A great light.

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A people,
a people
—frail and lost in darkness of
mood, longing, and ego
desire and addiction—

have seen
a light,
a great light
So full of love
a light of dancing, moving stars
a moment, a glimpse of hope

He is coming near.
He won’t leave us here
Alone.
He will lift us
breathe on us again
and we will live

for

A child has come
a baby takes his first breath,
opens his eyes
born for us, given to us—
He will take the weight of the world.
He is the Wonderful One
the Strong-armed God
the Father who never leaves.
the Prince of Peace.
His beauty goes on and on.
David’s throne, the line back to Abraham
stretching forward into the endless future
on and on with every good thing:
right ways
right actions

Never ending love
and peace.

(A paraphrase of Isaiah 9: 2-7)

 

Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas, friends. I'm so glad to know you. 

Excellent at math.

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I've taken a break from writing after the last launch (which is going well, my loves, thanks for the reviews) and have been painting a bit. Painting, reading and writing poetry—trying to refill the creative well. I always have to remind myself that I am not a robot. I can't just program tasks for myself and then follow orders. And this applies to writing life and to home and family life. I have to be patient and kind with myself. I have to give space in the days for beauty and fun.

So painting is like breathing life into myself, like play.

Like Leafy making light sabers, or Kenya drawing face after face, in every pose and expression. Like Isaac dancing. 

(Right now I see Leafy walking past the studio door every few minutes, on his thinking circuit. He walks in a large path, throughout the day, thinking and planning. I'm fairly sure he will come up with the solution to climate change pretty soon.)

My older two kids have taken my advice about making schedules for the school day, carving the day into blocks of time when they will concentrate on individual subjects rather than facing the whole big lump of work. They're loving it. But they are learning that though schedules are helpful, they aren't kind taskmasters. We are not robots. We need to block in time for rest, too. 

(Tiny tip: the best advice I ever heard on time management is to put to-do items in the schedule, not on a list. If I want to paint, I have to block time out for it, not just add it to the end of an ever-growing list.)

But enough about lists. Here are some cool things:

- I found a spot on nearly-the-top of a mountain, and I discovered that I very much like to sit there and let the burdens and sorrows of the day flow away from me. 

- My favorite noodle lady came back to town and I have eaten at her stall three times in the last five days.

- Isaac is excellent at Math and I just found Chinua and him talking through some addition and subtraction instead of a bedtime story.

- Asha can recite a string of numbers from Pi, speaking of kids who are excellent at Math.

- Every day I am thankful that I get to shop in an open air market.

- We talked about our Christmas gathering today. We have a big one every year, and it's nearly that time again!

- Leaf and I are going on an art retreat, which we haven't done since Isaac was two months old. But we both need to get visas in Laos at the very same time, so it seems as though it was written for us.

- I'm not so bad at Math myself, although I don't have any part of Pi memorized.

- There are so many days ahead, so many days that we can fill with thinking, knitting, praying, creating. I can't count them all, I can't figure out how the hours and scheduling should work for of all them, but I know each day contains the possibility of experiencing God's love in a different way. A knitterly way. A caramel cheesecake way. A watercolor way. How good it is, flowing over us. 

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as a dollar a month, and get extra question and answer video posts and other content. Thanks so much to this month’s new patrons: Brittani Truby, Alicia Wiggin, Kathleen Anderson, Timothy Silva, and Ami Thompson. Your support keeps this writer going!

Patrons in the second tier, there is a brand new Day in the Life post for you here.  

An Epic New Year.

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The first week of January is already gone! I can hardly believe it.

With Christy, Asha and Fiona, we had a beautiful post-Christmas week, New Year's Eve, and Day, with a trip to Chiang Mai for movies and ice skating extending into coming home to set off fireworks and hand the kids sparklers. We came home at around 10:00 pm and put the little kids to bed. 

I wasn't sure I was going to make it into the New Year awake, so I took a catnap in Kenya's bed while she read beside me. At 11:30, Kai, Kenya and I started walking down to the second bamboo bridge, our traditional spot for ringing in the New Year. I've had so much fun lately with these big kids of mine. We had one epic, giggly night doing Christmas shopping in our little town, and now, moving quickly toward the New Year and the smoky night of fireworks and lanterns, I felt perfectly happy to be with them, and a little sleepy.

We were waylaid by a friend who surprised us with the fact that he was back in town, and reached the bridge as the countdown was happening, just in time to hug our friends and greet 2017.  

Then we watched as Neil gleefully set off fireworks, dancing after each one. All around us were lanterns floating into the sky, fireworks popping, people shrieking with excitement. There was one rather exciting moment when a lantern hovered too low and brushed an older Thai woman, leaving sparks glowing in her hair. 

She really didn't understand why I was running toward her, smacking at her head, so she ran away from me. I pursued her until she was cornered against an SUV and continued to smack her hair until the sparks were gone. She made disapproving noises. I forgot that I speak Thai, and gave her hair a couple of strokes to calm her, saying, "Your hair. Fire. Fire in your hair." She moved away from me quickly. My friends and kids tell me it was just as awkward to watch as it was to me, though they congratulated me on saving her. (And then laughed at me, as good friends do.) My only consolation was that her daughter saw the whole thing. I hope she explained it to her mother, so one day she can overcome her trauma and trust blondes again.

That was only the first part of the evening though, because then we went to Shekina Garden to start a fire and make chai. Many people had heard that we would be there, and everyone trickled over, forming a cozy circle around the fire. Ro and Neil, Josh and later, Chinua, played music, Olga made chapati over the fire, the chai kept coming, and our young friend Vrinda had found some marshmallows with chocolate centers that people proceeded to light on fire and eat, charred and smoking.

I peeled my kids away at 1:30, aware that we were having community lunch in the very same spot in less than 24 hours. But the music went on, and when I came to set up the next day, I learned it had gone on until 6:30 in the morning. People were bustling around, all energy, as Ro cooked, despite having slept for 2 hours. Three of the helpers had never left, curling up around the fire to sleep. 

I arrived thinking I was going to be helpful, as someone who had gotten some sleep, but when I got there, Ro was nearly dancing with energy. She gets filled up by people time, which I find baffling and endearing, as though she is a sort of strange alien. The food went out into the sala, the music kept on, and though people were slow to come, they came, and the space was full. I left at around 5:00, my chariot full of kids; Leafy, Solo, Isaac, Asha and Fiona. People were still playing music. It was an epic 24 hours of music. Fortunately our sweet neighbors enjoy hearing Chinua play Buena Vista Social Club at 4:00 in the morning.

And now we are presented with a whole year. Or maybe only a day. Or maybe only a moment. I've never been very good at living in each moment. It's something that Ian, Chinua and Christy have practiced extensively. I am remarkably resistant to contentment. So my hope for this year is that I will be kind (and not unkind), and that I will learn contentment. Not discontentment deferred until some future day (like: it will be better when I get this next book out, or when the kids grow up, or when finances are better) but contentment now, in the fullness of now as I sit with God's love directed toward me.  

Do you have any thoughts for your year? 

Fevers.

Remember that one time when the flood happened? And after we were all happy because we knew that all it would take was some good strong elbow grease and everything would be back to normal? 

Well. Then the fevers came. Dun dun dun duuuuuun. Brendan, Neil, and Heather came down with fevers and chills, and we learned about a little thing called Tropical Infection. Or Mud Fever. Or Swamp Fever. Or Swine herds’ disease. It has many names, and all of them have to do with water and mud because—dun dun duuuunn—it comes from water and mud. Or wading around in floods, looking for lost motorbikes or helping your friends try to salvage their home.

Brendan was in Chiang Mai with chills so strong they were shaking the bed. Neil needed to visit immigration for a visa extension and sad miserably through that, trying to hold it together. And Heather was throwing up in Pai, thinking that perhaps it was just a little sickness, just something that would go away… maybe tomorrow? But thanks to the grace of God, Brendan made his way to the hospital and found out about this infection and, being a very thoughtful nurse, passed the news along to the rest of us. Untreated, it can cause bad things to happen in your body. Like not good things at all having to do with liver and kidneys and lungs and stuff. Neil was admitted that day with a fever of 104.3 (40.2 for you Celcius people—I am a Celcius person who still doesn’t understand body temperature in Celcius.) And in Pai Winnie brought Heather to the hospital, did some blood work, and we got worried. The Pai hospital was full of sick people and it took five hours for her to arrive, get blood work and get the results. The rooms were full, and Heather was dehydrated. So with the help of Winnie (who took care of my kids for the night, since Chinua was away on an epic birthday adventure with Kai) I rented a car and drove the four hours (because I was slow) to Chiang Mai with Heather trying not to throw up in the passenger seat. 

Helpfully, the sky decided to get dark and then pour down rain, what we call “heavy rain” in asia. That means there are no gaps between the drops. There is just water in buckets. With a sick girl in the car, I drove very, very slowly, which was good because 1. I couldn’t see, and 2. I rounded a few corners to find rivers crossing the road. At one such river there was a man with an umbrella standing under a street light, directing us to the one safe place to cross. 

“Man with the umbrella just going to stand there all night?” Heather asked sleepily.

We got to the hospital and I tried to relax my shoulders, which felt like they were glued to my ears. We walked into the beautiful, cool, dry, spacious hospital where the people cared for Heather tenderly and with much confidence. They tsked over her dehydration as they tried to take her blood. They examined her carefully. It all felt very heavenly, except for the part where Heather and I were clutching hands and looking away because it was taking so long to get a blood sample and they were milking her arm like a cow udder. I got light-headed, which was embarrassing but typical for me. 

And then we were admitted, after midnight, ushered into another spacious room with a nice sofa. I put some lavender drops on our pillows and we slept. For a few minutes and then the doctor came. You know how it goes. But we were happy! Because that was what we signed up for! All night care, monitoring, people coming in and out of the room, all there to MAKE SURE HEATHER IS OKAY. Phew. 

Heather is young, talented, Canadian, and little (though mighty, as you know if you have teased her when you are too close to her). We sometimes shorten her name to HH. I like to call her the DLF, or the Dear Little Friend, although she is not a grumpy dwarf. She is Dear, and Little, and our Friend, and that is three for three. She’s better now, and we’re leaving the hospital today. (We were here for three nights.) 

Thoughts about the hospital here.

There is no Pokemon Go allowed in the hospital. This brings up questions of why rule needed to be implemented. People roaming around the ICU with their phones held in front of them? Hmm.

The nurses are unbelievably kind. Same with the doctors. 

After a week of lying in bed, Heather’s hair was a bit of a mess. One nurse volunteered to help her wash it. I left to get some lunch and came back to find Heather sitting on the bed with her hair in a wild cloud of knots around her head. The nurse stood with a hair dryer in one hand and a tiny comb in the other. 

“How do you do this?” she asked me in Thai. “I have no idea.” 

“I can do it,” I said. And then I combed Heather’s hair like we were at a sleepover. It was awesome.

Ro and Neil came to visit. Neil looked a bit rough. They helped themselves to the Ovaltine in our room and in the space of half an hour, Ro said more words and made us laugh more than we had laughed in forty-eight hours. Every introvert should have an extrovert friend. Neil married his very own and he is lucky. They bring the verve and fun. They blow into a space and with them comes something that smells like Himalaya mountain air. Adventure, in other words.

Our plucky sick friends are spread around Chiang Mai. My family and Josh and Nay’s family, and our dear Pai friends are back in Pai. This is all very strange. We are used to community rhythms of meditation, gardening, and food together, nearly every day. We’ve had a lot of joy lately, a lot of dancing (even Brendan in a tiger suit) and fun. We’ve gone through some difficult talks and decisions and still came out laughing. And then came floods and fevers, making us live life on the survival level as we are all separated and helping our recovering patients.

Today we’re leaving the hospital. I’m traveling back to my family full up on love, ready to help my oldest boy celebrate his birthday. I think in some ways weird moments make you feel brand new, make you realize God’s love in different ways. I can totally see his love in these moments, and I am thankful.

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.