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. 

 

Island

The stupid thing about grief is that it seems to isolate you. I float like an island, there are terrifying waves underneath me. A great crack has gone through the middle of us and I don’t know who to tell, or what I would say. 

Look, I want to say. Everything is different. Shaken. One of the support beams of our house has been ripped away. We are not who we were. A friend left the world and this changes everything. We are a little less us. We are diminished. And yet we have to go on as if everything is the same, doing the same things, eating and sleeping and walking around on our feet. 

Sometimes I don’t know if we’ll make it. 

A husband’s best friend is a very reassuring person. Ian and I used to look at each other as if to say, “this guy. We both love this guy and he drives us crazy and he’s the best and we’ll both love him forever.” And then there were our two families. We did things, we were us. We are still two families, but now there are less of us. Oh how precious friends are! I feel this desperation, like, there aren’t enough of us and we can’t lose even one! It’s love. We can’t afford to lose anybody. 

But we did. And he is safe in the everlasting arms. I have not even one tiny worry for him. I only worry about us. About Chinua and I orbiting each other in the night, talking, not talking, circling around all the things we can’t find a way to speak out. Isolated in grief, even though we are together. 

But this is what I know. Ian was our friend. He loved us. He loved his family. Nothing can erase that. I know that Jesus wept. I also know that God is good, that beauty spills out of the cracks in stones, springs out of sidewalks. Trees volunteer to grow from compost heaps. People do the kindest, most generous things for one another. The world seems shaky but all is not lost. Love will cover this, even this.

Infinite.

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

Ian years and years ago, with Asha

Ian, our beloved friend, has gone cosmic. I’m jealous, not of him—because I’m not ready to leave this world—but of God, because Ian is our friend and we wanted him here. That’s why I keep looking at pictures of him. He was with us! The pictures say. He was here and he loved us. Now he’s famous. Glorious. Pain free. He’s gone on to heights we can only dream of. And we’re slightly glorified because we got to know him, his glory reflects on us a little, on our upward-turned faces. (Like my friend Ro said the other day, the whole family gets to claim reflected glory when a family member does something cool. Something cool like going cosmic? That too.) But we’re also left behind, on this side of the door, and it sucks. 

Yesterday Leaf guided a meditation on 1 Corinthians 15. I wish you could have seen her, heard her voice as she spoke the holy words, holding her tanpura (an Indian instrument) and singing. She is unearthly. We all are, glowing with something that is not flesh and brain and bone. We have something else. The verse describes these bodies we have as seeds that are sown. What is sown in dishonor is raised in glory.

We held delicate seeds that fly from our nearby trees. Ro can testify that the seeds take root and grow, as she nearly weekly uproots the tiny trees seeded from the flamboyant tree. They want to grow everywhere, in the vegetable gardens, with the flowers, on the road. I held my seed and thought about that seed’s one-dimensional potential. It holds the potential of a tree. It cannot become a piece of sky, or a bird. It can grow straight and tall, it can throw out leaves. It is a small miracle, but it only holds a tree inside, nothing more.

How infinite, then, is Ian’s potential! The Jesus devotee, scuba diver, dancer, philosopher, excellent drink mixer, programmer, father, husband, incredible friend? This is only the seed? This glorious, kind, thoughtful, generous person? (He was our friend, I’d like to point out again. We knew him!) 

We saw more of this incredible seed’s potential when he got sick. Because then we saw his ability to suffer with great love. To endure and trust. To smile and be generous with his humor even when he was in the hospital for 100 days, when he was in pain, when his poor body was withering. His soul became all the brighter for it. 

Infinite. Now Ian’s soul is lit aflame in the light of God, sown into the heavens, and it is unbearable to think of how fantastic, how magical, how mighty a being he is now. I imagine him striding around, thundering through the cosmos, his laugh shaking the rafters of heaven. I imagine him diving into infinite seas, breaking important things with wild dancing. His soul expanding, exploding with all that potential, so narrowly contained in a human body for so long, confined no longer.

And it sucks. All of this is true and is comforting but infuriating. Even as I write this, my heart hurts and hurts and hurts. One of my dearest friends has lost her husband. Much loved little girls have said goodbye to their father. Chinua has lost his best friend. So many of us have said goodbye, are jealous of heaven, are basking in Ian’s reflected glory with deep, deep pain in our hearts. We knew him. He was our friend. We are so, so thankful we got to know him. I am so thankful that he pursued us, that he and Chinua talked for hours every week, that they crammed approximately 20 years of friendship into these past years. I am thankful for every single time Ian turned to me and said, “You’re so gracious,” and I instantly felt like maybe I wasn’t a failure after all. I’m thankful that he spent his life giving others the courage to be, telling us the truth about ourselves.

And I’m thankful that I get to walk longer with Christy, the mighty, fragile woman whose very soul is a poem, who has shown us what grace truly is. I’m humbled by her, reflecting in her own glory a bit. (She’s my friend! She’s so beautiful, and she’s my friend!) I’m thankful for these friends and with a heart full of sorrow and wonder I’m looking to the years ahead of remembering Ian and loving Christy and the girls. 

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53

 

The chipmunk.

I went for a drive through the jungle and over the hills, toward the river, through the cashew forests. I wanted to see if the jungle air could blow the ache around my heart away. But away from the distractions of kids and chores, community and a very willful three-year-old, the ache grew. And then I realized how sad I really am, and everything beautiful hurt, because it couldn’t climb right inside me, and what if it wasn’t enough? 

This is my secret fear. Is the Good enough? Enough to make up for the aching world? Since I have arrived in India, two weeks ago, an old friend in America died of an overdose, and our Kenyan friend learned of the murder of his sixteen-year-old brother. It is very sad. My tendency, a fault of mine, is to lean toward sadness, collecting slights and pangs, allowing grief to tip me a little farther, away from hope, toward despair. Allowing shadows to whisper sad things in the dark. I allow my mistakes to bolster my belief that I’m a terrible mother, wife, friend. Over the years, I think I’ve spent more time in depression than in joy. Joy is like a weak muscle that I am always trying to exercise. Chinua reflects this back to me, with his constant, steady optimism. “Talk about the happy things,” he suggests, gently. But he hasn’t been here for a while and meanwhile I am tipping. (He comes back today— I am writing this in the taxi on the way to collect him. Ian is still holding onto life and love and faith in the hospital in San Francisco.)

On top of the hill, before I began driving back down, back into the jungle, surrounded by sky and cactus plants and cashew trees, I nearly hit a chipmunk. It ran into the road in front of my scooter, and I braked hard. In the opposite lane, a truck bore steadily down on us, one of the big ones that carries gravel or rocks. The chipmunk saw the truck and gauged its choices. The truck was a large monster and the chipmunk knew the truck was bad news. But it didn’t know what to do about me, and it waffled in stupid chipmunk style, dodgin back and forth a few times, until I was right on top of it and I had no choice but to drive straight, going too fast to stop entirely, not able to veer left or right. It happened in a matter of seconds. I held my breath and willed the chipmunk to get away with every muscle in my body. I didn’t feel anything; it didn’t seem that I had hit it. And exactly then, the man driving the truck towards me stuck his arm out the window and gave me a thumbs up. He passed and was gone, and the moment was over. I couldn’t see his face through the window, just one brown arm and his thumb pointing at the sky. Tears came to my eyes. We were both hoping the best for the tiny animal. “Good job,” that thumb told me. “It worked out.” Or perhaps he was congratulating me on not veering into his truck, but I choose to think he was glad for the chipmunk. 

God sees every sparrow. He holds both sorrow and joy. Surely I can learn it.

I see all the tiny beautiful things. 

An old man with bowed legs, bald on top of his head, with one jasmine blossom behind each ear. As you do. 

A kestral sitting on a wire. 

Isaac in the waves. Every wave is a personal delight for him, as they toss him around like a toy. He laughs and laughs, disappearing under the water, knocked over, bobbing up again grinning. 

The way my oldest child is growing into a tall, strong man, with kind eyes and a wise soul. 

One gnarled tree against the sky, so beautiful it pierces my heart.

The pines at the sea, bent from the wind. 

The way our voices sound on our rooftop when we sing together, all blending.

Kites (the live ones, the birds) at the river, flying above the bridge. 

The sun rising over misty fields.

Every single leaf. 

I string them like beads, making a necklace, and on good days I can drape it around me and proclaim it all against the darkness always threatening me. 

How did Jesus feel so strongly without descending into hopelessness? I think as God, he knew, he knew the endless love and beauty that are at the center of Creation. All of this is real, his whole life proclaimed, the Kingdom of God is right in front of you. You can reach out and touch it. This love is bigger than darkness. I write this on my hands, on my heart, in this space, when my heart wants to be disbelieving. I will reach for love, again and again, trusting that it will be there. 

Birds

There is a lot of sadness in me, these days. I am sad for my friends, Ian and Christy, who are going through such a hard thing. Ian has been told that he has hours to days to live. In doing life without Chinua, I feel the heaviness of every meal, every bedtime, every story. This is a strange, sweet sadness, because I am entering into being with my friends, entering into their suffering in the tiniest possible way. I am so glad Chinua can be with Ian.

There is sadness. But there is beauty around me, so much beauty, and beauty is a type of love from God that strengthens and keeps me going. We have reached Arambol, Goa, our old home in India. I am always surprised by the emotions I have, coming back here. At first I was seized by a sense of great loss in not living here anymore, and simultaneously a huge amount of homesickness for my house in Pai. But a nearly a week has passed and I am softening into life here. The Shekina Goa community is beautiful, and I have moved from the rhythms of Shekina Garden in Thailand to the rhythms of the meditation center here. I am on our rooftop again, looking out over the coconut trees and the fields that lead to hills, finding peace in the patterns of leaves and fronds. I am on the beach with Miriam and the kids, playing in the sand and the water.

Everywhere, things are changing. Level after level is added to the houses and guesthouses, until we are in a miniature city of tiled roofs and colorful paint. All the shapes are different, but there are all the same things as well. The neighbors calling hello and brushing their teeth and tongues in the mornings. The bulls being taken for their walks. The scuffle of pigs in the underbrush. Trash everywhere, marring every landscape. The huge eagle’s nest in the tree at our spot on the beach. Yesterday I watched the mother eagle chase crows away as they dove near her babies. I could hear the babies cheeping in the nest. And today I watched as the male eagle plucked a sea snake out of the water and flew up to the nest with it. There are green parrots flying through the coconut grove, and bee catchers sitting on trees, or fluttering from bush to bush. People say their evening prayers, babies cry, and the grandfathers in the village carry them out for an evening walk. Everyone greets us, welcomes us, asks how long we will be here and where Chinua is.

On the beach there are more travelers than I have ever seen. This place only ever seems to grow, and people sell macrame jewelry and silver rings on mats in a long line on the beach. The “standing babies,” as Leafy used to call the little naked Russian toddlers, are all along the beach, their hair bright in the sun. It is a healing extravaganza, incongruent and hopeful. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere like this in the world, so wild and teeming with people and ideas. I am glad to be back. We try to swim when we can, help with the community when we can. We sweep the house of its endless sand and I read aloud to the kids. All five of them sleep in one bedroom, and the oldest kids show patience when they can. I send them to the little nearby shop to get ice cream. I go down to a beach restaurant for an hour in the morning to use the Internet, because I don’t have WIFI or a working phone. I go to the markets to get vegetables, buy yogurt in bags that the kids eat like it’s the last time ever that they will have yogurt. I use curry leaves in everything I cook, radiating with happiness because I love curry leaves and can’t get them in Thailand. Everything in this house brings a memory. The kids were so little here. And now the first Christmas tree we had, a tiny little Charlie Brown tree, is taller than the roof. All the trees have grown in the garden we planted, and we are in a secret wonderland among the rising, towering buildings. 

For years now, the kids sometimes mourn not having known snow. Last night Leafy was saying that we have to go back to North America during winter, while they are kids, so they can play in the snow. 

“Listen,” I told them. “Everyone gets the life they have. Some people will never travel, some people will live where there are only cold oceans and will never swim in a warm sea or see a dolphin. Some people get to snowboard every winter. We all get our own life, and we don’t get everybody’s life. You have a good one, but you won’t have all the lives. You have a traveling life, but that means you don’t have another kind of life. When you are an adult, you can decide what you want to do, and you have all the time in the world.”

What we are given doesn’t seem fair sometimes. When I have struggled with my big family, or felt overwhelmed with trying to make do, or juggle so many things, I have been guilty of self-pity and comparison. And how hard it is that some people have a life where they face losing their husbands, far too young. How hard that some people have a life of not being able to walk. 

It is looking for love and accepting grace that leads us out of self pity and comparison. God loves me in a different way than he loves others. I don’t get all the lives. I still struggle with this mind that betrays me. God loves me with a pile of kids and challenges. And birds in the coconut grove, and the smiles of neighbors, and time to write if I get up early enough. Oh, how he loves me and you.