Facing it.

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Smallest Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.