More thoughts from the road, posted from a campground.

Grand Tetons National Park

Grand Tetons National Park

(Following are some thoughts, written as I've had time, posted now!)

And onward we go.

We’ve had a few starts and stops but we’re on our way again. Our dear van was beyond repair, and we spent five days that we didn’t plan on spending waiting for a solution with Joy, one of our crazy dear friends, and her wonderful parents. Spendthrift with days, that’s us. There were a couple of days when we didn’t know how we were going to get through this one. But our lovely friends cared for us and helped us think it through and we ended up buying a newish van (with financing) that we’ll sell at the end of our trip. Thus ends more than a decade of life with our dear Previa. We were thankful to have it, and we’re thankful for good credit and a way out of a breakdown at an inopportune time.

After a few days at the ranch, we’re on our way, moving a little quicker than we were planning to make up for lost time, driving across the country to get to our family reunion in Detroit. 

The ranch was what it always is, a refuge and place of love. I don’t have a lot of words for what it has meant to me over the years. It has been an anchor, as Kai put it. We are so blessed to know TJ and Mark and to spend time with them. 

I feel sad, as I always do, leaving California. I always want to do everything and see everyone, and it’s just not possible in the amount of time allotted in a visit. I have to content myself with what we have, the time we have, the energy we have for visiting. 

What I want to remember is waterfalls, birds in the morning, Isaac identifying a Stellar’s Jay, the red-tailed hawks that soar over canyons, waking to birdsong, hummingbirds. I want to remember the sweetness of getting acquainted after a long while, the quiet of the mornings, driving long hours, breaking down and finding a way through, good conversations in the car, being together, blue lakes on the side of the road, mountains in the distance, walking through a mission, sitting by fountains, singing together. 

Lakes are amazing, aren’t they? What a gift, a body of water inland, just when you were missing the sea. 

I’m happy to say that I’m 86% of the way through my World Whisperer 3 edit. Soon it will be off to my editor and then out to my Amazing Unicorn Readers’ Group. And then I’ll be writing the fourth. Life is good.

***

I’ve been in wildflower heaven on this trip. I was already very pleased with a month of driving in May, wildflowers on the sides of the road in California. And then we went to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks and it was three days of driving through mountain ranges and forests with flowers scattered in every direction. Fields of color, whole hillsides; lupine and Indian paintbrush, balsamroot and Jacob's ladder.

We swam in a lake that reflected the peaks of the Grand Tetons. We collected stones and the kids caught garter snakes. Solomon, who is an incredible extrovert, brought his snake, curled around his neck, to the picnic tables of unsuspecting people who didn’t love snakes quite as much as he does. 

We hiked along a lupine trail. We saw Old Faithful, the geyser that can mostly be counted on to erupt every hour and a quarter or so. We saw rainbow pools that looked like they came from another world. Now we drive across Montana and Wyoming and into South Dakota, still on our way, on our way. 

I don’t ever mean to communicate that everything is easy, when I talk about our life. If you have teenagers, you will know what I mean by “flashes of harmonious living,” or “moments of peace.” It is these moments of peace, of being in wilderness together, that make it worth it. But traveling and camping is not exactly restful, though it is restful for the mind. My mind is always happy to have a break from billboards and price tags. But we are cooking our food and breaking down and setting up camp every day, as well as driving for hours in between. We are navigating the questions of why we can’t live in a country where we all speak the language as a first language. We are doing the work of raising young people who are wrestling with big questions. Sometimes I feel that I never stop moving, relating, packing things in and out of bags, cooking. 

But it is worth it. We want to form a family culture of wonder and talking about all the things, even the hard things. One thing we’ve talked about lately is that every kid gets the family they get, and it is what kids do with what they’re given that makes the difference. We also talk about keeping their choices open, learning as much as they can so they can grow up and choose where they want to live, what they want to do. I believe some of my kids will choose to live in North America. Some of them may choose to live in Asia. Some of them, who feel very certain of their future, may change their minds when they get older. 

Some practical notes: 

- We’re traveling with a two man tent that was a wedding gift and is still in great shape, and a six man tent that Christy gave us. Kai and Kenya are in charge of the big tent, where the kids sleep. When we stop, they set it up and Chinua sets ours up. They inflate the two air mattresses I bought. Chinua and I got Hiker Thermarests, and they are my new favorite thing in the world- just enough padding to keep the stones from breaking through. But we are already used to a hard bed in Thailand. We have two kids on one double mattress and three on the other. While they set up, I set out snacks and start cooking dinner.

- Egg tortillas with salsa (crack an egg in a hot, oiled pan and smash a corn tortilla on it, flip it after the egg is mostly cooked), egg burritos, macaroni and cheese with tuna, and canned soup, are our quick foods. I make oatmeal in the morning and we drink tea and coffee. I have a pour-over filter which is my best friend. We have a cooler and buy ice daily. We eat a lot of sandwiches, Clif bars (which the kids think are the most amazing things ever made) and drink mostly water. I feel like I’ve discovered an antidote to the slow leak of money from buying coffee on the road. I buy a big bottle of concentrated cold brew coffee and milk and keep them in the cooler- at that afternoon need coffee moment, I pour some of each into a thermos and am content.

- We sleep in state parks, national forests, or national parks, which are all still very cheap. The best deal we got was $15/night. The best moment we had was stopping at a campground that said ‘FULL’ in the evening in Yellowstone, ready to ask if they knew of any campground in the park that had space. “I’m not full,” the lady told me. “I just had a cancellation.” I cheered. 

- I have a moment each day when I think I might not get through the day. An afternoon of driving, needing to find a campsite, and do dinner and clean up and all that stuff feels like too much. I may meltdown. Mostly I don't though, and the moment always passes. 

 

This seems to be true of life. 

Pleasures:

  • Isaac singing in the car
  • Leafy telling stories in the next tent- “There were three magical rainbow chickens. They had waffles for eyes.”
  • Solomon weaving rope out of grasses, asking, in the middle of a sage field, “can’t you just leave me here for the night, and come back and get me in the morning? I’m making a pillow out of sage.”
  • Kai spotting a mother black bear and her cub, twenty feet away from us.
  • Kenya’s dreamy eyes and her excitement when she hears about ranger work.
  • Birding together; osprey, orioles, bald eagles in the morning, red-tailed hawks, trumpeter swans and their babies.
  • Every flower, every single one, calling to me. 

Close.

(I wrote this post a few days ago. It's a bit hard to get wifi on the road!)

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Today is gorgeous. Sunshine and blue sky. Hay fever. Trees everywhere, rosemary, sage growing where I can pluck it and smell it. There are birds we have never seen before. Family and all its messy spilling over of love, misunderstanding and stretching, growing. When we are traveling like this we don’t have the normal rhythms of separating and coming back together. It puts pressure on us and builds lasting memories in us.

Since the family arrived, we have been traveling from place to place. We started at Christy’s house in Santa Cruz, as they recovered from jet lag and adjusted to the chilly weather with groans and expressions of disbelief. “This is summer?” Kenya kept asking. “Are you sure?” Christy took us to Wilder Ranch, a beautiful spot where the kids climbed an enormous, sprawling spruce tree and ran through the root systems of gigantic aloe plants.

Then we drove to Nevada City, where we spent an intense and very cold three days at a campground for a gathering of communities like ours (Christ-centered, created for travelers). Chinua has helped to focalize these gatherings for the last few years along with our friends Heather and Gabe, but this is the first I was able to attend.

I loved it. Every minute. We set up our tents for the first time on this trip, and huddled by the fire. There was another family that we’ve known for a long time but haven’t seen in forever, with kids who are the same ages as ours, and my kids were in bliss. Board games, movies, drawing time, even a wildly mismatched game of Red Rover… the big kids watched the little ones and I was able to attend nearly all the seminars.

Then we went to Claire’s house, Innerchange Outer Circle in San Francisco, one of the most love-soaked houses I’ve ever been in. I’m often effected by the feel of a place, and that place was heavenly to me. Outer Circle in an order that reaches out to homeless and disenfranchised people in San Francisco, so it is mercy-soaked, and also familiar, as we spent years in San Francisco doing the same.

And then we spent time in Mill Valley, spending time with Cate and our other friends, hiking along Muir Beach Overlook, and driving out to see the elephant seals in Point Reyes, as well as the carcass of a beached blue whale. (Very large, very amazing, very stinky.)

And now we are in Yosemite, living in our tents, cooking oatmeal on a little camping stove in the forest. It feels like the land, except for the tents part. We drew close to the park on the first night, but stopped at a place called Moccasin for the night, as it was getting dark. We set up our tents right next to Don Pedro lake, and the kids swam while I cooked dinner. Later that night, after everyone was in bed and the dishes were done, the food in the bear locker, the valuable stuff locked away, I swam. I waded into the water in the sight of thousands of stars, and the only thing I could see, other than the stars, was a cross on the hill, outlined in white twinkle lights. The water rippled out from me, black and silky and quiet. Bats winged over the surface.

It has not been easy, in some ways, to re enter my life. My beliefs on the sanctity of motherhood are challenged as I move from morning till night, taking care of the needs of many other people. They are the most beautiful, joyous creatures, leggy and hilarious. They make me laugh more than I have ever laughed, I forgot how much I laugh when I’m with them. 

But it is a road trip with five kids in a van, ages four to fourteen, you can fill in the blanks. I am floating in a pool of people and it is sometimes hard to remember the closeness I felt to God on my pilgrimage. My life lesson is to bring my solitude-starved self to God at the end of the day, allow him to smooth the creases, correct the false identities, soothe the indignity I feel at being a servant, and bring me back to the center. I am his and he is mine and look at this beautiful life. I swim and I swim, the night is all around me. The stars are everywhere. The cross on the hill reminds me that this is a suffering kind of joy and that is right, that is good. I’m in the right place.

Pilgrimage.

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Today I drive the last day of my solitary pilgrimage, heading North to pick my family up at the airport. I'm over the moon. I can't wait to hug them, hug them, kiss them, hug them, and kiss them. One month!

In this month I slept in 17 different homes, only spent one or two days in any location (except once), and shared circles (meditation or devotion circle) 12 times. I have sat with friends on so many different days that I can't remember any more who I told what, or who said what. I've been frantically trying to write it all down. My van has run well, and I have seen beautiful things beyond counting. Wildflowers in the beginning, mountain ranges in the middle, high desert and rolling hills, the ocean. I have been welcomed and cared for.

It has been so beautiful. I was feeling a little lost, and I have come back to myself, and back to my place in God in a rich way. I feel hopeful. 

Of course I have a hundred creative projects I want to work on. Some of them with the kids. I have homeschool ideas and family thoughts. I'm excited to get back to live with my crazy, blessed people.

But most of all I feel tucked back in. I feel like I could just turn my head and God is there, behind me, waiting for me to reach out for him. That's all I need. I don't need to be more than a daughter. I am working on living with God today, every day. Knowing I am loved, that Jesus directs his thoughts tenderly toward me.

I pray that today you know you are loved, that the knowledge keeps occurring to you throughout the day, surprising you with its wonder. 

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.