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Jacaranda (is it, then, Enough?)

November 10, 2015
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They call the jacaranda the Christmas tree, the flowers cascading from her branches, Christmas flowers. She bursts into flame as Christmas draws near: a purple canopy of blinding extravagance. Her generosity carpets the ground, a brilliant blanket of purple flowers.
what if
the question is the answer

and the longing is the praise
what if

the dull ache in the belly
is the love You bled first

what if
chasing the dawn

is You on the heels
what if

absence is the truth of presence
and is it,

then, Enough?…

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Dreams for 11 1/2 Years

November 1, 2015

Build me a house in the Usambara Mountains. We’ll make our home in the clouds. We’ll wake our babies in the gray misty mornings, send them to explore under an equator sun, lay them to sleep under an African canopy. Build me a veranda, a big veranda, and we’ll sit in the dark and wait for the moon to rise. We’ll listen for the arrival of an African night: never still, never quiet.

Let’s climb to the top of Ol Doinyo Lengai. Let’s leave at midnight and inch forward through the night. Let’s go when the moon is full and the path is alight in her glow. Let’s leave our kids at the house, ask friends to stay the night with them. Let’s go, just you and me. Let’s stand at the summit when the sun breaks through and see as far as we can see.

Let’s visit the land of Oz, we’ll explore awhile. Let’s go away, and our four, too. Let’s go to deserted beaches and clear blue water. Pack the snorkels and the masks, we’ll teach our youngest to swim, and let the oldest loose in the underwater world. Let’s go to the Outback, the Kimberleys, and we’ll touch our soles to a new wild world.

Drive me east to the coast and we can pitch a tent. Pound the tent pegs deep in the sand, build a fire with the waves pounding behind us. No one will mind the grit in their dinner, the scratch in their sleeping bags. I’ll wake up early and run down the beach, I’ll trail four little sets of footprints, I’ll match my feet to theirs.

Take me home. Take me home where we belong, where the sun burns hot and the dirt covers our toes, where we inhale dust and exhale peace. Take me home to wide open spaces and unending wind, nights of music and dancing from the village. Take me home to a wide brown river, to a towering mango tree, to a bench in the shade. Take me home to familiar worn faces and uncomplicated love, to joy deep in the bones and to family.

Let’s live a life in the details: wake up after I’ve gone down the hall to sit in the half-dark. Join me when it’s still quiet, before I’ve started cutting apples for the snack boxes, before I’ve cracked an egg, poured the oil, mixed in the pancake mix and turned on the griddle. Let’s live a life in the small motions, and live well, live well, live well.

Dream with me. Dream with me the big dreams: to climb the tall mountains, to plunge the deep depths. To go far, farther than we’ve gone before, and to return again. Let’s be happy, and hopeful, and be only a little sad, sad enough, to know we loved hard, and loved deep. Sad enough to keep on dreaming.

How To Build A Life (on mornings in the new place)

April 5, 2015

Wake early, and earlier still. There still won’t be time enough. But measure out the three heaping scoops of coffee, fill the coffee pot to the 10 cup line, and flip the switch from ‘off’ to ‘on’. Try not to lament the use of a coffee maker, try not to feel guilty in the secret pleasure of the coffee brewing so easily. Answer a few texts and marvel at the ease of communication with wi-fi and an iPhone. Write an email to the one whose routines you know so well.

Wrap up in the green fleece blanket, slip on slippers and throw on the long black sweats. It’s chilly, at 5:10 am. Turn the key in the lock of the front door, and again in the lock of the black metal gate, slide the dead bolts and cringe at the noise. Unlock the morning, step out into the still-dark. The chair with the brown cushion, the one brought from home, is waiting. Fold hands around the warm mug of coffee, sit still, and wait for the light.

Once upon a time, a sunrise was an explosion of color and glory. Now, the sky lightens in inches, and morning slips in practically in secret. Nevertheless, morning has yet to fail in its ever-faithful arrival. I know no other way to tell this story.

Whisper the ‘let my soul rise’, and the ‘glory-be’s’. Hold fast to the comfort of words spoken across borders and languages. Bring back a wandering mind, the one going through the unending to-do list of the day, the one fretting over the arguing children, the less-than sweet 5 year old. Ask for forgiveness for the lack of joy, the failure of small kindnesses. Promise to do better, to try harder: know the utter absurdity of promises like those.

Read a Psalm (The Lord bends down: this, goodness and mercy, is nearly incomprehensible), an excerpt from Buechner, a passage from The Message. By now the sky has lightened enough to see the road, so it is time to go. Pull on the running shoes, the broken-down ones from the sister across the ocean. Zip the iPhone into a back pocket, take ridiculous joy in the app that will count kilometers and track pace. It’s been years since something like 5 miles has been run, and there is satisfaction in the legs that grow less tired, the miles slowly accumulating underfoot.

There are newer shoes in the closet. They see the trail, too. I love the new shoes, every time I slip them on. But some days, only the old shoes will do–the ones worn before me, the ones wearing clear through. I know no other way to tell this story.

Go straight up the hill leaving the compound. Don’t forget to look up, to see if Kili is looming. She’s not, now that the rains have come. Mt. Meru, too, is shrouded in clouds, and the whole sky is gray. It’ll sprinkle before returning home, and puddles will form in the ruts of the track. Watch for the slippery spots, pick a track through the mud. Wonder how one can simultaneously quite abhor the rain and yet feel something akin to enchantment about running in it. Wonder if maybe that is just a little bit of grace.

Arrive home, and linger at the door before going in. But the little ones can hear the foot-fall, and the day beckons un-gently: breakfast, and milk at the door. The floor needs to be swept and there are two new babies of the four-legged variety who have joined the chaos. Hours tumble into each other before it’s yet 8 am: the change in pace of life is as much culture shock as crossing an ocean. Somehow, a new rhythm is being composed, but that rhythm sure has an awful lot of staccato to it.

My brother told me when you leave a sacred place, you learn to experience joy in moments rather than as an all-consuming way of being. This is true, I think, and I’m okay with it, I think. I guess I just need to be better at finding the moments. I know no other way to tell this story.

Tell me I could say this all in one word, and I’ll say I know. Tell me this is just transition and I’ll say I hate that word. Tell me transition is, by definition, a passing through and I’ll say Yes, but I don’t feel like going anywhere. Tell me there’s a poem you love about this: about

how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be*

and I’ll say Okay. You got me.

It turns out a life is built in the living. Which isn’t as simple as it sounds.

*Lines Written In The Growing Days Of Darkness, Mary Oliver

Remember

February 9, 2015
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Time passes so quickly we forget
the extravagance of loss until something plain
stands in our way to say Remember.
~John Blase

It has continued in that circular pattern unique to itself, each of the last 40 nights since we left. Sometimes waxing, sometimes waning–full light and bright as day for a brief brilliance, hidden and secretive in turn. This is its way, whether I notice or not.

Time passes so quickly. We forget the extravagance of loss. Forty nights of the moon keeping rhythm, swelling and diminishing and swelling again. Forty nights of not watching the cyclical changes. Forty nights of being gone. Forty nights of being fine and miserable and happy and aching with the ache of a phantom limb. Forty nights of barely seeing the sky once. Forty nights of a new life, of falling to sleep without a second look out the window.

Until. Something plain stands in our way. It’s a full moon rising and I’m chasing, literally running, to find it. I’m climbing the internet tower because it’s the highest thing I see, but it’s not high enough to rise above the trees, the big beautiful trees occluding the horizon. I’m bursting out the big silver gate and there: there is the moon, silver white against an ink sky.

To say Remember. Remember. Remember the window-high bed with the stars falling in the window. Remember the rhythm of a solitary life, the salvation of daily tasks, the deliverance of routine. Remember a floor swept clean, the sun shining through the recently-wiped glass louvers. Remember a gray bench, placed under a tree called Tamarind, remember the one who sat beside.

Remember the extravagance, the prodigality, of time. Remember the beauty of knowing only one thing to do at a time, and doing it well. Remember the dust and the unforgiving sun, the wind blowing without regret, the dirt and the sweat and: scrubbing it all away when the night finally falls.

I’m not saying it was perfect. Nothing ever is. I’m not saying it was easy. Things rarely are. But it was good.

And it’s where we were made. Seven years. Four babies grown into children. A whole way of life formed. Now, when I fall into bed and I don’t know what I’ve done all day–my kids have run to play with their new friends and I’ve sat in meetings all day–I’m afraid it’s all vanishing in the push and pull of this new pace of life. But there was that night. And the moon was there. Something plain. And when it spoke, I could hear: remember. Remember. Nothing is ever truly lost. All things: they work together.

For good.

How Many More? (on one perfect morning with my baby)

January 31, 2015

I can hear your little feet sliding across the cement floor before your little voice calls out for me. I admit, I cringe a little. It’s earlier than I want to take care of anyone, earlier than I want to be responsible for answering to mama, earlier than I’m ready to get up and jump to the needs of the day. My coffee is still hot, but it won’t be for long, and the sun has yet to peek. It’s only just barely light. I’m sitting on the porch, dressed head to toe and wrapped in a blanket. I’m still getting used to this.

And then you’re standing at the door: footie jammies, penguins and polar bears and snow-capped evergreen trees dance on your little-big belly. I regret the earlier sigh of disappointment at my interrupted quiet because: there you are. You’re still little, and you want me.

How many more? How many more mornings will you call my name first? How many more times will you shuffle out of your bed, looking only for me?

And so I pick you up and hold you close. I bury my face in your neck just like you do mine. You smell like I forgot to wash your head last night and I did forget, but it’s not a bad smell. You’re still the age when your morning breath is still sweet, your unwashed head is just warmth and boy.

I sit with you, and wrap you up, in the green fleece blanket. We’re both still getting used to this. You sit quietly with me, and amazingly, you fall back to sleep, your head resting on my chest, my coffee perched on the armrest. I sit like that, with you in my arms, the sun easing its way into the day, for twenty minutes or more.

How many more? How many more times will I get to sit with you, still on my lap? How many more mornings will you fit perfectly in my arms, your legs scrunched up, your arms flopped to either side?

Soon you will wake up again. I will have to wake you up and move you, so that I can go pour the pancake batter, get dressed, start the bread dough rising, and begin the day. You’ll spend the rest of the day running away from me. Your little legs will stretch to keep up with the ones already so grown. You’ll make us all laugh, and you’ll probably make us all mad, because at two you are hilarious, and you are infuriating.

How many more? How many more perfect mornings, before all this slips into the deep and unreliable caverns of memory? All I know is that it isn’t many. It’s not many more.

And so I will write it down.

Bloom

January 15, 2015

It must have been standard operating procedure for people being sent overseas a couple of decades ago:

1. MUST HAVE CROSS-STITCH HUNG ON BATHROOM WALLS. CROSS-STITCH MUST HAVE HOKEY FLOWERS AND THE AWFUL SAYING “BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED.”

Maybe they handed the things out during orientation to the field. Or required a cross-stitching class before being allowed to leave the home country. Somehow, lots of people ended up with this saying on their walls and in their hearts. Oh, I know the sentiment is sincere. I can even kind of get it. But.

I hate it.

I can distinctly remember, both as a kid living overseas at different times and now in the last few years, at least four different houses that had this little gem adorning their walls, heaping unrealistic expectations upon the poor schmucks who were led to believe this was a good motto to ponder as they sat captive doing their business below its overly cheerful glow. As though someone had aggressively uprooted and re-planted their sorry selves against their sorry wills into some sorry, stinky soil and now it was all.up.to.them to BLOOM. That it was their fault if they didn’t, couldn’t–something they weren’t doing right, some way they weren’t trying hard enough.

It’s not.

I’m not much of a gardener. I’m no gardener at all, actually. Caleb and I tried a vegetable garden our first couple of years at Omo. The original understanding was that Caleb would clear it and plant it and then I’d take over–watering, weeding, harvesting. Well, weeding proved to be way beyond me and then I would forget to water, or forget to turn off the water and flood everything. And then the whole mess became a jungle and there was no way I was wading in to grab the gigantic, hard-as-wood zucchini from the itchy, prickly, vegetational labyrinth.

We spent the next five years mooching off Papa’s garden.

But I have observed a couple of things while others have gotten their hands dirty and I’ve sat by and collected the eggplant. Gardening is hard work. Planting is decisive, detailed in its design. There’s choice involved: here I will plant carrots and there I’ll plant my lettuce and over here, the okra, the peppers. It is patient work, and there are no instant results. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think gardeners are very aggressive people.

And blooming? Tell me you’ve seen a greater mystery, a more amazing wonder. Explain to me the motivation, the why, behind the sheer extravagance of a flower. It is the whimsy of a beautiful mess of a world. You don’t force a bloom. There’s no willing the success of a blossom. It’s the wonder of a seed going deep into the ground–dying–and living again.

It’s a miracle.

We’re in a new place. I’m just getting my toes in the dirt. We’ve made the choice to be here. Yeah, there has been some uprooting. But here we are: going through the details, the work, of starting something new. Of growing. I don’t know a thing about blooming, about shining, about doing well or succeeding. I don’t know what any of that looks like, yet. I don’t know if I ever will. That’s okay. I’m willing to be underground awhile. I’m acquainting myself with the dark, with the unknown. I’m learning to be patient.

But if all of this ever blooms into color? If this blossoms into radiance? It’ll be a mystery. It’ll be a wonder. It’ll be whimsy. It’ll be a miracle.

It will be grace.

Throwing Shoes (on sometimes not knowing why we’re leaving)

December 21, 2014

He’s there almost every week, long before the rest of us show up. Maybe he is there all night, and we are the first thing he sees in the morning, every Sunday as it rolls around. Or maybe he has slept at a house in the village: one of his kids, a wife, a friend; and he makes his way in the early morning to the shade of the church, to sleep some more.

He looks as though he’s been etched from stone, his cheekbones chiseled from mud, he is bone and skin and little else. A tuft of gray hair, eyes that sink low behind those high, high cheekbones. Long fingers, bony knees. A stool for his head, a whip by his side–for animals, unruly children–or something, maybe, to simply hold onto.

He is usually asleep when we come. He is there, in the middle of the sand floor, under the height of the dome. Sometimes he wakes up, when we settle ourselves on the benches once green, now worn down to a muddle of a color–shiny and smooth from the years of use. Sometimes he wakes up, to watch as the old ladies, faithful, file in one by one, to sit on the bench, the one in the sun. Sometimes he wakes up, and sits up and turns toward the front, head cocked, listening, or maybe not.

On this Sunday, though, he’s not sleeping. Or listening. He’s not even in the middle of the dome. On this Sunday, he’s sitting up, at the edge of the dome, on the side facing away from the river. He’s sitting, one knee up, one knee tucked under him, back hunched over.

He is throwing his shoes.

I don’t know if I would have noticed, if Semola hadn’t called attention to it. I certainly didn’t understand the significance of the shoe-throwing. I would have assumed it was a way to pass the time, a way to amuse himself, until all of these people vacated his shade and he could resume his nap. But Semola noticed, and stops church, to turn and point a finger in his face. Don’t do that in here, Semola says. Don’t bring that into God’s house. Caleb’s dad explains it to me, me with my limited understanding. The man has lost his goats. And so he is throwing his shoes, to read the signs, to be able to know where to go to find his lost goats. Ask God, Semola shouts at him. Ask God! He’ll tell you where your goats are. Don’t bring that superstition here.

Ask God. He’ll tell you.

///

I’d like to throw some shoes. These days, I’d like to throw shoes, and find answers. The days have grown heavy, and the nights pass too quickly, lying in my window-high bed watching Jupiter dance on the horizon, and I’d like to throw some shoes. I’d like to read the signs, and know: all will be found. Nothing will be lost.

I should know better. I do know better. There are no shoes to throw. And yet…God is not really talking, either. Leaving Omo has been far from a sure and certain decision. Instead, it’s been day after slow day of holding on, and letting go. There has been fear, and questions, something close to regret, and wondering. And yet…there has also been hope. And the beckon of an open door, with wide empty spaces beyond. There have been waves of reassurance, and most often, the call toward trust.

I would like to throw some shoes, sometimes. But I think I already have my answer, the rough edges of a whisper, as I watch that old man throw his shoes.

Pick up your shoes. Put them on your feet. And walk.

It’s time to walk.

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