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 

Your little bag of hope

The first of many surprises in Brazil
The first of many surprises in Brazil

Only hours after touching down in Sao Paulo, I received this little bag of hope.

See, I had no underwear. 

It’s a long story, but I promised Dad, I’d keep it short (see below). On our drive into the remote mountains of Sao Paulo, my friend and I stopped at a mall for cash (no ATMS in the forest). This part of the journey felt all hazy, the way things do when you’ve flown a red-eye across the world.

We didn’t have much time because my friend wanted to take me for a hike up to the stone–part of a caminho de fe, walk of faith, by her home. Since life hadn’t given me much time for caminhos in the months before, I longed for the kind of caminho my soul and spirit needed. Desperate to walk, I wanted to hug nature and breathe the cool Brazilian mountain air.

In no time, I found a great lingerie store. I loved their fabrics and designs but had no clue when it came to speaking Portuguese, similar to Spanish which is a language I speak. The languages even share common words. Sadly, none of the Spanish words they shared were the ones I needed to ask for the right size and color of panties. My friend gave me lots of help.

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No, not the butt enhancers. Brazil loves to surprise. When the sales woman handed me my bag, I thanked her for speaking English with my first Portuguese word, obrigado.

I held up the bag and said, “I have a little bag of hope.”

My friend gave me a hug and pointed at the store’s marquee. The jet lag, pain from a health issue and the general sense of rushing combined to make me a little loopy. I hadn’t noticed the name of the store. HOPE.

“It’s great energy,” my friend said. Afterwards, we laughed and caught up over an incredible Brazilian coffee then tucked my little bag of hope into my friend’s car and hit the road for our journey into the mountains.

Defender of hope
Defender of hope

I love how The Holy Spirit gives us signs and messages. How God works through our desires and longings.

Sometimes, He’s found in the perfect song at the perfect time. Sometimes in the words of a friend. At other times, He arrives in the form of intuition. Through whispered messages on gentle breezes.

But I’d never in all my life received a red ribboned, gilded message of HOPE in English in a Portuguese-speaking country before. Hope had nearly run out for me by the time I arrived in Brazil. God felt the need to shout this time. He got my attention.

Here’s your little bag of hope. 

I’m handing it to you on a busy day. A day you aren’t feeling well and a little bit rushed. When you aren’t sure about life, maybe not feeling like yourself. A day when all that you believed and expected are in question. Here it is. Open it up. You don’t need much.

A thank you:

This is the first post Dad will not read. Last year, just before I set out to do my first mission work in Prague, right before I walked El Camino de Santiago, Dad told me that I’d have to be his eyes in the world now. Through Laurasmagicday over the last few years of Dad’s life I brought the world to him as he had done with me when I was a child.

I miss him every day and yet, it seems that he’s closer to me than ever before. The last time I spoke with Dad in the hospital, he asked what I’d written lately. I told him my job in Spain was very demanding and I’d barely had time to journal. He closed his eyes, shook his head and said, “write a short story.” This post is that short story.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. Your good wishes and prayers have been a comfort. I hope to keep Dad’s spirit of curiosity, peace, joy and excitement alive here and in all my future projects. Life is short. Make it fun.

One Nation. Under God.

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American flag on display in a museum in Belgium. A battle-scarred Tiger tank sits outside in ruins.

I returned to the USA from my missionary work in Spain a week ago. I had a few detours along The Way which I never expected but God never let go of my hand. This Independence Day means more to me than any other.

I helped serve pilgrims with a team of people on El Camino de Santiago’s Camino Frances. A 1200-year old, 500-mile pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James (Santiago), one of Jesus’ disciples. As we prepared for our ministry in Spain, our advisors suggested meeting people where they are on their walk of faith. I believe this wise practice for ministry is also a great way to meet people in life. Simple in concept but difficult in practice.

One day this practice meant finding a “zapatero,” or cobbler, to fix a pilgrim’s pair of shoes. Another day we provided pilgrims with hot tea and carrot cake or hummus and vegetables. On another we helped a paralytic pilgrim find shelter in our ancient village where he was told there was no room at any inn. A few days later we shared our testimonies with a double-lung transplant recipient. Many of these conversations took place in my second language of Castellano and rarely in my very poor French– the later took place in both.

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From my final Camino in Spain this summer

WHAT SURPRISED ME

Pilgrims and the townspeople wanted to know my story. They wanted to know what lead me to work there and why. How I came to know The Lord. So many times the other American working there and I fielded questions about American presidential politics and gun violence. Frequently during these discussions, pilgrims shared titles of books they’d read that influenced their lives––spiritual books, adventure stories, thought-provoking essays, and whatever books they had in their backpack.

Books are a real luxury item when hiking 500-miles across Spain. Pilgrims are advised to only carry 10% of their body weight. You can image how difficult it is to put that into practice. Especially when you’re like me, who packs just about everything (read: writer). If you want to check out what I took with me on my Camino last summer you can see a short video here. My “mochilla,” backpack, weighed more than the 13 lbs. it should have, way more. This made my Camino much harder than it needed to be and took a toll on my body (doctor-ordered rest for two days) and spirit. I discovered I had to get rid of things by donating them to others along The Way. Lightening my load, another wise way to live life. Another simple but difficult practice.

What does lightening my load look like for me today? Holding things up one at a time in my decidedly less cluttered storage unit to see what more I can let go of. What can you do today to lighten your load? Physically? Spiritually?

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I met lots of people who had heavy spiritual loads. People at a crossroads. Trying to make peace with God. Trying to find God. Trying to answer life’s biggest questions. Trying to run away from everyone and everything, including God. Some who sought to harm me. People who had never heard the name of Jesus. And when people wanted to know Him better, one of the first questions they had concerned my church affiliation. I replied non-denominational and that I only hoped to have a real, personal relationship with Jesus.

WHY PEOPLE ABANDON THEIR FAITH

In my conversations about faith this Spring and Summer in Spain, I discovered two things that caused people to abandon their faith––hypocrisy, and the inability to fully understand the concept of God’s grace. People told me they abandoned their faith when a hypocrite in their life caused them to suffer, sometimes within their church family. Usually this pain happened at a young age, a difficult time to try understand our fallen world. A great sermon to listen to if you struggle with this wound is here.

I often heard people saying all the world religions are the same. They talked about how every world religion speaks of loving-kindness and doing good works. But grace is uniquely Christian. It is a gift freely given. You don’t have to do any good work. The minute you put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, a perfect sacrifice that died for your sins, is the minute you are forgiven. Jesus is enough. That means that you don’t have to carry 20 lbs. in your mochilla anymore. God’s got you. You don’t have to feel the guilt, pain, doubt, or shame. You can let it all go. You are good enough.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

How do I put this proverb into practice today? I say a prayer for the Lord to watch over and guide someone I love. I trust that the words that I am inspired to write and say matter. That they’re important. I pray to have peace, patience and self-control as the Lord reveals His will for my life. How might you trust in the Lord today?

COURAGE

On this Independence Day, a time Americans remember what courage it took to stand up to tyranny, to fight it and then create a future as one nation, under God, it is my prayer that today you may find yourself one step closer to living and loving like Jesus in your own life. Free to meet the people in your life where they are, wherever they are, be it serving them carrot cake, asking a friend to a picnic, saying yes, speaking a difficult truth, telling a joke, sharing your testimony, learning a language, making friends in far away places, forgiving, or digging deep into your well of patience to understand, one more time, again. Lighten your mochilla. Accept grace and let your light shine no matter who or what in your life has tried to dim it. We were not created to only survive. We were created to thrive.

Happy 4th of July. May the fireworks of your life far exceed the beauty of those in tonight’s sky.

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“Lo fácil ya lo hice,

lo difícil lo estoy haciendo…

y lo imposible me tardaré,

pero lo lograré,

con la ayuda de Dios.”

“The easy I have done,

the difficult I am doing,

the impossible takes a while,

but I will succeed,

with the help of God.”

God, me, the pelican and the sea

I can’t believe this is my first post in 2016. I began this year making a dream come true by living in Malibu for three months. As I get ready to say goodbye to Malibu, I’m spending a little time honoring and celebrating the dream. Was it full of surprises? Absolutely.

I shot this video before a storm was due to hit. We’ve just come off the worst drought in 500 years. The Spanish kept amazing records. As I begin to pack for my trip back to Spain, I want to take a barefoot walk down Zuma beach with you.

Along the shore I stopped here and there to collect sea glass, something new I enjoy doing at Zuma. I collected brilliant and colorful pieces of sea glass wondering why I hadn’t noticed these gems when my kids were young. In all the years we’d practically lived on this very beach––body surfing and boogie boarding, building sand castles and catching crabs––I’d only noticed the sea glass that afternoon. When my kids were small there was precious little time for winter strolls. I’d never taken the kind of winter stroll I had that afternoon. Something new. What a joy it is to enjoy new experiences.

I’d scooped up a piece of cobalt blue sea glass when a pelican calmly landed and surfed the waves in the stormy sea right beside me. It is so rare to see the large primordial birds close up the way I did there on the beach in the afternoon sun. Her beauty gave me pause. She tucked her massive beak under her wing. At ease and comfortable, lifted and lowered by the waves. Some intense, others not. The second I reached for my camera, she flew away.

I scurried in the wet sand, following her flight down the beach. She landed in the waves again. A lone surfer in the churned up sea. Her adventure captivated me. Out loud I wondered what the Lord wanted to teach me in this moment. This beautiful moment between God, me, the pelican and the sea.

With faith there is peace in our stormy seas. I thank God for the peace He helped me find and celebrate the peace I’ve discovered in Malibu. I thank God for the stormy seas I landed in because without them I would have never found true peace in the Lord.

Sometimes we can’t control the storms. Sometimes we create our storms. The seas that rage can be our own limiting beliefs, the costs of love, doubt about the importance of our journey, doubts about our insights and usefulness in this world. We can sometimes second guess God and have bad attitudes. These are stormy seas of our own making can be calmed by the most powerful weapon in our arsenal––choice.

With God all things are possible, not just some things. His is an invitation to live in joy, not fear. To speak and not stay silent. And yet I’ve been silent here for months.

My friend Jill was the one who showed me what has now become my favorite hike here in Zuma. While on the hike she suggested that I keep track of the animals that show up in my life. She said they all hold special messages. The pelican is an ancient symbol of Christ.

Packing up...
Packing up…

My Love Letter To Paris | Une lettre d’amour à Paris

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Dear Paris,

I dreamed of falling in love in your arms, among your rues and cafés.

In your cotton-candy sunsets the sky above The Seine blazed. A violet-blue blanket descended and your famous lights filled my soul––the flickering Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge’s flirty reds and the sacred aura of Sacre Coeur. But your lesser-known twinkles captivated me most.

Smiles of café owners and complete strangers who helped me find my way home very late one night. The kind words of Jacqué, the patisserie owner, who taught me new words in French every day––names of his delicacies. Electric blue eyes of Elisabeth, the sculptress, who encouraged my art and the idea of “why not,” bringing to life the trickiest form of sculpture––a woman, walking. And the soft surprise in a lady’s eyes when I took the time to ask her name. “Wisdom,” she said, before letting me know with a smile that it would be impossible to have my laundry done before the following week on Tuesday. I’d never met a woman named Wisdom before and instantly wondered why. Wisdom is always referred to as a woman in the Bible.

Up until living in the 18th Arrondissement, I had always imagined life among your great backdrop. I will never forget the day of your magnetic, electric, mysterious call. You had something to say. Something to show me. A point of view to share.

I came with a thirst to absorb your great art. I thought I’d understood you to say that you’d wanted me to write about it. But like all great loves you wished so much more for me than I could possibly understand. I began to open up to you completely.

I was vulnerable to being at home with you. And so you gave me one, then arranged for family and friends to visit. You showed me things I’d never seen before. You had patience with me, because you love me.

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“I am lying on the sofa after a simple dinner––some honey and oranges and wine and this feels incredible.”

This little piece I knew of you was the closest I’d had to home in a long time. I brought you flowers and put them in the window box. Instead of tossing the mostly dead geranium, I plucked her dead leaves and fed her water from my Finsterra shot glass. This made me incredibly happy.

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The flowers in the window box reminded me of the great works of art I’d seen at Museé de Orsay, works of Renoir and Jan Van Huysum. In the strokes of their petals I learned that every great artist has had doubts but great tenacity, vision, and ceaseless work always overcame them. Their passion-fueled spirt has given me courage.

Your spirit whispered to me that my readers want to discover and follow their dreams. You’ve embraced my failings and filled me with the desire to inspire and bring joy and hope to a world in pain. You encouraged me to learn to sculpt words and paint stories.

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You wrapped me in the love of my daughter. We filled the city with laughter. She called my journey ‘a great adventure.’ Your gentle reminder of what life is. My love, how many times will it take for me to truly believe? Forgive me.

“I lay in the home you made for me–so incredibly tired and overwhelmed. Tears roll. Doubts scream and all the while you tender-heartedly let them come and whisper, ‘onward, upward.’ I tell you I want to go home and you gently say I already am. There suddenly is an urgency to all that I want to create.”

Thank you for the holy dinner my daughter and I shared and our visit to crepe alley. For the sweet embrace you gave us both as we grieved together. Just when the overwhelm is too great you remind me to go big.

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On a Tuesday afternoon going big means walking into Elizabeth’s studio and saying “oui” when she asked if I’d like to start sculpting that day.

Trusting that I knew what to create in the clay, you opened a world I’d never known before. Showed me I could do with my hands what I hoped to do with my words. In Elisabeth’s studio, to the songs on French Radio we became lost in the pleasure of the clay––its coolness and smoothness. Knowing and not knowing what would materialize or how to massage emotion into the clay. Molding, forming and stretching, we transformed.

Did I ask too much of you, my love?

Some loves are magic. Their face lights up and their voice wraps a big bow around me and I am more in the world than I was before knowing them. You wrapped a bow around me. A cordon rouge. Thank you for teaching me what love is and what it should never be.

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When they visited from Begium, my host daughter’s boyfriend said he needed to descend the stairs of The Arc de Triumph ahead of us. Christophe wanted to break our fall if needs be.

My love, thank you for breaking my fall.

For showing me that in my favorite drink, Champagne, joy overcame pain. Champagne’s soil has absorbed countless bodies of slain warriors. Its geography required its people to battle every hoarding brood. Yet a solitary monk named Dom Perignon rose to create the most celebratory drink in the world. How is it that a region that has known so much pain is known all over the world for the joy it brings?

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I learn the heartbreaking history of Champagne in Reims, the home of the church of the smiling angel. Why are sculpted smiling angels so rare?

My love you connected me to myself and to a world that didn’t end. A world I had to find for myself. Where I learned to love in another language. You have taken the time to see me. Perhaps the only one in the world who really has. And for that I have fallen for you. My love, your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy.

I will always be here for you.

Pray for Nepal – 90 days around the world

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This time last year I trekked the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal.

There are no words for what’s happened to Nepalis the past few days. Not only have they lost homes, a way of life, and their livelihoods––their culture and history have been leveled too. The loss, too big to process, will take time. It will be up to each one of us to find beauty in this devastation. Unearthing it will take “small steps,” like my guide Kalyan would tell me on the trail. “Slowly and slowly,” he’d remind me when I lost my breath. When I got tired he would say to walk ten steps and breathe ten times.

Slowly and slowly. Step by step. Forward. Sure. One foot in front of the other. With gratitude that my friends in Nepal are all alive, I dedicate this post to them. The mountain to climb now is very different. You can’t climb a mountain in one day. It takes time. It’s important to know what trail to take. To listen to your body. To go slow, and to eat. Rest when it all gets to be too much. Celebrate the twists and turns and have faith. Trust and believe that we will always have enough. Just enough. Enough light to get to the next day. Enough strength to make the next decision. The wisdom to know when it’s time to rest. This is my prayer.

This time last year the largest disaster on Everest to date occurred. An avalanche took the lives of sixteen sherpas. We witnessed the grief of the sherpas and their families as Kaylan’s life-long friend was among the missing.

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Kaylan

4/24/14

Today when I walked on the suspension bridge for the first time. I felt like I was flying. My heart is light and the experience felt so beautiful that I thanked God for His creation, even as the avalanche brought about so many needless deaths. The eyes of the stupa remind me to awaken. To let the old ways go. The ways that no longer serve me. The key will be love, light and liberation.

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Helicopters evacuate climbers

4/26/14

We found out today that the Nepali government decided this year would be a black year. For the first time in history no climber will be allowed to summit Everest this season. There is a steady stream of helicopters airlifting the climbers from Base Camp to Loukla. We’ve been constantly flown over by helicopters shuttling climbers out, and there is a consistent parade of Yaks carrying supplies in one direction, down the mountain—back to Loukla. Once hopeful climbers now taking flights back to Kathmandu.

In the center of Kathmandu there is a statue of the first female sherpa who summited Everest only a few years ago. On the descent she died. When she got into trouble on the mountain the weather got bad and nobody could get to her for nineteen days. She died of exposure.

I’m trying to put the pieces together of such things. Great victories coupled with great sorrow. The answer to the riddle lies in the balance of nature, the balance of life. Life’s duality. It seems as though the Nepali people I meet believe they brought on the avalanche somehow. A people who won’t kill chickens in the shadow of their holy mountain. A mountain no one is allowed to climb because it is believed that a god lives under it and to walk on the mountain would be like walking on his head and this would anger the god and visit bad luck upon them. Prayer wheels here invite you to spin them in order to purify your soul. And I ask myself what a purified soul would look like. Is it ever really free of the evils in the Buddhist Wheel of Life — ignorance, anger and lust. Does Buddhist purification mean to know in one’s soul that even the gods are transient and that is why the Wheel of Life is held in the claws of the god of death?

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As I put one foot in front of the other on the Everest Base Camp trail I am meeting myself. A self who now knows that magic originates and blossoms inside of myself and that home is wherever my heart is. No longer any particular place. I am, it seems, at home in the world. The very top of the world.

LOVE

-Namche Bazzar 4/27/2014

Love is the wind

It might fade,

But always blows

There’s no containing it

No stopping it

And it can choose to

Blow in different

Directions.

4/27/2014 Khumjung

Meeting the grieving widow of one of the sherpas and her children and their grandmother was overwhelming. Now, with her husband dead, they have no way to make a living. After the Puja, a prayer ritual, they will take her husband’s ashes––the cremation has already happened high in the Himalayas––and fashion sacred Buddha statues out of them. We briefly helped keep a vigil with the widow in her home, in a room alight with candles. So many candles. The candles are lit to purify her husband’s spirit so that he might find peace in heaven. This is true love. A home filled with happy memories. The death of such a love overwhelms me.

As I hugged her, in that moment when I briefly shared her pain, giving what I could to help ease it, a strange sense of peace washed over me. True love never dies. Life is beautiful and joyous and I prayed for the day when she can smile again. I pray for them to get through the next few days and ask for God’s help to help them survive.

Pray for Nepal.

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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

hindupurification

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.” 

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : The Zen of the dark

Everyone needs their own torch…

Where I was when I decided to ditch the plan and got it alone...
Here, while snorkeling in Pulau Menjangan, I decided to ditch the plan and go it alone…

Late on my last night in Joga I realized I’d forgotten to pack a flashlight. When my friend Rinto found out, he insisted he take me to a store close by so I’d have one for the next morning’s pre-dawn climb to the summit of Bromo, I’d need one for the climb of Batur too. I figured I could get by without buying one. I had so many friends, I could just walk with them. But Rinto looked me in the eye and said I needed my own torch. That’s what he called it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied on that torch. How often I silently thank him for insisting. I’ll never call a flashlight a flashlight again. A torch is truly what I needed in my life at that time. Something a bit more primal than a flashlight, with a name that spoke to survival.

Everyone needs their own torch when the darkness overwhelms. A person can’t rely on another’s torch to help. This awareness was one of the best gifts Rinto had given me. He understood me better than anyone I’d met on the trip so far. Orphaned at eleven, he knew the pain of losing the people he loved. He knew what it was like to begin again. I was just learning.

That night we motored through the streets of JoJa, which at times felt like a life-and-death experience. There were swarms of motors (mortorbikes) and few mobiles (cars) winding around even more crowded streets than usual because of a concert at the Sultan’s palace. We picked out a small torch and he made me promise to never go without it. To always keep it near. In the countless times I’ve needed it, especially in unexpected times, I smile. He helped me see me in a new way. This was the beginning of discovering my light within.

In the rebuilding of my life, I never seem to be satisfied with the little bit of the path that the torch lights up. I always want to see more, more than a torch can show me. I become impatient and a bit unsatisfied with what I can see with just my torch at times. What I would learn as the trip continued is the real blessing of the peace that comes when I trust the light will take me where I need to go. To surrender to it. To trust it. This was seemingly impossible for me as the ability to trust was something I had lost. I would have to learn to trust myself.

After the ride and the torch and the concert, Rinto and I said goodbye. I left the next morning.

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The first act of faith of going it alone would be handing a payment and my passport over to the visa extension office in Ubud and trusting them.

“Come back next Friday at 5 PM,” the visa extension business owner said matter-of-factly.

Uh, ok.

This was one of those times where instead of a torch I wanted to light a bonfire and see if what I’d just done was the best decision of my life, or the worst. Most are somewhere in between.

Because of the time it took for the visa extension to process–they had to send all the extensions through Jakarta–I found myself in Ubud for a week. A beautiful place to be “stuck.” There was a reason I was there, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’d never travelled like this before—alone, with no plan. I was just getting used to being alone in my own life after having someone beside me for nearly thirty years. I needed to trust that I was right where I needed to be. This would take courage and become the adventure of my life.

The first part of that adventure would be to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ubud because nothing says St. Patrick’s Day like a green Bintang at the Laughing Buddha Bar.