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.

Full.

Sometimes it’s a pile of dried bay leaves rustling in the wind as I pass, or sun-warmed pine needles on a forest path. Sometimes it’s a patch of lavender, or a rose bush in the sun, or a giant rosemary bush outside my friend’s house. Fragrances are like old friends; they tap me on the shoulder and whisper, Remember when…? Yes, I say. I remember. I remember being a child in the forest, I remember days as a teenager, dreaming into the sunset, I remember country walks. I remember the old feelings of joy, the sharpness of the wind, the pangs of sadness. I remember the days that I was me here. In this place, or in this, or in that one. The home of my childhood, the beautiful landscapes of my homeland, or America, the country I adopted.

Now I am in the last home I had in America, in the hills of Northern California. Lovely despite the worst drought in 185 years. I remember things here too. I remember herbs in the sun, the bay tree at the Land. I remember the births of my children, the way springtime made us all feel like dancing after the long winter rains. I remember the yellows of the hills in the autumn. I remember the breezes, the graceful green river. I remember joy and sadness. I remember so many friends. 

There is pain. My good friend took her own life over four years ago and tears fill my eyes as I drive past her old house. There are places where I remember harsh words, or depression, or confusion. But there is more joy, so much more joy. It’s impossible not to dig deep and see the overflowing blessings that God has given us in our life.

Chinua and I just celebrated our 13th anniversary and we talked a little about the places we’ve lived. From urban San Francisco, to the redwoods, to a mountainside in the Himalayas, to a marble house beside a lake in Nepal, to the beach in Goa, to our little Thai town now. We have had a rich life. We have all made many sacrifices to live the way we do. But there is so much joy.

I’m thinking about joy a lot lately, how I want more of it in me and in my life, more in our family and community—sustaining us, growing us. I want to continue to learn to serve out of joy rather than obligation, in my family and community. In the world. 

Sometimes it’s the air— the way it can be cool while the sun is hot. Or the colors, the way the roses fill my eyes, the butterflies in flowers, the different shades of brown and green on the hills. Joy everywhere.

I struggle at times, with a scarcity mentality, believing wrongly that because others have plenty (of talent, success, money) there is not enough to go around. I was trying, recently, to understand the concept of abundance, and I remembered the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father threw a party to welcome back his ungrateful, wasteful son, the good, obedient son responded with the view of scarcity: “But I’ve been here this whole time serving you and you’ve never thrown a party for me.” In other words, what he’s getting right now—love and celebration—somehow takes something from me. There is a delicate balance in what everyone has, and if something good is bestowed on someone else, there’s less for me. The father looked at him and responded with such kindness. 

“All that I have has always been yours.” This is what God says to us.

All that I have has always been yours.

Sometimes it’s my mother’s hand on my shoulder, Leafy hurling himself at me for a hug in the morning. It’s a hawk circling the highway, a full tank of gas, the whistle of our van that runs after so many years. Aging boards on an old fence, oaks in silhouette against golden light. Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in the morning, Isaac’s face when he first sees me, another meal. Golden afternoon light, my oldest son’s delight in driving an ATV for the first time, my daughter’s delight in every. single. animal that she sees. How Solo can never stop jumping and standing on his head, the thirteen beautiful years of marriage that I’ve been given, the stirrings of longing for my home in Thailand that I happily feel now that I’m away. Sometimes it’s only the sky and the blue that seems to go on forever. 

All that I have has always been yours. 

There is so much joy.

grasses-for-web.jpg


No better place.

Photo by Kenya.

Photo by Kenya.

You would think that as someone who named my blog Journey Mama, I would appreciate the journey. Ironic, isn’t it, that I am so impatient, so ready to get to a destination? Not in real life journeys, actually. When I am really traveling and the landscape is streaming by through the train window, I could stay traveling forever, never get there, be on the way and on and on. (The truth of this statement varies depending on the number of children with me, with 0= very true and 5=not true at all.) 

But as a metaphor? I’m all, hurry up and let’s get there. So when we moved to Thailand to begin a meditation community here, I assumed we would sort of seamlessly build on what had already been merrily humming along in Goa. This was not correct. We were beginning again. We were starting a whole new journey and I had no patience for it. 

The same is true right now for my re-entry into a life of painting. How funny that I can spend four years working on a novel but feel impatient when a piece of art takes a long time, or when I don’t have what I feel is enough time to devote to it. It’s because I’ve learned to value the journey in writing. But I’m impatient with art. Hurry up, let’s go, I want to be there already, let’s have something finished. Oh, silly wrong-headed person.

The truth is that life is mostly journey with only a few arrivals. Even in the arrivals we are already looking to the next landing, so we can’t even count on them. What’s the answer? 

The answer is the act of sitting down and writing, the paintbrush moving on the canvas, the trees rushing past the window, ignoring the way my slippery heart writhes and wants something to satiate it, some exciting event to medicate it, protect from the humbling act of living and how boring and sad and mediocre it can feel when you are doing the work. The answer is the knife on the cutting board, the pile of tomatoes gradually growing, the many meditations you hold before you hit your stride. The answer is remaining, not running when it is uncomfortable in the beginning. The answer is not saying “forget it,” or “it’s too hard, let’s try something else.” The answer is remaining, remembering that what God promises is to remain with us. To be with us in all the discomfort of life, in the fact that we are so brainwashed to expect great things and what we usually receive are beautiful, tiny, normal things. Beautiful, tiny, normal kids squabbling when they need to do their chores, beautiful, tiny, normal paintings that need to be started over, beautiful, tiny, normal empty fruit bowls that need to be refilled and you are the one who needs to leave your work and go to the market again.

Remain, because God is here and there is no better place to be. This is holy ground.

*

Something miraculous is going on over here, and though I am tempted to think we have arrived, I know that we are actually beginning a new journey, one just as tender and brilliant as any other we have been on. Readers, you know that over these last years of being in India and Thailand, I have found a heart friend, my friend Leaf. We have always jokingly dreamed of living close to one another, but in a that’s probably not going to happen kind of way. Then recently, unforeseeable events made it impossible for them to continue with their Jesus Ashram in India and very quickly things went into motion and they made the decision to join us here, and not only them but two other couples as well as a beautiful couple who has been intending to join us this fall. This moving takes time and we’ll all be really together this coming winter, though Leaf and Brendan are arriving tomorrow for some time before they do a bit of traveling.

It is a sudden community and the kind that could make so many things possible so quickly. It is amazing, it is an answer to the deep cries of my impatient soul. I am so very thankful.

Yes. But.

It is also the first step on a new journey, one that takes place in beautiful, tiny, normal moments, moments of love and grief and reconciliation and discomfort, moments when we choose to remain. (God is here and there is no better place to be.)

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.

Around the corner

From Kenya.jpg

These days I have sketchy outlines of thoughts in my head. When I gather them in my hands, many are so insubstantial that they slip through my fingers. My mind is often tied up with my novel and the pretend people that speak in my dreams. Other thoughts are of more stories that I want to write, and then there are the drawings that I imagine, the colors I see behind my eyes. The other day I was watching an oil demonstration on YouTube and when the artist moved away from the brown underpainting and laid down the first line of brilliant red, my eyes filled with tears. Sometimes I think that living as a mother and artist involves keeping hopeful. Each day I think, well, it’s possible that I will draw today. It’s also possible that all I will do is wash dishes, but so easily, so easily washing dishes could turn into dancing and maybe a movie spooling from the tips of my fingers, or I could be set free in a small room with all the colors of paint that I could ever want, and all the time to lay them down as I imagine them. My relationship to the practical things of life is so strange. I so often look at my hands, peeling carrots for the millionth time, and think, have I really managed to keep us all fed all these years? Me? And what about the repetitive nature of cleaning? Why does the wildness of dust and mold try to take us over? Will we ever win? Is it winning when we have to devote hours and days to it? Should we just give in and let the jungle take over? Let the dust turn us back into a desert?

Leafy washes dishes. He either washes breakfast dishes or lunch dishes every day, and he does it with his whole imagination intact and flowing into the dishwater. It is not actually helpful, when Leafy washes dishes, it carries the hope of one day being helpful, but at this point in time the kitchen becomes a glorious mess. “I don’t know how you do it,” I say. “I’ve never seen anyone able to make mountains of suds appear on the floor from the plumbing like magic.” When the floor becomes wet, in our outdoor kitchen, the dirt from the ground all around it makes the kitchen floor into mud. Leafy is lost in a world of carefully making each dish sparkle, while his eight-year-old feet are dancing a mud puddle into the space around him, accompanied by sound effects from his adorable mouth.

Kenya fits her art into every spare second. She moves rapidly from eating breakfast to making things with modeling clay, to taking care of Isaac while I get something finished, to working on her schoolwork, and then writing her picture book. When we go out, she carries a purse with paper and pens and a piece of modeling clay in it, because she can’t stand not being able to make something. When I start to read aloud to the kids, Kenya jumps up. “Just a second! I need some paper!” or, “I need some clay!” Practical things need art and signs around them. When she started rescuing bees from the honey bottles (that people always leave open) in our kitchen, (tenderly washing them with water from the sink and putting them somewhere safe so they can dry off their wings and fly away) she made a sign that said, “Bee Rescue Team.” “Who is on the Bee Rescue Team?” I asked. “Me,” she said. She also made a bee hospital out of small unwanted toy barrel that she laid a rose petal in for a bed. Kenya is not an artist. Kenya is ART.

Kai claims to hate creative endeavors. You couldn’t write a script with a more polarized pair than these two kids who most often actually enjoy the same things and yet love to be opposite. From eating (we have two staunch moral vegetarians, and two omnivores who delight in Thailand’s grilled meat delicacies) to books (they both love Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid but Kenya hates Percy Jackson while Kai has read every book three or four times) they find ways to disagree. Kai has his own art, though he would hate to hear me say it. The way the kid plays with numbers in his head can only be described as a kind of dance. He loves science, facts, he loves to know and memorize everything. Knowledge runs through him like sap in a tree, he is thrilled by comedy and deeply moved by sad things. He is literary to his core but he doesn’t yet love the effort that writing takes. He has very little belief in his own abilities, but I tell him not to lock himself in. There is no telling what he will be. Just around the corner a new love could appear. This is the first year he has stopped claiming to hate Math, instead giving himself long division questions to stream down pages. We never know what is around the next bend in the river.

There is no telling what a day could bring. Yesterday we discovered that one of the many stray cats who like to lurk here, hoping that Wookie will be careless with her food, had her kittens in the ceiling of our kitchen. The air around the kitchen was filled with tiny kitten cries last night, Kenya hopping up and down with excitement, planning a life with all these stray cats to keep her company. (Oh dear.) Today the mama cat started moving them, jumping down from the roof with blind babies in her mouth.  There are stories everywhere and I want to record every single moment but often these days I am obligated to simply live them and flash on to the next thing.

The imprint of God is on me, a divot on my every waking thought, the way he made me, the way he made my children, all of us different and doing the messy, kitchen disaster business of beating the dust away from our lives and trying to be what he intended. When we close our eyes we can nearly taste it, smell the fresh eucalyptus smell of his spirit chasing away the lethargy that can creep in, that can hamper our delight, or the bitterness that can make us stop trying. This is why I have to keep hoping that I will find all the beauty, that I will find a way to put it onto paper or canvas or into my home. God put the longing here, God makes the whole thing a mystery, how we are transformed and being transformed, how he is devoted to us and we are devoted to him though we can’t see him, because we see his evidence everywhere. There is so much evidence of God in the life of a mother, in all the bending and bowing down, self-abandonment and yet hope of beauty, of the quick smile of a child, the hand on my back when I’m not feeling well and I look up and find that it’s my eleven-year-old massaging my shoulders. I will simply never be the housekeeper I would love to be, I am not naturally organized, my head is too far in the clouds. But God is with us and so the kitchen mud puddle won’t overcome us and we won’t let the jungle swallow us after all.

Poured out.

Morning is here and full of hope. It is five degrees Celcius (42 Fahrenheit) outside, and maybe a degree more in my wooden house with many windows and no heat. And yet, the hope, soft as gentle, heavy bubbles rising on a summer day, the kind that you make with a big string and a tub full of soapy water. Hope for creativity in this day, for kindness, for good food and moments with the crystalline knowledge of the love of God, all around us and in us. And the happy hope that Chinua will be home in two days’ time, falling into all of our arms.

Christy and the girls have gone, crossing airplane paths with Chinua in the sky, after a day of seeing animals and feeding parrots in Chiang Mai. It was so good to have Christy here: a much needed boost for the kids (she loves them, and they need that love of others in their lives, as all kids do) and a much needed grownup friend for me. We’ve already begun plans for a little monastic retreat in California whenever I get there next, since for two deep and spiritually minded girls, our conversation was rather limited to “Does vegetable soup sound good—Solo stop hitting Kai!” and “Sure—Fiona, do you need to potty?”

Seriously. Two women who haven’t seen each other for years, who have traveled the world together, through India and Nepal, into the Andaman Islands and the far reaches of the Himalayas, who have talked and journaled together, shared tiny guesthouse rooms with toilets that stank to high heaven, have taken buses with chickens and Nepali villagers, have cried together, have sat together by smoky fires at the largest Hindu gathering in the world, have washed travelers’ feet together in the plains of India, street kids’ feet together in the gullies of Delhi, have slept in the woods near Santa Cruz together, helped people tweaking on drugs together in San Francisco… give us seven kids and no dads and we will have surprisingly little time to talk. (Wow, writing that list out, and it is by no means exhaustive, makes me realize what an incredible history we have!) Our eyes have had to say it all. (And bedtime, let me tell you— you mothers of older kids already know this, but it stops being a thing where you can have everyone sleeping at 8:00 pm and go and drink wine together. Bedtime: it goes on and on my friends, and anyway, Christy’s jet-lagged kids had her up at 4:30 nearly every morning.)

So we have a good long weekend coming to us, someday. Christy is one of the sharpest minds on Christian and Eastern Spirituality that I know, I love to sit and here her thoughts, and traveling with her has always made me go deeper in my writing and thoughts. Hmmm… maybe we have a writing project together in our future?

But it is the beauty of seasons, isn’t it? We who have traveled as a young teenager and twenty-something, now with our abundant families flocking all around us? Pouring ourselves out in this different way? We will travel farther down this road into a future of older kids and then our empty nests and we will always be able to point back to our memories together. Being poured out as mothers now. It is a scripture and thought that has come to me often in these last five weeks, as I have pushed myself to get up after all the kids are in bed and finish those last few dishes in the cold outdoor air (because I know it will be colder in the morning): “I am poured out like water,” from Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted in his suffering, referencing the suffering of David. As a mother, I suffer only my own undoing, unmaking, and it is a very rewarding suffering, with a house full of people around me. But I relate, I am poured out like water, like other mothers everywhere, we are poured out. We relate to Jesus in this way, even when we don’t have time to sit and reflect and go deep, when we are responding to fights and the endlessly needy stomachs of growing boys. Poured out.

This is a morning.

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Some days I wake up with dread already smoldering in my heart. It feels like I have too many things to do, and perhaps the baby was up a lot and I slept through the alarm, so it's later than I want it to be and the gun has gone off but I'm fifty meters behind all the other runners. The dread fills me until even when my children look at me I know that I haven't been doing enough for them/with them and I'm now one hundred meters behind and still haven't started moving. I snap at them because I've already failed them. My legs are weighted, like they are when you are running in a dream and you can't get anywhere, no matter how hard you try.

Everything I see reminds me of something I should have done already. Dishes in the sink from the night before. Weeds in my garden, (how did I let it get like that?) Lego on the floor, laundry not yet put away. Words not written in my novel and when will I find the time now that everyone is awake?

This morning was like this, until I sat down with my journal and threw myself an alternate scenario. It turned my morning, my day, my life around, and I thought I'd share it with you.  

This is the truth: I get up, step out of bed into another morning-- the sun has risen into another day in the world. Jesus has made this day, God is in the world, now and forever. I am a friend and servant of the Creator, I step into the day murmuring prayers and breathing the life that is evident from the moment I open my eyes.  

I look around and see the small kingdom that God has given me in the newness of this morning. Birdsong in the eaves of my house, in the trees around me, white flowers on the ground. This, my home, is a place of peace and blessing. There will always be more to do, more to accomplish, but I am the guide for my family- into peace, creativity, blessing.  

This is far beyond lists and my own bad timing. This is far beyond sleeping through the alarm. I am alive to the wonder of God. He is with me--my heart open and ready. God leads me in peace when my heart would become a frantic little mouse. God speaks spacious words when my mind would entangle me.  

This is what lifts me out of the choking hold of mere tasks and into the calm of serving. Stooping to clean the floor, washing circles in peace. None of it is meaningless, none of it is too late. God sings to me, sings over me, and I do my work in the light of his tenderness. Kindness is paramount, praise falls from my lips.  

This, this is a morning. 

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.

Still true.

Happy Easter, lovelies.

Today I thought I'd pull from the archives and repost what I wrote about two years ago at this time.

*

How was your Easter?

Ours was... quiet. And glad. And sweet.

We got up and made pancakes with the couple who lives here in the house with us. We talked about the Resurrection with the kids. There was chocolate involved. And the tiniest of hunts, out in the garden.

We went on a walk, up to a nearby hillside where we could see much of the lake. It was hazy. Everything was soft and lovely. One boat sat in a still circle of blue.

I thought a lot about a meditation I guided in January. It was of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. We dove in. It was an imagination meditation, so I encouraged the people in the circle to use all their senses, to find the scrubby bushes beside, to stand in the dust she was standing in. To feel her despair. He may have been the first person ever to see value in her, to love her. She was left unloved, without him. She had been out of her mind, before. A used-up, broken woman who talked to herself in the streets. You know the type, you've seen them. He healed her. She traveled with his followers. She stayed with Him to the end.

And she went to the tomb to prepare the body, but then her heart went crazy! He was gone. This was the absolute end of her. She only wanted to care for the broken, empty body. And it was gone.

There was a lot of running. Running to find the men, the disciples, running back to the tomb. (Cool air of the morning, sun rising in the hills.) The men saw that she was right, ran off again.

And from Mary, weeping. Despair. Anguish and the worst kind of loneliness.

I want to truly find that moment, capture it, live it, when he identified her and she knew him. After she mistook him for the gardener, all he said was her name, "Mary." And she knew him.

"Rabboni!"

Anguish to beauty. She would never be unloved again.

Although I'm sure she always had to remind herself of that. And that is what I am doing this morning in meditation. The garden, the cool of the morning. The dust under her feet, the rocks sticking out of the earth. The earth under her knees, her despair, and then Him. His face. His radiance.

In my life on this earth I have been asked so many times, why I follow Jesus. Merely stating that I do is enough reason for people to tell me why I shouldn't. They tell me of the travesties that have been done by Christians, they tell me of historical inaccuracy, of relativism, of how mistaken I am. I have loads (heaps!) of thoughts about all these things. I can talk, I can discuss, and I do.

But there is only one real reason that I follow Jesus. It is because of him. Because of his radiance, his gentle beauty, the sweetness of His WHOLE Being. My Guru, my Master. "Rabboni!" Mary said. This moment is overlooked sometimes, but is one of the most important of his whole life on earth. No other god, no other teacher compares.

Because in his most triumphant moment, finally justified as the One who could destroy death, the first thing he did was comfort a girl, a broken ex-prostitute who nobody cared about. It was the first thing he did.

I had no idea what I was going to write about this morning. But there it is.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

I've been running and running. Buying things, cooking things, cleaning things. A burning bush in my ribcage. Love and hope and sorrow. You know, the usual.

*

This year's tree was my favorite ever. We potted it, so we can keep it. What will it look like next year? We planted our Christmas tree in Goa in the garden after we got it and now, three years later, it's almost as tall as the two-story house. It was a tiny Charlie Brown tree that first year, so how surprising when it grew and grew, grew and grew, till it was a giant, ready to pull up roots and go stomping down Goan streets. To keep it happy, we decorated it every year outside, rather than having an indoor tree.

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This year's tree was a Dr. Seuss tree. The kid's loved it on sight, dancing around the plant shop where we found it, hopping from one foot to another. "Can we get it? Can we get it?"

I love that they have no "normal" for the shape and size of a Christmas tree.

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Then there were the lanterns, a whole river of them, on Christmas Eve. They went up just before midnight and Chinua and I stood and watched and wished we could capture how beautiful they were. They swirled into air currents like a ribbon of smoke.

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There was Sufjan on the computer, singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel," bringing tears to my eyes. And the Messiah by Handel. A swelling in my heart like the lanterns rising.

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Carrien's husband Aaron and their oldest son stepped off a bus yesterday, here to visit for a couple of days. We went to meet them in the chariot. Hopping from foot to foot.

In the evening, Chinua bought us our own lanterns, and we released them on our street (YaYa overwhelmed by anxiety over each one until it was safely into the sky.) The very last one was heavy, as Carrien's son said, with our prayers, carrying our burdens.

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That very last one was for our dear Ian, brave hero fighting a valiant fight against stupid cancer. Our prayers and love for him growing and growing, while the poor little lantern had to struggle along with all our carefully whispered and shouted words making it bob until finally it found its way through the low air and headed straight for the moon.

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YaYa hopped from one foot to the next, willing the lantern to fly. I hop from one foot to the next, willing Ian to be well. And I know that deeply, truly, he is well. And all is well. And our prayers will stomp their way through the heavens. They are heard.

Oh, my heart.

Here's the new video from Aradhna, Yeshu Muktinath. Featuring many of my favorite things: modes of travel, vegetable sellers, cooking on the floor... you can imagine the love and sadness in my heart as I watch this video.

Here are the lyrics:

Pounded and crushed, is the soul of humanity
Pain and suffering, known by the Lord of the Universe
The longing of the world is satisfied in Him
Like an eternal spring, it gurgles on and on

Yeshu, Lord of Salvation, for the world a gift
Victory to God, Victory to God, the name of Narahari, the man-God

His country? It is in your heart alone
His clothing? He has become one like you
In the end He clothes himself with your heart

Yeshu, Lord of Salvation, for the world, a gift
Victory to God, Victory to God, the name of Narahari, the man-God

One drop at a time, the ocean of love is filled
Love's language, residing in the heart alone.

Yeshu, Lord of Salvation, for the world, a gift
Yeshu, Lord of Salvation, the final rest for the suffering
Yeshu, Lord of Salvation, the strength of the weak
Victory to God, Victory to God, the name of Narahari, the man-God

Rainy Day Walk

Yesterday I used my most intimidating voice and said, "Rain! You can't keep me in!" And then I picked up my umbrella and walked out the door quickly, before the rain had a chance to respond.

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My shins were sore. I had shin splints or fractures or broken shins or something. I overdid it, the other day, walking too far without a warmup. But I limped along in delight. I love wet grey roads and sodden foliage.

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Eventually I took a turn down to a dirt road by the river. It was dirt. Wet dirt! Everything smelled heavenly.

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And there were many blooming things. Tangles of flowers and leaves. This place doesn't know how to stop growing, in the rainy season.

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I found a spot in the river where many people were taking something out of the ground. Rocks, maybe? I couldn't tell, I was too far away. Anyhow, there was a pile of rocks that somebody probably put there in this pile. Maybe yesterday, maybe ten years ago. I couldn't ask the people because they were all submerged in water and also I don't speak enough Thai. I'm no journalist. Also, it's a boring question: When did you take those rocks out of the water? A better question is Where did you get your hat? and Do you have any children? and How much do you get paid to take rocks out of the water?

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It will be my everlasting goal to take a photo that does justice to mist around mountains. And to a large tree in a dug up field.

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These are some of the containers that people were putting rocks into. I tell you, though I have no information, I was fascinated by these people and all their rocks.

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Oh! And there they are. The one guy's hat reminds me of Puddle Glum the Marsh Wiggle, from Narnia. The floppy one, see it?

On second thought, I probably could have asked them my questions if I'd only waded in.

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I turned away from the river and started walking home. I saw flowers. In Thailand I still see flowers I've never seen before, and fruit I've never heard of. It's amazing.

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There was also this sweet little lily pond.

And that was my rainy day walk. I was no worse for the wear except for wet pants from tramping along by the river. I love wet pants from tramping along by the river, though, so all was well.

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I wrote a couple more posts at the Shekina Community blog.

Meditation Series Part One: The Order for Shekina Meditation

Meditation Series Part Two: Lectio Divina

Enjoy!

 

 

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.

A Review of King's Cross, by Dr. Tim Keller

Yesterday's post was partly a precursor for today's review. I wanted you to know how deeply Tim Keller has affected me personally, before I talked about his book, King's Cross, The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus.

King's Cross is written on a subject that has been written of by thousands of people: The life of Jesus of Nazareth. As Keller puts it, "Into this seemingly inexhaustible current of words and thoughts, I gingerly lay this volume."

In other words, so much has already been said! Is another book really necessary?

Yes. Certainly.

King's Cross is a study of the book of Mark, taking the two symmetrical acts of Mark's account of Jesus's life to explore the narrative of The King, (the identity of Jesus) and The Cross (the purpose of Jesus).

I loved this book because it read like a meditation. Books of facts don't really do it for me, but this was far from a book of facts. I consumed this book slice by slice, mulling over it a chapter at a time. Each part of it wove around me in circles, taking glimpses of Jesus and brushing away with color until I could see all the shape and depth in them. It reached me in the same way meditation does.

I also loved it because it is life affirming. I felt wrapped up by the book. I felt that sweetness again, the good guidance of wisdom.

It was timely. Lately I've been feeling like I should have reached some goal by now, that everything in my life should be certain. It troubles me. But I was blown away by a passage in the chapter "The Call," about the point in Jesus's life when he calls his disciples. Keller compares the call that Jesus gives to a part of George McDonald's book The Princess and the Goblin. Irene, the young protagonist, is given a ball of thread by her grandmother, and is told that when they are apart, she is to follow it wherever it leads her, no matter how roundabout it seems, and it will lead her to her grandmother. And the thread doesn't work backwards, Irene has to keep trusting, has to keep following.

This has become something I whisper to myself. "Follow the thread." Feeling a little lost, lately, I'm following the thread to the next guesthouse, to the next train. And because I'm choosing to follow the thread rather than go backwards, I'm seeing how gently my little family is being led along, how we find the right place for the right time, how people who need us, or people we need, stumble into our paths. We are cared for so tenderly. But we don't know where we are going. And neither did the disciples.

I recommend King's Cross to anyone who is seeking to find his thread, or who has been following the thread for a long time. I recommend it to anyone who has decided to plop herself down in the path. Read it as a meditation.

The reason I will find strength to be content in following no matter where I am led, is because I am following a person. I don't know where He is taking me, but I do know Him, and I do know what He is like. And like I was saying yesterday, I know that He promises that one day everything will be made right.

In Dr. Keller's words again, "I trust that you will find the figure of Jesus worthy of your attention: unpredictable yet reliable, gentle yet powerful, authoritative yet humble, human yet divine."

How Timothy Keller Changed My Life

It was quite a few years ago, and I was flailing.

I spent my youth being excited about the future. When I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, I was filled with hope for what I knew my role in the world would be. I pictured triumphant, I pictured world changing. I pictured importance; being important, being seen by important people. I pictured flash and bang. It was going to be riding in on white horses, it was going to be great faith.

Imagine my distress when I found nothing of the sort. In my organization, which was involved with outreach to homeless youth, I became a leader. It turned out that Christian leadership in my life meant a formalized pressure, meant not talking about my feelings, meant being criticized even when I felt that I was doing my best. (Because who else do you look at when everything is going wrong?) It meant making a ton of mistakes. It meant being poor in a rich city and working for free on things that were unappreciated.

Where did I go wrong? I wondered. Where did all that hope go? What is this crap? I looked darkly at other people who were older, still spending their lives working with people, leading them, pastoring or whatever they did, and my first thought was always, "Why the hell are you still doing this?"

I can't emphasize how disillusioned I was. I felt that something had gone so wrong. I was full of promise when I was sixteen, seventeen! I was an artist! Now I was twenty-four with two kids and one on the way. I lived in a one room cabin. I worked at administration during every hour that I wasn't with my kids, sometimes I worked with my kids, jiggling the carrier or crib to keep them sleeping, giving them one more bowl of cheerios to keep them busy until I was finished. I hated administration. I no longer painted. Not only that, but people didn't seem to LIKE me anymore. Me! Who had always been so likeable! A lot of people seemed more inclined to be angry or frustrated with me. And for good reason. I was anxious and unstable, I was capricious and tired. I felt everything in the world as a judgment against me. I was doing it all wrong and I didn't even know how to fix it.

Then a friend of mine told me about a teacher that she was listening to. "He's this Presbyterian minister in New York," she said. "He teaches so clearly."

His name is Dr. Timothy Keller. He loves God and he teaches the Bible at his church in New York City. He's a Presbyterian. (I grew up in a charismatic movement, so Presbyterians are positively exotic to me.)

He's a wonderful intellectual, clear teacher, and many of his sermons are online. I started with the Wisdom of the Proverbs series, and it was like a breath of fresh air. And then I started the Living in Hope series. This is the moment that my life changed. It was like a second conversion.

I still remember when I heard the first sermon in the series. I was driving down the 101 in my van, in Northern California. There was sunlight flashing through the trees onto the highway. I was headed to a prenatal appointment, and had an hour and a half long drive in front of me. As I listened, the sunlight dazzled me. The trees grew taller, more vibrant. I found myself gasping for air.

"How you live now is completely determined by your believed in future," was what Dr. Keller said.

The whole sermon was like having your best friend shake you hard, saying Look at what you've become! You've missed it entirely!

What it means is that you wake up every day believing that some day, your work will pay off. It means that you have the ability to wake up because you believe that there is some reward for you. I wasn't finding the reward I was looking for in my life. My expectations had been for something so much better than what I was getting.

But I realized that I wasn't looking far enough forward. I thought I had given birth, but really I was still in labor.

This is the uncomfortable, magicky kind of talk that discomfits people who are skeptical about a life following Jesus or about religion in general. But the truth is that the Christian faith centers around a very real future, where everything will be made right.

Where we will be made right.

We live in hope that all the good that we feel is the way the world SHOULD be will one day BE. It means that none of this, none of the unmet desires are in vain. Think of how disappointing it would be if we felt that this was all there was. I KNOW deep in myself, that good is true, is real. My own faltering attempts can't even touch what is really there, the real world, the place my own work scarcely resembles. But one day. One day we will see it.

So I saw, in a flash, that all the desires I had, for comfort, for love, for recognition and ease, were not bad desires. I was just expecting them to come for me in the wrong time and place. I needed to shift my expectations.

It changed everything for me. I've gone through many things since then, even the achievement of one of my dreams (living in India) and the realization that even my dreams bring things that are much, much harder than I could ever have imagined. I've become a sojourner in the world in a deeper way than I ever was before.

The knowledge that a truer kind of home and a deep acceptance waits for me is what sustains me.

I'd even go so far as to say that the realization that I'd been looking at it all wrong sent me off on a different way of being entirely. It began a spiritual quest that I will be on all of my life.

I've learned about the journey of following Jesus. In living in India, I've seen a lot more of devotion than I had ever seen before. Following as a devotee is very similar to the way the disciples saw the master. They lived lives of listening, of leaving their own things and following. Following even though it meant sleeping in ditches sometimes, just wrapping yourself up in a sheet and laying your head on the grass. This was life for them.

It was not glamour or excitement. It was not fancy or spellbinding. It was feet in the dust, it ended in blood, it was devotion.

We are here in this broken world, and I'm telling you, life is life. No matter how golden a sheen people take on, or how smoothly their clothing drapes on their bodies, everyone is cleaning their ears out, or taking their daily trips to the water closet. We have to eat, we have to crash at night, we have to move our bowels. Those of us living adventurous lives know the pang of longing that the most simple, familiar smells can bring. Those of us at home know the longing for motion, for air on our necks. And we travel faster and faster, trying to gain what we're looking for, only to find that it's gone when we get there.

We won't find it. Not yet, anyways. Contentment comes when we see that this is not all that will ever be.

this is the way He is. broken things are made new.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk some more on this, as well as review Tim Keller's newest book, King's Cross.

Why I follow

How was your Easter?

Ours was... quiet. And glad. And sweet.

We got up and made pancakes with the couple who lives here in the house with us. We talked about the Resurrection with the kids. There was chocolate involved. And the tiniest of hunts, out in the garden.

We went on a walk, up to a nearby hillside where we could see much of the lake. It was hazy. Everything was soft and lovely. One boat sat in a still circle of blue.

I thought a lot about a meditation I guided in January. It was of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. We dove in. It was an imagination meditation, so I encouraged the people in the circle to use all their senses, to find the scrubby bushes beside, to stand in the dust she was standing in. To feel her despair. He may have been the first person ever to see value in her, to love her. She was left unloved, without him. She had been out of her mind, before. A used-up, broken woman who talked to herself in the streets. You know the type, you've seen them. He healed her. She traveled with his followers. She stayed with Him to the end.

And she went to the tomb to prepare the body, but then her heart went crazy! He was gone. This was the absolute end of her. She only wanted to care for the broken, empty body. And it was gone.

There was a lot of running. Running to find the men, the disciples, running back to the tomb. (Cool air of the morning, sun rising in the hills.) The men saw that she was right, ran off again.

And from Mary, weeping. Despair. Anguish and the worst kind of loneliness.

I want to truly find that moment, capture it, live it, when he identified her and she knew him. After she mistook him for the gardener, all he said was her name, "Mary." And she knew him.

"Rabboni!"

Anguish to beauty. She would never be unloved again.

Although I'm sure she always had to remind herself of that. And that is what I am doing this morning in meditation. The garden, the cool of the morning. The dust under her feet, the rocks sticking out of the earth. The earth under her knees, her despair, and then Him. His face. His radiance.

In my life on this earth I have been asked so many times, why I follow Jesus. Merely stating that I do is enough reason for people to tell me why I shouldn't. They tell me of the travesties that have been done by Christians, they tell me of historical inaccuracy, of relativism, of how mistaken I am. I have loads (heaps!) of thoughts about all these things. I can talk, I can discuss, and I do.

But there is only one real reason that I follow Jesus. It is because of him. Because of his radiance, his gentle beauty, the sweetness of His WHOLE Being. My Guru, my Master. "Rabboni!" Mary said. This moment is overlooked sometimes, but is one of the most important of his whole life on earth. No other god, no other teacher compares.

Because in his most triumphant moment, finally justified as the One who could destroy death, the first thing he did was comfort a girl, a broken ex-prostitute who nobody cared about. It was the first thing he did.

I had no idea what I was going to write about this morning. But there it is.

Feet on the Earth

I've written about it before, and it doesn't change. Sometimes things get swirled and toxic in my head and I have a hard time breaking the surface for air. The questions I want to ask obsessively are from Crazy Town.*

Obsessively, as in, every waking moment. The questions that want to bubble to my lips? Is everyone mad at me? Is everyone mad at me? Are they angry? Do they hate me? Did I do something wrong? Did I say the wrong thing? Do they hate me? Do they hate me? Tall gleaming towers of fear and self-loathing loom over me.

I'm embarrassed to even talk about it. I don't want to take you in there with me. It is not who I want to be, not who I am. Chinua knows how to work with Crazy Town Rae. He knows to reassure, to try not to sigh too many times as I ask the same questions again and again, to tell me to walk for a while before I get too worked up. But I don't like to drag him there either.

It still happens. I'm still a bit broken. I am your broken writer, your broken friend. Sorry, I wish I was less chiseled away, that there were less shavings dropping off all over the place, making a mess.

But anyway. On the third day, after the weekend of insanity, it was garden day. I have taken steps to getting a garden put in in front of the meditation center. And at every step I can think of a thousand obstacles, a thousand reasons why I shouldn't undertake this big project.

I am ignoring them. Small step by small step.

Today two guys showed up with pick axes and a goods carrier full of bricks to help me make the lines for the garden beds. We canceled school for a garden day.

The kids and I dismantled the play house they'd made out of bigger bricks and palm fronds and found objects (read: trash) and after many tears reassembled it, out of the way. I drew curves on the ground where the bricks would go, a sort of Andy Goldsworthy (long time readers, can you tell who my favorite sculptor is?) river shape, which goes against the grain entirely in India. Jaya asked me (yes, Jaya, that is another story) WHY the curves, why not straight? And I answered that plants follow these curves, so in the garden I want curves, not straight lines. I don't know if she was convinced.

I swept the dirt. I labored and carried stones and old leaves. I started a compost pile in anticipation of next year.

Happiness broke over me like waves, like I was sitting at the sea's edge, swung over me in arcs, like the sun's path day after day. I felt myself being oriented in now, in today, my feet back on the earth, not in the netherworlds of despair and fear.

This is why I am making a garden: for today. Not for questions of future or past, but to touch the earth and give thanks to God for a flower or a curvy line on the ground, or a small tree that won't be big for another ten years.

These tangible things bring me back to rest within, to thankfulness. There are other things that do, as well, but today it was being in the garden with my hands in the dirt.

*Ira Glass was talking about Crazy Town on This American Life last week, and I have to say I love the term.

(The photos are from a small village outside of Hampi that Johanna and I cycled to on our last day there. I loved the village and all the daily work going on, the small ways people made their surroundings lovelier. The banner is from that day, by the way. I feel that I have to be honest and say thataround here I am mostly on a motor scooter... eek! But that day of cycling was breathtaking.)

Just the perfect inspiration for my day (and yours!)

Here's something I'm happy to pass along.

 

 

A beautiful video made by the guys of Aradhna ~ filmed in lovely Varanasi, at the home of true friends, as well as spots around the city. Ahhhhh. Here is the translation for the song:

MUKTESHWAR by Aradhna. Verse lyrics by the late Anand Kumar.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Praise the name of the God of Liberation!
Sing my soul, Sing my soul
Those who are poor in this world
Blessed are they, blessed are they
For the kingdom of heaven is theirs
Blessed are they, blessed are they

Praise the name of God of Salvation!
Sing my soul, Sing my soul

They who mourn in this world, will have peace
The meek in this world, will rule

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Those whose hearts are pure in this world will see God
Those who make peace will be called the children of God

Praise, Praise, Praise, Praise

Our Father, who is in Heaven
Holy is your name
Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Praise the name of Mukteshwar Ji
Praise the name of Yeshu Ji
Sing my soul, Sing my soul

Reverb 10 ~ Moment

 

December 3 – Moment.

Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
(Author: Ali Edwards)

 

I have to say, this one is tough for me, and not because of a lack of alive moments. It's one thing about living in Asia: nothing ever stops. Life is brilliant, colorful, smelly and loud. I feel very alive here, and in the last year I have felt alive everywhere because nothing ever got old or over-familiar.

So I'll focus on one recent moment. One week ago exactly, I took all of the kids (there are eight altogether in our community) to the coconut grove near our house. It was time for our Saturday Devotion Circle on our rooftop, and the kids sang with us and shared thankfulness stories, but then I gathered them and took them out. 

The coconut grove is a long expanse of nothing but coconut trees that separates the beach from the houses. It's sort of like a coconut orchard, with evenly spaced rows of trees. There is one banyan tree in the whole thing; a little guy by banyan tree standards. The banyan tree, being one of the only sources of shade (the coconut grove can be unbelievably hot in the middle of the day) is a popular spot. It was about 5:00 in the evening when we settled under it on a straw mat that one of the kids carried and spread out for me. 

We talked about Jesus and the lepers, how only one came back to thank him, and we made a paper chain of thankfulness. The local young guys came out to play volleyball under the tree, and we scooted ourselves over. The light was that soft amber that comes at the end of the day. The kids finished their chain and ran off to climb another close by tree. I sat and watched them, Solo coloring beside me. I watched the colors changing, saw the laundry on a clothesline farther down in the grove. The kids laughed and quarreled in the tree. The ball escaped the volleyball players and one boy on the ground threw it back. Cheers and yells came from the makeshift volleyball court as the guys yelled to one another in Konkani. Birds flew overhead and we found an old shoe under the leaves. It smelled like the burning at the end of the day, and the sun kept moving down and I was so full of peace I could have floated away.