The gap.

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The world turns over and morning comes again, a pure, slight, yellow thing. It is so happy. I give it the side-eye. Am I ready to accept that the old things fall off? That yesterday was yesterday? The whole world is full of its psychology, the effect of past and future and the tides of human sorrow and incompetence. It doesn't seem like we can actually let yesterday go, when it has consequences that go on forever.

And yet we have morning. Impossible every day, that the light comes back, it is not gone.  

Isaac marches sleepily downstairs every morning, his arms full of clothes that he has pulled from his drawers. He finds me in the studio, where I am always working away at books and illustrations, and sits beside me. He lists his imaginary friends for me, who are more like imaginary warriors. There is Hulk Buster Sword (swoid, in his peculiar Brooklyn-esque accent), F'Isaac, Magic F'Isaac (who is invisible and often comes on errands with us, perched behind me on the motorbike) and a bunch with ever-changing names that I suspect (just between you and me) that Isaac makes up on the spot. Their names are things like Cono and Eeemy. All of these fighting strong guys surround Isaac every day. And at the center of their circle, he sits on my lap and snuggles into me as often as he can.

I have my own fighting guys. Some unwelcome. The Anxious Hot-head. The Fight Without Reason. Ranter. Beast of Unexpressed Grief. And then there is one who is always welcome, but like Magic F'Isaac, she's invisible. I can see her if I don't look straight at her, rather looking into sparkling rivers or the last light of the day, illuminating the grasses. She stands just beyond, her silhouette like a long line, a smudge of brightness, happiness, ready to fight for more days, ready to try again. To relate well, to be the brave one. She marches downstairs with her arms full of clothes in the morning. 

Here, the house stirs, and Leafy begins his daily walk. Around the garden, behind the house, over to the well, circling back. His mind is full of ideas, he doesn't like to be called out of them, but we can reach him if we try. He skips and runs when he thinks of something particularly exciting. Last night he busked for the first time this season; just a 10-year-old boy and his melodica, sitting on the curb, playing the Star Wars theme song. My heart is unbearably tender toward him.

Yesterday my Thai teacher asked me why Kai dragged Solo across the floor in a sleeping bag. I sighed and held my head in my hands. Our Thai teacher comes once a week to teach Leafy and Solo, and most of the time, I can get the other kids to be quiet during the lesson. But not always. 

"Because," I told her, "Isaac lay on the floor and kicked Solo, and then Solo kicked Isaac back, and Kai told Solo to stop, but Solo didn't listen, so Kai decided that the only way to solve it was to angrily drag Solo across the floor in his sleeping bag, Solo yelling all the way, in the middle of your lesson. He had the best of intentions. It's only his methods that are lacking. Plus, a man was cutting tiles across the street and the sound made us all lose our minds a bit."

We don't do simple around here very well. Every single action has layers of complexity. There are always other kids who want a turn, or more mouths than bites, or tiles being cut, or feelings that are hurt. When I want simplicity, I stare at the sky, so wide and blue. Looking back at life, I feel unbearably tender toward Kai, trying his best to help the situation, fumbling it a bit, dealing with my consequent annoyance. 

I've had all these theological questions lately. They zoom around my head, like dragonflies, or mayflies, getting caught in my hair, my teeth.

If I have such a hard time relating, can God love me? Can he relate to me? There are many of us in the world who feel cut off from others. Can they relate to God? If it is all about relationship, and there is some cut, some gap in the heart between self and others, am I in the family in the same way? These may sound like casual questions, but they have had me gasping in fear and grief this week, ready to call it quits, to not try anymore. 

But I glance to the side and see her there, my warrior who is barely visible, up in the morning, her arms full of clothes. She is not alone, I see. Jesus, her companion, stands with her, a shimmer, a light within her. She is ready to try, and he has run toward her, meeting her where she cannot cross, finding her in the gaps. He is determined, his heart is unbearably tender toward her.  

 

A Pond and my New Book

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Today I have a pond for you. 

The last few weeks have been some of my lowest in years. Perhaps I am absorbing the sorrow of this nation, perhaps I am finally losing my marbles. I flail around as always, looking for a way out. Everywhere I look: sorrow and the mistakes of humanity, the mistakes of living in fear of others, fear of the unknown. 

But I sat by this pond and I breathed in good things.  

Water bugs ran across the surface of the pond, casting tiny shadows. I watched for many minutes. Their legs make a delicate dimple on the water that reflects sky, and you think, "Maybe they'll fall in, I hope they don't fall in." But they never do. Lighter than air. 

I am thirty-six years old, how long can I go on wishing I had been made differently? Wishing I was more light-hearted, less difficult, less complicated. Neurotypical.  

And the world beats on, while I'm in the dark. And mistakes are made, and bad people are elevated, and so here it is: stop wishing. 

These are some true things: 

1. We cannot live in fear. Fear will choke us and keep us from each other. And Jesus was all about being together, loving one another, not being afraid of the other.  

2. You are dearly, dearly loved by the Holy One, the Maker of the Universe. So is every refugee, disenfranchised person, disabled person, woman, person of color, gay, lesbian or trans person, and immigrant. All of us, dearly loved.

3. Beautiful things have always happened during difficult times. There will be a lot of beauty in the days ahead. May God open our eyes. 

I'm not good for many things: you probably don't want to meet me, I'm socially awkward and scared in crowds.  

But I will keep writing. And my stories will be against fear and for acceptance. 

I have a fun announcement: World Whisperer 2 has a title. It's called Path of Springs, and it will launch on December 15, just a tiny bit later than I first imagined, back when I forgot I didn't have superpowers.  

I am making a new cover for World Whisperer with my Superstar husband, and also a cover for Path of Springs. They are not in existence yet, but you'll be the first to know when they are.  

In the meantime, here's a little time lapse of me drawing Isika for the first cover.Β 

 

Dear Kai, (A letter to my fourteen-year-old son)

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Fourteen is tall, brilliant, handsome, and strong. You love reading, YouTube, roaming town looking for good smoothies, time with your friends, and playing pool. We play board games, and recently, while we were watching Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie, you paused it and asked with concern, "Are you sure you want to watch this? It seems a bit scary for you." (The answer was no, actually I didn't want to watch it. I left you and your sister to it.)

You tell the younger kids to give me a break sometimes, if they're all whining at me at the same time. You make lunch, or play with Isaac, or run out to get food from a street stall for us. You are right in the curve between kid and man. Playing, reading, lounging, then jumping up to help. You are thoughtful and sometimes oblivious. In the circle at Shekina Garden, where we ask questions, I always love your answers. One day, the question was "what was something you really, really looked forward to?" You told everyone that it was Isaac being born. (Melt.)

The other night we were buying street food for dinner. Isaac and Kenya and I went to a noodle stall and you and the other boys went to buy shawarma. When you came back, you realized the man hadn't understood your order and had only given you two. You didn't even hesitate, you gave the shawarma to your brothers and went to make yourself an omelette. It's like this, one minute I'm wondering whether you really see outside yourself, the next, you're doing something so effortlessly thoughtful that I'm certain you do. 

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Because it's not always easy these days.  It begins. You test, I push back, you prod, I snap. I know you deserve a mother ten times as good, ten times as patient as you figure out your frame, your outlines, the things that make you, you and me, me. I know it! I wish you had someone without any ego at all, as you push at the boundaries of this relationship.

 But you have me, and I guess this is what it means anyway, because none of us find ourselves in a perfect landscape photo, empty of conflict or other people. We learn to navigate by bumping into things, and sometimes it feels like we are in the dark. (But I love you, this dark is full of love for you.)

 We circle around one another, finding ways to connect. I'm learning when to cut conversation off and when to listen harder. (Both are important parts of this.) Why we do the things we do is not up for discussion every single day. It can't be, if we're going to stay sane. But I'm happy to discuss the world, God, science, why art is important, your favorite movies, your latest blended milk drink concoction.

 The tapestry of my parenting feels more full of holes than ever, and I have never been more thankful for your father. We are doing this together and in many ways he is more suited for your questions, your pushing. You have other adults in your life, and you need them.

And God fills the holes, he breathes in them and you grow and grow and your mind amazes me even as it infuriates me with its wild logic. You are boy, you are becoming man. You were my baby and you will always be my son.

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Love, Mama

PS: If any readers are interested, here is the first letter I wrote to Kai on this blog, ten years ago, when he was four.  

Five Things

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1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.

 

Written on a bus journey

So much water. It rains and rains and the streets run with water.

The other day, I saw a monk sitting and enjoying a foot massage at the bus station. It seemed rude to ask for a photo, so I kept it in my mind, and I'm writing it down here. I'll forget it eventually, and then one day I'll read this post and t will bring to mind the monk sitting and smiling while his feet were being shaken back and forth by a machine in the grimy bus station.

I remember the sun, how it illuminates everything the way love does, bringing out all the color and texture. I am finding a way through, in being small. It has always been the best way.

The lights shine on the wet black road and I remember being a girl in the back of our minivan, my brother and sister beside me. We pretended the cars behind us were dogs and we were riding a large dog that ran away from them. My kids pretend something similar now, though we are rarely in a car these days, always a chariot, open to the wind. We drive down the village road, then the tree road, then the chicken road, then the flower road. Kenya has named all the roads. 

There are days when I grow weary of serving. And there are days when it seems like the most intense of blessings. Both are true; serving is tiring, and a blessing. My model is the giver of all life; Jesus also grew weary. There is that story where he went to look for a quiet place and the crowd followed him. I think of that when I'm just falling asleep for a short nap after lunch, when I've been up working since 5:30, and I hear the door open and Isaac comes padding into the room. He wants to take a nap with me. He lies beside me and tells me he loves me when I'm just about to drift off and I think of Jesus' compassion on that crowd and how I have such a small crowd in comparison. Just my family, my community, my circles of people. Mostly Isaac. He's the most needy of my crowd; a leper who needs to be healed again and again. A leper who throws food even though he's well past the age of throwing food.

An intense blessing: to be someone who can offer hope and comfort, even in the smallest ways. What a life giving thing, to be that person in the life of someone else. Even when they wake you up from the most lovely of sleeps, shoving their cute face into yours and saying loudly, "I'll be very quiet, Mama!" 

When you truly love other people, it is like loving yourself. You are affirming that the kingdom of heaven is a place that shines with love. It is radiant with kindness and grace, it is a place anyone would want to live, including you. A place where faulty, flawed people are accepted and cared for, not only tolerated. When you give that out, you are offering it to yourself as well. The more you truly love, the more you grow able to receive love, to offer it to yourself as well, in a square of chocolate, a nap (even interrupted), a walk on a busy day. Love without judgment softens your heart to receive that most intense stream of love, the one you can barely handle if you truly open yourself to it, straight from the heart of God. Love without judgment stops the cycle of love. Your first response becomes love. Whether it is your beloved, who can be irritable and short-tempered, a monk getting a foot massage, or your own tiny leper butting his way into your quiet moment, you look with eyes of love. 

This is the way to let the love in. Because "they" becomes "we." We are all loved, you think. We are all radiant with it.