God with me.

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God with me on this pilgrimage is the kindest lover. He brings me gifts of beauty daily: flowers, a horizon of sea and sky almost painfully blue. I feel him hovering, wondering whether I like his carefully offered gifts.

I came looking for servanthood, for a way to be smaller, but keep running into the Lover of my Soul, making a space for me, more tender and hopeful than I could have imagined.

I have sat in meditation and devotion circles with the loveliest people, hearing their deep honesty, the kindness of their sharing. Their questions, their hopeful eyes. I have met the gentlest of souls.

I hiked through aspens and took shots of their trembling leaves. I’ve been transformed from a girl in the tropics to a girl in the woods, magically, overnight. I’ve carried the weight of my fears around with me, but they haven’t overwhelmed me.

In the high desert of Colorado, I marveled at a million good-smelling things. Sage for miles, piñon trees. I broke needles off and breathed them in. Rosemary in California, lavender. Have I ever noticed before, how good things smell in this country? Or the rocks, surprising in all their layers. I am not alone on my walk through the desert, there are rocks that hold me, deep and deep for miles, silently sharing the weight of a hundred thousand animal steps. I followed deer trails, was careful of cactuses. On a plateau, snow-covered mountains gleamed in the distance.

There are textures upon textures in the rocks. My friend Evan pointed out the layers of mountains to me, one behind the other in a long-eyed stretch of beauty. We drove in his old truck, named the Ox; the work truck with one semi-working door handle. My friends, devoted to simplicity, took me into their desert home and I ate Cheri’s homemade pasta with cheese from their goats. We listened to each other. I watched the way their peace with one another changed the air around them. A canyon wren came to sing in the house in the morning, cleverly perching on the sides of walls, as it would rock in its canyon home.

Driving under clouds that go as far as the horizon, hawks catching the updraft and calling to one another in the blue, mountains that change around every curve and cause me to sing out. I’m a Canadian girl who lives in Thailand and has an address in California, driving a rental car with Texas plates in Colorado. I’m floating in the updraft like those hawks, and I know this time that it is okay.  It’s okay to be a mother and not only a mother, a wife and not only a wife. To float a little, to be alone and not alone, under a large sky.

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A birthday.

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There have been wildflowers everywhere along the way on this journey. And they nod and greet one another and me, an undulation of color on every hillside. Purple lupine, orange poppies, and every kind of tiny yellow flower. There were flowers along driftwood beaches in Victoria, flowers in the forest in California, flowers in every meadow or field.

And, like wildflowers, small kindnesses from people I have met. The security officer who watched my things so I could use the bathroom. The bus driver who made the experience of breaking down on our Greyhound bus and sitting in a McDonald's for four hours like a Breakfast Club situation, where we all knew each other and understood each other by the end of our McDonald's detention. (She got on the phone and demanded that Greyhound pay for food for us. "I take care of my people! You need to help my people!") The coffee shop worker who asked if I had noticed the mountains that day. ("Yes!" I said. "I could barely believe them.") And my parents and friends, of course, caring for me in a way that makes me worried that I'll be spoiled for my real life.

I lost a post yesterday. Of all the things, losing something I've written is an event that can turn me back into a six-year-old child. I've been realizing just how strongly writing grounds me, that without it, experiences don't feel real. I'm not sure that I feel real. But that piece was just a note to the wind. And losing it doesn't mean that I have disappeared. No need to panic. I lost some words, that's all. These are the things I tell myself.

I had a birthday, and I spent a lot of it on a ferry and in a car and on another ferry, on my way to visit dear friends, Dori and Chad. I left the home of my parents, who nourished me and celebrated with me, and arrived into the arms of my friends, who danced around my car and took me out for dinner, more eating, more fun. I had two birthday dinners with people I love and miss every day. I couldn't feel more blessed. 

On the ferry, the water sparkled with a million lights. The ocean seemed to go forever, and I wanted to be there, on that grey line, barely visible on the horizon. It looked like peace. I felt that I had never been anywhere more beautiful.

I thought about turning thirty-seven and about being alive on the earth. About the ways that I'm changing, the ways grief changed me this last year. How I have had to force myself to be hopeful in things that I might have easily found hope, before. 

I thought about the limits I am learning about myself. How life leads us toward humility. How I can fail as a friend, a mother, a wife. I find it hard to be nuanced, but my friend Leaf told me that it is possible to be a good friend and do hurtful things, to be a good mother and make mistakes that you wish you could take back. It is possible, as people, to be both good and bad. I find this hard to believe. 

Looking at that water, I wished I could be a whale. A big, motherly humpback whale. I know I could be a good one. I would sing the saddest, longest songs, and the other whales would like me, I just know it. "How cold and sad her songs are," they would think. "Like dark water, the deepest places."  Sometimes I could go to the surface, and get to the place where the water shines with light. (Though singing good sad whale songs is not always the most desirable trait when you are the mother of many kids and maybe need to be a little more dolphin-like.)

How we are loved! Why do we even get to have beautiful things like the ocean and the sky? Because we are loved. I am learning to understand nuance, and also living in the moment. Receiving every gift, not letting them slide by. This was something Ian and Chinua talked a lot of about, and I'm learning from them. (I'm thinking about Ian a lot because I've dreamed about him often since arriving back in North America. In my last dream, he was still alive, though we knew he was sick, and he and Christy were renewing their wedding vows. He gave me a big hug, and it all felt very, very real.)

I thought about work, and art, and writing. Life is good when there is writing to do. All the days of sitting down and writing ahead of me... wow.

I thought about motherhood. I've been meditating on service lately, on the beauty of offering devotion to God through serving. Motherhood is a deep kind of serving. There are more ways of being a mother than having children of your own, too. Nourishing, nurturing, encouraging things and people into the world. And I just spent time with my own mother, and she cooked for me and we sat and talked and that was a kind of nurturing that I felt. I'm thankful for the ways motherhood has changed me, and the ways that being a mother makes service imperative to me, to all of us. 

I thought about my kids, and how they make me laugh, how rich they make life. And my community. And all the gifts. And this trip, the privilege of meeting so many people, sharing things I love with them, being on a pilgrimage, getting inspired. That ferry, on my birthday, was a nearly perfect place to be.

 

It begins.

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Traveling alone is strange. I often feel sure I’ve forgotten the kids in the bathroom, but no, it’s just me here, standing alone in the line for security. Quiet. It’s pretty blissful, though traveling with my family is more fun. I still play the same games, just by myself. Like “Guess where that person is from and try to sneak a peek at their passport to see if you are right.” And sometimes people befriend me, like the woman on the Bangkok public bus yesterday, who walked with me to find a taxi after Google failed me and told me the bus stopped on the freeway. (It doesn’t).

 

I’ve begun my month of journeying alone, mostly down the west coast, guiding meditation and devotion circles. I’m over the moon about it. Today I get to spend an evening and night in Seoul, and I’ve never been there before. So excited.

 

On the plane, I find that I’m already a little disconcerted by the fact that I can eavesdrop so easily when people are speaking English. I understand Thai quite well now, but I still have to turn that part of my brain on, if I want to eavesdrop. And even if I do, the people speaking Thai will probably not be talking about Trump. More likely they’re sharing their plans for dinner. Ah. Deep breath, back into the gorgeous continent where so many unspeakably beautiful things have happened in my life. Back into eavesdropping without trying, weirding people out by standing too close or being too friendly.

 

I’m looking at this next month as a sort of pilgrimage. I need to detach myself from the organism of my family, find a little bit more of Rae, come back to them a little more sure of my place in the family of God. You know how it is, we all get tired, maybe a bit lost, especially as everyone talks a mile a minute and is a teen or preteen or four-year-old. I haven’t been the best mother lately. My family life is very full of the most gorgeous things, but I’m happy to be able to be in the silence for a while, and then I’ll dive straight back into their arms, because they mean more to me than any other thing. Even the bravery of this journey is good. I get used to being flanked by all these people in their gorgeous, quirky forcefulness, and forget that I can actually be worth something alone. “Are you sure you want only me?” I want to say, when someone invites me out for something. “You don’t want the cute ones? Or Chinua to play music?” But no, they are asking me, and I am venturing out on my own.

 

To be alone. To be together. What a life we all have been given. I hope you’re feeling blessed in yours today.

Waiting.

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

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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.