Dear Ian,

 Radiant.

Radiant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The veil.

 My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

I'm always surprised by how a bad neck day can change the way I think and feel, even the way I speak. Today was a bad neck day. I have chronic pain from a car accident that happened when Kai was three months old. That's fifteen years ago in December. It was a teardrop fracture and it hurt for a long time, especially because I was supposed to rest but I had a baby to care for, so rest was not possible, at least in terms of not using my arms. And then I went and had another baby right away.

All that is long in the past, but the pain is very much in the present. It's rare to have a day without pain, but some days are worse than others. Bad neck days. If I'm squinting a lot, or moving my head around, or you find me lying on the kitchen floor; chances are it's a bad neck day.

I've been thinking about chronic pain over the last year, more ready to call it as it is. (I think I spent the first fourteen years assuming I would be better in a month or so.) I'm doing more these days (some days) about exercise, massage, and supplements. (Magnesium citrate, and it has to be citrate.)

But mostly I want to enjoy my days and want to learn how to think past pain. Today was rough. I had a Thai lesson and could barely gather my thoughts. I forgot English words too. And I felt like moaning along, rolling instead of walking, not like cooking or being a standing and walking human being. Because on bad neck days, my neck doesn't feel capable of holding my head up, and really that's the least a neck should do. (You had only one job!)

It's less like a little piece of the day, and more like a puked on filter that drops over the world. Kids are more annoying with their fingers tapping on the table (little annoying tappy fingers) or their voices and faces. Food is an issue, rather than a joy. Work is hard because it requires sitting or standing or looking at things.

But I am aware that many people live with pain, or with sickness, and do it well. I want to live well, whether or not I get rid of this completely.

Today I tried being aware of pain and how it was effecting me, noticing it and then moving outside of it and into the rest of the world. So, guiding meditation this morning, I realized how much of my mental space was taken up by my bad neck, then moved out into the bird song I could hear, especially those gorgeous spotted doves cooing on the grass roof. I watered seedlings and thought about how pulling the hose hurt a bit, but how the earth smelled so good. And then on the scooter I thought about how the day felt endless when all I wanted was to crawl back into bed, but how the air was my exact favorite kind of air; full of golden light, cooling at the end of the day, reminding me of poems I have read in other places in the world. 

This evening I made patterns with shape blocks with Isaac, and I asked Chinua to give me a quick massage, and I send Kai for takeout on the street, because the kitchen seemed like too much to handle. And I guess pain can make life less easy, but it can't really take away beauty or love, and it can only take away my sense of humor if I let it, so pain can't win. Even chronic pain. 

What about you? Have you found anything that helps with pain?

***

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Waiting.

The word for serve in Thai is rapchai, and it is a sort of reflexive word that means receive use, or accept the use that someone wants you to have. Perhaps, to accept usefulness. I have often wanted to slither out of anything that prescribes people as being used, feeling uncomfortable when people pray, "God, use me." I have wanted to be with God, to walk with God, not to be used by him.

But I am changing and this Thai word works for me, somehow. Rapchai Prajao. To accept the use that God intends for me. 

What is my use, that I may accept it?

I want to lay my heart down. Lay it down where we can see the unbroken expanse of blue sky. Curl up into a small pocket of the world, way down, wait there. I want to learn to serve, even as my soul rejects it, clamoring at me like a very un-calm child. 

We had the most beautiful rains last week, and in a matter of days the grass went from crunchy to springy with new growth. The smoke cleared. We can see for miles. 

Every time I think I accept a life of service, it comes to me in another form. And I resist again, with tiny fists. Like cooking. I have accepted cooking as a way I can serve. I cook dinner for my children, and this is what I offer. I offer a calm home, hopefully clean, healthy food, my company. But I have teenagers now, and they are only a year and a half apart in age. Often, at the very moment I am holding out my offering, ready to serve dinner at the end of a long day, God has another use for me. This one is tricky, as I untangle emotions, to mediate sadness, to enter the fray and look for peace. It is loud, it is frustrating, and I do not want to accept this service. I don't like it. 

And then sometimes I do. Sometimes there is nothing more lovely that working through these strands of hurt and confusion, helping angry siblings move back toward each other. And sometimes I cooked for hours and I want to sit in peace and I end up angry myself. I fail spectacularly and have to ask for forgiveness again and again. 

This past year of loss and emptiness after losing a good friend, has been hard in a way that brings my tiny fists out. Grief has spilled from me in every direction, from shame at not being able to be the friend to Chinua that Ian was, to anger that we lost someone who loved us and it feels, in this world, as though we can't afford it. And then the sheer, heartfelt thankfulness that we got to have him when we did, and that we have so much love around us.

This Easter, reflecting our year, was filled with pain, redemption, and thankfulness. I often couldn't help thinking of Peter, running to the tomb, desperate for absolution. Peter's last act when Jesus was alive was to deny him, and he must have felt that he would never get the forgiveness that he needed. And then a glimmer, a possibility that he might not be unforgiven forever. And he ran. He ran and ran, looking for his friend, looking for forgiveness. He was beside himself in those days. He jumped out of a boat, swimming to shore, and the mere glimpse of Jesus. He received his forgiveness in a more complete way than he could have imagined.

Forgive my unwillingness to serve, to be small. I need to ask this forgiveness of so many people. I want to lay my heart down, to whisper for it to be still. To curl up below that open sky, blue and unmarked by all the wrongs I have done. To wait to understand my use, so I can accept it. And the rain comes, rain comes. It falls on the tallest trees and the tiniest flowers, barely visible in the grass. And I am waiting there.

A Pond and my New Book

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Today I have a pond for you. 

The last few weeks have been some of my lowest in years. Perhaps I am absorbing the sorrow of this nation, perhaps I am finally losing my marbles. I flail around as always, looking for a way out. Everywhere I look: sorrow and the mistakes of humanity, the mistakes of living in fear of others, fear of the unknown. 

But I sat by this pond and I breathed in good things.  

Water bugs ran across the surface of the pond, casting tiny shadows. I watched for many minutes. Their legs make a delicate dimple on the water that reflects sky, and you think, "Maybe they'll fall in, I hope they don't fall in." But they never do. Lighter than air. 

I am thirty-six years old, how long can I go on wishing I had been made differently? Wishing I was more light-hearted, less difficult, less complicated. Neurotypical.  

And the world beats on, while I'm in the dark. And mistakes are made, and bad people are elevated, and so here it is: stop wishing. 

These are some true things: 

1. We cannot live in fear. Fear will choke us and keep us from each other. And Jesus was all about being together, loving one another, not being afraid of the other.  

2. You are dearly, dearly loved by the Holy One, the Maker of the Universe. So is every refugee, disenfranchised person, disabled person, woman, person of color, gay, lesbian or trans person, and immigrant. All of us, dearly loved.

3. Beautiful things have always happened during difficult times. There will be a lot of beauty in the days ahead. May God open our eyes. 

I'm not good for many things: you probably don't want to meet me, I'm socially awkward and scared in crowds.  

But I will keep writing. And my stories will be against fear and for acceptance. 

I have a fun announcement: World Whisperer 2 has a title. It's called Path of Springs, and it will launch on December 15, just a tiny bit later than I first imagined, back when I forgot I didn't have superpowers.  

I am making a new cover for World Whisperer with my Superstar husband, and also a cover for Path of Springs. They are not in existence yet, but you'll be the first to know when they are.  

In the meantime, here's a little time lapse of me drawing Isika for the first cover. 

 

Island

The stupid thing about grief is that it seems to isolate you. I float like an island, there are terrifying waves underneath me. A great crack has gone through the middle of us and I don’t know who to tell, or what I would say. 

Look, I want to say. Everything is different. Shaken. One of the support beams of our house has been ripped away. We are not who we were. A friend left the world and this changes everything. We are a little less us. We are diminished. And yet we have to go on as if everything is the same, doing the same things, eating and sleeping and walking around on our feet. 

Sometimes I don’t know if we’ll make it. 

A husband’s best friend is a very reassuring person. Ian and I used to look at each other as if to say, “this guy. We both love this guy and he drives us crazy and he’s the best and we’ll both love him forever.” And then there were our two families. We did things, we were us. We are still two families, but now there are less of us. Oh how precious friends are! I feel this desperation, like, there aren’t enough of us and we can’t lose even one! It’s love. We can’t afford to lose anybody. 

But we did. And he is safe in the everlasting arms. I have not even one tiny worry for him. I only worry about us. About Chinua and I orbiting each other in the night, talking, not talking, circling around all the things we can’t find a way to speak out. Isolated in grief, even though we are together. 

But this is what I know. Ian was our friend. He loved us. He loved his family. Nothing can erase that. I know that Jesus wept. I also know that God is good, that beauty spills out of the cracks in stones, springs out of sidewalks. Trees volunteer to grow from compost heaps. People do the kindest, most generous things for one another. The world seems shaky but all is not lost. Love will cover this, even this.