The exotic journey of the heart

These first golden weeks of the new year always uplift my spirit. I hope they’ve done the same for you. There’s nothing quite like the promise of a new year to tune into dreams and passions.

It’s been over a year and a half since I sold most of my stuff, stored the rest and went out into the world to discover the Lord’s will for my life. And I have a decision to make. End my walk in the world, or keep going?

This is one of the most unique and intimate moments in all of my travels.

It happened early one morning in September on the day I was going to return to São Paulo. So there was a specialness about it. A knowing. This was my last time to feel the energy of the cataratas (waterfalls). Oddly, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be my last visit.

When I stepped out for my early morning walk to the cataratas, I had no idea I’d be the only one on the path.

The park wouldn’t be open to the public for another hour. I was fortunate enough to be staying at a hotel within the park, just across the street from the waterfalls. This granted hotel guests special access. Access I didn’t take advantage of until the last day. Still, there was no other hotel guest around in this moment and that surprised me.

 

Dad went home to be with the Lord a few months before, and since that time I’d felt God with me more closely than ever. This was one of those moments. The hotel would be one of the first places I’d work remotely in order to conduct and write an interview for a new online magazine. Iguaçu Falls blessed me in so many ways.

I walked deep into the gorge and took a minute to survey the stunning view of the largest waterfall system in the world––so large it spans the watery borders of Brazil and Argentina. A happy accident led me there––my friend planned the trip. A total surprise.

When I arrived at Iguaçu, I recognized the falls from a photo Dad had taken and mounted on his study wall most of my life. I hadn’t planed to see this wonder. God did.

I remembered the eulogy I gave at Dad’s memorial service about how Dad chased waterfalls all over the world as a hydroelectric engineer. Harnessing their power. Speaking the international language of energy.

And in this, the last moments of saying goodbye to the waterfall, a massive rainbow arched over the entire sight. 

“Hi, Dad,” I said, hitting my knees after snapping the photo, in the shadow of such beauty.

The Lord whispered, “This is just the beginning.”

In the hundreds of people whose lives I’ve been blessed to be a part of this year, I have noticed the need for people to have courage, including myself. But what does that look like? It’s a little bit different for each of us. Sometime courage looks like––

the bravery to forgive, 

to not believe lies society or other people are wanting us to believe, 

overcoming a bully, 

or heartache, 

to find the power to forgive ourselves, 

to walk in grace,

to believe that God is good even in the midst of tragedy, 

to heal, 

to make that decision, 

to show others how to treat you, 

to fight for justice, 

to hand your heart to a friend to hold to because your heart is too heavy to remember your hopes and dreams,

to laugh 

All along the way, it has been no coincidence that my obstacles have been dis-couragement. It begins with little or big disappointments that can turn into discouragement if I am not careful, mindful. Please be careful with disappointment. Don’t let it derail you or your dreams.

Please.

The journey of the heart is perhaps the most exotic. It says in the Bible to guard our hearts. This, I believe is one of our most important tasks.

I have made so many mistakes along the way. Learning much about how I fall short and how not to let fear rule the day.

When discouragement knocks I remember the rainbow over Iguaçu. I remember what the Lord whispered.

And I believe. 

Most of what I’ve learned this year has to do with the brevity of life. Too brief to be discouraged.

Each day is a new day. My prayer for you is that you wake up each day and face it honestly, with an open, courageous heart.

I hope you enjoy this story I wrote about my friend and I at Iguaçu Falls, Brazil called Brazillian Bikinis and Mango Shrimp 

Going Big : 90 days around the world

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For me, Going Big is the joy of feeling totally alive and terrified. My mom named the thrill “horrible-wonderful.” While very real, horrible drops away pretty quick when I’m wonderfully following my heart.

On Gili Air and in the silence of Nyepi, I decided to return to Java and write the screenplay. I flew from one kingdom to another, from Bali to Yogyakarta. It’s difficult to describe how freeing and scary this choice was for me. For nearly thirty years I’d made every big decision together with my husband. Going Big alone was new to me. Since the trip to Indonesia had met with so much resistance in my past life, the fact that I had actually taken the trip was huge. Extending my trip meant Going Big for myself, my art and my faith. Going Big became my new mantra.

I’d begun to write the screenplay in LA before I left, but something was missing. I hadn’t been to Indonesia and the script was the poorer for it. I touched down on Java painfully aware that the last time my dad had been on Javanese soil was as a prisoner of the Japanese. I would spend the next two weeks writing the screenplay about how dad fought for his life, while I was fighting for mine. Java’s perilous past fascinated me as I faced a seemingly perilous future. Was there some kind of message here about how I might survive?

As catastrophic as the end days were for Dad and our family on Java, the Indonesian way of life gave him constant joy. I’d find him in our Chicago basement hacking a coconut with an axe to extract its fresh milk, frying krepuk (shrimp crackers) on our back porch, filling the house with the scent of coconut curry chicken, topping jasmine rice with serundang (toasted coconut). Dad never said a bad word about the Japanese. He’d even encouraged me to buy a Honda when I’d saved enough of my waitressing tips to buy half of my first car—my parents treated me to the other half. Over the years, Mom and Dad would travel to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nikko, Tokyo and entertain Japanese engineers at our home in Chicago. No one ever knew about his experience, not even Mom. I certainly didn’t. Not until Dad turned eighty. We spent the next ten years talking. Sometimes we corresponded by letters, but most of the time we’d sit in his room in Florida and we’d chat for a few hours at a time.

The final draft of the screenplay is nearly completed.

4/1/14

I just arrived at the d’Omah hotel. The perfect place to write. They even offer an amazing Rijsttafel here on Sundays (Rijsttafel is a Dutch word which means “rice table” and is an elaborate meal the Dutch had during the colonial days when Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies). Omah means “home” in Indonesian. I’m on a quest to find a home in the world. This truly feels like one. 

As I settle in I hear buzzing, lots and lots of buzzing in the background. I walk down the road past the rice fields to the main street where parades of motorcycles, very loud motorcycles, wave large red flags. Villagers at the roadside watch the spectacle. Indonesian elections come with throngs of motorcycle-riding, flag-flying, noise-making party people. I’m hooked. I’ve never seen anything like their intensity. Some wear face masks. I’m standing here watching the scene among the masks and the revving. This is definitely Going Big.  I film what I see. As election day approaches, I can’t wait to start writing.

Bali’s Nyepi & the power of silence : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

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I first learned about Nyepi while touring around Ubud last year. As I motored though village after village, I spotted boys and teenagers constructing huge demons that rivaled any Hollywood creation. I began to film what captivated me.

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Each village funded the construction of demons, called Oguh-oguh monsters. I mean, is there anything better to most boys than making larger-than-life demons? It was like they took the doodles off their school papers and gave them life. The Oguh-oguh monsters represent Bhuta Kala, malicious spirits that inhabit Bali on Nyepi to turn people toward evil. In days gone by, night was considered the time for supernatural beings. Malignant spirits, bhuta kala, and witches filled the darkness of the night. Older Balinese see the night as a dangerous time for traveling outside the house compound, though gamelan is held in the evening but it never lasts until late at night on Bali like it does on Java. Even to this day, my Balinese friends told me that I will not see a Balinese family out with their young children at twilight. They see twilight as the time when evil spirits can take control over people’s lives.

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The designs of the Oguh-oguh spoke to their creators’ incredible imaginations and their craftsmanship spoke to how seriously villagers take their monsters. Most were big-breasted ghouls with fangs, some with blue skin, some with very long hair and nails. It was surreal motoring the streets of Ubud, passing demon after demon after demon in varying states of construction. Seeing their creative process was as fascinating to me as seeing the finished creatures parade down the streets of Ubud on Nyepi. The actual day of Nyepi is determined by when the “Tilem Kesanga” falls, the darkest moon.

I had taken a trip to Gili Air to go remote for the weekend right before Nyepi. I just couldn’t wait for the silence, I guess. Gili Air gave a great respite from the frenzy of Java and bustle of Bali as there are no mobiles or motors there. I traveled by horse-drawn carriage when I wasn’t walking. In fact, I could walk around the tiny island in under an hour. When I returned to Bali to celebrate Nyepi, all the tourists were crowded on the docks of Bali ready to party on the Gilis instead of getting “trapped in the silence” of Nyepi. I happily sailed the nearly empty boat back to Bali. I wanted silence. I needed silence. On the eve of Nyepi, Bali was anything but.

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Gamelan and clanging filled the air. The Oguh-oguh monsters, great ghouls, paraded down the streets of Ubud while hundreds lined the streets watching the fan fare. All along the parade route, beautiful sarong-wrapped girls carrying torches kept a vigil with pieces of tape placed over their mouths. Some of the passing demons had dozens of boys animating them, holding large bamboo platforms. They raised the Oguh-Oguh up and down battling other demons in the parade. Since it’s believed village crossroads are where evil spirits linger, the boys spin the Oguh-Oguh monsters counter-clockwise to confuse the evil spirits. People bang pots and pans, cans, and honk horns to force the evil spirits to leave. Later the effigies are burnt in cemeteries as a symbol of purification. Cock fighting is permitted on the eve of Nyepi, because the spilling of blood is necessary for purification.

And then, Bali went dark and quiet. The moment otherworldly.

3/31/2014 – Pondock Pundi Village Inn

I’m not supposed to be outside, but I have to look at the stars. While I stare at the kind of darkened sky most people will never see in this light-filled world, the silence bathes me. It’s more than a moment of “unplugging,” it’s freeing. Nothing needs to be done or thought about or planned for in the next twenty-four hours. Outside my door meat and alcohol offerings are left in the streets for the evil spirits to feed on in the hopes that they will pass deserted Bali by. 

When I reached The Pondock Pundi Village Inn earlier this afternoon—only a few inns were open for tourists as most left Bali for Nyepi—I was asked for my meal preferences for the entire next day. It was explained to me that I was to return to the Inn before midnight and afterwards I was not to go outside. I was not to use the electricity. The staff would bring my meals to me. I was to observe the four abstinences:

“amati geni” no lighting fires or using lights

“amati karya” refraining from working

“amati lelanguan” refraining from indulging in leisure activities

“amati lelungan” refraining from traveling outside the house

Bali hopes that in the silence all the evil spirits will fly over their island. As they sit inside, they reflect on how to purify their minds and their bodies with yoga and meditation. My experience of Neypi is life-changing. Never have I spent a twenty-four hour period in silence. Those that know me would be laughing right about now. It’s the perfect time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. 

Love, Light & Liberation : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

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One year ago today my friends took me to the Tirta Emmpul Temple for a Hindu purification ceremony. I had all kinds of hesitation at participating. It scared me a bit to be a part of a ceremony of a religion (some would say a philosophy) I’d only tapped the surface of. Would I anger my God by participating? But then I got to thinking about how God sent me to Bali. I didn’t arrive on my own power, but by His power alone. He had made the decisions that gave me the strength and the opportunity to meet Made and have him become my spiritual teacher. And through thinking about the amount of miracles that brought me to Ubud, a Balinese word that means medicine, I realized one very important thing. God is love. Love is the best medicine. And because Made and his family loved me so much and sought to instill healing in me immediately, they wanted to do something very sacred to them for me. And out of love for my God, and for them, I accepted their precious gift. Made and I had many very long talks together, over many days. And slowly, but surely, my heart began to open and the negativity that had entered my life slowly slipped away and would be washed away in the holy water of the temple, in baths for the body, mind and spirit.

3/24/14

I just set my alarm to get up at 4 AM for my Hindu purification ceremony. And I’m a bit scared by going. The advice I get from time to time about life is to do one thing everyday that scares me. Tomorrow I will have done at least one before breakfast.

3/25/14

One of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life. Be strong. Be happy. Don’t look back. I am now free, liberated from my problems and bad memories through the lovingkindness of what were once strangers and are now family. The solution is love and simplicity. Make every decision based on what God is—love, light and liberation. Consume less. Suffer less. Be true to myself. If I do all these things I will no longer be afraid or powerless. I will harness my power by knowing and praying for what I need. God will bless me with it. That is certain. Made told me, “If you are going West, Laura, don’t let others negotiate with you to go East. Don’t negotiate. With love, keep to your own path. Know thy path. Your heart is your home. Do not take everyone with you wherever you go.” He said this is my problem. He pleaded for me to take care of myself, in the kindest way possible. The experience was intimate, in a way I’d never known before. My friends and their wives had prepared incredible offerings to bring to their gods. Woven bamboo baskets filled with eggs and incense and rice and treats wrapped in banana leaves along with beautiful flowers. With flowers in my hair, the Hindu priest blessed me and pressed rice into my forehead to bless my thoughts. I took the rice and ate some to bless my words and pressed some to my chest to bless my heart. 

Later that night Made said I have to watch the way I walk. I said I walk bad? You need to teach me how to walk better. In a good way. He said, no. He looked at me and said, “No, Laura, I want you to walk sure.” 

Goliath’s Skinny Latte battles David’s Jamaican-Me-Crazy: a tale of coffee, wine and survival

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Last night I went out and drank wine with old friends, and made some new ones along the way. Two of my favorite things to do.

A lot has changed since I’ve lived in this part of LA. Happily there are many more places to hang out with friends and drink wine and microbrews 🙂 What does this have to do with a local coffee house, you ask? Well, survival.

One of the best parts about where I live now is that my church, a great little bakery, a coffee house, a spa and a cheap little, very bustling breakfast place are all within walking distance. There are some great hiking trails too. I told Sue, the owner of my local coffee house, that if it wasn’t for her croissants and tuna salad sandwiches, I wouldn’t be alive today. She smiled and said she really appreciated the compliment. Her place is as charming as she is. The people on the sun-drenched patio all engage in the news of the day. But there was trouble brewing. You see, even though Starbucks has a store a mall over, they felt the need to place an additional drive-through satellite Starbucks about thirty yards away from Sue’s place. Petitions were circulated, but by the time I’d come to town construction was just about complete.

So, what did Sue do? She decided to turn her place into a wine bar at night. Last night was the soft opening of her “after dark” business. I had a wonderful Pinot Noir from Oregon which I enjoy, called Acrobat. The place was packed . My friends and I had parted ways earlier that night, so I was just stopping by to show my support on my way home. The small plates she served looked great. Next time I’ll have to try one.

Two days ago the Starbucks drive-thru opened. I’d gotten a coffee earlier in the day yesterday, my favorite Jamaican-Me-Crazy, and watched the cars pull up to the drive-thru one after the other, there was quite a line of cars. The people around me were all very friendly. It was as if we were all answering the silent question, why? One lady said, well it’s easier for moms with small children to get drive-thru coffee. True. One lady just shrugged and threw up her hands. Sue has expanded her business and now works double time to survive. If you are in the area and want to get out of your car to meet one charming business woman, with an almost biblical sense of grace under pressure, check out Sue’s place.

Monday Muse: SFINE (San Francisco Independent Authors Book Signing Event)

Whew! What a fabulous weekend…hung out with some old friends and made some new ones. Thanks to all the wonderful folks who stopped by to say hi!

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Got to meet some wonderful readers like Sabrina! <3

A big shout out to Angela, Sydney & Kate, Carly and Vivian too 😀

Hanging with my booth buddies!

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Got to make some new friends who happen to be best selling authors too 😀 From Left Stephanie Holster, Nikki Jefford and my awesome roomie Bethany Lopez!

Continue reading Monday Muse: SFINE (San Francisco Independent Authors Book Signing Event)

Monday Muse: Dare I say it? 50!

Apocalypse Please
Apocalypse Please (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hey all. I procrastinated ALL WEEKEND when I have a huge deadline this week. And now that I’m sitting down to work and realizing that at last count my new novel The Storytellers..the one I should have been editing all weekend has…wait for it…50 CHARACTERS! Egads!

50 is my new favorite number. It’s going to be my muse not only for this week but for the entire month of May.

I’m turning 50 soon–very, very soon. And I’m going to throw a little book birthday bash here. I can’t wait 🙂  Some awesome authors have joined in to celebrate with me which is so much fun. They’ll be some fun surprises and a great giveaway with lots of fabulous free ebooks. More on that later….

But, back to this Monday’s muse. In the face of the number 50 the  muse made me procrastinate. I SHOULD have been home swimming through my edits. Trying to stay afloat. But I didn’t, I did everything but. That’s SO 49 of me! I’ve done the opposite of everything that I probably should have done this year. And it’s been wonderful. So I went with my gut and did everything I wasn’t supposed to this weekend. Here’s three things my muse picked up on while I procrastinated.

1 & 2: I saw two amazing movies that I never heard of, and I’m kind of a movie freak, so this is rare. One was Winter’s Bones….egads! If you like it scary and horrifying and love Jennifer Lawrence this is for you. The other is The King of California…if you like it cooky and weird and love stories about outrageous quests and impossible relationships, this one is for you.

3: I love church for lots of reasons but one of them is because it’s so old fashioned hearing stories told aloud. This week’s story was about a man who couldn’t walk and had waited to be healed at a healing pool for 38 years. For 38 years every time the time was right for a miracle to occur he never was the first one to the healing pool. He always missed his chance. He was really caught up in the how of healing. Not in the who. This made my muse thankful and determined.

What’s inspired you this week?  What’s your muse up to?