Gardener's paradise.

It was our own form of shopping spree and we were in heaven. 

“It’s gorgeous… I’ll take four,” is a phrase that doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. Nor do I exult in shopping sprees. Except, unless… I am in the Kamthieng Market, a blocks long garden market in Chiang Mai. Basically, shop after shop has the most gorgeous plants and trees and flowers for sale. It is a hippie’s paradise. We could have spent days there, but we limited ourselves to a few hours, roasting in the hot sun, (Leaf and I bought sombreros to keep our heads cool) while Brendan kept the kids in the air conditioning at the Tesco Lotus nearby. He watched as the kids played in the playground and stormed the arcade. We, meanwhile, stormed the garden market, determined to make the garden of our dreams.

“Avocado trees?” 

“Yes, let’s take more of them!” 

“What about these wildflowers?”

"We have to have pomegranates!"

“Let’s get three kinds of mango tree.”

“What are lamyai?” “Oh, they’re small fruit, really good. Let’s get one!” 

The enthusiasm was crazy. I quickly took photos of all the little trees, labeling them in my phone so we wouldn't forget which was which.

We are planting trees at Shekina Garden, and for the first time ever, all of us in our little community got on the curvy, sick-making bus ride to go to Chiang Mai so that we could buy trees together. We piled into the back of a song taew, which took us through the city to the market. Plants. Flowers. Heaven. We bought a lot of fruit trees that will take years to bear fruit. We bought climbers and ten crepe myrtle trees to stretch along the front of the garden, blocking the view of the new resort that is being constructed directly opposite us. (One day—the crepe myrtles are still pretty short.) When we got home I found a nursery in my yard, trees upon trees. We have planted many of them and every Friday, during gardening time, we plant more. Planting trees is always good, always right, and doing it together is a lot of fun. And a lot of work, but what beautiful work. 

Prayer.

Today I want to point you to this post written by my beautiful friend Christy. You will remember Christy and Ian, her husband, who battled leukemia and overcame with the help of a bone marrow transplant from his brother. 

They were in the middle of plans of moving to Thailand by the fall, and Christy was even here, looking at houses, when she caught an early plane back because of warning signs Ian was experiencing. He has relapsed and is in need of our prayers. They are back in the swamps of chemo and hospitals, but if there are two people more full of faith and beauty, I don't know them. These two are humble in heart, incredibly giving, and full of trust that they will be here with us within a year. Please pray with us for them. We want them in our community! We want Ian to be Well!. 

Thank you friends, I'm glad that I can trust you with this.

A Thin Layer.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. An extra bit of brilliance just before the light disappears, like a thousand invisible lamps being turned on at once. We were sitting in the sala at Shekina Garden yesterday, finishing up with meditation, bamboo leaves rustling in a strong breeze. Brendan began riding Nay’s bicycle in circles around the garden, testing it or something, I never did find out.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” our friend Beau said. “And look, he’s riding a bicycle out there.” Brendan did make quite a sight, green and golden in the weird light, cycling on the grass. 

We were drinking kombucha and I felt the kind of happy settledness that meditation brings me. We lingered, the light keeping us there, our little conversations blinking on and off. We talked about light therapy and skateboarding, and then I told some stories about the Catholic shrines in Goa, out of nowhere, related to nothing. Snippets of memories. Leaf and I walked back over the bridge together, then lingered longer beside the river, talking. We meant to head in different directions, but we were caught there, talking by the river, as the light got dimmer and dimmer and finally it was gone before I even pulled away, my headlights guiding me along the narrow street. 

Earlier in the day we had looked at land, dreaming of a future with a bigger retreat center in it. Chinua is recording everything lately, every moment, so I drove while he held the video camera and we followed Brendan and Leaf on their red motorbikes, which are forty years old and aptly named Big Red and Little Red. It was all ridiculously photogenic—Brendan with his waist-length dreadlocks and Leaf with her brilliant hair on these old, beautiful bikes. They drove side by side and chatted. Chinua filmed it all. (Filmed? Is there a different word for that these days?) 

I left quickly when I realized I was late for my afternoon tea with my friend Rowan Tree. Ro and I ate cake. We ate too much cake, the pieces were twice as big as we thought they would be. I offered Chinua some when he wandered into the café later and groaned that he couldn’t go anywhere anymore without bumping into us. He looked at me suspiciously. We are competing to reach our weight goals, (people still ask me if I’m pregnant, nearly every day) and we have been known to offer each other food as a weapon because we both want to win. But I really just wanted him to enjoy the cake with me and eat it because it was too much. He took a bite and disappeared. Ro and I talked about learning Thai and how it can be an obsession, words tumbling over each other in your brain until you think you will go crazy. I was nervous about guiding meditation because I’ve been using up a lot of my courage lately and it seems to be finite, though rechargeable. I’m not usually anxious about guiding meditation but this time I was and Rowan Tree set me at ease as she clutched her stomach and groaned “I ate too many snacks…” 

We went to my house and I finished making dinner so it would be ready while I was away and Josh was watching the kids. Once the salsa was made and the lettuce was cut, we rode off to sweep the floor of the meditation space and put the mats out. Our friends began pulling up one by one on their scooters and the sunlight slipped further along the red floor as we settled in a circle and began. 

God is our refuge and strength.

Sometimes there is difficult work to do in community. I think this particular group of friends has fooled me away from my firm belief that community is a kind of suffering. I start thinking it is all fun and games and playing in the mud and get careless. But in talking about what really matters to us and digging to find each other and dream together, a wild fear of being seen or unseen, changing beyond recognition or being misunderstood can rear its head. 

A very present help in trouble.

Past days, memories and fears and stumbling, clumsy love can make me retreat into myself, can tempt me to isolate myself. Maybe you are the same. But as soon as we try to run from the knife of suffering, the iron of community, we give up on the depth and truth of love. It is the same in marriage, in parenting. We flinch away from pain, but suffering guides us to new depths of understanding. We learn more of what God is doing as he writes his story among us. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

We sat in the circle together, our minds close and far away, and birds sang above us, and one shrieking cicada tried for all our attention. 

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. 

*From Psalm 46

Building walls together.

 Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

Everyone gets into it, from big to small.

 I finally borrowed some photos from a new friend who is visiting for a few weeks, so all but this first one are Josh’s photos- thank you so much Josh! When I went to look at what Chinua had taken of wall-building, I found, egad, that it was all video. On the unedited video I watched I saw myself make this statement: “I’ve never been happier than I am building these walls.”

What can I say? It has been a lot of work for a lot of days, and I have made mistakes and floundered a little, but sitting there in the afternoon at our beautiful garden space, the trees on the hills in the distance slowly turning red, using our hands to grab mud, smoothing it in between the bamboo lattice of our wall—oh, I am truly happy as I tell the wall that I love it and the wall tells me that it loves me too, somehow in Ro’s creepiest voice.

(There is a cast of characters that has come riding into our lives on white horses, singing loud songs. We are smitten with them, and their names will litter these pages from here on in. Get ready.)

But the mud, the mud. We take earth, beautiful red earth, and we add water to it, smoothing it and stomping it with our feet until the hard bits are gone and it is the loveliest soft mud. The kind that Kenya desires to swim in, and does. Then we add a lot of straw and rice husks and stomp more and more and more until we all fall over because mud stomping is very tiring. But what we end up with is something very pliable and soft and buildable, with long strands of straw that catch on the bamboo lattice and hold the whole thing together. 

And then we build, taking handfuls of it and moving up the walls. Neil coined the term “poo-shaped slug” to describe the shape of the mud that we form to push into the wall, and soon after the words poo-shaped slug came into our lives, a song was created, and that song worms its way through my mind for days and hours on end.

 Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Sometimes Little Gem and Leaf come along to brighten our lives. One time Leaf stomped mud with us and it sucked two of her toe rings off, so we have silver in our walls as well.

Travelers come to help us build and we initiate them into the methods of building. There is a lot of laughter. And the golden light moves across the hills and our hands are in the dirt and it’s rather hot in the middle of the day and the sun feels good on our backs. And I feel so blessed to be doing this work— I wake up thanking God for it- this work, this community, the hills and the future garden plans and the wide sky that surrounds us. 

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.