How to be a good friend to yourself. (With footnotes.)

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I know that not everyone needs to know how to not be their own enemy. I’m glad about this.

But for those of you who find it easier to be kind to every single person in the world than to be decent to yourself, or those who just want to hear more about being friendly to yourself, here’s a little list, with footnotes down below.

1. Don’t hate yourself. Sometimes this is harder than it should be, but it’s an important first step. Do you hate the baby birds in that nest over there? Do you hate donkeys? Do you hate sweet-cheeked babies? No? Then don’t hate yourself, silly. *

2. Walk with yourself. Hey there, this is a good pace. We’re doing great today. We love this. †

3. Spend time in your own head, rather than trying to guess the thoughts of others. Lately, when Gertrude the Anxiety Dragon would like to carry me over into the imagined mental processes of people around me, I tell her a firm no. “That’s not my head, Gertrude. I don’t belong in there.” ‡

4. Give yourself permission to exist. Listen, kids. You are not a role. You are not a type. You are not a mirror. You are a human being. A squishy soft miracle with a whole lot of possibility in every one of your cells. You are not a human doing-all-the-right things. You are not a human saying-all-the-right-things. You are a person with permission to exist, in all the complexity of what that means, and you get to see how God’s possibility will unfold in your life. I can’t think of anything better. §

5. Ask yourself questions like, “What would you like to do today?” Maybe you have a lot of things that you need to do, but don’t necessarily want to do. That’s okay. That’s normal. But is there one thing you really want to do? I think it would be fun to figure out what it is, and then find time for it by refraining from scrolling through social media or going on Youtube rabbit trails. Do that thing, and then remind yourself that you are doing it, and that you chose it. “I’m going for a walk in the forest because I really want to.” 

6. Enjoy where you are. Where you are is the best place to be. It’s the only place you can experience. Right? We don’t get two bodies or two souls. We have this one that moves and can be in a certain space and time in the world. That means that at any moment in time, we are not doing lots of things, not being lots of places.

But where you are and what you are doing is the very best thing, because it is the thing that you can feel with your hands, see with your eyes, hear and smell and taste. Even if where you are is trapped under a six-year-old’s sweaty arm really late in a long drawn out bedtime situation that involved many cups of water and an interrupted bedtime story. It’s the best place. ¶

8. Be in your body for a while, instead of your head. Are the sheets soft? Is the coffee hot? Do you like the smells in the air around you? Do you think that red paint looks tasty? Don’t eat it. But imagine what it would taste like if it were actually food. Yum. But no, yuck. Really, don’t eat it.

9. See yourself clearly. It is not self love to believe you are the person you wish you were, to hold tightly to that picture and defend it like a honey badger whenever anyone calls you on something that doesn’t fit the picture. The most friendly thing you can do for your dear self is open the door that you are so vehemently standing in front of. Let the fresh air and light in, let the Spirit of God softly sing over you, over the real you

10. Watch the sky whenever you can. It’s just so big, it’s so much bigger than anything in your everyday life. If you can see stars, you may get an idea of how tiny and beloved you are, that you have been set down gently in your life, to be this person, to learn that you are loved and that because you are loved and made by God, you don’t get to trash talk yourself. And the more you learn this, the more you stop loving others because you think they are better than you and can save you. You learn to love simply and tenderly, to hold others in your heart because of the honor of being created ones together. **

* Self loathing is one of the trickiest things I know. When I don’t know how to feel, or mental health is not in a good place, I revert to good actions and then remind myself that these are not the actions of someone who hates herself.
For example: I took a shower and then put coconut oil on my hair. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I went for a walk and listened to my favorite music. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I made a stir fry and lit candles at my table, sitting and talking with my kids. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. Sometimes it’s all I can do. I’m feeling the bad feelings, but I’m acting on something different.

† The next part of this is walking with God. Every store you go into, every hard thing, you are doing it with the Spirit of God near you. Hovering, gently touching, ready to take the hard things on. Jesus beside you, looking at the tags on the second-hand sweaters, or finding a clear, soaring path through the tangly jungles of social interactions. Going for a jog with you. Looking at you with such clear-eyed tenderness, even though he knows every single hard or bitter thing in your heart. 

‡ The advanced pose is to not base what you do or think on the imagined reactions of others. For those of us with anxiety or neurological differences, this is trickier than it might appear. Some of us don’t actually know what we really think. And even trying to figure it out can bring on a whole emotional break down. Why? Because it can be a terrifying thing to realize that you don’t actually know how to be if you aren’t basing it on the reaction you are expecting. This is an intermediate trick, therefore, but it is a very friendly thing you can do for yourself. I call this permission to exist. See the next point.

§ This can be confusing also. Of course, we are interconnected. Of course, we touch each other in every area of life, and kindness goes an incredible distance. Mostly because we have the privilege of reassuring others that they too have permission to exist. But there is something about defining yourself as a role that is dehumanizing and doesn’t honor God in his continuing creation within you. For instance, if you are the role of mother, in the verb sense, you can fail at this. But you can’t fail at being a human, at being a creation of the most beautiful, smart, absorbing and wonderful being in the world.  

¶ This includes doing nice things and not feeling guilty about them or trying not to enjoy them because you’re fairly sure you shouldn’t be okay with being happy. Forget that crap!

** No judgment here. I’m in the self trash talk boat. Valiantly leaping out of it, swimming for shore.

***

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Play time in the sun.

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Everything seems beautiful to me lately. The hazy edges of the mountains, the way the color is bleached out of the landscape. The gentle browns and lilac at the edges of the day. The orange sun, bright as a marigold in the late afternoon, just before it drops behind the mountains. My neighbors, our old blue motorbikes that are so good to us, Chinua’s whole person, jasmine and nightqueen flowers, oh, the flowers everywhere. 

***

Maybe things seem more beautiful because of a lot of play, which restores the soul and body and mind and spirit. It’s Song Kran, one of my favorite play times of the year, because everyone I see is playing together, and there is no other time I can be riding my motorbike and have a complete stranger stop me, smile at me, and proceed to dump a bucket of ice water over my shoulders. Ro, Josh, Winnie, Kenya and I went out on the first day, which was a good one because it was crazy hot. We decided to leave the younger kids home so we could have one round by ourselves. We brought our water guns and roamed the town, getting a lot wetter than we ever made people wet. 

Families from neighboring villages went by in trucks, dousing us from buckets and coolers on their truck beds. Our artist friends had a crew by their art shop, and a refined artist I’ve known for many years turned a hose on me again and again. Ro was alternately for us and against us, but then so was I, using boring moments as chances to shoot water at my friends. 

I hope to never forget the sight of her when she got her hands on a hose, the pure glee in her face as she soaked us. The water droplets in the sunlight. Josh and Winnie marching along, united in a quest for fun. The man who grabbed me in a gentle hold and held a gigantic piece of ice to the side of my face, having done away with water entirely. (What? What is happening?) We went back and got the kids and had a great time roaming with them as well, although it was short-lived for Isaac, who screamed his rage when three people doused him with ice water, one after the other. I took him home and got him a towel, then ran out to find my friends and play some more.

Play restores. Let's not forget to play.

My Becca

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The coconut man is in one of the trees next door, throwing ripe coconuts down to the ground, and I am on the porch with three of the kids, watching. The shadows of trees are playing in the sunlight on the ground. The whole world is quiet and holding its breath. I am ready to start the day.

First, putting laundry in the bucket to soak. Then chopping vegetables for today’s community lunch. I walked on the beach and dictated two chapters this morning. I need to get the kids organized with cleaning the house. After I make lunch, we’ll eat it on the rooftop with whoever comes to eat with us. I’m not sure what to do about a train ticket yet. 

My Becca leaves tomorrow. It has been amazing to have my sister with us for so long, and I’m sad that she is leaving. I’m so glad she decided to stay and travel with us to India. She and I went to the Mapusa market the other day. We ate samosas and drank sweet lime juice at the corner snack shop. We bought incense from the tiny handmade incense shop, and walked through the flower market. A seller from Rajasthan attached herself to us and made conversation. Becca didn’t realize that her friendliness was all part of her sales pitch to get us to come to the stall, but I have been down that road many times before. This woman was sweet. She complimented us on our eyes and hair, and told us we look like “Indian Barbie.” (What?) Then, while we walked through the flower market, she bought two purple flowers and stuck them over our ears. Then she asked if we wanted to see her shop. We declined. 

We took photos of one another and then went to eat dosa and drink sweet lassi. Then a long drive home in the dark, through the cold jungle air, back home.

Becca is an amazing friend and traveling companion. She is kind and fun, always dancing and being silly. She’s interested in everything and kind to everyone. She plays cards with the kids in airports and goes running on the beach in the morning. I will miss her more than I can say.

I’ve been blocked, creatively lately, but I think I’m coming out of it. Just get the words out, that’s all I have to do. Just show up at the same time every day. I think part of it is probably switching up my routine by starting dictation. I’m messing with my habits and my inner artist is confused. But I know it’s necessary. I need to walk more and sit less, for health and going easy on my neck and eyes. So I work through the block and deal with the fact that people stare at me as I’m dictating. It’s okay, there are many weird things on the beach here.

And I danced, the other day. I had been having a hard time (due to a new herb I was taking, trying to deal with hormone imbalance… it had a negative effect on me and I stopped taking it) and I stopped and listened to music and then slowly, slowly, started to dance until I was whirling in circles, ignoring everyone around me, enjoying the way the wind played with my skirt and the way my heart grew lighter. I called to God and he listened and loved me. And then I came home to my family. 

Swan dives on shark slides.

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Yesterday we all sat around the table and ate stir-fried vegetables and rice, with fried eggs and kimchi on top. Taran and Vrinda, our teenaged friends, were over, and my dad (Mom has been sick, poor thing, so she was resting) and of course my own kids and Chinua (the very best Superstar husband in the universe, according to myself). 

Our table is small (it seemed huge when we bought it five and a half years ago) so it makes for an intimate dinner. Discussions varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Sublime:

Kenya mentioned that she had taken a closer look at the word chocolate, and noticed that it sorta-kinda contains the word “latte.” Maybe that’s where it came from? Cocoa and milk, since it was always a drink at first? I thought it was a pretty good theory. But then Leafy spoke up.

“No,” he said, gesturing with his hand the way he does when he’s explaining something. “It comes from an Aztec word, I’m not sure how to pronounce it—it has a lot of ‘x’s’ in it—xoxocatl? But they mispronounced it “choclat,” so that’s where chocolate came from.” 

(?!?)

Leafy is turning into this sort of genius encyclopedia that I can ask anything. He was explaining tesla coils to us the other evening. I am constantly asking him, “How do you know that?” This is a cool thing about homeschooling. You begin by plugging in the right skills (reading, research, an understanding of numbers) and eventually they outrun you. We are not perfect homeschoolers by any means. I’m sure I let any number of opportunities race straight by me. I have two other jobs, it doesn’t capture all my focus. But then Leafy knows the Aztec root to a word and I figure that despite all my failures, despite the fact that I can’t claim any credit, the kids are all right. 

(“Isaac’s reading is excellent!” his teacher told me when he started school. “I didn’t teach him a thing,” I said. “That was all Kenya.” Homeschool tends to trickle down after a while.)

Ridiculous:

First of all, the above egg was hanging out in the egg flat this morning. No one knew who created him. Of course I assumed Kenya, but it turned out to be a combined effort from Kai and Chinua. Kai drew the face, and Chinua came along and taped on the onion skin hair.

Then, in the afternoon, my mom and I took the kids to the local “water park,” which is their newest, beloved discovery. We had three extra kids with us, but all of the bigger kids rode their bikes to get there, so it was just Isaac, Solo, Mom and I in the car. The water park is a pool with those inflatable climbing things on them, and one giant inflatable slide. After I was there for a while, I figured that I was mainly there to call an ambulance if needed, with the way the kids jump from the top of the slide to the bottom. It’s very soft, but Solo did a head first leap that made me shriek for five minutes. I have these brave and athletic kids, and their friends are the same, and I’m always flapping my arms on the edges: “Careful! Oh! Careful!” Anyway, no injuries yesterday.

Mom and I sat in chairs and watched the light change on the mountains around the valley, and the cows and egrets in a nearby field. (Sublime.)

Then we got home and had the aforementioned dinner, and found out that when my dad, Chinua, and our friend Neil had been building a work table at Shekina Garden, Dad had hammered his thumb. Only Chinua made it sound like his thumb had been cut off, and Vrinda’s eyes got wider and wider. “We taped it back on,” Chinua said. “They reattach well if you get to them in time.”

“Cut off?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “and it will grow two heads when it heals.” 

Realization dawned, and she smacked Kai, who was in a fit of laughter beside her.  

I also thought the picture of Neil, my dad, and Chinua riding around in Hot Daniel was a nice one. Hot Daniel is our community truck, a tiny little thing with stars painted all over it. Chinua rode in the back, and at the hardware store they had to push it to get it started again. “Also,” my dad said, “we had to pass the handle back and forth to roll the windows down.” 

Oh Hot Daniel. Such a cute mess. 

Such beautiful days. Sublime and ridiculous.

***

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Swimming through my gold.

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Leaf was at our house the other day, and asked Leafy what projects he has planned. (Is that too confusing? Leaf is my friend and Leafy is my eleven-year-old son.) 

"I'm back to my computer project," he said. "And if I can get a paraglider, I'm going to build a foot-powered airplane."

Both of our jaws dropped. 

Everyone needs a Leafy in his or her life, I think. Someone who is so completely unexpected, who doesn't see any limits to what he or she can do. Some of us are crocheting blankets, others are planning foot-powered airplanes.

I was having a hard night and my friend Winnie told Leafy he should do a crab dance every day (you open and close your hands like crab claws and shuffle from side to side) and chant "Mama is the best, Mama is the best!" So sometimes he does it. It always makes me laugh. He is pure gold.

When the things I love get broken, when I have only five minutes of time to myself in the morning, when the mess doesn't stop or it is a quarrel-filled day, I like to run through the things I love about my kids. It's my version of swimming through my money. 

I love Solo's wild interpretive dancing. On Facebook I saw this video of a bearded man doing a ridiculous dance in a woman's one piece bathing suit, and I commented that I won't be surprised if someone sends me a video of Solo doing that one day. When I told him this, he acted shocked and offended, but later in the evening, his dancing became so wild that he was rolling on the ground and leaping into the air. He loves to shake things up, and I love that about him.

Kai gives the best hugs. He has come back to himself in a beautiful way, after having a difficult couple of early-teen years. He is gracious and wise, and still has the biggest eyes and the widest smile.

Isaac is fuzzy and sweet. Now, when we lie together before he goes to sleep, he reaches out and rubs my back with his little hand. There's not much I love more than holding his hand, walking somewhere together. He is straightforward and funny. He dances with Solo. He waits for laughs. When he gets angry, it's hard not to find it cute. He has ridiculous dimples.

Leafy never says what you expect a person to say. He is always surprising, and I love it. When I work, he gets so excited by the act of creation that he has to jump up and walk around the room. He tells me he loves me when the love wells up so big, and that often happens when I'm working on something creative. He just loves to see people making things. 

And Kenya dances now with headphones on. She is shooting up, nearly as tall as me, but wants to be shorter, so she bends down to hug me with her head against my chest. She carries the posture of the responsible girl with a wildness all her own. She loves every creature. She is a living poem.

***

There are so many things I cannot do. Numbers and tasks elude me. I can be easily duped. My lists evade me. But I can see beauty, so much beauty. I can see fun and quirkiness. I find the ridiculous. I may be grumpy in the morning, but I can stop to listen to a bird. And I have made countless mistakes as a parent, but I see the beauty in my kids.

I think we all have these things. Maybe one of you can't put words together, but finds worlds in numbers. Maybe some of you know all the constellations. Maybe some of you are able to be even-keeled. (This is absolutely miraculous.) It's easy to be hard on ourselves. Make yourself a list, today, of all the little things you are good at. Muffins, kung fu, making beds? And make a list of the things you love in your people. Your spouses and kids, your uncles and aunts. None of us are quite whole, and we are far too ready to focus on what we can't do. Change it up today. Focus on what you can. And then tell me about it. I'd love to hear.

***

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