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.

Path of Springs Launch Day!

Today is the day! Path of Springs, my newest little bird, flies out into the world.

New news? As of right now, my books are available in every ebook store. You can pick your store of choice on my books page here.

If you haven't read World Whisperer yet, what are you waiting for? Here's the link to buy your copy. 

Here's the link for Path of Springs (World Whisperer Book 2).

And I started a Facebook group for discussion of the series. You can find that here.

The paperback version is almossssst ready. I'll let you know as soon as it is.

Continue on for your excerpt of Path of Springs. As always, thank you for all your support, reviews, encouragement, and purchases. You are the best readers ever, in all of life, in the universe. 

 

PATH OF SPRINGS

CHAPTER 1

 

Western Worker village, Shore of the Great Sea

 

The first time she saw the giant bird was the day she gave birth to her baby boy. Jerutha paced, gasping for air, while pain like hot knives spread from the lowest part of her belly to the very tips of her fingers. She walked the small birthing room wildly, shoulders held against the pain, and took a deep breath.

She tried humming as the spasm subsided. The birthing room she had prepared was peaceful at least. The herbs she had tied to the doorway released their gentle scent into the air. The walls were white and clean, and a few squares of sunshine fell across the simple mattress on the floor. She breathed. The ache in her heart hurt more than anything. She wanted her stepdaughter, Isika. She wanted her mother.

She couldn’t have either of them, and the old midwife wouldn’t be much comfort, coming only at the end of her labor to help the baby into the world. Focus on the baby, she told herself. When she had her child in her arms, she wouldn’t be so lonely. Now, though, she had no one except her husband, Nirloth, the old village priest. Not so long ago, the house had been full of life. But Nirloth’s stepchildren—Isika, Benayeem, Ibba, and Kital—were gone, and she missed them desperately. Since they left, a gray haze had covered the house as Nirloth grew sicker. His death seemed imminent. He skipped many days of temple work, and the villagers grew nervous that the goddesses would retaliate in anger. 

Jerutha paced and swung her arms, preparing herself for the next wave of pain. What she would really like was to go into the forest to have her baby. Or to the sea. She could sit on its shores and let the pain drift out into the water. But she must stay in this room, alone until the midwife came. Another pain ripped through her and she gasped. She fumbled for the birthing ropes she had tied to the rafters, gripping them until her knuckles were white. The pain subsided, and she exhaled. The spasms were coming more quickly now. She whimpered, afraid. How could she do this alone? No one had ever told her just how much it would hurt.

 Just when her terror felt unbearable, there was a breath of sweet-smelling air and a bird landed in the birthing room doorway. Jerutha froze. The bird was massive, as black as midnight, though when it lifted its wings, its feathers gleamed like jewels, purple and red in the light. She couldn’t move from fear. A strange sound, a hum overlaid with words, came from the bird, though Jerutha could not say how. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the bird said. “Rest.” 

It sang a low, quiet song, and Jerutha’s terror and loneliness eased until she was filled with warmth and comfort. She lay on the mattress and dozed between pains. When she woke, the bird was gone. The midwife arrived and she rose to grasp the birthing ropes and deliver her son into the world. 

 

The midwife checked the baby over silently. She bathed him, then Jerutha held her baby in her arms for the first time. A son. He moved his little mouth, searching for food, so she held him to her breast and he moved his face back and forth until he found her and latched on. She nursed him a long time, and when he seemed satisfied, she held him out in front of her. He opened his eyes and looked at her—a little mouse-bright creature, soft and new. She kissed him all over his face and marveled over his tiny body, his miniature hands and feet. A fleeting thought drifted through her mind. Who was the bird? How had he granted her this strange peace?

Jerutha and her newborn son lay curled together for hours, feeding and sleeping. The old midwife went home after she brought Jerutha the day’s food; a weak porridge, filled today with chopped green vegetables for strength. She was staring at the baby’s perfect, sleeping face again when a shadow fell over her. She looked up, expecting to see Nirloth, but was startled to see four strange men, dressed in the robes of priests, standing on the ground of their courtyard. It was unspeakably rude to tread on another family’s grounds except for extreme circumstances. Jerutha’s heart beat rapidly as she covered herself. 

“Woman,” one of the men said, and she shivered at the sound of his voice. “Dress yourself and attend us.” 

“Lord,” she said, because though she didn’t know who he was, he was clearly a man of great power. “I have given birth to a new son, not five hours ago.”

“We have grave business with your husband and it cannot wait,” the man said.

“Oh, but he is very sick,” Jerutha replied, her heart still tapping a rapid, terrified rhythm.

“We know, and that is why it cannot wait. Please dress and attend us.”

 

They turned and walked toward the house, and Jerutha knew they would go to Nirloth whether or not she was there. Wanting to spare him, she sat up and pulled her heavy outer dress over her head, wincing at the stiffness in her muscles, the pain in her abdomen. She may not have felt much love for the old man, but pity twisted in her gut as she thought of him lying alone in his bed. She picked up her baby and held him close, tucking his soft head under her chin. She felt the fierceness of her love for the tiny creature, the way it was already forming her, shaping her into something stronger than she had ever been, yet helpless to save them from whatever would happen next.

The men stood around Nirloth’s sleeping pallet in the dim room. Their faces looked repulsed as they stared down at the old man. He sat up and shifted so his back leaned against the wall. 

“Jerutha,” he said, as she entered. “Prepare some tea for these men.” His voice was weak.

She stared at him, but he didn’t look at her again. Surely he hadn’t missed seeing the baby in her arms. She bowed her head and went to the kitchen, anger sparking deep within her. Who were these other priests? She wouldn’t have lost her stepchildren if it wasn’t for the ways of priest and goddess.

Isika, Ben, Ibba and Kital were considered outsiders because they had walked out of the desert from an unknown place with skin as richly black as the losh trees that surrounded the Worker village. The Workers had finally succeeded in driving the children away, even if by accident. Jerutha felt her anger flame higher, remembering. Isika and Ben had fled to rescue their brother when Nirloth, in the way of the Workers, had sacrificed him to the goddesses, sending him out to the deep ocean in a tiny boat. Had they succeeded in rescuing him? Where were they now? Were they safe? She laid her baby in a nest of blankets and bent to revive the fire, then filled the kettle and put it over the flames for tea.

Her mind raced. Who were these men? She had heard rumors, only whispers, really, of other villages, other Workers, but she had never seen one before. They seemed like priests, they were dressed like priests, but she had never before considered that Nirloth might have men to answer to. She stood frozen as she listened to what the men were saying. 

“Nirloth, you have allowed too many cracks to enter the structure of this village,” the man who had spoken to Jerutha said. “You haven’t made the required sacrifices, the temple is filthy, and, worst of all, you brought black outsiders to work in the temple. You have ruined this village, its power is diminished and the favor of the goddesses is no longer upon it.”

Jerutha heard her husband gasp, his breath becoming jagged and choked. Her heart caught in her chest and she scooped up her baby and ran into the room. He sat, clutching at his chest, and she rushed to him and helped him lie on his side. The man droned on, heedless of Nirloth’s distress. Jerutha stared up at the strange priest. His face was a shadow in the darkness of the room.

“The goddesses are angry. You are no longer priest of this place, Nirloth. Hakar will take your place here and you will be his servant.”

Nirloth continued to gasp for breath. He turned away from Jerutha without even glancing at the baby in her arms, and pressed his face to the wall. Jerutha looked up at the men. 

“Please,” she said. “You have said what you came to say. Please let him rest.”

They looked at her and slowly one of the men, who hadn’t yet spoken, nodded. He put his hand on the arm of the spokesman, and the four of them turned to leave. Jerutha nestled the sleeping baby beside her and turned to put an arm around Nirloth, who was shaking, his face still pressed to the wall. 

 

He didn’t live through the night. The only thing he said to Jerutha was something she barely heard. 

“Tell Isika I’m sorry,” he whispered. A few hours later, she stood and left the shell of her husband, walking out to the birthing room in shock. She lay on the mattress and nursed her new son. Nothing felt real and she was afraid.

She watched, numb, as over the next days, the strange priests performed the funeral rituals. She worried about what would become of her and her son. Even in her grief and fear, the tiny boy was clutching at her heart, a perfect being who comforted in the endless nights of worry.

The priests left the village without saying when the new priest would come back. During the weeks that followed, Jerutha settled into a kind of life that was hard and lonely, but peaceful; making porridge in the morning, tying the little baby to her so she could work in the garden. She began selling her vegetables in the market, leaving herself only the ones that were misshapen or overripe. The coins she gained helped her to buy grain for the porridge. 

The baby was remarkably good. He blinked at her when she bathed him in the warmth of midday, and he grew more solid as the days went on, smiling at her when her heart felt unbearably lonely. The people of the village complained and muttered because there was no priest, and Jerutha felt as though she was always looking over her shoulder, waiting for more trouble to appear. She didn’t know what would happen when the new priest arrived. She supposed she would move into her brother’s house, though it was too small. She thought often of her mother in those days. Jerutha’s mother had wandered into the desert, insane, when Jerutha was young. She had never recovered from her first daughter being given over, sacrificed to the sea long before Jerutha was born. Jerutha missed her and wished hopelessly for a familiar hand on her shoulder on the loneliest days. Sometimes when she felt the most despair, she smelled a fragrance like the one the bird had brought with it, and she looked up, but didn’t see anything.

The moon grew and shrank four times and the baby could laugh, but Jerutha didn’t see the bird again. She wondered about it often. Was it the result of a labor dream, or had it been real?

The priests finally came back on an afternoon when the sun had leached the color out of the sky. Three this time. One marched straight into the temple and began to ring the bells and burn the incense. The other two strode into the house, going from room to room, muttering to each other. Jerutha tried to make herself small, but she couldn’t help overhearing what they said. 

“We will take the widow to Batta,” one said to the other. “The high priest wants her. She is young and already has a baby, perhaps he will marry her. If not, another priest will.” 

Jerutha felt the blood leave her face. She stumbled out to the garden. She fell to her knees on the ground, the baby banging against her ribcage, tied to her front with a long strip of cloth. He made a tiny sound of protest, and she sobbed. What were they bringing her to? How could she protect her son? She looked around wildly, thinking of running out into the wilderness, away from priests and men. But she sat back in the dust, knowing she wouldn’t survive alone with a baby. She cried until she couldn’t cry anymore and sat staring without seeing.

A shadow crossed the golden afternoon light in the vegetable garden she had planted with Isika, many months before. She felt a stirring of air and smelled the sweet breeze from her birthing day. Despite itself, her heart lifted. She looked up to see the bird standing before her. It was not as large as she remembered. It was taller than her as she sat there, but her memory had made it taller than a standing man. The colors rippled through its feathers as it opened and closed its wings once. Jerutha felt a strange rush of hope as the bird spoke. 

“Isika gave you a promise before she left,” the bird said, once again making its words flow into the air around Jerutha in a way she couldn’t see. “She told you she would help you if you called for her. Tell me, young one. I will pass on your message.” 

Jerutha gasped as hope blazed up in her heart. And then she began to speak.

Continue... Buy now.

 

 

 
 

 

Path of Springs Cover Reveal!

Dear ones, in the midst of Advent preparations and getting my house ready for three very special guests, (Christy and the girls are coming!) I am releasing a book. In just five more days, Path Of Springs will be out in the world!

Chinua and I are both artists, (what that means is that we have a house full of children who get moody and emotional when their creations don't turn out the way they were hoping- we are an tempestuous household, not one of those chill households you hear rumors about) and we have collaborated before, but this was particularly satisfying. I drew the characters and he took what I made and created designs around my drawings. 

We remade the first cover as well, because as much as I love the artwork of Isika that my friend Tom made, I showed my cover to a group of booky people and they didn't guess the right genre at all. So we went back to work, as you do.

Here's what we made:  

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Isika. 

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And Benayeem.  

I love all my characters, but I particularly love these two. 

If you haven't read World Whisperer yet, why for? You have some catching up to do!  (You can buy it here.)

I'll be back soon with an excerpt for you. Till then, be well in this beautiful advent season.