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.

River thoughts.

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It was forty degrees and we were baking, so I took Solo and Isaac to the river.

Don’t forget this, I whispered to myself.

The river was warm, shallow, and full of algae in the late hot season. I trusted in our well developed immune systems. Flowers from nearby trees floated along, and the only other people there were a bunch of kids; the children of parents who work at the guesthouses along the river.

I was there with my boys, who took turns curling into me while I sat on the floor of the river. Every so often I climbed the bank and ran over to the garden to move the sprinklers. (I burned the bottoms of my feet on the hot pavement, not discovering this until later when I found it hard to walk.)

The river, the boys. Isaac attempting to skip rocks. Solo floating and diving down. These are the stories we will tell about our lives. I drive the chariot through town, we walk along swaying bridges. A man walks along the river with a snorkel mask and a spear gun, looking for his dinner.

Back at home, I went to the afternoon market and picked up some chopped pumpkin and made what we call Pumpkin The Egg, after a Thai menu board we saw ages ago. I made carrot juice and we were all tired after too much sun. Isaac lost his first tooth. After dinner, Solo practiced trumpet with Chinua and I practiced my neglected clarinet. Isaac tried to play the clarinet for a while, he’s fascinated with it.

We read together and then prayed for our friends, near and far. Every single thing we did was interrupted. Every thing I planned was edited with some other need. My teenagers are going through hard times. (Not Leafy! Ah, hormones come for all.)

Every time I tried to read or pray, Isaac would suddenly have a thought and HAVE to share it and it drove me crazy. Solo had a rough day in many ways.

But the river, the long hot afternoon, reminiscent of so many hot season afternoons through the years, the little tiny beautiful moments. The sun finally bright again after the smoke. The hope of rain. Change on the horizon. It is such a beautiful life, more intense with joy because it is so fleeting.