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

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

What is my use, that I may accept it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Thing: Contentment


About a week and a half ago, my friend Josh and I drove out to a Karen village for a visit. I knew I wanted to take some of my kids, but not all of them. I picked Kenya, Solo, and Isaac, and we went to meet our friend Sarah and her husband and baby, following their truck out to the village. They had told us about a little family who needs a new house, since theirs is falling down: just a simple bamboo hut with a leaf roof. We at Shekina get to help with it, and this was the initial trip, time to meet the couple and the elders of the village.

We drove for an hour and a half on roads that disappeared and reappeared at will, switching back, becoming dirt, then inexplicably concrete for a few meters. Up steep, teak tree-covered hills and down. Josh played music that I didn't know I had on my phone, snapping photos out of the window. The kids bounced around in the back seat and we all gaped at the views that we could barely see from the haze.

There were so many things from that day, the meeting with elders that we were privileged to attend, the way that I really made an error in judgement, picking Isaac to come, but then it didn't turn out to be such an error after all, since he eventually settled in and decided to enjoy himself. (He's at an age of strange, inappropriate announcements, and I'm often glad the people around me can't speak English: "I don't want to be in this horrible place! I don't like this house!" Ack. Kill me! It was a day of bribes.)

There were even tiny pigs, but the one thing, just this one moment, happened after we went to a surprise church service (I have been in situations like this before, where I don't really understand what is going to happen, and then we walk into a place and I realize that we're going to Karen church and also that I'm going to pray at the front. Oh! We're doing this now! It is the spice of life. They also asked Josh to sing several times, and he tried to throw me on the bus by telling them I was a good singer, which is not even true.) So we had finished with that and then we ate together, mixing the food we brought with the food Sarah's parents made, in a loose grouping on the floor, which we sat around, filling our plates with rice and bites of other deliciousness.

And then Sarah said, "I think we'll take a rest before we go out to the other village and see the house. You can sleep downstairs if you like." 

Josh went for a walk to photograph the village, but I knew what I wanted to do. I used to be a snob about naps. Now I love them. I lay down on a mattress on the floor, downstairs, and after a while Sarah's mom came and offered to take my kids out to feed the fish and go to the store for snacks. And that was when it happened. This moment.

I lay there, downstairs in the wooden house, and looked at the afternoon light streaming in the windows. A fan oscillated, and little breezes came through the open windows (no glass, just wooden shutters). I heard koel birds and roosters, and thousands of cicadas. There was about 45 minutes where I was the only one there. I don't know what it was, maybe just being invited to lie down in this simple wooden village house, the cool of the underneath of the house on a hot day, or the mother who had fed me and taken my kids for a walk. I could hear murmuring, those cicadas, and distant birds, and I felt a contentment that seemed to soak into every molecule I had. I drifted in and out of awareness, and I smiled every time I realized I was still there, in that room, in that village. Content. 

This and that.

1. Things I love:

The lake we visited the other day
Lighting sections in hardware stores
Noodle shops
My oldest son slinging an arm around my shoulders to reassure me in the scary parts of a movie ("Are you okay, Mom?") 
Leafy asking me, as his first question of the morning, "Mom, what is Ro's current hair color? I forget" and me answering, "Blue."
Isaac in the morning, a revelation every time

2. Sometimes I don't know how much my friends want to be the subject of my writing, so I don't write about them to the degree that they are in my life. We have a community, we work together to make the things we do. They are in my life, very much, woven in. 

Leaf, Winnie and I sat together last week and talked about the kitchen project that we're working on at Shekina Garden. I'm buying us a new stove and fridge, and figuring out how to resurface the concrete countertop. Winnie is working on getting the carpenter to put new grass on the roof, and she will paint the floor. Leaf is a fairy of organization, everything loved and in its place. Later we'll paint some designs on the concrete. 

Sitting and figuring out work and plans together is full of joy. They are both kind and wise women. 

3. The hot season isn't nearly as bad as last year. It is hot, but so far, under 40 degrees Celsius. Dry leaves skitter across the hot ground. I try not to be out in the middle of the day. Cicadas screech from the trees. My friend Brendan told me they peed on him, little drops of water as he drove his scooter under them. We can barely see the mountains through the haze, but still there is a kind of pastel, smokey beauty to everything. So poignant I can barely stand it.

4. My trip to share and guide workshops is funded, but my family and I are asking for help with funding our trip home to visit our families in Canada and the US. They will meet me there at the beginning of June, if all goes as planned. Our GoFundMe campaign lives here: Thank you for sharing and helping. 

Airplane thoughts


The other day I was on a plane heading for Bangkok, where I needed to renew my passport, and as we flew, I was trying to wrestle with the churning in my stomach. The churning was not from the flight. I'm starting to believe that turbulence does not equal crash time. It was from fear. 

I'm planning a trip for next month. It's a month of teaching and guiding meditation, speaking, and sharing about my community at Shekina. It's something Chinua and I have been talking about and planning for months, but as the days fly by, it is becoming more real. Thus, terrifying.

Fear is no new thing in my life.   I know how to meet it and speak to it. Ask it questions. "What do you think will happen if you leave your family for a month?" They'll miss me. "Will they be unsafe?" No.

I watched the sky and the earth outside the airplane window. I saw the great shadows of clouds on the ground. I knew that it was very hot down there, in central Thailand at the end of March, and that the moment the sun went behind a cloud would be a little bit of respite. "Ah, that's nice," people might think. "I feel less like the sun is burning through my skull." And I was on the other side of the clouds. Looking down from above the shadow, able to see its whole shape. Maybe every one of those cloud shadows had a person, or two, or three, thinking, "Ah, that's nice. A bit of shade." 

There were many rivers and streams. I could pick them out by their impossible curves.  

There are many reasons I am afraid. I worry about what I cannot see, and things I have never done before. For some reason, I am worried about being somewhere for a long time without my family. I am worried about what it means. There has been so much emotional shifting going on in me lately. What if I shift beyond what I can understand?  

It points to my lack of control. I can't see everything at once. And to love people, I don't need to have them close. To belong to them, I don't need to be right beside them.  

From the plane, all of the Thai cities seemed to be built around rivers, following their impossible curves so that the whole city was shaped like a fat river itself.

Just because a thing is something we haven't done before doesn't make it not doable. Chin and I both felt it. We both felt it was time for something sweet, like a journey of sharing and teaching, reconnecting. I can count on this, when my feelings are about as stable as a plane in turbulence. 

The people in the shadow of the clouds could not see the edges of the cloud, the way I could, up there in my plane.  They didn't know what its actual shape was, from above, or that it stretched from them right to the next field. The whole world felt shaded to them, though they were in a small circle.

I cannot control things by seeing them. 

When we drew close to the city, things were suddenly square and grid-like, laid out in rows and rows, perfect houses and streets beside man-made square ponds.

I think I would rather follow the shape of the river, even if I can't see in straight lines. I think I would always like to do new things.

One Thing: Daughter


Suddenly, swiftly, it seems, we are in the midst of giants. Tall, lanky people who stride through the world, rather than toddling after us. We are blessed. One of our giants is Kenya, the girl of our family, the one with four brothers who draws and designs her own world. Our artist girl. And she has turned thirteen. She is lovely, as she has been since she was a baby and held her hands up like a princess when she was carried from room to room.  

She has climbed, cycled, wrestled, drawn, and sculpted her way through her days. She is the whisperer of animals and babies. She is no stranger to the wild emotions of life, and yet she handles them with trust, emerging back into joy. I love my girl.