Christmas Day-- Updated

We have beautiful new beginnings around here. On the eve of Christmas Eve, Isaac took his first step, and on Christmas Eve his first tooth shone up at us when he was eating his dinner, making him our earliest walker and latest teether. (Seven months- no teeth, eight months? Still nope. Nine months, ten months, nary a tooth to be found! But at nearly eleven months, one little white spot shines forth like a star.)

The temperature dropped about a week ago, making us all shivery and blue. It doesn't get that cold- the lowest has been about 6 degrees Celsius (43 Fahrenheit) but we have no heat and a very drafty, non airtight house with gaps between the boards--also, an outdoor kitchen-- so we shiver all over the place until the sun comes up at 10:00 and the temperature goes back up. We have headcolds. I had a hot toddy last night and my life was changed.

And Christmas is here. I have not cried, neither do I feel like crying, breaking tradition in a huge way, and I keep wondering why on earth I feel so good. I think I have put my finger on the November-December fast of Chinua and ease of life that living with the back up parent gives, and the relief and love I feel now that he is here. (He arrived on the 20th and we kissed the bus driver who delivered him to us. Not really.)

I feel like all my world shines with a bright light, I am not worried about whether I have done enough this year (I'm sure I haven't) or whether my kids are experiencing the Christmas of my childhood (they're definitely not) or anything at all. There is a fine glow all around, and perhaps it is that I focused on Advent more this year, though not in any craft-oriented way but in an inner constancy, every day waking up a little more excited. Jesus is coming, we get to live it again. And he has come and he is coming and the weary world rejoices. This is my life, to live a life of devotion to the one who shines such a bright light back into my little life, through fasting and feasting, through Christmases when I could barely stop crying from homesickness and anxiety, to ones like this one, where I keep checking my mental state like a watch, wondering why on earth I feel so normal, to live this life and invite others into it, to invite them into meditation and the warmth of God's spirit and the magic of God in a person who lived and lives and will live forever. And though sometimes it is very hard, and my loneliness feels like a tangible person, like a person standing beside me while I'm cooking outside in the dark on a cold night, or when I'm using the wrong Thai words in the market and embarrassing myself, or when I think of Goa with physical longing, it is such a genuine privilege, and I'm finally getting it (is this thirty-three?) that it couldn't matter less whether I do it all right or the same as anyone else, or whether this Christmas resembles all the Christmases before or whether it is only itself, a day like no other. We are here, we are loved, the wide blue sky is radiant with the generosity of God's spirit, the kids are happy, they're going to be fine, the presents are great, the food will nourish us, we'll keep trying to love each other, we could do it all better, and we're going to have all the days ahead to try.

And now I will go play Monopoly with my family, even though Chinua claimed the iron piece just minutes before I could.

Have the very best, most restful, joyful Christmas you can, beloved ones.

Update: I spoke too soon. There were tears, at the very end of the day, as I stood watching a fast-moving river with Isaac in the baby carrier and a frantic, not well-handled get-out-the-door-now exodus to a Christmas party behind me.

But really, it's probably good, because although we had a peaceful Christmas, it's good to know that I'm still Rachel after all. I might not even be me without the annual Christmas cry.

Also, a lot of my new, shiny! Easy-going nature! might be put down to the fact that Chinua and I were home by ourselves with the kids all day. The word "social" is in "social anxiety" for a reason, you know! But I'm still claiming it as a triumph! And everything else in the post still stands. Love to you 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.

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If you were crossing a high-swinging bridge and trying to aim for the other side, if you were trying to have beautiful eyes, to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face, and you were sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, missing your husband like crazy while trying to be upbeat and content as a good example for your kids, what would be an extremely encouraging event for you? Do you know?
Because I think that having a good friend, a friend that you have known and loved for years and years, come to visit you with her two little ones would be just the ticket.

Everyone in our family lights up when friends visit us. We come alive. And these friends are so dear to our hearts. Christy and her kids are here! Chinua went to help take care of his friend Ian when Ian was in quarantine after he had a bone marrow transplant, and now Ian’s wife, Christy—who is a long time friend of ours, from even before we knew Ian—and their kids, Asha and Fiona, have come to keep us company and make us laugh. I’m a very blessed girl.
We have six more days or something until Chinua gets back. I’m not sure because Chinua doesn’t know exactly when he will be on the bus to Pai, so we’ll continue to estimate on the long side.

The other night I was on the street, talking to someone I know about when Chinua would be coming back, and I kept saying, “In a week or more, hopefully,” as though there was a question about whether he was coming home or not. And I couldn’t stop saying it, giving the person the wrong idea entirely.

It’s like the time Chinua was singing his beautiful song “Ouagadougu” that he wrote for me, and he introduced it by saying, “One time my wife went to Africa and she was pregnant when she came back,” and I could feel everyone’s eyebrows shooting back into their hairlines, and they were all thinking, “floozy,” and I turned bright red. “You have to be careful how you say that,” I told Chinua afterward. “Let them know I was also pregnant before I went away.”

And from then on, he was careful. I have to learn the same lesson. Everyone, Chinua is definitely coming back! I’m just not sure what day because we’re no good with itineraries and we don’t want to do the airplane math because the international date line confuses us!

The pretend end of the world.

This is the look that Wookie gives me when she wants a treat.

We had never heard them that loud before.

Yesterday was the Thai king’s birthday, and since we were in India at this time last year, we’ve never been in Thailand when this major holiday is celebrated. We could witness a lot of it, since the back of our house is right up against the municipal government buildings, where many holidays are celebrated. All the government officials were out in their military dress in the morning, with gleaming medals on their chests, there were parades, and marching bands, and monks chanting, and flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. (The king’s color is yellow.)

Kenya helped me make dinner early so that we could watch a movie after, for our movie night. I was just about to get Isaac to bed, when the loudest fireworks I’ve ever heard started going off. They were directly above our house, exploding and then falling all around us.

The level of chaos that ensued in the next five minutes and into the rest of the night hit us like a shock wave from the impact of the fireworks. There was a terrified runaway dog, a screaming baby, a wailing five-year-old, a shouting seven-year-old, and a desperate girl and boy, nine and eleven years old. The fireworks were deafening and so very close, and each of us made a frantic grab at Wookie’s leash as she took off running out the door, driven crazy with fear because clearly it was the END OF THE WORLD. She couldn’t even hear us calling. She ran around the yard but couldn’t get away from the END OF THE WORLD so she ran out the gate and down the street. I sprinted after her, barefoot, and was passed by Kai, who raced after her for all he was worth, but she was just too fast.

Things got crazier. Our neighbor came over to hold Isaac while I got on the scooter with Solo and tried to find her. Kai came back eventually, winded, sobbing that she was too fast and she had gone down to the bridge, every one of my kids began wailing, Leafy shouting that we had to tell people because one of the big street dogs was going to kill her, I wound my way between tourists in the evening market, shouting her name and asking people if they’d seen her. I came across Kai, Kenya and Leafy, with two neighbor children, showing the many police officers a picture of our dog, right after one of the police officers had told me that they had our dog at the police station.

Solo and I pulled up at the police station and there was a young backpacker holding Wookie in his arms. He had seen her running frantically into traffic and grabbed her leash, he said, just before she ended up under the wheel of a car. I nearly adopted him on the spot, uncaring of whether he wanted to be adopted or not. I thanked him two hundred and twenty-six times, took my little dog on the scooter and drove back down the street, through the walking street night market—the t-shirt sellers and noodle stalls, the Pai postcard sellers, the meat-on-a-stick sellers, the pad Thai stalls, and the Turkish kebab guy who always calls out to be as I go past, and tries to fill my pockets with meat from his meat-wheel (what are those things called?) whenever he sees me.

Isaac was still crying when I got home, and I washed my arms quickly (Wookie had pooped all over herself in her fear) and took my baby from our kind auntie neighbor, and calmed him down. The kids greeted Wookie with tears and hugs and told me in many different ways about how scared they had been. I got Isaac to sleep and cleaned Wookie up. We had been planning to watch Home Alone for movie night, but it was too scary for Solo and I wanted to watch something all together. His call was Madagascar, but we’ve seen all the Madagascar movies many times, so I put The Penguins of Madagascar on YouTube and partly watched, partly cuddled our dog, who was still very scared, and partly went upstairs to get Isaac back to sleep whenever more fireworks would go off (in the distance, thankfully) and he woke up again.

We prayed and thanked God together for helping us to get Wookie back, and everyone went to bed and drifted off to sleep. I was left feeling extremely thankful. I was thankful for the fact that we know everyone on our street and that they banded together to help us find our dog. I was thankful that we found her. I was thankful for Thai police and kind backpackers, for a place where I didn’t worry at all when I found my kids running around on the street talking to the police and others about a lost dog. I was proud of Kai and Kenya for being innovative and brave, speaking to strangers in Thai, asking if anyone had seen their little white dog. (They are still very shy with the Thai they are learning.)

I was thankful for my house, for getting past the hard parts of learning about a place, for the fact that when someone told me to go to the police station, I knew it and had been there before. I was thankful for stability, for comfort, for my bed that I crawled into, for curling up under the blankets, for hearing my baby breathing beside me, and for the fact that all the fear had been for pretend things, that we actually have nothing to fear and that it is not the end of the world after all.

The story I'll probably never live down.

Sometimes I have impulse control problems, a fact that is usually balanced by the fact that I’m quite an amenable girl, ready to listen and have my impulses checked. That is, until I’m the only adult at home. (Cue the ominous music.)

Most of the time it goes like this: I have a wild idea, I run it by Chinua, he gives feedback to the effect of, “Have you thought this through?” or even, “Have you gone crazy?” and I’ll take a little time to argue the merits of my plan before I make a decision.

If Chinua is not here, I’m forced to have the conversation with him in my head. It doesn’t always go as it would in real life. So, a week ago I was sitting at the table, doing some work and checking email, and I came across a post for a free dog in Chiang Mai. This caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for a long time—we’ve wanted a pet, and now we’re stable here and it seems like a good time. Our chickens all flew away and our little bunny died (so sad). What’s more, this was a hypoallergenic dog—a six-month old Shih Tzu. If I didn’t have such bad allergies to dogs, we could have adopted a dog any time we wanted—there are street puppies around, we even had one of our own for a while, before we found a home for him with some lovely people in the market.

So, reading the post about the free dog, my treasure hunt spidey sense was pinging. I was thinking, should we? Should we?

Chinua had some reservations about getting a dog—mainly around the question of travel. We still travel and we would need to find someone to look after our dog when we went away. I wrote to him, asking what he thought about this dog. However, because he was on a plane at the moment, there was no way he could get my email. I started doing some research and found that there is a woman in town who takes care of dogs for payment, kind of like a very small kennel. I went off to talk to her and found that her costs were reasonable. I asked the man who was giving the dog if he would hold her for me while we made our way to Chiang Mai.

I had now emailed my husband and done all the research I needed to do. I had a good conversation with Chinua in my head where I listed the facts. He agreed with me (in my head). It was time for action. We were now two hours into the school morning. I wrote another email to Chinua. This one said, “I’m doing it! I accept full responsibility!”

“I have kind of a crazy idea,” I told the kids.

Kenya perked up. “What? What? I love crazy ideas!”

This was only fuel for my fire. Heaven help Kenya and I when she gets older and we are traveling the world together, taking Paris, Istanbul, and Hanoi by storm.

I bought bus tickets, and by five o’clock, we were all on vans to get to Chiang Mai. The only thing was that the bus company didn’t have tickets for all five of us on one bus, so Kai and Kenya rode on a separate van for the first time. It was uneventful, except for the fact that the lady sitting next to Kenya had a tiny second thumb sticking out of her first thumb, and Kenya found this very interesting. They did well, and when their van stopped in Chiang Mai, I was at the door to greet them. (This is where the danger part comes in. Or the perceived danger. I knew well and good that they were fine on that bus of middle aged Thai aunties and uncles. I was a nervous wreck, however. I told them they did an excellent job, but for the sake of my heart we’re not going on separate buses again until they are thirty years old.)

By this time, my adrenaline was off the charts. We had to meet the dog’s owner at the bus station, which happened without a snag, and then we needed to check into our dog-friendly guesthouse. It was very late, and we gathered some food and our new dog, who was friendly and delightful, and headed for bed. I was zinging with anxiety and energy, and it was at this point that the conversations I was having with Chinua in my head took a drastic turn. He had been fine about getting a dog before, but now? Now he was furious. He had to live with this dog, of course. Clearly, he was going to hate me forever. Up till this point the dog had been an idea. But with her very real self sniffing around the guesthouse room, it became apparent that she was more than an idea. She was a dog. A dog who was now going to live with us.

I entered a different reality, one of panic and self-castigation and illegible Facebook messages to my husband whose plane still hadn’t landed. How terrible that we had only twelve good years before I ruined it all with a small fluffy dog.

The next day was full of more decisions about whether to drive immediately back to Pai or whether to stay for another night. But our dog-friendly guesthouse was full and there wasn’t anywhere for us to stay. The only reason I was interested was because of Loy Kratong, the amazing lantern festival where lanterns fill the sky like jellyfish, something we’ve seen only on a much smaller scale. I wasn’t getting anything right, we were leaving on the cusp of this amazing festival. But with five children and a dog, I didn’t feel up to the search for a guesthouse, and I wasn’t sure we should spend the money.

We headed back to Pai after I found a van service that would take us with a dog. “Sure!” they said. “180 baht. We’ll meet you in front of the McDonald’s.” We sat for a long time in a row in front of the McDonald’s, to the delight of passing tourists, until a song taew picked us up. A song taew is a truck with benches installed in the back.

“Is this what we’re driving to Pai?” Leafy asked.

“No, this will drive us to the bus,” I said. The driver proceeded to pick up several more people and then deliver us to the very same bus service that we always take, the one that charges 150 baht, the one that said dogs were not allowed. I gather I have to speak to the driver rather than the ticket sellers.

All the way home I fretted on the inside, while being outwardly cheerful about our sweet new pup, who sat nicely on Kenya’s lap and didn’t make a peep. I made lunch and called Leaf, who asked how I was doing. “Not so good,” I said in a voice that sounded like a pepto bismol frog. I told her all about how badly I had ruined everything. How Chinua was sure to disown me and be incredibly angry with me. I poured out my heart. And then I realized we had been disconnected. The phone rang. “Rae? Rae?” Leaf said, frantically. “Tell me, what did you say about a dog?”

I told her the whole story again.

And she made a good point. She said that the angry Chinua didn’t sound very much like the real Chinua.
(True, I thought.)
And that he adores me and loves me.
(Also true.)
So that while he might (understandably) be annoyed, he wasn’t going to hate me. Or disown me.

Later that night I spoke with Chinua and found that what Leaf suspected was true. He loves me. He’s a bit surprised that I got a dog, and he’s been teasing me non-stop about getting a dog when he'd been gone only one day. (He was thinking about getting a hamster, and I told him he should just think of her as a really big hamster.) But he loves me. Even though I have impulse control problems. And as soon as I talked to him, I calmed right down. I really, really love him.

We’ve named the dog Wookie and she is amazing. If there was going to be an instance of bad impulse control, it couldn’t have turned out better. I love having her. She’s smart (in the last couple of weeks she’s gone from completely un-housebroken to only having a few accidents) and loving, and mellow, and sweet. And she’s given us quite a bit less drama than the crazy flying jungle chickens did in one hour of their little chicken lives. The kids love her, especially Kenya, and I think Chinua will love her too, once he can look past her undeniably small-fluffy-dog exterior.

A Home as Wide as the Earth available now.

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We're all celebrating over here, because the trilogy is complete and Mama has time to breathe again!

A Home as Wide as the Earth is now available in the Amazon Kindle Store, as well as the Barnes and Noble Nook Store. It will be coming soon in paperback and at other ebook venues.

Also as a promotion Trees Tall as Mountains is currently $0.99 at all ebook venues. | kindle | iBooks | kobo | nook |

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

Adventures in portraiture.

This picture would be so perfect if only, well, if only Solo's head was visible.

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Here it's visible. But... oh, dear.

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The following is an example of how forced perspective can turn your average eleven-year-old into a half-giant like Hagrid.

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And here is an example of how a shutter closing at the wrong second can give the same eleven-year-old an unfortunately Mr. Bean-like face.

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I don't get it. WHY is it so hard to get a normal shot of everyone?

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Or a normal face from anyone?

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Ah, we'll try again. And I'll use the good camera next time.

As much as they are all gorgeous, it's hard to tear my eyes away from that one in the middle.

And yes, that IS a dog with muddy paws in our family portrait. That's a whole story in itself, complete with danger, angst, and impulsiveness. I'll tell you all about it. (Her name is Wookie.)

A third of the way across the bridge.

Parenting is so hard sometimes, isn't it? More than ever before in life, I want to be at my best, but I'm so often not at my best. There is a lot of love in this house and perhaps it will cover all the times I get annoyed because I'm the only one in my house who is taking her chores seriously.

It's just a little too much work and no play for me lately, that's why I'm dull and noodle-like. We did read together tonight. We stopped when we realized Kenya was already asleep. Tomorrow is supposed to be devotion day and also boardgames day, and I'm trying to figure out how to fit in all the work I also need to do. I do well with one or two things that I need to focus on, but stack them up like this and I'm flailing.

Kids can be frustrating. They ask for a lot and they can't give all that much back yet. Mothers can be overwhelmed. They give a lot and they can sometimes get bogged in giving.

I've been writing the same post for three days and I still haven't finished it, so this is what you get-- some late night regret tossed with a bit of hope for the morning. What do I hope for the morning? I hope that I will feel creative again, that the birds will wake me up, that the coffee will be perfect, that pink clouds will fill the sky. I hope that I will be lighthearted rather than weighed down, that I will not be annoyed by annoyances, but that I will laugh them off. I hope that I will play, that I will get the work done, but that I will find time to play.

I hope you will, too.

In the universe

Thank you beautiful people for your love and concern for me. Chinua left a couple of evenings ago, sent off with kisses and prayer and a few tears (mostly from Leafy) and we are settling into a month of waiting for him. Money things shockingly went from bad to worse when Chinua found out he had visa fees that he didn’t know about, and I was again given cause to be so, so thankful for the gifts that you have given over the last week. We feel your care, thank you.
I have a lot of peace and I feel ready for this challenge. I spent so long looking for a home somewhere, and we have one here. Now I can really be in my home, enjoy it and love it and be happy to be here at a time when Chinua is away.
*
Last night I was cuddling with the two little boys, and Solo was being a little proprietary, telling me I can’t snuggle with two boys, but only one.
“Leafy doesn’t love you,” he said.
“Me?” Leafy said, flabbergasted.
“Leafy loves me more than there are stars in the galaxy,” I said.
“More than there are stars in the universe,” Leafy said.
“He doesn’t love you as much as I do,” Solo said.
“I love Mama more than I love having pants,” Leafy said.
“I love Mama more than I love being a minja," said Solo. (A ninja.)
*
The kids all read before sleeping, these days, and Kai and Kenya are supposed to have their light out by 9:30. But last night Kenya got stuck in a book. I was in my room and didn’t notice until she came in at 10:45, just as I was getting ready to go to sleep, and asked me to come and pray for her. She had tears on her cheeks.
“Why are you crying?” I asked as I got into bed beside her.
“I finished my book,” she said.
“Oh. Was it sad?”
“Yes,” she said, crying more.
So I held her and prayed for her and told her about what a gift she is, and we listened to Kai’s soft breathing as he slept. She snuggled into me and drifted off to sleep. As tired as I can be during late night parenting, I know that I will never, ever regret these snuggles.
*
The other day I went out with Isaac, to meet a friend who was in town. She was with two women that I hadn’t met before and they were sitting in a nearby restaurant, waiting for their food. We all had a nice talk, all together, but I’m such an awkward girl and during the conversation I managed to 1) eat someone’s half-eaten pita sandwich, and 2) put bread in my baby’s ear.
The pita sandwich belonged to my friend, and she was stuffed. But it wasn’t the pita sandwich of my husband, or one of my kids, and in retrospect I regretted my decision to grab her sandwich and start scarfing it down when she was done with it. And then, trying to feed my baby bird pieces of bread and track a conversation at the same time, I looked down when something felt off and realized that Isaac had a piece of bread in his ear, and that I had put it there, thinking his ear was his mouth. There it sat, resting securely. I pulled it out and apologized to him, and my friend collapsed in laughter. I’m busy impressing everyone I meet with my social and mothering skills.

 

Now in paperback!

I want to say thank you for your kindness and support going into this month. Some of you wanted to help financially, and I'm so humbled and thankful. All will be well. Bridges are beautiful.

Oceans Bright With Stars is now available in paperback at Amazon. In the next few weeks, both Trees Tall as Mountains and Oceans Bright With Stars will become available at Amazon Canada as well as Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores. I'll let you know when that happens.

Trying not to look down.

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I have a friend who is very beautiful. Whenever I tell her about how drop-dead gorgeous she is, she always says, “It’s only because you have beautiful eyes.” And she tells me about how a girl on a bus once drew a picture of her and emphasized her least beautiful features. (Personally, I think the girl on the bus must have been a poor artist, because my friend doesn't even have any least beautiful features.)

The bridge in the photo above is one we have to walk over, very carefully, to get to the meditation space. We were there on Sunday for a little family devotion time and when we started walking back home, Leafy turned to me.

“This bridge looks just like Golden Gate Bridge, except it’s smaller,” he said.

Leafy has beautiful eyes.

I’m heading into a month that feels a bit like walking across a very old, very rickety bridge. Chinua is going to the U.S. to share about what we’re doing here, to spread the word a bit and hopefully gather some interested hearts. We’d love to grow a little collective around Christian practice here. Actually, let me edit that: in order to move forward, we need to have other people working with us. We can’t do it by ourselves, and we don’t want to. We are used to living, working, singing, praying, and eating with others and we love it. So it’s necessary for Chinua to go back— sometimes you need to meet face to face with people, something we both know. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. When Chinua went to help take care of his friend Ian, Miriam was here with me. This time I’m on my own.

Add to that the fact that due to weird circumstances, we’re having the most difficult financial month we’ve had in years, and I find that I’m a little nervous. I look across that bridge and shade my eyes, trying to see the other side. As I’m sure many of you know, when you have no leeway in your purse, there are no shortcuts. You make everything by hand, you cut out the extras. “Mandatory fasting, for you and me?” I asked Chinua when we looked at our numbers, only partially joking.

I want to look at this with beautiful eyes. I’ve thought for a long time about living a monastic lifestyle as a mother, I know I’ve written about it. Monks and nuns volunteer for poverty and simplicity, they volunteer for work. Walking into a month where I know I will be stretched, I want to be monastic about it. To sing and pray, to be inordinately simple, to take frugality on like a robe. To walk under the same blue sky that we all walk under, whether we are rich or poor, leisurely or working hard. To be thankful, with every breath, for all that I have, for all the good work I do—the work of raising and teaching a family, of writing, of being surrounded by love.

At the same time, I’m not flippant about this. Although my children are wonderful, I can’t count on them to be anything other than what they are: children. That means they aren’t consistent or self sufficient, they don’t need to offer me friendship. They are receivers. I’m working on a list of things I can do to take care of myself during this time, as well as help the family to live harmoniously together.


It’s going to be a challenge, but it will be a good one. I'll be in the center of the bridge soon, stepping carefully, trying not to let it sway, listening to the rushing water underneath, and before you know it, I'll be on the other side, skipping off into the forest.

Oceans Bright With Stars Now Available!

Hooray, it's Launch Day for Oceans Bright With Stars!

In her Journey Mama Writings, Rachel Devenish Ford uses radical honesty to illuminate the beautiful, funny parts of life that are so often forgotten or missed. 
Picking up where Trees Tall as Mountains left off, Oceans Bright With Stars is a true journal about one family’s gutsy, wild decision to move across the world and make their life in a village in India, navigating water problems and power cuts, beating back the jungle and embracing a new culture. In the first months, Rachel is blindsided with what it truly means to leave everything behind, experiencing panic and a strong sense of dislocation, but as she seeks to trust God and searches for beauty in her new home, she finds it in unexpected places. From the ocean to the mountains, Rachel records her family’s encounters with insects and snakes, holy cows and yaks as they grow and flourish in an unlikely environment.
The Journey Mama Writings series is about overcoming difficult circumstances to reap the joy of belonging. This collection of posts from Rachel’s blog is a hilarious and evocative account of learning to love a new country, and with it, a new way of life.
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Right now you can buy the ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the iTunes Store, or Kobo.  

The paperback will be coming very, very soon. I'll be sure to let you know.  

I really hope you enjoy this book-- it was amazing to put it together and relive all these blessed days. It made me realize again just how wild it all was--how we had a baby and three young children but there were snakes and bears and scorpions involved, as well as jellyfish stings and painted cows. I wouldn't miss a minute of it for anything. 

Some feedback that I'm getting from Trees Tall as Mountains is that people have found it healing. This is the best feedback ever. I hope this book treats you the same way. 

I'm of course so thankful for any reviews or sharing you can lend this book of mine as I launch it out into the world. It all makes a huge difference--you have no idea. Thank you as always for reading and for being the kind, incredible readers and commenters that you are. I really love you!

The driver

God bless my landlords, I do love them so. But there is one part of our living arrangement that I sometimes find awkward, and I'll tell you what that is.

There are two little rooms in the back of this tiny piece of property; one is occupied by my landlord's nephew, who is the most polite and easy neighbor that one could have. Sometimes, if we are in the kitchen, he even rolls his motorbike out onto the road before turning it on because he doesn't want to start the motor up too close--it would be loud. He's great.  

The other room, which is teeny tiny, is not occupied, except when large groups come to stay at the guesthouse next door, which also belongs to our landlords. These large groups employ a driver, who stays, guess where--in the teeny tiny room. I always know this when my landlord's sister, Banon, walks by with her arms full of bedding and says, "Chauffeur."  

Why is it awkward? It's just that our kitchen is across the little courtyard, and our studio is across and behind the kitchen, making the part in between essentially part of our house. So when there is a guy there, sitting and smoking, or simply eating his dinner, it feels as though we have a guest that we haven't exactly invited. This can be totally fine, or it can be awkward. It all depends on the chauffeur, whether they are very private and respectful, or open and curious enough to come and watch me cook.

(Thailand has made me soft. This would be nothing in India. )

Anyhow, yesterday I was making coffee in the morning and I looked out over the short wall over the sink. Over that wall, I can see the lot where cars sometimes park, that links us with the guesthouse next door, and I saw the driver who had spent the night in the teeny tiny room. He was sitting in the open door of his big van, reading a newspaper with his shirt sleeves rolled up above his wrists, and his glasses sliding down his nose somewhat.

The morning and the sun and the birds. The man sitting and reading a newspaper. The smell of coffee and the knowledge of all the sun to come, all the bright skies with white clouds, all the people I will meet. I wanted in that moment to paint every person I ever see. I wanted to remember every ordinary thing.  

This is what the chauffeur gave me yesterday. It was a small gift.

The second Journey Mama book is nearly ready for launch

Launch day for Oceans Bright with Stars is this week! It will be available on November 5th in digital format at all venues, and I hope to have the paperback ready at that time as well.

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Here's the blurb:

In her Journey Mama Writings, Rachel Devenish Ford uses radical honesty to illuminate the beautiful, funny parts of life that are so often forgotten or missed.
Picking up where Trees Tall as Mountains left off, Oceans Bright With Stars is a true journal about one family’s gutsy, wild decision to move across the world and make their life in a village in India, navigating water problems and power cuts, beating back the jungle and embracing a new culture. In the first months, Rachel is blindsided with what it truly means to leave everything behind, experiencing panic and a strong sense of dislocation, but as she seeks to trust God and searches for beauty in her new home, she finds it in unexpected places. From the ocean to the mountains, Rachel records her family’s encounters with insects and snakes, holy cows and yaks as they grow and flourish in an unlikely environment.
The Journey Mama Writings series is about overcoming difficult circumstances to reap the joy of belonging. This collection of posts from Rachel’s blog is a hilarious and evocative account of learning to love a new country, and with it, a new way of life. 

 

When I first started putting these books together and found that in all my rambling, there was an actual storyline that was developing, I was surprised and happy. (It's interesting to see the shape of things later on... the story that God is building in your life.) This book might be my favorite of the three because learning to love India again was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

If you know me, and I think you do, you may know that photos of me are not my favorite thing in the world, hence the fact that I don't put many up here. And then I agreed to have three books with sorta kinda photos of me on the cover. (!) But I agree with my Superstar Husband that it's a good thing for a memoir, like a handshake or an invitation to come on in. And it works well graphically. We must think with our business minds sometimes, friends.  

But oh, I love the covers he's doing for this series. And I love the little friend I have on this cover. Can you spot him? 

Dear Isaac

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You are nine months old, and a very enthusiastic nine months you are. You are a delight, the delight of our whole family right now, the one we revolve around. I haven’t written you so many letters in this first year, and I think it’s because I’ve been enjoying you in other ways—taking video, little pictures, playing and playing and playing. I feel at rest beside you, I am enjoying rather than scrambling to capture everything, for better or for worse.

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Here’s the thing: all over again, this is a new experience, like with every baby, and it is also deeply familiar. Also, it is its own experience in its own right, because this is the very first time I have had a baby this way, with all this space between siblings.

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Let me explain. Your oldest brother and sister were nineteen months apart, and your Leafy brother was born twenty-two months after that, and Solo came a couple years later. So I didn’t have a baby, I had babies. I didn’t have kids, I had babies and toddlers. But I didn’t know that, I thought that having kids amounted to huge amounts of care and protection and physical labor. I thought being a parent was forever spooning food into people’s mouths and wiping up messes and changing diapers.

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But everyone is growing so quickly and now I have you after these kids have grown up so much. Solo is five! We have eleven, nine, seven, five, and then a breath, and then you. I’m delighted by this, because it helps me see what wasn’t clear before; that this time, the baby time is unique in your life. How appropriate that you come into the world needing so much protection and somehow the whole family revolves around your care and the whole family sacrifices to keep you well, to keep you safe. Now I know that kids become older, and as they do, they don’t require this kind of vigilance, this wide-eyed stance against the dangers of the world and all the mouth-shaped pieces of flotsam in it. They are strong and capable, they are warriors on their own, they do well. Kai and Kenya are my right hand man and young woman. You will become like them, one day, but for now, we all stumble over each other to care for you. We dote on you.

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So into this nest of a family you come, and I experience parenthood all over again, and I wouldn’t change our family for anything but I do love doing this at the ripe age of thirty-three. (You are the lucky one—with the grownup for a mother.)

I missed some things, so I’ll tell you now. When you were six months old, your motto in life was, “I can dance to that.” You had this rippling dance you did, a hunch down with your shoulders, then a lift, then a hunch. Your belly was at the center, you bobbed and grooved. A motorcycle going by? “I can dance to that.” The kettle boiling? “I can dance to that.” Music? “I can certainly dance to that, and I will, right now, here I go.” This was delightful.

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You got sick when you were seven months old and we were in the hospital for a week. This was a scary time and you seemed to be a newborn again, as you slept for hours and hours and lay quietly. I remember wishing you would get up and get into things again, because it would mean you were better.

I got my wish—God heard my prayer. This last month you’ve learned to really crawl on your knees and you’ve been pulling yourself to standing for a while now. You can cruise along while you stand. Your sister walks with you holding her hands for a long time every day, practicing, she says. You adore your daddy and call to him whenever you catch sight of him from a distance. When you do, he hears you and comes to pick you up and you wriggle with joy. You see Kenya as a sort of second mother—she is the one you look for if I’m not around. You revere Kai, play with Leafy, and think Solo is the coolest, craziest thing you’ve ever seen. I often see you staring at him with pure wonder on your face.

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Now you are impatient and sometimes fussy. You want to be everywhere all the time! When you want me to pick you up you scrunch both your eyes in something that we call a Turkish two-eyed wink (people in Turkey do this as a friendly gesture—it’s adorable) and duck your head. It’s like your own personal sign language. You have enthusiasm for life and it must be expressed. When you see me strapping the baby carrier on, you start yelling immediately. Will I put the baby carrier on and go for a walk all by myself, leaving you behind? It doesn’t seem likely, but you are certain it could happen if you don’t remind me that you are there! Willing, ready to go wherever I go!

And you do, you go everywhere I go, you are my constant companion and I juggle you and all the other things, always ready for your smile, always thankful. I have such a gift in you.

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Love,
Mama

The name is chosen, though not in the way I'd expected.

I'm writing with a baby on my lap-- a baby who crawls now, in full hands and knees baby crawl style. He also cruises, but we don't have any couches, so there isn't much for him to cruise around on. He does it on the headboard of my bed, which always leads to me clutching his ankle to make sure he doesn't get too close to the edge, and him tugging his leg away from my hand in frustration. "Let go me!" he would say, if he could. 

*

The hammering noises behind my house are coming from my kids, who are building a club house in the old bamboo chicken coop. I'm happy about this, it has brought about some great moments of teamwork from the four kids. There is a lot of running back and forth, making of signs, sweeping of dust, and hammering of random pieces of bamboo that were left over from the creation of the chicken coop.  

*

I'm supposed to be having a writing day today, but this afternoon Chinua had to retreat into a dark room to huddle out a migraine. Poor guy. It makes me worried-- this is the second one in two weeks and I don't want them to come back. He's been doing well, migraine free, for so long now, ever since he figured out magnesium deficiency was the cause. He thinks drinking coffee has triggered them, so hopefully if he cuts caffeine out of his diet again, they'll go away.

*

The days of mental anguish over the book name have come to a surprising finish. Thank you so much for your help! My whole family will be so glad that I've finally decided on a name, since I've been walking in and out of rooms muttering random words to myself, or saying, "What about...?" over and over and OVER again.

A Home as Wide as the Earth got the most votes, and I came to believe that it was the best fit-- it describes a lot about me and about traveling. But then yesterday I started working on the third book in the series and found this post, which represents the title so perfectly and represents a lot of what that next season of our lives was like. In that next two years, we lived in California, back in Goa, in Nepal, and in Thailand, and those were the years when home became almost an obsession for me. So I think we've found a title! For the third book, that is.

Er.  

So now we had a title for the first and the third books and they followed a sort of pattern and it fits that the middle title would follow the pattern, at least in a sort of vague-ish way, which cut out a lot of the other titles I had been considering. I had this idea about lights in dark water, from this post about Chinua and I swimming among phosphorescent algae. And I came up with the title Oceans Bright With Stars, and immediately knew it was the one, and the great thing is that we have two, both of these books have titles now, which is good, because I'm trying to have them both out by the end of the year.

I think they work well in a series-

Trees Tall as Mountains

Oceans Bright With Stars

A Home as Wide as the Earth

-they say what I want them to say, they all tie in with specific themes or posts, and they are alike enough to go together, but dissimilar enough that it doesn't get cheesy. Thanks so much you beautiful people, we done good.

Maybe convoluted, but not leaky.

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We love Thai street food.

Sometimes I pick up little sticky rice treats for breakfast, but this morning I walked down the street to the place where the morning vendors have their doughnut carts. The vendors make Chinese doughnuts, breakfast food that is eaten with soy milk or condensed milk here. (They seem to be eaten in the evening too, but they're only sold first thing in the morning or in the evening.) They aren’t sweetened—they’re even a little salty, and have sesame seeds on them—and fresh out of the oil they are amazing with coffee. Every once in a while I pick up a few for breakfast, and this morning I looked at the cup of coffee in my hand and thought, “A doughnut would go great with this.”

I went to the man who always seems to be singing as he works. When I arrived, he didn’t have enough for my large order, so he told me to sit down and wait while he cut up and fried ten more doughnuts. There happened to be a woman already sitting and chatting with him, and the only thing odd about her was that she was holding a large rooster under her arm, stroking him to calm him down. We sat; the lady with the rooster and I, while the friendly man cut dough into long strips and threw it in oil so I could bring doughnuts back to my family.

*

Yesterday it rained steadily all day long, which means that the river has certainly risen and I’m concerned about the bridge that leads to our space. It was already damaged. It’s a simple bamboo bridge, built by the guesthouse owners across the river, and this year it had been fortified with iron to get it through the rainy season, but still, it wasn’t doing so well. I’m hoping that it will be replaced soon.

The rain brought snails and worms into the open, and Kenya showed me a chart she had made. The title was: Saving Worms and Snails Club. Underneath were two columns. Worms Saved: 1 / Snails Saved: 3

It was a very exclusive club, with just one member. Kenya is very proud of her worm and snail saving abilities, she tells people about all the worms she saves often. This morning she asked me if she could start a project about birds around our house, and was soon busy with the iPad, looking up birds of Thailand. Her love for animals of every kind shows no sign of waning.

*

The day ahead is a typical Saturday, with cleaning and organizing and work in the plans. I need to make this weeks meal plan and go shopping, sort through toys and get my room in order. I need to see to the gardens at the meditation space. I’ve been working hard on the second Journey Mama book and it’s nearly ready for publication! The only thing we need is a title, and the search for the perfect title has my brain in knots. The arc of the book is from traveling and arriving in India (and panicking) all the way through that first two years of living in India (and learning to love it) until getting ready to travel to North America for a visit.

Some contenders are:

Shores Wide as the Earth (follows the formula of the first book)
Falling Into Flying
Moments of Truly Flying
A Different Way of Walking
Greener Than You Can Imagine
A Home as Wide as the Earth

What do you think? Have I overwhelmed you yet? Chinua and I were tossing ideas around, and with a couple of them, I said, “These are too positive. I mean, it’s positive writing, but it’s still me, you know?”

So he suggested, A Convoluted and Leaky Black Brain.

Well. There’s no call to go that far.

I’d love for you to weigh in. Comments ahoy!

Today. Now.

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I'm doing better, the last few days. It's an up and down journey, life, especially in this web of emotions. I won’t forget to hang on,  to hold tight, even when I feel like I’m slipping. But the air is doing something to me these days, and it's a good thing. The rains have stopped. The sun is around all day, rising through the fog in the morning, warming up the streets so that when I go to buy apples and coconut in the market, the breeze is still cool but the sun is warm. In places where we have such a strong rainy season and such a long dry season, the first rains are always welcomed with joy, but the first days of sun are also cause for rejoicing. All around me it seems as if people are waking up; repainting, putting concrete down, cleaning out the weeds, freshening up for the sun.

Thailand, I say, I will meet you. Somehow Thailand is at once more accepting of me than India, and keeps me farther off. It’s been more of a journey, getting to know this place, and I think it’s because while India is in your face at every moment, forcing you to pay attention, Thailand is quieter, softer, forcing you to lean in if you really want to hear it. I’m learning how to listen.

Thailand is fragrant drafts of air from hot woks, food stalls on the street, tiny alleys, and snacks everywhere. It is the sound of small motorcycles, birds and monks in the morning, people calling to one another on the road, "Bai nai?" Where are you going? A ubiquitous question that I have encountered in India, Nepal, and Thailand alike; here it means something like "What's happening?" or "What's up?" "Bai tee ow," you might say. "Just going to hang out." Or you might get into more detail. Today, when my neighbor asked me, I told her I was going to the papaya salad (som tum) place.

I go to a certain som tum lady because I think she makes the best som tum in town. It’s a simple food to make, but you have to get the right balance of fish sauce, palm sugar, and lemon. Plus, you use sticky rice to soak up the juice, and we all hate it if people skimp on the juice. Our som tum lady makes som tum that is swimming in juice—she’s no skimper.

Today the lady who usually makes it was gone and her daughter was there instead. I could tell she was her daughter because they have the same cheekbones, high and round, like apples under their skin. Their restaurant is a long, airy bamboo stall, open on all sides except the kitchen side, which is closed with more bamboo. There are wood tables, ten or so, that are never completely full, giving the impression of a lot of space. At the front is the glass case filled with tomatoes and green beans that signifies som tum. I have been known to drive through neighborhoods in Chiang Mai slowly, searching for one of these glass cases. My som tum lady doesn’t keep her case filled with tomatoes anymore. Perhaps she doesn’t need to advertise what she is making, because she is always busy. In the glass case there are instead some discarded bamboo baskets that are made for holding sticky rice, but don’t at this restaurant, because they put the sticky rice in plastic baggies. To the left of the glass case is a faded pink electric fan, positioned to cool the person who is pounding the som tum in the large wooden pestle. Off in the back of the restaurant, pots and pans are strewn hanging on the walls or piled in the sink.

Lately I’ve been trying to soak everything in, when I go there to order som tum. This is here, I tell myself. Feel this. I sit on a worn wooden bench while the lady throws garlic and green beans into the pestle, squeezes lemon, slices tomatoes. I would normally ask for just one chili, but I’m still not eating it, for Isaac’s sake. The ground is dusty under my bench and I draw shapes in the dirt with the toe of my shoe. The lady keeps one eye on her work and another on the karaoke show that is playing every time I visit. It seems to be some sort of karaoke competition, and she loves it. Why, I couldn’t say. The show is comprised of one fancy-dressed woman or man after another approaching the microphone to sing wildly off-key to the praise of all the people in the audience. I am starting to equate som tum with off-key singing.

The sun is directly overhead and the tamarind trees cast their shadows beneath them. The air is bright and dry, and when I look through the covered restaurant to the field beyond, it seems brilliant and hot. Out front, chicken and fish are grilling on a metal grate stretched over charcoal. Another lady is making something in a wok and I cough as frying chili oil enters my lungs. I stand and pull small bags of sticky rice out of a container that is keeping them warm and pile them beside some whole grilled fish that are sitting on the counter.  An elderly lady calls out a list of what I am buying, just for the sake of it. She gestures at a pile of fried pork rinds. “Do you eat this?” She asks me in Thai. “It's good.”
“I don’t,” I say, and she laughs. The som tum lady’s daughter is now packing up my food. She puts whole cabbage leaves and pumpkin vines in the bag, to be eaten with the salad. I pay, get back on my scooter, and drive away.

At home the across-the-street neighbors are laying bricks in the new entry-way to their little house. They’ve covered half in concrete and half in brick and have made a shade covering with sheet metal, hammering it until my brain rang in my skull. While they’ve been doing this building, other neighbors come and go. They sit for a while and watch the workers, who do not stop. They chat, and call out helpful advice. The down the street neighbor who always feeds her scraps to stray dogs, yelling for them in the evenings. The Muslim neighbors who have three kids. The new across the street Muslim neighbors who have one ten-month-old baby whose cry sounds exactly like Isaac’s, fooling me almost every time. The aunties from next door, who are my landlord’s sisters and who come to talk often. The whole street has come by, at one point or another.

I nod at the brick laying neighbors and walk into my house. It’s clean today, shady after the sun. I call the kids to the table, and we eat.

Healing words

Lately I’ve been dwelling in a broken down cardboard box with a few scraps of newspaper and items of canned goods around me. I’ve got nothing but one can of peas left, and an opossum just stole my can opener. It’s time to come out. I carefully put my head up over my box, peek out to see if it’s safe, but no, it’s not. The sun is out there.

The whirling and seething of the broken lands are all inside me. I find myself watching people, wondering, “How do you do life? How is it possible for you to keep going, to do things so effortlessly?” Every night when I go to sleep, I think tomorrow I’ll do better. But every day I mess it up: I snap, I despair, I leave things undone that should be done, I make the mean face at my kids, I hold pity parties for myself, I retreat, I retreat, I retreat.

It’s not that I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to live with myself in the darkness. I don’t want to be with me, who could want to? I want to approach something like consistency—to wake up and be the same everyday, not on this emotional roller coaster.

It doesn’t help that we’ve been sick, including Isaac, (whom Leafy suggests we should call Isick) which means that nights are not times to sleep anymore, but times to fall into a deep pit of slumber, only to be pulled back out every hour or so. Isaac and I do a non-sleeping dance together, he finally falling asleep only to be woken by his own coughing. He hasn’t had croup, which I am extremely thankful for. It’s just some bronchial virus. Healing is onits way, but it’s taking its sweet time.

Yesterday I watched some bits of The Two Towers with the three older kids. Abby, the superhero reader champion managed to read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers to the kids in three months, which is a marathon of reading. I’ve allowed them to watch the movies, now that they’ve heard the books.  I love the movie The Two Towers (except for its rendering of Faramir— so unjust to Faramir, who is supposed to be the shining antithesis of the more fallen men in the book) and especially the part in the beginning when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running for three days to save Merry and Pippin, who have been carried off by the urukhai.

The orcs pick up the scent of the following three and begin running faster. Oh no! We worry. Our heroes won’t know that they are going faster. But no worries, because Aragorn has his ear to the ground. He’s listening to the deep sounds. “They’ve quickened their pace,” he says. “They know we’re following.” He goes on to tell the story of everything they’ve done and are doing. He pieces together the truth based on his sharp eyes and finds hope in the midst of despair.

Ah, the magic of fantasy. The heroes face the biggest obstacles, but they have exactly what they need to combat them. At every turn we worry for them, only to be reassured by the fact that Aragorn is not only a man, he is a man who has skills beyond anything that any dark and deadly orc can throw at him.

 *

I’ve been thinking about healing words for a while. It came up when I was having a really rough day after losing my temper with my kids. I told a friend of mine, “I so often feel like I’m not a good mom.”

“I would love to have you as a mom,” she said.

I stared at her in shock.  “Seriously?”

She was someone who knew me and observed me as a mother from a close place. I knew she couldn’t be faking it. With her words she put a healing balm over a sad, lonely place in me, where I never know if I’m doing a good job or if I’m messing it all up.

I received an email from someone this week that did the same thing. A little scared sad place in me was comforted by the words this person took the time to write to me. Her words spoke directly to the wounded place in me.

We all have an enemy of our souls, and he would like nothing more than to destroy us and drive us out of the arms of our Maker. Our Maker’s love should appear to us to be brighter than any dim and frustrating day that we have, any old wounded place within us, because it is blinding in its brilliance. But we are forgetful and we hide in broken down boxes. We peek out and are afraid of the sun. God has made us to need the healing words of our friends.

We can look at each other and speak the truth, like Aragorn stooping to the ground to hear the deeper sounds that echo in the earth. We tell the real story, with our deep understanding and the eyes that God has given us to see the beauty in one another.


You are doing okay.
You are loved.
You are lovable.
You are blessed.
You are beautiful, blinding really, in all the brilliance of who you are, who your Maker has made you to be.

Never underestimate the power of healing words. They are as strong as a hero reaching into their strength at the moment when you think all is lost, pulling the truth of a greater story out of the rocks and the earth, finding signs of hope when all you can see are the edges of your fraying cardboard box.

We need to speak healing words to one another. We also need to hear them, really hear them when a friend stops, opens her beautiful mouth, and speaks words that will comfort our souls.

Growing

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This morning I woke up and the sky was very grey.

Oh sun! My heart called. I miss you! 

And later, it reappeared. The sun came out and I am in love with it. I love the light and the blue, blue sky behind the hills. At the end of a long rainy season, I am so ready for the sun, ready for the clothes to dry on the line in less than 48 hours, and ready for the brightness that sunlight brings to everything.

I tasted that brightness when I left the hospital with Isaac on Sunday, a full week after he was admitted. He still wasn't feeling completely normal when we left, and in the next days he dropped all that water weight he had gained from his IV and I could see just how much of his real weight he lost with that infection.  He seems so tiny, now. I pick him up and he feels like a different baby. But thankfully he was so very chubby and he's not thin, now, just not the humongous Isaac that we are used to.

No one has been able to get their fill of him. The kids dote on him and he soaks up all the attention. Unfortunately, they are also sick with noisy coughs, so I've been trying to get them to keep their distance a little bit, since I want him to be protected from illness on top of illness.

We had a scary moment a couple of nights ago, all of us woken up by Solo's croupy cough and breathless crying. "I can't breathe," he kept saying in the tiny bit of voice he could squeeze out. We took him and held him in a chair in the night breeze. It was raining and I sat under the shelter with him and gradually the swelling in his bronchial tubes lessened, and then Chinua took over and held him while I tried to get a little more sleep. Before I went upstairs, the garbage truck came by. It was 4:00 in the morning, and except for Isaac, every member of our family was standing around outside downstairs, having a croup worry party. What must the garbage men have thought? They didn't share, they kept on silently emptying the recycled tire trash containers into their large yellow vehicle. I had a flashback to working nights, and the strange little scenes I would see, blinking them away because anything at all can happen in the night and nothing seems odd at all.  

Chinua did try to usher Kai and Kenya back into bed, but Kai said, "How can I sleep when my brother is sick like this?" Eventually they did go back to bed.

 *

Today I got annoyed because Kenya dropped a plastic jug of milk on the floor in the kitchen and it spilled out everywhere.  I was in the middle of cleaning another mess already, and I was so irritated, so I said, "How on earth did you drop it? How do you drop something with a handle?" Then five minutes later I apologized for being a Grump-a-saurus Rex over spilled milk, of all things, when there is even a rule against being grumpy about spilled milk, and Kenya said, "You're not a Grump-a-saurus Rex, you're a Sweet-a-saurus Rex." And then we danced around in a big dance-y hug.

The other day Leafy made glasses out of black duct tape, and he explained the whole process to Chinua. He sat looking at them for a minute, and then he said, "But they're not glasses. They're tape-ses."

Last night the kids were talking about computers and how they haven't been around all that long.
"When Daddy was a kid, computers were only for rich people," Kai said.
"Kind of like 3D printers now," Kenya said.
And I missed the next part, but they were talking about someone who was pretending to be poor but was really rich because he was wearing a suit, and Leafy said, "Wait. A suit?"
"Yeah,  you know... all black, with a tie," Kenya said.
"Ohhhhh," Leafy said. "That kind. I've been watching too much Iron Man."

Because he was picturing a rich guy with an Iron Man suit. All the rich guys have them.

Everyone is getting older and now I have this eleven-year-old now whose smile can light up a room, a nine-year-old who grows in grace daily, a seven-year-old who is too smart to believe, and a five-year-old who writes me page after page of random letters, bringing each one to me proudly. These are real people who fight and get mad at each other a lot, but they are fierce with love for one another and the hugs in this house! The hugs. I have to pinch myself sometimes, even when housework feels like drudgery or one kid has given another one a dirty look behind my back, again, because this is my life and these are my kids and they're wonderful. I have young ones and middling ones and soon the house will be full of teenagers- it'll be a blink of an eye and it will be here. I can't believe we got here so fast, they're not all little anymore and it seems to have happened when I wasn't looking.