Under the mango trees.

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It’s been a while. A few days ago I came out of the wild. Well, not exactly the wild, I guess. But a wildish sort of place. 

I volunteered at a Japanese music festival up here in Northern Thailand and it was such an interesting, rich experience. Sleeping in a mango orchard for nearly three weeks, looking at the stars at night, watching the sun rise.

I was with Kenya and our friends Tayna and Aya and spent a lot of time with them, especially for the first nine days, before the festival started. I was on a deco team with lovely Chinese and Japanese artists. We made a lot of signs, all translated into Thai, Japanese, and English. “We need a sign, three languages,” is a phrase I used a lot. I painted live and organized other live painters. 

I watched my husband play music. I sat behind our bhajan band on the main stage and sang in the response to our Jesus bhajans. 

Our car got dustier and dustier.

I learned how to say “good morning,” in Japanese.

I guided a meditation in a campsite, attended one, and kept the kids quiet for a couple.

I studied and wrote papers in a teak forest.

I went to the hot springs almost every day.

It was a busy time, full of wildness, adjustment, and lots of activity. But I came out feeling ready for the next season, and somewhat like I hit a reset button. 

Chinua leaves tomorrow for India. The kids and I will stay back, do school, and make art and writing. Tumble around, deal with smoky season, cook, water the garden, and swim. I’ll write my final research paper of the quarter. We’ll try to be creative and loving and patient, even as the days grow hotter and drier.

I like what you have made.

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I love to cook for big groups of people. It’s something I just love, what can I say?

Maybe it’s because cooking is one of the most sensory of the tasks of our lives: cut tomatoes. Cut six kilos of them. Keep your fingers out of the way. Cut onions. Cry at the doorway. Come back and cut some more.

Cooking on Sundays is smell, taste, organized work. I line the vegetables up in the order they need to be cut. I set a timer and go as quickly as I can. Later I slow down and go carefully. Seeds in hot oil: Fennel, coriander, cumin, mustard. I add turmeric and a spice with the magical name of Kitchen King. Suddenly, the kitchen is alive with fragrance, with memories of jungle days.

Abundance. We have enough and plenty to share.

Holy work. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t art. But every color, every texture, truly is beautiful. It’s holy work to cook for others. Before anything, God is Creator. Whenever I respond to what God has made, I feel as though we are in an act of making something together. I appreciate this, I whisper. I like what you have made. Especially purple cabbage. Especially the glorious tomato.

Holy work is always messy. True holy work, that is.

So there are stacks of dishes. There’s a chunk of dhal that has spilled on the stove and is blackening at an alarming rate. And there are friends; here they are helping, here they are chopping, creating, we are making things together. We are saving the sambar from burning in the pot by ever more ridiculous and ingenious methods. I am asking Sonal to make the chutney because hers is the best. Keren is cutting a mound of cabbage that nearly engulfs her.

And then somehow, it all disappears. The two rice cookers are empty, the giant pot is being scraped, the salad is long gone. People are walking around with the food we made in their bellies. Fed. I love it. What can I say?

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Around the bend in the river.

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Yesterday, Leaf and Brendan moved to Chiang Mai. Their son Taran is going to highschool, and the family is making it possible by moving.

It’s only three hours away. And yet.

We’ll see them all the time. And yet.

They are some of the kindest, most generous people I know.

I remember when they came to live here.

I remember the first time I walked out and found flowers on my motorbike. 

I thought, this is what it’s like to live in a town with Leaf.

Leaf and I like to sit by the river to talk. We’ve done it many, many times. Sometimes on the ground, sometimes on a little platform. The platform washed away in the rainy season this year, along with the bridge. We tried not to make too much of it.

Sometimes, when I’m driving my motorbike, I catch a flash of dreadlocks out of the corner of my eye, and realize Brendan has just whizzed by on his bicycle. When Isaac and Ruby were small, Brendan drove around town doing all his errands with them. Tubtim (Ruby) and Meenoi (Isaac- it means Little Bear) charmed the laundry lady, the market sellers, the landlords. 

Ruby and Isaac act like siblings, tumbling over and around each other without paying a lot of attention. I love to watch them, to see how completely at ease they are with each other. 

Taran has been joining our little group of homeschoolers for a little while each day, for years now. This group of funny, snarky, thoughtful teens is a highlight of my life. Taran brings the creativity. He and Kenya climb trees, make swings, come up with interesting ways to defy the laws of gravity. 

This family is woven into our life. We don’t even have to let go. It’s just the day to day things that will stop. School together. Bumping into each other on the road. But we’ve been friends across wider distances than this. They got on a train and visited us for the first time in Goa, when Solo was only a couple days old. We took a train to them when I was pregnant with Isaac, journeying long hours to sit and have chai under the mango tree.

We can’t see around this bend in the river. What will it be like to have two communities instead of one? (Eventually.) What will living at a distance be like? 

Right now it feels like loss. But I hope soon it will feel like expansion. Like taking a long deep inhale. Like more adventure, more possibility, more talks by the river, a larger space for love to grow. Those are the parts that God has to bring. I’m tired of trying to manufacture things. Of trying to control outcomes. I didn’t want them to have to leave. But God has different ideas, and he breathes on things and makes them beautiful. He brings the sparkle.

 We can’t see around this bend, but good things have come out of the unknown before. Many good things.

Breathe on us today.

One night in December.

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Last night was dinner and Bible circle at my house. I made bread, starting it in the morning. Prepared veggie broth the day before. I make it in big batches and freeze it, for our gut and immune health. Soup, bread, salad. It feels like a December meal, though it hasn’t gone much lower than 18 degrees Celcius here this year. (For us it feels cold.)

My long time friend Heidi arrived, and we talked as I cooked, catching up with life from the past thirteen years or so. She sat on the curb of my outdoor kitchen, while I danced around the kitchen making the meal. I forgot to get her a chair, but I remembered a cup of tea. Then other friends trickled in, and they brought the dishes and food to the table while I finished dressing the salad. It was a collection of friends who made a beautiful evening. A new friend that we just met on Monday. An Israeli friend who has been here for a few months, and brings delight to my soul whenever he’s around. My dear friend Scion, who is like family. Christy and the girls. Rowan Tree of my heart. And two other new friends who are strong and smart and caring women.

Kai is home for Christmas, so I pulled him in for a minute and showed him off. “This is my oldest son. He is wonderful and I think he has grown another inch.” Then I let him go because he can’t really do crowds. Leafy dodged in and out, wearing headphones. Kenya stuck around for the whole evening, sitting with her best friend, Tayna. They sit stuck together on the couch, no need for space. Upstairs, the younger kids watched a show, and it seemed from the sounds from overhead, that occasionally they did circus acts. Or maybe just fell off the bed.

The talking piece was a stone, big enough to fill the palm, small enough that you could close your hand around it.

The verses were the ones at the end of John 3, where John the Baptist says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We read it in the NIV, the Message, and Scion read it for us in the Hawaiian Pidgin translation. Then we passed the stone and talked.

We talked about faith, certainty, and knowing. That faith comes when there is a lack of certainty, but there is also some knowing. Avraham said, “Yes, if someone came and offered something that he said was from God but was actually evil, you would know it, and you would say, “This is evil. Not for me.”

“Not for me” became a theme of the night then, one that made us laugh many times. I don’t want to forget this warm-lit night, the soup and bread and kind conversation, the tears or the laughter.

Lots of hugs.

Isaac and Jazzy helped me push the chariot down to the bike mechanic when it wouldn’t start, then sat back and had an old man chat.

Isaac and Jazzy helped me push the chariot down to the bike mechanic when it wouldn’t start, then sat back and had an old man chat.

The past week has been very full. Full of tears and hugs, much joy, many friends.

(Also a lot of news. I follow it, I weep for it, my heart goes out to victims of sexual harassment. There is so much brokenness in this world, so many sins against the body, the spirit of our most vulnerable people. God help us to change, to show compassion and understanding.)

First, we successfully surprised Chinua on his birthday. It was worth every moment of preparation to see the look on his face. After Devotion Circle, we managed to get everyone back from the garden and gathered at our house, and it was Ro’s job to somehow get him to come back. After some moments of trying to figure out what they were going to do, Chinua suggested coming back to our house to drop instruments off. 

Because it was his suggestion, he was floored when he arrived and out of the dark came a little Happy birthday composition, featuring a few guitars, the piano and a clarinet.

I’ll remember the look on his face forever.

At the moment we have a gathering of communities from around this part of the world; mainly the other Shekina communities in India and a community from Israel. We’ve been praying, singing, and eating together. Yesterday we had a circle on the theme of friendship with God and friendship with each other. 

I’m a strong believer of friendship first, a belief I have come to after a lot of trial and error. You know that thing where you look at your spouse as a person to blame because they are like a business partner in the business of your home and family and they have not met your expectations? Yes, I know that thing. In hardship I have a tendency for flipping between outward blame and self loathing. Neither are necessary. Blame and self loathing are both tactics to try to get the bad feelings away. 

You can just feel them. The sadness, the grief, the fear. And put friendship first, learn to go through things together. People in the circle shared about their experiences with friendship, and it was inspiring.

Next week we go down to Chiang Mai for a bigger gathering of communities from around the world. I’m also going to be hard at work on the final edit of Demon’s arrow, which comes out in less than three weeks! I’m very happy to share it with you.

Also, here’s a post that I wrote on the Shekina blog this week: Holy and Dearly Loved.

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. The patron extras from last month are up. Here are last month’s extra blog post, Thoughts after 17 years of marriage, and the September Creative Update Video.