A Day in December

IMG_0080.JPG

On my way to get coffee I drove past a house with no yard. Laundry was hung wet on a metal rack by the front door, so close to the road that I nearly touched it as my chariot rattled by. Clothes. Some underwear, a t-shirt, a little pair of ruffled shorts. All of it various shades of salmon or peach. It caught my eye as I went by, all these pink hues, like a gentle sunset.

Tears.

I cry often, lately. It has been a hard year.

The other day I watched as a group of construction laborers got off work at 5:00, near a busy intersection in Chiang Mai. I’ve seen them many times before; they’re building a skyscraper at one of the longest lights in the city, so I end up stuck, watching them cross the street at the end of the day, still wearing their hard hats. They’re always laughing and talking, sometimes giggling as they run across the intersection. They look Keren to me; they wear beautiful handwoven bags, rubber boots, and many of them wear straw hats under their hard hats. They are short men and women who have labored all day in the sun. They are beautiful, almost too beautiful.

When other things fail, there is always prayer. My voice fails, my ability to reason, my confidence. But there is prayer, whispered prayer in the night, prayer in my heart, prayer over pots of food on the stove. Prayer as I slice vegetables, prayer as the world never stays put.

Christy and the girls are here with us in our home for Christmas. I love them so much. They are beautiful, almost too beautiful. Christy never changes. We are still both addicted to pens and books. She still carries beautiful things around the world with her. She is deep, spiritual, honest, passionate. Grief only seems to have altered her in ways that make her more like Jesus. I’m not sure the same can be said for me. I’ve been angry all year. I’ve felt anger this year beyond anything I’ve ever felt before, and it’s not only around the unfairness of death. Anger in me gets directed toward my friends, my kitchen drawer that is falling apart, my sidecar, the people who practice driving scooters in front of my house. It doesn’t come out, usually. It rages along, like a quiet fire, within.

But these last few days, it has been sadness that has come to the surface, properly, not sideways. I have been crying.

I never saw Ian sick. I was always here, on this side of the world, through all of it. Chinua was there, Christy was always there. But I was here and I saw him well and healthy, and then he was gone. It’s only starting to feel real now that we are three friends at the table instead of four. We are diminished.

Our little families sit together in the evenings, sometimes, reading Bible stories and talking about Advent. The other night, I asked the kids what brings them peace. They all had similar answers: drawing, music, nature. Solo said sucking his thumb (very rare for him these days, but I guess he still does it sometimes) and little Fiona agreed. “When I suck my thumb,” she said, “I feel so cozy, and like Abba is right here.” She’s talking about her daddy, who is on the eternal side.

Tears. Quiet fire of anger. But more tears.

Advent. The approach of Emmanuel, the footsteps that thunder toward us, shouting “Peace! Peace on the world!” Everywhere I turn, there are refugee stories. The world and little grieving girls call out in their need for peace, tangible peace that comes from somewhere else, some Godly, ethereal, dazzling place. Warmth and love and healing beyond measure. Oh how we need the eternal coming of Christ more than ever. We are drowning in our need for Jesus. We need him, we can try to drive him away with our anger, but we need him to come, to touch us, to change us.

I saw a couple arguing on their motorbike in Chiang Mai. We drove on the same road for many miles, stopping at the same intersection. They appeared to be arguing about directions. They were completely silent, because they were speaking in sign language, which made the fact that they were arguing on a motorbike even more interesting, the man swiveling to shoot contemptuous, know-it-all looks at the woman as they argued about what part of Chiang Mai had the worst traffic at this time of day. (I would assume.)

I didn’t see her face, I can only conclude that she was giving him plenty of her own looks. I believe they loved each other, that they were just bickering, that traffic got to them, that a hard day of work had their weariness coming out sideways, silently, at the red lights. I believe there was peace for them when they got home, peace for those construction laborers, some rice and a cozy place. I believe there is peace for all of us, coming toward us on loud feet, approaching with a sound like thunder. You wouldn’t expect it to be so loud, but it needs to shake us out of our anger, bring us back to a cozy place. Like he is right here.

Path of Springs Launch Day!

Today is the day! Path of Springs, my newest little bird, flies out into the world.

New news? As of right now, my books are available in every ebook store. You can pick your store of choice on my books page here.

If you haven't read World Whisperer yet, what are you waiting for? Here's the link to buy your copy. 

Here's the link for Path of Springs (World Whisperer Book 2).

And I started a Facebook group for discussion of the series. You can find that here.

The paperback version is almossssst ready. I'll let you know as soon as it is.

Continue on for your excerpt of Path of Springs. As always, thank you for all your support, reviews, encouragement, and purchases. You are the best readers ever, in all of life, in the universe. 

 

PATH OF SPRINGS

CHAPTER 1

 

Western Worker village, Shore of the Great Sea

 

The first time she saw the giant bird was the day she gave birth to her baby boy. Jerutha paced, gasping for air, while pain like hot knives spread from the lowest part of her belly to the very tips of her fingers. She walked the small birthing room wildly, shoulders held against the pain, and took a deep breath.

She tried humming as the spasm subsided. The birthing room she had prepared was peaceful at least. The herbs she had tied to the doorway released their gentle scent into the air. The walls were white and clean, and a few squares of sunshine fell across the simple mattress on the floor. She breathed. The ache in her heart hurt more than anything. She wanted her stepdaughter, Isika. She wanted her mother.

She couldn’t have either of them, and the old midwife wouldn’t be much comfort, coming only at the end of her labor to help the baby into the world. Focus on the baby, she told herself. When she had her child in her arms, she wouldn’t be so lonely. Now, though, she had no one except her husband, Nirloth, the old village priest. Not so long ago, the house had been full of life. But Nirloth’s stepchildren—Isika, Benayeem, Ibba, and Kital—were gone, and she missed them desperately. Since they left, a gray haze had covered the house as Nirloth grew sicker. His death seemed imminent. He skipped many days of temple work, and the villagers grew nervous that the goddesses would retaliate in anger. 

Jerutha paced and swung her arms, preparing herself for the next wave of pain. What she would really like was to go into the forest to have her baby. Or to the sea. She could sit on its shores and let the pain drift out into the water. But she must stay in this room, alone until the midwife came. Another pain ripped through her and she gasped. She fumbled for the birthing ropes she had tied to the rafters, gripping them until her knuckles were white. The pain subsided, and she exhaled. The spasms were coming more quickly now. She whimpered, afraid. How could she do this alone? No one had ever told her just how much it would hurt.

 Just when her terror felt unbearable, there was a breath of sweet-smelling air and a bird landed in the birthing room doorway. Jerutha froze. The bird was massive, as black as midnight, though when it lifted its wings, its feathers gleamed like jewels, purple and red in the light. She couldn’t move from fear. A strange sound, a hum overlaid with words, came from the bird, though Jerutha could not say how. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the bird said. “Rest.” 

It sang a low, quiet song, and Jerutha’s terror and loneliness eased until she was filled with warmth and comfort. She lay on the mattress and dozed between pains. When she woke, the bird was gone. The midwife arrived and she rose to grasp the birthing ropes and deliver her son into the world. 

 

The midwife checked the baby over silently. She bathed him, then Jerutha held her baby in her arms for the first time. A son. He moved his little mouth, searching for food, so she held him to her breast and he moved his face back and forth until he found her and latched on. She nursed him a long time, and when he seemed satisfied, she held him out in front of her. He opened his eyes and looked at her—a little mouse-bright creature, soft and new. She kissed him all over his face and marveled over his tiny body, his miniature hands and feet. A fleeting thought drifted through her mind. Who was the bird? How had he granted her this strange peace?

Jerutha and her newborn son lay curled together for hours, feeding and sleeping. The old midwife went home after she brought Jerutha the day’s food; a weak porridge, filled today with chopped green vegetables for strength. She was staring at the baby’s perfect, sleeping face again when a shadow fell over her. She looked up, expecting to see Nirloth, but was startled to see four strange men, dressed in the robes of priests, standing on the ground of their courtyard. It was unspeakably rude to tread on another family’s grounds except for extreme circumstances. Jerutha’s heart beat rapidly as she covered herself. 

“Woman,” one of the men said, and she shivered at the sound of his voice. “Dress yourself and attend us.” 

“Lord,” she said, because though she didn’t know who he was, he was clearly a man of great power. “I have given birth to a new son, not five hours ago.”

“We have grave business with your husband and it cannot wait,” the man said.

“Oh, but he is very sick,” Jerutha replied, her heart still tapping a rapid, terrified rhythm.

“We know, and that is why it cannot wait. Please dress and attend us.”

 

They turned and walked toward the house, and Jerutha knew they would go to Nirloth whether or not she was there. Wanting to spare him, she sat up and pulled her heavy outer dress over her head, wincing at the stiffness in her muscles, the pain in her abdomen. She may not have felt much love for the old man, but pity twisted in her gut as she thought of him lying alone in his bed. She picked up her baby and held him close, tucking his soft head under her chin. She felt the fierceness of her love for the tiny creature, the way it was already forming her, shaping her into something stronger than she had ever been, yet helpless to save them from whatever would happen next.

The men stood around Nirloth’s sleeping pallet in the dim room. Their faces looked repulsed as they stared down at the old man. He sat up and shifted so his back leaned against the wall. 

“Jerutha,” he said, as she entered. “Prepare some tea for these men.” His voice was weak.

She stared at him, but he didn’t look at her again. Surely he hadn’t missed seeing the baby in her arms. She bowed her head and went to the kitchen, anger sparking deep within her. Who were these other priests? She wouldn’t have lost her stepchildren if it wasn’t for the ways of priest and goddess.

Isika, Ben, Ibba and Kital were considered outsiders because they had walked out of the desert from an unknown place with skin as richly black as the losh trees that surrounded the Worker village. The Workers had finally succeeded in driving the children away, even if by accident. Jerutha felt her anger flame higher, remembering. Isika and Ben had fled to rescue their brother when Nirloth, in the way of the Workers, had sacrificed him to the goddesses, sending him out to the deep ocean in a tiny boat. Had they succeeded in rescuing him? Where were they now? Were they safe? She laid her baby in a nest of blankets and bent to revive the fire, then filled the kettle and put it over the flames for tea.

Her mind raced. Who were these men? She had heard rumors, only whispers, really, of other villages, other Workers, but she had never seen one before. They seemed like priests, they were dressed like priests, but she had never before considered that Nirloth might have men to answer to. She stood frozen as she listened to what the men were saying. 

“Nirloth, you have allowed too many cracks to enter the structure of this village,” the man who had spoken to Jerutha said. “You haven’t made the required sacrifices, the temple is filthy, and, worst of all, you brought black outsiders to work in the temple. You have ruined this village, its power is diminished and the favor of the goddesses is no longer upon it.”

Jerutha heard her husband gasp, his breath becoming jagged and choked. Her heart caught in her chest and she scooped up her baby and ran into the room. He sat, clutching at his chest, and she rushed to him and helped him lie on his side. The man droned on, heedless of Nirloth’s distress. Jerutha stared up at the strange priest. His face was a shadow in the darkness of the room.

“The goddesses are angry. You are no longer priest of this place, Nirloth. Hakar will take your place here and you will be his servant.”

Nirloth continued to gasp for breath. He turned away from Jerutha without even glancing at the baby in her arms, and pressed his face to the wall. Jerutha looked up at the men. 

“Please,” she said. “You have said what you came to say. Please let him rest.”

They looked at her and slowly one of the men, who hadn’t yet spoken, nodded. He put his hand on the arm of the spokesman, and the four of them turned to leave. Jerutha nestled the sleeping baby beside her and turned to put an arm around Nirloth, who was shaking, his face still pressed to the wall. 

 

He didn’t live through the night. The only thing he said to Jerutha was something she barely heard. 

“Tell Isika I’m sorry,” he whispered. A few hours later, she stood and left the shell of her husband, walking out to the birthing room in shock. She lay on the mattress and nursed her new son. Nothing felt real and she was afraid.

She watched, numb, as over the next days, the strange priests performed the funeral rituals. She worried about what would become of her and her son. Even in her grief and fear, the tiny boy was clutching at her heart, a perfect being who comforted in the endless nights of worry.

The priests left the village without saying when the new priest would come back. During the weeks that followed, Jerutha settled into a kind of life that was hard and lonely, but peaceful; making porridge in the morning, tying the little baby to her so she could work in the garden. She began selling her vegetables in the market, leaving herself only the ones that were misshapen or overripe. The coins she gained helped her to buy grain for the porridge. 

The baby was remarkably good. He blinked at her when she bathed him in the warmth of midday, and he grew more solid as the days went on, smiling at her when her heart felt unbearably lonely. The people of the village complained and muttered because there was no priest, and Jerutha felt as though she was always looking over her shoulder, waiting for more trouble to appear. She didn’t know what would happen when the new priest arrived. She supposed she would move into her brother’s house, though it was too small. She thought often of her mother in those days. Jerutha’s mother had wandered into the desert, insane, when Jerutha was young. She had never recovered from her first daughter being given over, sacrificed to the sea long before Jerutha was born. Jerutha missed her and wished hopelessly for a familiar hand on her shoulder on the loneliest days. Sometimes when she felt the most despair, she smelled a fragrance like the one the bird had brought with it, and she looked up, but didn’t see anything.

The moon grew and shrank four times and the baby could laugh, but Jerutha didn’t see the bird again. She wondered about it often. Was it the result of a labor dream, or had it been real?

The priests finally came back on an afternoon when the sun had leached the color out of the sky. Three this time. One marched straight into the temple and began to ring the bells and burn the incense. The other two strode into the house, going from room to room, muttering to each other. Jerutha tried to make herself small, but she couldn’t help overhearing what they said. 

“We will take the widow to Batta,” one said to the other. “The high priest wants her. She is young and already has a baby, perhaps he will marry her. If not, another priest will.” 

Jerutha felt the blood leave her face. She stumbled out to the garden. She fell to her knees on the ground, the baby banging against her ribcage, tied to her front with a long strip of cloth. He made a tiny sound of protest, and she sobbed. What were they bringing her to? How could she protect her son? She looked around wildly, thinking of running out into the wilderness, away from priests and men. But she sat back in the dust, knowing she wouldn’t survive alone with a baby. She cried until she couldn’t cry anymore and sat staring without seeing.

A shadow crossed the golden afternoon light in the vegetable garden she had planted with Isika, many months before. She felt a stirring of air and smelled the sweet breeze from her birthing day. Despite itself, her heart lifted. She looked up to see the bird standing before her. It was not as large as she remembered. It was taller than her as she sat there, but her memory had made it taller than a standing man. The colors rippled through its feathers as it opened and closed its wings once. Jerutha felt a strange rush of hope as the bird spoke. 

“Isika gave you a promise before she left,” the bird said, once again making its words flow into the air around Jerutha in a way she couldn’t see. “She told you she would help you if you called for her. Tell me, young one. I will pass on your message.” 

Jerutha gasped as hope blazed up in her heart. And then she began to speak.

Continue... Buy now.

 

 

 
 

 

Path of Springs Cover Reveal!

Dear ones, in the midst of Advent preparations and getting my house ready for three very special guests, (Christy and the girls are coming!) I am releasing a book. In just five more days, Path Of Springs will be out in the world!

Chinua and I are both artists, (what that means is that we have a house full of children who get moody and emotional when their creations don't turn out the way they were hoping- we are an tempestuous household, not one of those chill households you hear rumors about) and we have collaborated before, but this was particularly satisfying. I drew the characters and he took what I made and created designs around my drawings. 

We remade the first cover as well, because as much as I love the artwork of Isika that my friend Tom made, I showed my cover to a group of booky people and they didn't guess the right genre at all. So we went back to work, as you do.

Here's what we made:  

IMG_0076.JPG

Isika. 

IMG_0077.JPG

And Benayeem.  

I love all my characters, but I particularly love these two. 

If you haven't read World Whisperer yet, why for? You have some catching up to do!  (You can buy it here.)

I'll be back soon with an excerpt for you. Till then, be well in this beautiful advent season.

The gap.

IMG_0043.JPG

The world turns over and morning comes again, a pure, slight, yellow thing. It is so happy. I give it the side-eye. Am I ready to accept that the old things fall off? That yesterday was yesterday? The whole world is full of its psychology, the effect of past and future and the tides of human sorrow and incompetence. It doesn't seem like we can actually let yesterday go, when it has consequences that go on forever.

And yet we have morning. Impossible every day, that the light comes back, it is not gone.  

Isaac marches sleepily downstairs every morning, his arms full of clothes that he has pulled from his drawers. He finds me in the studio, where I am always working away at books and illustrations, and sits beside me. He lists his imaginary friends for me, who are more like imaginary warriors. There is Hulk Buster Sword (swoid, in his peculiar Brooklyn-esque accent), F'Isaac, Magic F'Isaac (who is invisible and often comes on errands with us, perched behind me on the motorbike) and a bunch with ever-changing names that I suspect (just between you and me) that Isaac makes up on the spot. Their names are things like Cono and Eeemy. All of these fighting strong guys surround Isaac every day. And at the center of their circle, he sits on my lap and snuggles into me as often as he can.

I have my own fighting guys. Some unwelcome. The Anxious Hot-head. The Fight Without Reason. Ranter. Beast of Unexpressed Grief. And then there is one who is always welcome, but like Magic F'Isaac, she's invisible. I can see her if I don't look straight at her, rather looking into sparkling rivers or the last light of the day, illuminating the grasses. She stands just beyond, her silhouette like a long line, a smudge of brightness, happiness, ready to fight for more days, ready to try again. To relate well, to be the brave one. She marches downstairs with her arms full of clothes in the morning. 

Here, the house stirs, and Leafy begins his daily walk. Around the garden, behind the house, over to the well, circling back. His mind is full of ideas, he doesn't like to be called out of them, but we can reach him if we try. He skips and runs when he thinks of something particularly exciting. Last night he busked for the first time this season; just a 10-year-old boy and his melodica, sitting on the curb, playing the Star Wars theme song. My heart is unbearably tender toward him.

Yesterday my Thai teacher asked me why Kai dragged Solo across the floor in a sleeping bag. I sighed and held my head in my hands. Our Thai teacher comes once a week to teach Leafy and Solo, and most of the time, I can get the other kids to be quiet during the lesson. But not always. 

"Because," I told her, "Isaac lay on the floor and kicked Solo, and then Solo kicked Isaac back, and Kai told Solo to stop, but Solo didn't listen, so Kai decided that the only way to solve it was to angrily drag Solo across the floor in his sleeping bag, Solo yelling all the way, in the middle of your lesson. He had the best of intentions. It's only his methods that are lacking. Plus, a man was cutting tiles across the street and the sound made us all lose our minds a bit."

We don't do simple around here very well. Every single action has layers of complexity. There are always other kids who want a turn, or more mouths than bites, or tiles being cut, or feelings that are hurt. When I want simplicity, I stare at the sky, so wide and blue. Looking back at life, I feel unbearably tender toward Kai, trying his best to help the situation, fumbling it a bit, dealing with my consequent annoyance. 

I've had all these theological questions lately. They zoom around my head, like dragonflies, or mayflies, getting caught in my hair, my teeth.

If I have such a hard time relating, can God love me? Can he relate to me? There are many of us in the world who feel cut off from others. Can they relate to God? If it is all about relationship, and there is some cut, some gap in the heart between self and others, am I in the family in the same way? These may sound like casual questions, but they have had me gasping in fear and grief this week, ready to call it quits, to not try anymore. 

But I glance to the side and see her there, my warrior who is barely visible, up in the morning, her arms full of clothes. She is not alone, I see. Jesus, her companion, stands with her, a shimmer, a light within her. She is ready to try, and he has run toward her, meeting her where she cannot cross, finding her in the gaps. He is determined, his heart is unbearably tender toward her.  

 

A Pond and my New Book

IMG_0040.JPG

Today I have a pond for you. 

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

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

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

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

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

These are some true things: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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