In a new space.

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How do you make a house feel like a home?

Our new house is beautiful. It is a sudden rise up, a view and some space, but we have not changed, our money situation has not changed. So how do we reconcile this shift? How do we hold it and live inside of it, expand and live in these spaces? How do we make a home here?

The younger kids roam. They ride their bikes and their scooters. Solo rides his wave board, all geared up with elbow pads and knee pads, looking like a kid in a catalog. They run to Winnie and Josh’s house to hang out with their friends, then all of them careen over here.

The older kids hide out. They find privacy where they can, in their rooms. Kenya draws and reads. Kai tests out the computer he bought with money he saved up, a great bargain when his host family moved away and sold it to him. He throws a football (An American football, Leafy insists. A football, Kai replies, in an old argument between people who feel more rooted here or there) to his siblings with his excellent arm, and they catch it again and again. Or they all go to the basketball court.

(Rumor has it that the village was talking about a certain kid of ours (maybe Solo) who was at the basketball court at 6:00 in the morning the other day. I have a feeling that not much of what we do here will go unnoticed.)

Chinua builds shelves, installs things, and plays his trumpet. I go through boxes. But I can’t wait to finish unpacking before having people over, so people are here among the boxes, in the bones of our new life, not yet settled, not yet complete. It doesn’t feel like home if others are not here. This is the life we have always lived. I don’t know how to make it homey any other way.

So I cook and we eat together outside. We have a covered outdoor table, the delight of my heart, in our carport. Who needs to cover a car? We would rather have a table there—a mystery to our landlords, who protect their car from rain or sunshine. Every countertop in our kitchen is too short for me, so I have embraced the old art of sitting while chopping. We have dinner and Bible circle with our friends over, and everyone is a bit astounded by our new view. The light shows off on the hills. We sit on cushions in the living room, surrounded by bugs, cups, tea, and hot water in the middle of the circle.  We read John 5 together, and discuss. I am always thankful for the perspective people from around the world bring, and this time is no different, as we hear about spirituality in Mexico, Spain, and the Philippines.

I want to try to live in my life, not drift along. Probably writing stories will help. Stories of our life here in this place. And to live in something beautiful, something more spacious than we are used to? I guess it is just thankfulness that helps with that. To acknowledge what we have been given. A view. That’s a mighty thing. I didn’t form those mountains, but there they are for me to see. I feel small in comparison. I didn’t plant these trees, but here they are. It is a vulnerable thing, to learn to receive. Inside I feel used to scrapping along, sure that what I have comes from my own power. Fists up.

How do you make a house feel like a home? Open hands, relaxed shoulders, lights and candles, sitting together. Songs in the house, maybe a dance party. Homeschool and students coming to learn. Figuring out the rhythms of life. (There has to be milk for the morning, because the store is far away.) Comforting crying children. Sorting out arguments. Driving to town for meditation. Cutting flowers for a vase. Planting a vegetable garden. There are hundreds of ways to make a house feel like a home.

The Thread (Again.)

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Here I am. 

Whew. 

Big and beautiful changes have been taking place. I’ve written about following the thread before, I think, a concept I gleaned from Tim Keller, who gleaned it from George MacDonald. I have a lot of concerns in my life right now, a lot of people to take care of, a lot of futures to think about. Not to mention the teeth. All the extras and gaps, all the crowding. 

My jobs. Education, writing, and community life. All beautiful, all full. It is hard to see into the future. It feels opaque.

I find it is best to follow the thread. I envision a golden thread in front of me. Each child has their own as well. And we allow God to be God. It doesn’t mean I’m not proactive. But I’m not forcing things either. We follow.

We have big things to trust about. (We’re still looking for a place for Kai to live next year, during the week, while he’s in school.) And books to write. I offer these things like tiny jewels. I envision opening my hands. 

(Kai’s life, a tiny jewel. He is a precious, precious man boy. Radiant and upright in his heart. God knows his life and wants the best for him.)

So. 

Following the thread.

We followed it right to a new house. We’ve been in our house in Pai town for seven years, limbs stretching all the while. We were content there, even without a yard of any kind, because the house was lovely and convenient, the neighbors and our landlords very, very kind. It was perfect for the kids to walk around in town. The one thing I have sometimes wished for was a view. And maybe some garden beds. 

And then our landlords built themselves a new house and offered us their old one. It’s in a village 4 km away from Pai town, next door to our dear friends, and the view is out of this world. We took two weeks to think about it, then decided to follow the thread. We thought about our values of having people over (more space) and outdoor life. And finally, we said yes.

I’ve been slowly packing up our house over the last month, moving boxes when I had enough to fill a car. We moved two days ago. Ro, Winnie, Christy, Josh, Neil, and Aya helped us get our things over here in many trips, as well as a couple of men who lugged the heavy things. 

It feels like home right away. The view is so lovely. The kids can run around in the yard. Chinua and the older kids went out to the nearby basketball court to play last night at around 8:30, and got back at 10:00. 

We have lots to do. Fans to buy. Things to organize. I need to paint my new (own) little writing room and get a router extender so the internet will reach it. We need to plant our garden beds. Figure out our new kitchen space. I need earplugs for the squeaky floors, and to calm my heart in a new house at night. (Last night my Superstar Husband was searching for stuff at midnight, and the wood floors have this squeaky lacquer on them, so I couldn’t get to sleep.) 

In other news, the first book in my new women’s fiction series is coming out soon. And I’m working away on World Whisperer 5. 

Today I’m thinking about all those jewels in my hands. My marriage. The lives and futures of my kids. The things I don’t understand. Hopes for our community here. Friendships far and near. I open my hands and they settle into the heart of God. He cherishes them and holds them. And the thread spools out a little farther, into a good place. 

***

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I read a lot of words before I ever said them.

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The new asphalt in front of our house is incredibly smooth. Two kids whiz by on bikes at 5:30 in the morning, when I wake up, on their way to the mosque. Stones get stuck on the track of the gate. I kick them out of the way. 

I still can’t say the word asphalt, pronouncing it “ashphalt.” I also say “haf-hazard” and to be perfectly honest, I discovered that there was no such word as misled with a long I (mice-uld) a few years ago, while listening to a podcast about people who mispronounce words. (!) I had been mispronouncing misled for my entire life, and still find it hard to believe it’s not pronounced the other way, as in, “to misle someone.” Our landlords tell us our neighbors are going to miss us. We can’t quite believe it, but the grandmother next door says that if she hears the noise of children, she feels happy. I’ve heard this several times in Thailand. When children are around; when you hear their noise, when you see them playing, it brings happiness. 

We’re only moving a few kilometers away. But this won’t be our street anymore, and that is a little bit sad.

Treasures.

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I brought some of my treasures out, missing the forests and oceans of my other home(s).

*

I've always had a problem with waking up in the middle of the night and thinking too much. The Psalmist says, “I meditate on you in the watches of the night.” I wish for it. Sometimes, when I am in those unforgiving hours when every problem feels like a life sentence, I try to visualize being completely surrounded by God. I am floating, suspended in grace and love. I am weightless, safe, and tiny, a speck in the river. The river is mercy, purpose, and good heartedness toward me.

I drift off to sleep eventually.

*

Can anyone overcome a life of bad patterns of thinking?

Sometimes it is lifted, and I feel free and like I’m completely changed. Other times, it plummets back down on me. Anxiety. A pounding in the heart. A quickening of the breath. Danger! Danger!

Gertrude is back.

Gertrude, my anxiety dragon. She’s rather sweet and lovable sometimes, curled up asleep in the closet. But she can be a regular pain in the bum if she wakes up while I’m trying to write a book, or go shopping (she hates shopping) or talk to Chinua about plans (she hates making plans.)

She worries too much about danger.

“Go back to sleep, Gertrude,” I tell her.

She responds with a gust of flame and wraps around my heart, making it hurt.

“Or don’t,” I say. I can’t make her do what I want.

I want to love her, like I want to love everyone. Nothing can be too scary if it’s loved. But sometimes I’m preoccupied by what ifs- what if I didn’t have a pet anxiety dragon? What if she toddled off into the forest one day, never to be seen again? What if instead of an anxiety dragon I had a confidence rabbit?

Can you love something and want to exchange it for a rabbit?

*

She’s here at the moment, trying to warn me of imminent danger. I’ve tried to convince her that these woods are safe, that the trees are our friends, but she’s nothing if not vigilent.

Sometimes when Gertrude is here, she locks up my neck.

Sometimes I may have to go to bed for the day.

Today, I have a plan. Fifteen minutes, not thinking too much, tricking the dragon.

Fifteen minutes of work at a time.

Live in my body, hugging my family, not thinking about what I cannot control.

And tricks, lots of tricks, tricky tricks.

Like:

A cup of tea.

A drive on the motorbike for the breeze on my skin.

One small task done.

Pretending work is not work, so Gertrude doesn’t blast me.

And noticing every little thing, to mark it, to make it physical, to not let fear rule me. 

*

We’ve had rain lately, and the skies have been gorgeous. Soon Isaac will wake up and come to find me and hug me. Leafy has been making sugar glass. I’m learning a new song on the clarinet, and working on mandolin scales. Today is gardeniing day, and I think I’ll head over to Shekina to work in the garden for a while, then come back with my friend Claudia to work on sorting and packing.

(We’re moving house, which is rather big news. Gertrude is worried about it. I’m excited.)

I made granola the other day, and there’s nothing like granola and milk with mango sliced into it. Or maybe I’ll have a smoothie, with coconut milk and strawberries. I’ll burn a candle. Maybe work on my blanket. Later Kenya and I will watch a show or listen to music together. Chinua will move a few boxes over to the new house and in between working, practice his trumpet. Solomon will dance and hug me. I’m here. These trees are friendly. The animals are safe. The woods are only woods.

It’s been this way for a long time.

God is ever and always beside me, his breath in the wind that swoops through the leaves overhead. His kiss on my face. I have nothing to fear.

On trust, doubt, and loss.

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On Saturday, like many, I felt incredibly sad to hear that Rachel Held Evans had died

I mostly knew her through Twitter. We didn’t really interact there, but whenever I was wrestling with some injustice, I would see her comments on whatever had happened (a shooting, an anti-refugee statement, racism)  and always felt deeply thankful for her voice in the mix of all the other voices. She was always quick to respond with the love of Jesus. She reflected love in action. 

One thing she was known for was making space for people who wrestle with their faith. It’s important. It’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the need for making room for those who are in a chrysalis of doubt.

Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

Studies show that “of America's major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold.”

The truth is that Christians need a clear, sacred space to wrestle with doubt and belief without feeling outcast from the communal space of believers. If questioning faith is off-limits, we risk losing the beautiful creation that is formed by a community of believers who have gone deep, seen the mystery, and chosen to continue on the path of Jesus.

Writers like Rachel put words and validity to questions that many people have, and yesterday and today I have seen hundreds of people telling their stories of wrestling with doubt, saying that Rachel’s writings helped them to the other side- through the cloud to something beautiful and new on the other side.

Faith is not a static thing that you hold or put in a box to keep precious and untouched. In fact, if you change the word faith to trust, you see that it always needs to be tethered to something out there. The massive, incredible presence that my trust is tethered to is God. But this line can be stretched or flown through thin air, it can go through flames, it can drag me through deep waters. 

In my life I wrestle, and in my belief I have moved through many stages, coming through painful processes into something deeper and more real each time. I have buried illusions I had about the perfection of community, what unity actually looks like, what is actually promised in Scripture. (Hint: You can follow Jesus and still have your friends die, your loved ones or yourself racially profiled, have a mental illness or neurological difference, get sick, or struggle with money.)

My journey is of mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have learned what it means to have faith when I don’t have a mind I can trust to be safe for me when I need it. How to have faith when what I see is not always actually there.

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Strong voices who offer sacred space for those in the margins, for those who struggle, voices who ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers are an essential part of the community of Christians. I also feel passionate about a diverse body of believers. I was charismatic growing up, I moved into a more contemplative faith. Now I’m some mix of the two who no longer knows how to worship in a room without windows because I’m so used to sitting where I can see the sky. I live life with people who come from different Christian backgrounds. And I know many more. Each one teaches me something different. Who would we be without the large body of believers? Without all the different flavors of who God is? He is reflected in a lovely way through all of us, even those who are struggling with doubt. Rachel asked hard questions and she wrestled on the behalf of those who needed someone to speak up for them. This is no small thing. It’s quite a legacy in a time when we are unbelievably polarized.

Rest in Peace, dear RHE.