time gap

It's 11:19 p.m. here in Hawaii, and these evenings have turned out to be my lonely hour, because everyone back home is asleep. I've always been a bit of a night owl and yet never liked being the last up in my home or at a slumber party. I kind of feel that way now--like I'm the last one to turn in for the night and my buddy fell asleep right there in the sleeping bag while I was trying to tell them something.

This was the part I did not like about Hawaii before, and I can tell you I don't like it much this time either. I'm hoping that I'll eventually learn to love these peaceful hours, to rest with God after my children have gone to bed and all possibility of chatter has ceased.

The other night John said something that irritated me, and I wanted to shun him and yet, what could I do, considering my desperate condition--a night owl and extrovert situated on the most isolated island chain in the world--with nary a friend to dial?

So when he tried to talk nicely to me I gave him a look and said, "Just so you know, I'm just talking to you now because you're my only friend on this time zone."

To my far away friends and family--it seems there is only one way to be close to you while you sleep. When the nightly urge to call comes up I'll try to restrain myself and pray for you instead. I believe that prayer closes the time gap, the distance gap--every gap actually--and that it is an act of holy intimacy and a privilege.

So I am praying for you tonight, and I hope your sleep will be untroubled and expansive and that you will untangle some worry or fear through your dreams, that you will wake refreshed and whole, ready to receive every good thing that comes to you. And I'll be praying for those good things, too, that they will come unexpectedly and steadily, like snowflakes at twilight, covering the green grass and branches and pavement and making everything fresh again.


house, church

So we had our Christmas services in the home of Darrell and Pat Hill. We drove about four hours total between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, on a long windy road through lava fields--barren and fertile at the same time--ocean on one side and a snow-capped mountain on the other. It helped me, a little, to see some snow for Christmas, even if we didn't get close enough to play in it.

The services were lovely--I was moved by the icons set up in an artist's studio(can you find the paintbrushes and easels?). There was something so good about being together there--a sweet spirit seemed to permeate the air. Christmas Eve, the wind howled against the house, so strong at times that it lifted the roof and dropped it with a thud. We celebrated the liturgy on Christmas Day with sun streaming in the windows, illuminating the falling rain.

Here's a photo of Anna at work on her picture for Santa:

On Christmas Day, back at home, we encountered a large snail and exchanged yuletide greetings:


beginning to look a lot like . . .

On our second night here there was a huge storm which caused us to loose power, flooded our road, and caused the ocean to swell. I've mentioned before that living near the ocean is lovely, but I don't trust it any further than I can throw it, and during the storm I was begging it to behave properly.

Our condo is built on old Hawaiian burial grounds, which is a fact that I've made peace with, especially because the spots where bones were found are fenced off and protected according to Hawaiian custom. But that second night, in the dark, I was a little uneasy so we headed out to Wal-Mart to buy flashlights and candles.

As I was weaving my way through the snow-flecked blinking Christmas trees, past the beeping toys and blow-up Rudolphs of Wal-Mart in a state of total disorientation--the song, "It's Beginning to Look A lot Like Christmas" came over the loudspeaker and I could only shake my head. As far as I'm concerned it doesn't look anything like Christmas around here.

The fact that Christmas is nearly here is something that I can't really make sense of just yet. Kind of like how I still can't believe that as I write this post most of the people I love are sitting down to dinner but I'm still sipping my coffee, or the fact that at night, when I really want to call a friend, they're all tucked in for the night. My internal clock remains confused, to the point that any local could tell me it was any time of the day and I would believe them.

To that end, the days continue to pass at a marvelously slow rate. It's calming for me to move slowly and to feel that if I'm late nobody will panic because people are expected to take their time, to "talk story" and to be available to whatever experiences present themselves.

I used to think the "Aloha Spirit" concept was made up for tourists. But I've come to believe it is a real thing and that we are being changed and washed by it. It's a hospitality of soul and openness, a willingness to accept, both within the church and outside of it, as my friend Rachel said, "That most everyone is doing the very best they can with what they have."

So this Christmas, I'm doing my best to celebrate in this rather odd context that has no reference point in the childhood of my youth. This best included assembling a ginger bread house on the lanai (no bugs please!) and then storing it in the fridge, attending one Christmas hula pageant (who would have known the hula girls were there in the manger!) and getting my toes ready for the season, a small detail that never would have made it into my holiday plans back home.

I must close because Anna is warning me that Santa will only be at the open air market for one more hour . . . So I'm off to see Santa and hoping against hope that he won't be wearing shorts or toting a surfboard.



So we had Vespers on Saturday at a tiny Catholic church nearby. I totally fell in love with the church, sweet as it was against the blue sky, light pouring out from that little door. I just couldn't stop looking at it--and I didn't mind too much when Natalie fussed and I had to take her out, because then I could take it all in.

When we arrived there was a couple waiting to greet Fr. John with a lei and a fruit basket with limes and grapefruit from their yard. They had been responsible for much of the recent repairs to the church, and they beamed as they spoke about how they'd been restoring it over the past six months.

Fr. John wasn't there yet and this wasn't our normal church, so some people were worried he might miss the driveway. One the founding members of the mission went down to the road to wait for him, and I called to make sure Fr. John knew where to turn. Fr. John said, "Oh no--are people waiting for me?" When I repeated this question to the man beside the road he turned and said, "We've been waiting for him for years."

Anna's Christmas Hula


life in the slow lane

Yesterday I had to take Anna to the doctor for her TB screening. Unfortunately, Fr. John had the car and was two hours away. Although Anna's school is just a thousand feet from our door, the journey ascends directly up a mountainside and involves a highway crossing. Add this to the the fact that Hawaii suffers from a severe shortage of sidewalks and you have for a pretty unpleasant walk, unless you're the type of person who likes climbing the stair master in the sauna with a baby on your back.

As it happens, I'm not really that type of person, but yesterday I had no choice. Things took a turn for the worse when it started to rain. I looked up at that ominous sky and prayed for a ride. At Anna's school, sweaty and wet from the rain, I asked if there was a back way to get to the doctor, which was just down the highway. "No," her teacher said, "But it will only take you about five minutes."

Now five minutes on the shoulder of a highway stepping over shattered beer bottles in sandals with a baby on your back and a six-year-old who takes micro-steps when protesting can make for a loooooong five minutes. It can be particularly treacherous when it is raining and thorny branches extend into the road so you have to step over the yellow line to avoid them.

But we'd only walked about four paces along the highway when a pick-up slowed to a stop and a Hawaiian lady called out to me, "You're pretty brave, but would you like a ride?"

Gratefully, we climbed in and she drove us to the doctor. We arrived at the doctor about four minutes early. I was thrilled to have made it. But those forms are tricky when you haven't managed to memorize your own address just yet. So I called my dear friend Bethany in Nashville who laughed and laughed when I explained my reason for calling.

She also told me that when her four year old son Rilian mentioned that he had not seen Anna for a million days, she told him that Anna was in Hawaii. "I know where that is!" he said. "In Hawaii everyday is a party, but not with cake, just with fruit."

I sure didn't feel like I was at a party after my hike along the highway followed by my hour long wait for the doctor while Natalie ingested magazines and Anna moaned, "Can we go now?" The office didn't seem particularly crowded, but when nobody rushes, ever, everything does seem to take an awfully long time.

We finally met the doctor, who was a nice enough man. No white jacket for him, of course, just one of those crazy Hawaiian shirts that John has developed an embarrassing soft spot for. We were the last patients of the day, so we left just as the doctor was pulling out of the parking lot in his Jeep. He smiled and waved. The passenger seat was occupied by a gigantic surf board.

And then we had to cross the highway again. We stood beside the road waiting for a gap. Suddenly one car stopped and a woman waved for us to go. I was scared for her, as stopping on the highway seemed almost more dangerous then attempting to cross it. But then the car in the other lane also stopped, so everyone was stopped and nobody honked and everyone waited.

After we'd made it safely across, Anna turned to me and said, "I like Hawaii highways."

"Why?" I said.

"Because here," she said, "People stop so you can cross."


praying mantis

So we've had a Praying Mantis hanging out on the porch the last few days, and it sure is an impressive--and reverent--bug. I can't decide if it looks more like it is praying or directing the choir (Veronica, if you're out there, please advise!) Anyway, I pointed it out to Anna yesterday.

"Look Anna, It's a Praying Mantus. Do you know why they call it that?"

She shook her head.

"Because it's praying!"

"Bugs don't pray, mom," she said.

"Oh yeah they do," I said, "Just look at it."

"Who is it praying for?" she asked.


sleep on it

So we're still a little dazed and confused here in Kona, but we're slowly learning the ropes. I feel a little more settled each day as I become accustomed to the slower pace of life--at Lava Java today they actually gave me a pager to hold while they made my mango smoothie. I mean, how long could it take to make a smoothie? As it turns out, it can take a really, really long time, especially when you have to saunter out to the mango tree, pick the mangoes, wash them, peel them, discard the peels, take the garbage out, kneed some bread, feed the dog* and talk some story all the while...

As much as I enjoy the slower pace of life here, part of me sometimes feels like I'm watching a scratched DVD and the movie keeps freezing up on me. This makes me a little anxious while waiting for a smoothie or a latte. Each day is full of so many pauses, really, and nobody is rushing. I mean, why rush when you're on an island? I mean where exactly does one rush to?

And I find that my Chicago intensity does not match the spirit of those around me. The other day Anna made some friends here at the complex--I love how sweetly and quickly little girls can befriend each other! They met just a few days ago, and now they're always around--even today when I brought Anna back from school they were out back. They came running to Anna saying, "We were waiting for you . . ."

So anyway, the girls wanted to come over to play. I found the mother of one of the girls to ask her permission. She was perfectly fine with her daughter playing here, although she did not know my last name or cell phone number, and she never did run a criminal background check on me. The other little girl said that her dad was sleeping. So in a lapse of judgment I let her come along to our apartment, and the girls played for about fifteen minutes before I began to panic about the father, sensing how worried he must be.

So we rushed out, and sure enough, he was out looking for his daughter. I thought, "Oh man, I'm going to get it. How irresponsible it was for me to harbor his daughter without permission." But when I saw his face it was not tense and stern as I'd expected. His expression was all loose and smiley. He extended his hand to me and welcomed me to the complex. I asked if he was worried about Reese. "Well I knew she was around here somewhere," he said.

So now Reese's parents have been filling me in on life in Kona, and I listen with fascination to their stories. Reese's father tells me that one of their daily irritations is that Reese keeps bringing gecko eggs home (they look like white jelly beans and can be found in the small spike holes at the base of palm trees) and letting the babies hatch inside their apartment. This is really no problem for the baby geckos, which don't require any special neonatal care, but Reese's parents do try to explain to Reese that "The mama geckos leave their eggs in certain spots on purpose."

I also asked Reese's parents about places where I could pick fruit off the trees. Reese's dad told me that the best place to look for that is the classified section of the paper. He said that people actually run ads that read something like, "Mango overload, please help!" followed by their address.

So all this to say, I'm not in Chicago anymore, and the learning curve is steep but the climb is thrilling. And the regular daily tasks do help me feel more oriented. I'm oddly comforted by making the beds, loading the dishwasher, ignoring the crinkled laundry in the dryer for as long as possible.

And I was happy, the other day, to have an idea for our bedroom. It's been a little stuffy at night because our bed is tucked into a cozy but windowless corner. So I pushed the bed flush against the windows, and now all night long the ocean breeze washes over us. So I'm sleeping on it, and sleeping in it, and slowly making sense of this place which is so unfamiliar and yet comforting just the same.

*In the interest of not defaming my new favorite coffee shop, please be aware that there was no dog at Lava Java. I was just trying to imagine all the steps that might be involved with said smoothie.


new school

Here's a photo of Anna at her new school, wearing her Hawaiian print uniform. I couldn't resist buying a tiny uniform for Natalie.

baby gecko



So we arrived in Kona last night, after a mostly lovely (with a few tense moments mixed in) day of travel. I know that sounds strange, considering the fact that we were traveling with two small children and that the flight was nine and a half hours long (just to Honolulu) followed by a half hour flight to Kona, but it's true.

We left at about seven am, after a herculean effort to get our life in order. Even the ride to the airport felt peaceful, because finally we didn't actually have to do anything. After months of packing, preparation and decisions, it was near bliss to just sit there in the car. But there was a worry nagging at the back of our minds: Although the parish had offered to buy a seat for Natalie, it seemed excessive, because she could, technically, ride on my lap.

The idea of Natalie squirming on my lap for nearly ten hours was getting less and less appealing as we approached O'Hare. We had tried to call United's call center to request a baby block, but we'd been routed to a call center in India (sigh). But when we finally got on the flight, we were shocked to discover that Natalie and I had the whole five center seats to ourselves! I spent the duration of the flight rejoicing over that surprising and lovely twist of plot.

When we arrived in Honolulu, we were struck by the friendliness of everyone there, and the fact that our kids could run around and play without me barking warnings every few moments. The adults flirted with our kids and I felt as if some the tension I've been carrying for so long was starting to work its way out. "Perhaps I won't have to wear my mouth guard anymore!" I told John, giddy at the idea that I might be able to stop grinding my poor teeth.

At the airport, I called my neighbor Marji and she reported that there was fresh snow in Chicago--six inches, in fact. How strange it was that we'd left when it was so clear and had no idea that later that day, other planes sat on the tarmack for six miserable hours. What a gift to have escaped the storm.

And then last night, when we arrived in Kona, members of the parish were there with leis to greet us--even little Natalie got a tiny purple one. Mine was so aromatic that this morning I can't stop smelling it--it is not unlike that wonderful paradise smell that some holy relics emit--I imagine heaven must smell something like it.

And then we arrived at our new home, which is lovely. To our astonishment, there was a welcome basket full of tropical fruit complete with Anna's favorite breakfast cereal. On the counter was a Bose radio, playing soft Hawaiian music, which was identical to my beloved Bose at home, and oddly, the dishwasher is exactly the same as ours on Kenwood, as well as the blue booster for Natalie--not to mention the garage door opener which is, oddly, the exact same one we use in Chicago. On Anna's bed was a brand new Strawberry Shortcake doll and a little airplane for Natalie. All this familiarity makes us feel a little more at home--and a whole lot less alone--here on the most isolated island chain in the world.

And last night, as I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, I remembered my earlier fear of the ocean. We are very close, much closer than I meant to be, as a person who doesn't totally trust the sea. So I said to Jesus, "Dear Lord, you wouldn't have brought us all the way here just to wash out to sea as we slept? That just be so, um, inefficient."

And I said this against the rhythm of those waves, which never did answer me, but in the morning we woke when it was still dark, and we were still here, in the loving presence of God, surrounded by so much evidence of his tender care. We sipped Kona coffee together, John and I, and remembered that first time we were Hawaii, 13 years ago, when we found each other and first decided to take the adventure that came to us.

Just this morning, I picked up Fr. John's Bible and a card fell out. The last time we were in Hawaii, just beginning to know each other, I'd jotted down this passage for him from the Song of Soloman, Chapter 2: My Beloved spake and said onto me, 'Rise up my fair one, and come away, for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land; the fig tree putteth forth her green figs. Arise my Love, my fair one, and come away.'"