Thoughts on walls and bans and fear.

I look around the world and my heart breaks. I feel so useless. I'm far away and I can't do anything. But I can write. So let me use this space to tell you my feelings.

There is a lot of angry talk about Christians on the Internet today. Because this executive order from Trump, banning people from seven countries, even if they have legal visas and green cards, has language in it that specifically mentions religion. A Muslim ban. He has denied that it is a Muslim ban, but if it looks like a Muslim ban, sounds like a Muslim ban, and has the effect of banning people only from Muslim countries, it may just be a Muslim ban.

Besides the fact that these ideas don't make any sense, and are succeeding in keeping out good people who are refugees or green card holders who are members of American society, (and don't get me started on my precious friends from Iran, and the Muslims I love) I wanted to talk about how Trump's ideas hold up through a Christian lens.

The anger against Christians that I see is justified, if Christians are people who target other religions and make walls to keep out refugees. This is inhumane.

But thankfully, it is also not Christianity. If you are a Christian, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Because this is not yours to own. You don't need to defend these actions. You can actively refute them, deny them, resist them, and act in the opposite spirit. 

There was a change, in the Bible. In the beginning, there was a time when God was making a nation for himself to display his goodness in the world. This was Israel. This was the promise and the land and the law. And it was beautiful, in its time. It was true and righteous. And then Jesus came. And the whole amazing power of Jesus's message is that it changes. It turns inward. It changes from "nation" to "many nations." The New Testament is not the same as the First Testament. It travels along, goes deeper, goes farther. 

Perhaps there was a time that the majority of people in America were Christian. I wouldn't say it did a whole lot for America as a whole, racism flourished and the poor went unfed. But let's drop that desire. Let's let it go. The idea of getting back to a "Christian nation" is entirely unbiblical. I heartily disagree with the idea that it ever existed (let's ask African slaves and indigenous people about how Christian the forefathers were), but whatever it is, and this idea is many things; fearful, exclusive, powerful, shrewd as political agenda; it is not biblical.

The Christians of the Bible were told how to live and love in places where they were the minority and often oppressed. They wrote the book on how to suffer gladly. How to live in peace among people who believed differently. The people in their cities worshiped gods by abusing temple prostitutes, and the Christians were told to "live peaceably with all." 

All the words to Christians were about how to live while being hurt or persecuted. The words all had something to do with love, how to live in love. "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." The other advice was about how to live within, how to be transformed, elevated, brought into a new way of life from the inside. 

What different times we are in now. As Christians, we have so much power, so much wealth, so much more voice. We have such power, we can hurt so many, so quickly. By making this about fear, about some idea of a nation that we remember (falsely, I believe) as moral and Christian, we risk losing everything transcendent about our faith, our foolishly un-self-protective, radical faith that is based on a brilliant, loving, accepting God-man who allowed himself to be killed to open doors to the whole world. We do not serve him well when we live in fear and allow our fear to direct us.

We are not meant to champion some "safe," exclusive way of being in the world. Walls can't do anything to keep us from harm, because all the evil in the world is right here with us. Poverty exists in our hearts and fear of poverty causes us to be stingy with others. Fear of the unknown, fear of others, causes us to sin by being unloving. This is not how we are meant to reflect the holy, tender, sacrificial light of Jesus. We are meant to embrace, to love, to offer help. We are meant to love foolishly, at times when we may even be hurt because of our love. We can't lose this about ourselves. It is the only thing we should be afraid of. 

Dear Leafy (A letter to my eleven-year-old son.)

And now you are eleven.

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Not possible.

But, somehow possible. Funny how time is like that, hm? Inexorable, I believe they call it. Or just real, a real thing that ticks along until babies are tall and wide shouldered, grinning and creative.

Every morning you come into the studio to say hi to me. I've been working for a couple hours and you have some questions for me. You might ask:

"Can I work on Omega 9?" (the video game you are designing with a friend)

Answer: "No, have breakfast first."

Or: "Can you make oatmeal?"

Answer: "In a minute, when I'm done with this scene."

Or you may tell me about your dream, or ask me a question about writing, publishing, designing, or whether we have milk and if you can have your friend Caelen over later.

Almost always, you are the first person I see in the morning. I love it.

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You are an eleven-year-old version of the sweet, kind, hilarious Leafy boy you've always been. You are handsome, giving, goofy, punny, and you are working on what seems to be stand up delivery. You are always surprising us with what you think of, what you say. The quirk bubbles out of you, and spills over onto the rest of us and makes our life more like an adventure. An adventure where we sometimes travel in Leafy's mind, which has a lot of superheroes and jokes that don't miss a beat.

You are inspired. The minute you wake up every day, you are thinking of what you will do that day: writing, reading, creating. You dream in class, you dream while asleep, you dream while walking, eating,  and when you are supposed to be doing other things.

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You are currently working on writing a book, creating a video game (the aforementioned Omega 9), a YouTube channel for gameplay, and a YouTube channel for animation. You never feel that you to be perfect at something before doing it, or making it public, and I think nothing will carry you farther in life than that; the ability to make something and pass it along, getting better as you go, without perfectionism.

You are kind, generous, and mostly easy-going. In the last year we've seen more of your temper than ever before, which is to be expected, I suppose. You're learning to control it, I think. It takes a lot, and a very certain type of thing, to rile you up. You have no tolerance for injustice, and you don't like being interrupted when you are deep in your thought world. (This one is hard in a big family.) You're amazing at drawing people in, making sure they feel included. You have no strict perimeters about who gets to be your friend. You're kind to young kids and sweet with adults. You have a bad habit of laughing while we're scolding you. But you are mostly a laughing boy, so I guess it makes sense. 

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You're a bit of a secret, I think. We don't know yet just how wonderful you are. We see glimpses all the time, but I believe some day we'll all be dazzled. There will be a flash and we'll be sitting there saying, "Did you see that? That was Leafy!" And we'll be telling everywhere we knew you when you were a baby.

I'll be the most proud of all. I love you and I have always loved you so much,

Mama.

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Short-circuit.

Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

Isaac and Fiona, being super cute. Not arguing. 

 My kids give me many lessons, but Isaac gave me things to think about recently, perhaps reinforcing things I already know.  

He loves Memory, the game where you turn over pairs of cards, trying to get a match. In all my life I may not experience anything as delightful as playing a game with him. He laughs at every pair he finds. "Did you SEE that? How did I know it was THERE?" He gets excited when I get a pair. He gets super excited when he knows, or thinks he knows, where a pair is, hopping around on his knees and getting all trembly-cute over it. 

We have a Memory game that Miriam brought us from Germany, many years ago. The cards are adorable sets of baby animals and Isaac loves them. But the cards have been dwindling over the years, due to Isaac's habit of throwing things around (we're working on it), and the little grid of cards is really small now.  So, this Christmas I bought him a new game of Memory. I picked a Dr. Seuss set, since One Fish Two Fish is the one of the five books he wants me to read to him, ordered it, and Christy brought it over with her when she came. (Side Note: I have discovered that despite what I thought ten years ago, it actually is possible to get tired of reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. One might even be tempted to speed read through the Gox, and the Zans who opens cans, and even the Gack. Who knew?)

I was pretty excited to play it with him. I can't remember what day we first broke it out, but it was sometime in the days after Christmas. Fiona was with us. I could have predicted that there would be a little extra competition, since Fiona are Isaac are passionate kids who love to compete with each other about every single thing. They spent the three weeks they were together joyfully happy-taunting each other to see what would happen. (Tears is what would happen. Lots of "It's not." "It is." "It's not." "It is." They're totally getting married someday. JUST KIDDING. I hate it when people matchmake kid friends. Drives me crazy. But the bickering was pretty funny, when it wasn't making me want to dig into my own eardrums.)

If I was expecting anything, though, it was that Fiona would be offended by the way Isaac gloats over his growing pile of cards when he plays. "I have more than you! I have three and you have two!" He comes by the piles without any backwards-cheating on my part, too! Is it normal to be this bad at Memory at the age of 36? My focusing skills need work. I don't correct his gloating because I find it adorable, he's so utterly bewitched by his own expertise. I figured a younger kid wouldn't find it as cute.

What I couldn't have predicted was the way he would be incapacitated by the game. The new set of Memory cards was twice as big as our old set. (Yes, we lost a lot of them. Did I mention that our househelper sometimes pulls toys out of the trash she sweeps up and sometimes it's all too much? No part of my life is organized or in place, people. Don't ever think it.) 

Spread in a grid, the game looked huge. This fact took Isaac's little brain, twirled it around, and hit some sort of fuse, shutting him down completely. He was paralyzed. I mean, absolutely, completely paralyzed. He couldn't focus when either of us took our turns, he lay on the ground and cried when Fiona scored a pair. When it was his turn, he randomly flipped over two cards in a frenzy, then cried when they weren't a match. It was the game. The game was too big, the cards were different and harder to recognize. It was too much of a leap. Fiona, on the other hand, did fine. She said it was her first time playing Memory. She had nothing to compare it to, no previous triumphs to fall from.

It made me think of life and creativity. Isaac playing a new game of Memory was like my own little experiment, without a control, really, so I can't go publishing any papers, but it makes me think. I'm learning about procrastination, self-sabotage, and good habits all the time. Allthetime. I teach five not-easy kids, all of whom are brilliant, with as many procrastination, self sabotage, short-circuiting habits as you can imagine. I'm trying to teach the older ones about how to accomplish big projects without falling apart (they're getting there). And I have to do it myself, with every book I write or painting I undertake. I still have projects I need to get to, things that are still causing me to curl up like a snail in my shell because I haven't figured out how to tackle them yet. I learned a long time ago: write out all the little steps. Go bit by bit. Take a piece and then take a tiny bite of that piece. Buy the paper. Write for forty-five minutes.

For Isaac, I'll divide the cards in half and we'll play that way, slowly adding cards until he feels like the champion of Memory again.

As someone who often feels like barely a grownup, and who still can't figure out how to clean her kitchen at night, I would still offer you advice, if only because I get things done. (Sometimes.) If you have creative projects that you're working on this year, or even ones you want to do, write out all the little steps. Then make them into smaller steps. Begin checking them off. Set timers. Force one thing, then take that pleased feeling and build on it until you are the champion of creative things.  

Examples of first steps:  

-Buy the yarn

-Watch a video on drawing

-Write out the thoughts you've been dreaming over the dishes

-Make a Pinterest board of art you like

-Take a picture

-Buy a book on writing

Bonus: Here's my writing chart right now. I have to color things in to keep myself writing. I hope that makes you feel better.

Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

Yes, those are odd increments. I got confused! I'm not a graph maker! 

An Epic New Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any thoughts for your year? 

A Day in December

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On my way to get coffee I drove past a house with no yard. Laundry was hung wet on a metal rack by the front door, so close to the road that I nearly touched it as my chariot rattled by. Clothes. Some underwear, a t-shirt, a little pair of ruffled shorts. All of it various shades of salmon or peach. It caught my eye as I went by, all these pink hues, like a gentle sunset.

Tears.

I cry often, lately. It has been a hard year.

The other day I watched as a group of construction laborers got off work at 5:00, near a busy intersection in Chiang Mai. I’ve seen them many times before; they’re building a skyscraper at one of the longest lights in the city, so I end up stuck, watching them cross the street at the end of the day, still wearing their hard hats. They’re always laughing and talking, sometimes giggling as they run across the intersection. They look Keren to me; they wear beautiful handwoven bags, rubber boots, and many of them wear straw hats under their hard hats. They are short men and women who have labored all day in the sun. They are beautiful, almost too beautiful.

When other things fail, there is always prayer. My voice fails, my ability to reason, my confidence. But there is prayer, whispered prayer in the night, prayer in my heart, prayer over pots of food on the stove. Prayer as I slice vegetables, prayer as the world never stays put.

Christy and the girls are here with us in our home for Christmas. I love them so much. They are beautiful, almost too beautiful. Christy never changes. We are still both addicted to pens and books. She still carries beautiful things around the world with her. She is deep, spiritual, honest, passionate. Grief only seems to have altered her in ways that make her more like Jesus. I’m not sure the same can be said for me. I’ve been angry all year. I’ve felt anger this year beyond anything I’ve ever felt before, and it’s not only around the unfairness of death. Anger in me gets directed toward my friends, my kitchen drawer that is falling apart, my sidecar, the people who practice driving scooters in front of my house. It doesn’t come out, usually. It rages along, like a quiet fire, within.

But these last few days, it has been sadness that has come to the surface, properly, not sideways. I have been crying.

I never saw Ian sick. I was always here, on this side of the world, through all of it. Chinua was there, Christy was always there. But I was here and I saw him well and healthy, and then he was gone. It’s only starting to feel real now that we are three friends at the table instead of four. We are diminished.

Our little families sit together in the evenings, sometimes, reading Bible stories and talking about Advent. The other night, I asked the kids what brings them peace. They all had similar answers: drawing, music, nature. Solo said sucking his thumb (very rare for him these days, but I guess he still does it sometimes) and little Fiona agreed. “When I suck my thumb,” she said, “I feel so cozy, and like Abba is right here.” She’s talking about her daddy, who is on the eternal side.

Tears. Quiet fire of anger. But more tears.

Advent. The approach of Emmanuel, the footsteps that thunder toward us, shouting “Peace! Peace on the world!” Everywhere I turn, there are refugee stories. The world and little grieving girls call out in their need for peace, tangible peace that comes from somewhere else, some Godly, ethereal, dazzling place. Warmth and love and healing beyond measure. Oh how we need the eternal coming of Christ more than ever. We are drowning in our need for Jesus. We need him, we can try to drive him away with our anger, but we need him to come, to touch us, to change us.

I saw a couple arguing on their motorbike in Chiang Mai. We drove on the same road for many miles, stopping at the same intersection. They appeared to be arguing about directions. They were completely silent, because they were speaking in sign language, which made the fact that they were arguing on a motorbike even more interesting, the man swiveling to shoot contemptuous, know-it-all looks at the woman as they argued about what part of Chiang Mai had the worst traffic at this time of day. (I would assume.)

I didn’t see her face, I can only conclude that she was giving him plenty of her own looks. I believe they loved each other, that they were just bickering, that traffic got to them, that a hard day of work had their weariness coming out sideways, silently, at the red lights. I believe there was peace for them when they got home, peace for those construction laborers, some rice and a cozy place. I believe there is peace for all of us, coming toward us on loud feet, approaching with a sound like thunder. You wouldn’t expect it to be so loud, but it needs to shake us out of our anger, bring us back to a cozy place. Like he is right here.