his approach to spiritual things is so nourishing, so simple.

He writes:

I have seen green and fruitful trees standing in the middle of a dry and barren desert. These trees survive and flourish because their roots have driven down and discovered hidden streams of flowing water. Some people live in the midst of evil and misery but still radiate joy and lead fruitful lives. Through prayer, the hidden roots of their faith have reached down to the source of living water.

I have received some unkind words recently, words that wanted to shrivel me.

"Don't listen to that," Chinua said.

And I asked him, "Who do I listen to then?"

Because I need affirmation, I crave it. And it is not always available, there is no affirmation vending machine around the corneer. I know this need is part of a deeper lack in me- I am like water. What you say about me is what I think I am.

Oh that my roots would go deep, so deep into the hidden springs, past fear and the desert, past the dirth of encouragement that is in my day to day life lately. They could shoot out faster than physically possible, the search for water could become a sprint.

Jesus tells me the truth about myself. "Beloved." He gently leads those with young. He is gentle and humble in heart. He knows me truly, truly. It's too bad that I so often forget to listen. My roots search out water on the surface of the land, rather than in the depths. Sometimes they find shallow puddles and sometimes they find acid rain.

*

I planted spinach the other day. The other seedlings- the tomatoes and peas, lettuce and Italian basil- are still waiting for me to buy another bag of soil and release them into the dirt. I work with what I have, with exhaustion and depression that wants to crush me. But I can still promise the seedlings another day. Soon, I say. Soon I'll get you to a spacious place. The kids help me. They make the origami seed pots and shovel the earth in. They make small holes in the soil, gently pat the seedlings into place. We do it together.

There is no spinach in the market here. You can find kale, bok choy, mustard greens, morning glory, fiddlehead ferns, and some greens that come from trees, greens I've never tasted. I'm glad to plant my own. There will be spinach in our future. I love the dirt. I only avoid it because of the lies of depression. You can never succeed at being a gardener, they tell me. Don't even bother.

*

I want to be open and honest, to offer my home and my heart, no matter what it costs me. And I'm learning that the other side to openness is that you can't live in fear of judgement, because certainly, certainly, it will come. It will find you. The world is a judgemental place. Most people know better than you what you should be doing.

But you know all about me. I don't hold much back, anymore. I found that holding things back hurt me. Depression is embarrassing. Anxiety is unattractive. But hiding? Hiding will kill you. This is truth. You need to share it with someone (or everyone) because trying to do all the right things and not let the embarrassing stuff show is like ignoring cancer. The tumor is still growing, and there is only so long before you won't be able to hide it anymore.

Mostly, I reach out with my stilted attempts at kindness, at hospitality, at honesty, and receive even more in return. The other day a new friend drove by with some cookies that I had happened to say I liked. A woman gave me a strong hug and I gave her one back, both of us understanding that we just needed a friend at that moment and we had found one each other. The same beautiful family, knowing that we are struggling financially, gave us a motorcycle with a sidecar, when we could only give the promise of payment.

There are so many beautiful things.

Planting the seeds. Add water and... Done!

*

This is what I do. I wake up and get out of bed. I sometimes remember to think about what clothes to put on. I make green smoothies for everyone, with bananas, mangoes, pineapple and kale. When the kids wake up I tell them good morning. I kiss them on their heads. I make breakfast. The kids and I clean the kitchen. We sit down at the lovely wood table for school. We smile at each other.

We do it every day. We smile at each other, we love each other. This is what I have, this is what I give. On many days, I can do more, I can open my house wider, I can love more people, and the kids thrive with this. Their faces open wide like windows, they've grown up being hospitable and they feel most comfortable with many people around.

I smell the heads of my children. I put my cheeks to theirs. I rub my hands over the weathered wood of the table, I watch the curtains that I have sewn, as they flutter in a strong breeze. I say hello to my neighbors, I watch the sky. It has to be enough.

It will be enough.

Evidence

Another one from the afternoon ride.

Our kitchen is outdoors, with a garage door for one wall, a three quarter wall on the side where the sink is, and a three quarter bamboo wall where the stove, shelf, and fridge are. The fourth side is open. The bamboo wall is the one facing the street, and this morning I looked up from taking fruit out of the fridge to see an old man's face directly opposite me, floating above the wall.

First I almost screamed, and then I almost fainted. I gasped and jumped, very loudly. The man laughed politely, and I laughed too. Politely. I waited for him to tell me what he needed, but he only stood there with his chin propped on the wall, watching us. I realized it was a curiosity visit and went on with my breakfast preparations. He asked me in Thai if I had four kids. I said yes. Solo played hide and seek with him for a while.

Distracted, I let the milk I was heating for yogurt boil over. While I was cleaning up, the old man walked away, as quietly as he had arrived.

*

Lonely is like a flavor. No different really, from happy or silly. Lonely is like the flavor of tamarind. Spicy and sharp, you can't eat it all the time. I'm trying to adjust to lonely. There's been a lot of lonely in the last few years, but lonely comes with peace, and that makes it palatable. It comes and goes. Friends come and drive it off with their words and laughter.

And in lonely, you appreciate every small gesture. Our neighbor across the street brought us banana muffins today. Banana muffins! How could anything be more perfect?

*

I've been writing all day. It's my much loved writing day, known in less educated circles as "Mama's Day Off." Fine, I think. I'm finally accepting that everyone in the world will call my writing day my "day off," though I'm fond of calling it "work."

But happy work.

I'm working on two projects. One is my new novel. How can I express how much I love writing fiction? I love how I lose myself in it. The other project is a compilation of the best of my posts from over the years. This is actually a really hard project to work on. I'm cast back to these moments that I captured very clearly, as well as swimming in all the undercurrents that I didn't write about, but can remember. Just a word can bring it all back. 2007 by far wins the award for the year of suckiness. Boy, that year sucked. It was my fire year.

Except that I met Mark and Tj. That was a brilliant shining star in that year. There were also many beautiful things...

And we get through the suckiest things, don't we?

*

I remind myself of this now, as I spiral around myself. Weepy, today, maybe from reading too many old, sad things. Maybe from feeling as distant as a faraway desert. Maybe from reading about places that I haven't seen for years. You know how I am, anyways. Love and longing are all wrapped up together.

*

Chinua and I have big dreams. He's such a Superstar, he has the most incredible soul. I'm privileged to dream of far off and impossible sounding things with him. But then I start trying to make things happen, and one thing I should remember about a life path with God is that you can't just barrel in and MAKE things happen. Trust and hope and surrender need to be folded into your dreams. Little dream crêpes. They're like light that changes quickly in the late afternoon. It's the best time of day for the light, but pull out your paper and paints and from moment to moment the colors elude you.

Does that make sense? Our dreams involve land and a larger meditation center, a center of Christian practice, a place of peace, of work, of devotion, of service. So I go looking for land that we have no money to buy, and every door slams shut. But if I learn to listen, learn to balance the dream gently in my palm, I can follow a thin thread from one place to the next. (I think I first got the image of the thread from Timothy Keller, who got it from George MacDonald.) This thread that God gives us, we follow it to find him. It doesn't seem like enough to go on, sometimes. But then neither is our own sheer force of will, so there you go.

*

I always drive, for a while, on my writing days. Today I drove right into a storm, hoping the rain would blend with my teary eyes and wash me off. But the storm stayed just in front of me and the best I got were spatters. And that's all I needed, really. I thought I needed a storm, but feeling the way I did, I may have melted away. Spatters were enough to revive me, to cool me off. And there was a red flower in the road. I paused to pick it up. I knew it was there for me, God whispered it to me, evidence that the thread is intact.

There were people fishing and laughing. There was an old man (not my curious old man) in a field with his brahmin cow. He bowed his head to me after I bowed mine to him, and I felt strangely, wonderfully joyful.

Falling in

I still fall into the yawning break in the earth sometimes. I'm just walking along, trying to take care of my crew, trying to do my work, and next thing I know, I've missed a step, I've tripped, I've fallen in.

It takes a long time to climb back out, sometimes. And I get nervous about talking about it here, though I have many times before.

What does it mean? Anxiety? What is it that I fear?

It is nameless. It is paralyzing. It is looming. When it has me in a choke hold, whatever I attempt feels futile from the start. I start things and feel deep fear, and can't finish them. I sit down here and I am convinced that what I write will be disappointing.

(Last night I cried for half an hour over just that word: disappointing. The sound of it in my brain is like a giant screeching bird with sharp claws.)

It is a desert. It is a wasteland.

When they walk through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of Springs, and the early rain will come and fill it with pools.- Psalm 84:6

A long time ago, I learned that when it moves in and tries to smother me, I need to be slower, kinder than ever. Deliberately kind. I can't feel it myself, but I am fighting back. My brain tells me that people are scary, that they will hurt me, that they will judge me. I fight back by being kind. I make the Valley of Mourning a place of pools by cooking food, by reading to my kids, by smiling at everyone I see when I'm on the road. I am fighting back, though I feel none of the comfort I am trying to offer.

Yesterday was the worst kind of day, the day that holds no kindness, the day that makes me feel like I've already failed. I reach for kindness and it isn't there. I have nothing to fight back with. At the end of my long, terrible day, I walked along the shore with the kids. I had already been unkind to them, hurrying them with sharp words when they wanted to stop and look at insect nests. I had spread my anxiety around liberally.

I was walking to meet Chinua and some others to sing songs on the beach. A worship circle. After trying to sit for a while, I had to jump up and find a stick. I used it to draw on the sand. I drew pictures on the sand. It wasn't much, but it was all I had, yesterday. The kids drew pictures too.

I don't know, it is a confession of sorts. I am passing through the Valley of Baca. I know that I will come out the other side, though it may take a while.

 

This and that

 

* I'm doing better. It's like a spiraling escalator, really. When I get on the anxiety escalator, nothing makes sense and my mind won't work properly. I have to concentrate on getting off the escalator by sorting out all those chemical misfirings. Logic doesn't work. I have to get off the escalator before logic has any effect at all.

Things that help: sleep, reading, eating well, retreat, retreat, retreat! Quiet and gentleness. Resetting. Your kindness in my comment box.

* I have a few lovely reviews to show you.

Erin's is here.

Denise Tanton's is here.

And Elizabeth wrote one at 5 minutes for Books.

Thank you so much for all your help with my baby bird.

* Any Google+ users? I'm here.

 A note on Social Media and anxiety. The "Social" collision of Social Anxiety and Social Media make it a difficult place for me sometimes. When it gets rough, I'm trying to focus on love. Love will ground us every time. We are all just children, after all.

* We're leaving Nepal. We knew coming here that in order to be back in Goa next season on our tourist visa, that we would have to be in two other countries in these six months. (Necessarily. It's a visa thing.)

We're on our way to Thailand. Packing and excited. Thailand is one of the least expensive places to travel to from here, and it's a place we know.

Without giving all the details, I'll just say that we took a leap and came to Asia, thinking we had a way to stay in one or two homes a year. Things shifted on us, and we haven't worked out all the lumps. We're getting there, I hope... We hope to have a place to live, mostly year round, soon.

* I'm trucking along in my new novel. A bit stuck, but I have the experience of the first to let me know that what happens at this stage doesn't really matter all that much, as it will barely resemble the finished work.

Written in a Library.

Thoughts build up as time goes by, and eventually I have to expel them. And whether or not you want one, you get one of these Journey Mama deep thoughts posts. (Which are not as funny as Jack Handey's deep thoughts.)

The thoughts, they've built up again.

I'm thinking about guilt and failure and grace, and I'm also thinking about how I want to live. We all have our things that we chew on, set on a shelf for a while, and then return to. I suppose these are mine.

Our "visit" to North America has rambled along until we are getting to the point when we are preparing to roll up the rugs and go. We're not quite there yet, but getting there. Leaving has many stages. One stage is regret.

There are many things I thought I would be capable of in this visit. As it turns out, I have limits that I didn't understand prior to this escapade into the West. I have failed to do all the things I wanted to do, see all the people that I wanted to see.

(Oh, failure, you old friend.)

I entered my twenties believing I was capable of just about anything. That I could accomplish all my own "shoulds" as well as everybody else's "shoulds". Many times over I have protected my sense of capability with bared teeth. I will not fail! I can do everything! Just let me try one! more! time!

Lately the urgency is simmering down. I am simplifying away from shoulding myself to death and into taking honest stock of my resources. There are many things I cannot do, no matter how valuable it would be to the world if I could do them. Leafy is a good example for me. No matter how many times people try to tell him he is a superhero, he is dead honest. "I'm NOT Superman. I'm just Leafy." Jeez.

Letting people down is the part of being human that I hate the very most. But I can either hold myself hostage over it or throw my hands up. I will let people down.

Husband, I will let you down. Friends, I will let you down. Children, I will definitely let you down. Holding myself rigid against the possibility is as futile as a thin paper filter against a deluge of water.

I can't dive wholeheartedly into the why's of my strangeness. Why does it seem so wrong to not accomplish every outing, every visit, everything that people would like, that I would like? I don't know why. I don't know what I think it's all about. I can only be perfectly honest and put it out here: I've found a lot of freedom in simply acknowledging that I will let the human race down.  My uncurled fists allow the love of God to flow back into them.

I see these tendencies in my daughter. This, more than anything, has me trying to be more decisive about which values I will allow into my life.

My sweet girl is crippled with sadness if she transgresses. Cause and effect is usually pretty simple in our house. If you hurt someone, need to tell them sorry and they need to endeavor to forgive you.  But YaYa often becomes so treadmarked by the fact that she did something wrong that she doesn't get to the saying sorry part at all. Or she says it so many times that it loses its meaning and becomes a dirge.

I want to teach her that saying sorry carries a mighty power. Confession is a crack of light in the darkest parts of our hearts, the parts we guard with bared teeth. Only light can change them.

Saying sorry--to your brother if you hit him, to your husband if you blame him, to God for panicking rather than trusting--sends a cleaver through despair. I acknowledge that I am frail and when I say sorry I can receive love in return.

This is the true story of my faith, the true story of believing in something that says that your teacher, your God, died so that you aren't swallowed up in the death knell of guilt.

The writhing pile of snakes is stilled. It's done. It's over. Walk away from it.

That's what I tell YaYa, anyways. Walk away from it, daughter. It's over, you don't need to wallow in it anymore. Confession is half of it.

The other half is grace. I have bad boundaries, so I often feel obligated to say yes to everything. If I say no, there may be a day or so of self-castigation in order. But now I'm learning the fine art of saying no. This is where grace comes in. I think our human programming leads us back to feeling as though we have to deserve every bit of slack we are cut. This has led me to make some ridiculous rules for myself. Like I can relax and give myself grace if I'm pregnant, if Chinua is out of town, if I'm sick or if I'm living in India (maybe not even then.) If not, if I'm unpregnant in America with my fine husband lurking around the house, well, I'd better be pulling my weight.

In special circumstances I hold nice things out in front of myself. Whatever I need, I offer myself. More sleep? Some fun playing with the kids?  A chapter of a really good book? Sure!

I think life would work a lot better if I would just allow grace for myself  all the time. Same for you. Life demands a lot, especially if we're giving it our best shot. And there are deep deep pools of grace for us. We would be fools to ignore them. And the thing about drawing it in is that it becomes so much easier to give to other people. There's so much less fuming involved.

So take a bath, turn off the phone, drink some chai, eat some frozen yogurt or a samosa. Run lotion into your skin, draw beautiful spirals on a perfect piece of paper, watch egrets on a branch, sit by the waves and let them sparkle into your brain. Say no when you need to say no, say yes when you know you can do it gladly.



(Chinua took this photo of me. I especially like the fact that I have a tiny skimboarder under my chin.)

Turning on its axis

June 26-11

I am looking for hymns everywhere, because now more than ever I need a song in my mouth.

Everyone who wants to be a superhero thinks that he or she will be able to swim upstream, against the deafening flow of the current, away from the direction we are all being taken, not entirely within our will.

I find myself leaning against depression and being overwhelmed by this culture. Instead of making conversation, I am mute in public. Just swept along. Just in that loneliest herd; all the cars on the freeway. I thought I could swim against the current, but it turns out that the swell was so big that it tossed me deep into the earth. It is so different here, so different from the small space I found for myself among a billion people in India.

My own bent toward melancholy is something I march against every day of my life. I am deeply joyful and deeply sad. Disturbed. It's why I can't watch disturbing movies, there is too much under there that is already roiled and seething.

So I've been walking. Okay, Rae, maybe it was too much to think you could be a superhero, but how about taking a walk everyday?

Okay.

On the first night there were the donkeys. And then the second time, in a different town, I walked to the beach and there they were. Pelicans.

And oh how they dove. Oh I wish I could dive like that, throw myself toward the water and cut into it until it pours off and I take flight again. They were incredible. I sat and watched them for a long while, sat in the sand beside the platter of a moon and watched them dive, and dive, and dive.

The night before last I went walking to the beach again, and this time there were no pelicans, but it was okay because my heart was already thrumming with the music of the Brazilian drum troupe that somehow had appeared on the sand. Why so many Brazilian people were gathered on the beach, playing drums and dancing, I'm not sure. (Maybe something to do with the World Cup?) All I know is that it was another step into reorienting myself in the world. I danced a little, just a little. I sat and smiled into the waves. I sat and smiled and smiled.

We are a gathering people. We need connection. We need to stop the current of isolation, to swim against it with all the power our little fat, torn up salmon bodies have. Or dive into it, cut through it and feel it falling off of us.

There is such a huge difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is something you seek, to find rest and quiet within yourself, to be with God. Isolation is a lack of ability to touch or hear anyone around you. It is a scary place.

It doesn't mean that we don't need time to walk, to muse, to watch pelicans and pat little knee-high donkeys on their heads. To speak with God to say thank you and i love you i love you again and again. And help me, because i don't know where exactly i am. Because it has nothing to do with isolation, it has to do with the reorientation with that we need, to hear the earth and the heartbeat of God.

The current doesn't even touch Him.

At four years, I share yet one more thing.

Today is the anniversary of this blog. I've been writing here for four years. And there's no end in sight, friends, no end in sight. Because every time I think of stopping, I read through posts that encapsulate things I would have forgotten otherwise, and I'm glad for having been here, in this space, writing it all down.

Here are some posts from each of the Augusts that I've been here.

Life in the Woods

Where I Face My Fears by Being Ridiculously Open and Honest

Things are Moving Rather Quickly Now

A Story

If you read through these posts you may notice that there is a fairly big change between August '06 and August '07.

In the Where I Face My Fears post I talk about the extreme anxiety I used to experience. I don't know how to describe to you how crippling it was.  It caused rage, panic, and overreaction to very small things.  I couldn't see my way around it, when I was in the midst of it.  It was completely irrational, in the midst of it everyone around me looked like an enemy. I was wild-eyed and irrational. I hurt myself. I struck out at my husband.  I struggled with this for years. And I prayed, I went to counseling, I read fifty books, I tried everything.  Nothing would dislodge the knot of fear that went with me everywhere I went.  I completely lost the ability to enjoy myself, to have fun, to relax. This blog helped a lot.  But it didn't help everything.

There was the night that I constructed an elaborate art installation on my floor with melted wax and burnt paper and rose petals, thinking, "maybe someone will notice."  I remember the time I reached out to a woman I trusted, telling her how bad things were inside my head.  Her response was, "You're okay, Rae.  Really, of all people, you have to be okay." She was referring to the fact that we worked with street kids at the time, and quite frequently people were falling to pieces all around us. Someone needed to be strong, to be stable for everyone else.

But what if it wasn't me?

In the end, it was my relationship with my kids that was the last straw. I found myself shaking with anger and anxiety, barely containing myself, staring at three tiny children who stared back at me with huge eyes. And then I read this book.  Not any type of self-help book, just a novel with a character who condemned another character (a mother with depression issues) for not taking the steps she needed to keep her children safe from herself. And I shook myself, because it occurred to me for the first time that it was my responsibility.

There wasn't going to be any knight in shining armor. I wanted someone to rescue me, to notice my struggles and pull me out.  I needed to be the one to ask for help.  I was so close to asking already, and then two more things happened. One, I had a panic attack so severe that I had to pull the car I was driving over because I couldn't breathe.  And Two, I lost a baby due to an ectopic pregnancy. Because I was already back and forth, seeing the doctor, we talked about my mental health.  I told her everything.  She prescribed medication that deals with social anxiety disorder. It was April of 2007, a time when everything changed for me.

I remember the first day I went for a drive and found that I was happy.  It felt like the first time in years that I wasn't afraid. And so.

It's funny, before I admitted how sick I was and gave in, I was so afraid of the way taking medication would affect my relationship with God.  But without the barrier of my imbalance, I find myself walking through each day with the ability to trust, rather than the sickening feeling that I can't get out, I can't get out.

I was too concerned for my family to take serious steps towards suicide, but a day didn't go by when I didn't feel that the only way out of my own mind (which was poisoning me with a crippling) was through death.

I'm so glad that I found out it wasn't true.

When I look back on all the poems I wrote then, they all have images of hurting, clenched stomachs, of not being able to let go, of shoulders rigid and tight, of the need for escape. Images of people as wolves, of panic in the grocery store, of sabotage. I am so thankful, now, for the ability to relax in my own skin. I still have stress, I still have to remember to give my worries over to my Father.  The difference is that it is possible for me, now.

This is the way He is; Broken things are made new.

Oh friends, I am so broken.  But being renewed every day.

Me, by Chinua

Photo by Chinua

Brand New Colony

I'll be the fire escape that's bolted to the ancient brick where you will sit and contemplate your day.

This is a line from the song "Brand New Colony" by the Postal Service. It's what I'm listening to, right now, and it makes me think a little deeper about what I was already thinking about. Which is God, and the seemingly impossible attempt to fathom His love for us. Paul cried out for us, though, in his prayer for the believers in Ephesus, to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Wow. Paul was not afraid to ask for the biggest things; to comprehend, to be filled. The reason this song was making me think of this is because I am still trying to comprehend in the small things, the things that really reach me, daily, that God loves me.

I have been failing again, lately. To understand me, you have to know that I am a perfectionist. You might not think it to look at me, with my ratty dreadlocks and a free-ish lifestyle, but inside, I am worse than a slave driver. I see myself through the lens of my own high standards, and what I see is not good, unfortunately. And the horror that follows me is the fear of failing, or even worse, of disappointing. I can't even handle it. It makes me want to run and run and run. So, my small mistakes turn into large mountains. I lost the post office box key? I must be a flippin' loser. I spoke sharply to the kids? I'm abusive and I'm going to mess them up. They'll end up in therapy. In therapy in prison. I can't do everything and have to ask for help? There must be something wrong with me. I'd better get it together. If only I would try a little harder. Go to bed earlier. I'm having problems on my first attempt at writing a novel? I'm a terrible writer and I'll never amount to anything. It's because I didn't go to school, it's because I have no real talent.

You can see how evil this thinking is. It's like living in a pit of wolves, trying not to be noticed. It's like living life on the edge of a cliff in the desert. It's not free. And, I could be wrong, but I don't think that I'm the only one who struggles with these kinds of patterns of thinking. I may be extreme, but it seems like these things are addressed in the Bible as trying to live by the Law. Which, as the Scriptures teach us, will lead us nowhere. Obviously I need to learn to ease up on myself.

I like how Anne Lamott says, in her book "Plan B": "...not only do I get along with me most of the time now, I am militantly and maternally on my own side." To get this, though, it seems that I will have to learn that God is militantly and maternally on my side. And this brings me back to the ways that He loves me (us). The song by the Postal Service is a list of all the things that the boy wants to be for the girl. "I'll be the platform shoes that undo what heredity has done to you, so you won't have to stretch to look into my eyes..." What else will God be for me? The husband who brings me tea in the morning; the gentle light that wakes me; the Rock that won't slide out from underneath me when I stand on it; the warm water that cleans me; the beams that hold up my house; the brother that tells me not to obsess over the things I've done wrong; the right thoughts that I need to wash my mind...

Sometimes I think that I will never be able to change my thinking, that it will always be dark, it will always be my secret enemy, taunting me even while I'm trying to be okay for everyone. This, I know, is a lie. Because even if, my whole life, I have to try to tell these thoughts to go away day after day, I know that I have a place waiting for me in the courts of God. And where He rules, there is grace, and gentleness, and love, and nothing else can stand. A brand new colony.

Healing

After yesterday's entry of depression and darkness I just want to say that we are all still here. Everyone is fine, and I am finding healing in the water sounds that make their way up to me from the sun-speckled river. Every day I hang laundry. Every day I drink tons of water and herbal pregnancy tea.

Right now the kids are sleeping in our one room cabin, and I am sitting on our couch. I am quietly happy. Chinua is gone for a few days, which means that I am alone with the kids more often, and am pondering things more. I think I have two favorite possessions. Well, maybe three. Number one is probably my computer. My doorway for writing. Two, is my couch. Don't ask me why I love it so, I just do. Three, my little red kettle. I just bought it, and I am having so much fun boiling water in it. There, you know my secret. I am a complete nerd, and I get excited about boiling water. But it is part of the tea fixation, and there is really nothing that can be done for it.

I just ate a third of a pint of Ben and Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream. It may seem strange, but I can never eat more than a third. Maybe a half. But never, never, never the whole pint. It's my teeth. They are far too sensitive for such shenanigans. The layer of protection over the nerves in my teeth is made of saran wrap, I swear.

It seems like a good day for healing. A breezy, not too hot sort of day. A day in which I didn't lose my cool with the kids. I puttered around our little cabin today, sorting things out, organizing. Slowly but surely everything is coming together. I think a lot of the healing of some of the panic of depression will simply come from being quiet. From not trying to be anything other than exactly what I am right now. And that is the kind of day that I had today. Rejoicing in my little home. Boiling water for tea and drinking. Hanging laundry. Reading Goodnight Moon to my kids.

I realized today that it is okay to be nice to myself, because God is always nice to me. And because He is nice to me, I can be nice to other people. There is enough niceness to go around. Sometimes being nice to myself means ice cream. Sometimes it means letting myself clean my home, not feeling like I should be doing something else. It means watching the kids sleep, with their little eyes all scrunched up, until I feel that love that feels like sadness. It means taking a five minute shower and then racing into bed and diving under my down comforter. And quietly drifting to sleep, held up by the knowledge of God's tenderness towards a failure like me.