Monthly Archives: August 2011

It’s All Valid

Feeling a bit raw and teary these last couple of days. I’m wanting to make peace with all my emotions surrounding this huge transition and allow myself the space to just let it unfold as it will. But it’s hard to do that sometimes, isn’t it.

It’s hard to feel vulnerable, like I’m just learning how to ride a bike for the first time . . . again.

I hate it when life lacks ease. I just hate it. I’d like to be sweeping around this desert island in my effortless caftan and loose curls. Today is not that day, by any stretch.

I shared in my last post that I have just finished Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In addition to the need for moments of centering solitude in each day, I finished the book with one other profound concept that keeps coming back to me:

She says, “Every stage of a relationship is valid.”

She’s speaking of marriage in this particular context – how we often long to recapture the honeymoon bliss of early marriage but how we might be better served to embrace each stage of a maturing and developing relationship as a way that it deepens and endures. Even the fighting. Even the struggle. Even the less-than-blissful seasons. Perhaps, especially these times.

I have been thinking about this concept in the context of my move and of my new life here in Bahrain. Every stage of this relationship – my new, refound relationship with Bahrain – is valid. The agitation of starting over. The feeling of displacement. The in-between of being here but still not having any of our stuff — living on borrowed furniture, eating off borrowed plates, not feeling “at home” yet. The inspiring discoveries of myself and this place. The new, slower pace. The loss and the gain. It’s all valid.

What if I allowed myself to validate the inevitable mess of change instead of denying it or hurrying it or wishing it away? When I try to move things along in a disingenuous way, because that would help me feel more in control, I find the toxic voices start howling. And the next thing I know, my soul is absolutely skewered with shame that I’m not more or different or better.

So I’m trying to be true to the process, as awkward and unattractive as that is some days.

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord called and said someone was going to come look at our house – a temporary place we are staying until our stuff arrives and we move into our permanent house – because they were interested in moving into the villa when we move out.

Could I show them around? Sure.

So I showed this woman the house. We realize, after some conversation, that our husbands work at the exact same command and that one of her children is very close in age to L&L.

She liked the house and wanted to bring her husband back to show him. She came back with him and their three kids. And, after some negotiating and decision making, she lets me know that they’re going to move into our place.

During all the back and forth, she and I talk more and I take a chance, risk appearing needy and glommy, and ask her if she’d like to get our kids together for a play date sometime. They’re new here and we’re new here, and I figured we could all use some friends.

So we’ve had a play date and it was great and in the course of the afternoon together we realized some other things we have in common, and I felt this little glimmer of thankfulness in my spirit.

Last night, while I was making dinner, I said a quick “thank you” to God. “Thanks for bringing a friend right to my doorstep.”

I felt like God was sending me a wink and letting me know, “I see you.”


A Beautiful Lantern


Most of the homes (referred to as “villas”) here in Bahrain are surrounded by a tall cement wall with a scrolling iron gate. So each property feels like its own compound. One of the beautiful features of these walls is the lighting perched on top of them. Particularly pretty at dusk when they begin to glow.

This lantern caught my eye. On this property, there are at least a dozen of these gorgeous lanterns adorning the top of the wall around the perimeter of the inner courtyard. At the risk of being intrusive, I pulled my car over and captured this one because I loved it so much — a bit Bahraini and a bit Moroccan, too. Though it’s beige cement against a beige cement wall against beige sand against a beige sky, something about the form of this piece inspires me. Foreign. Ancient. Other-wordly. Beautiful.

I’m reminded today that beauty is waiting for us in the world — waiting for us to awaken and discover.

I’m reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea currently. It’s a short little book of essays that is really speaking to me. I highly recommend. My friend Annette gave it to me years ago, but I never finished it. The other day I was rooting through the “take one, leave one” book stack at the base library and refound this little gem. Funny how you can pick up the same book at a different season and it resonates so deeply.

Lindbergh’s essays are inspired by shells she finds on the beach while taking a vacation alone — away from her husband and five children — to recharge and reflect. Again, letting the beauty of the world she finds herself in speak to her and inspire her. Letting Truth in through the shapes and sounds and smells of the world around us.

One of the most profound things in her book is her insistence that every woman needs some time alone in each day (she’s not necessarily saying men don’t, she’s just writing to women specifically). She writes, “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. . . . Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.”

So difficult to give ourselves permission to attend to the core, to stop the noise and center. May we all be brave today and quiet down enough — even just for a moment — to let something or someone speak to us . . . and to really hear what is being said.

Love to you all.


Various Adventures

Bringing Bahrain to you through a few photos . . .


The interior courtyard of the Grand Mosque. Jamie and I toured the Mosque last week. If you’ve read Found Art, you know that this is a very special place for me. We did not have Fatima as our tour guide this time, but I was told she still leads tours once a week, so I hope to track her down and give her a copy of Found Art. Won’t that be a meeting of two worlds.


The gorgeous hand-blown French bubbles floating overhead throughout the entire Grand Mosque.


The impressive exterior of the Grand Mosque against a blazing blue sky. The temp that day was right around 117. Because it’s Ramadan, we had to wear long sleeves and long pants in addition to the black abaya and head scarf. HOT!


An excursion to the spice souq is always an aromatic experience, but so much more so in this heat and humidity. I absolutely loved these pyramids of color and flavor and aroma — a feast for every sense.


I loved these giant cinnamon sticks bundled with twine and resting in wooden boxes. If I were ever on Project Runway, I would want to go to the spice souq for inspiration. The organic textures — found right in nature — are truly art themselves.


Again, if you’ve read Found Art, you know that the Tree of Life has a bit of lore attached to it in Bahrain. Legend has it that this is the only tree on the entire island growing from natural irrigation. It’s most amazing because it lives right in the middle of the most arid stretch of nothing desert — a beautiful metaphor.


I have always been drawn to henna, and regretted never getting it done when I was here in 2003-2004. I like how it’s beautiful, scandalous, and exotic all at once.


Lane got a bit of henna, too. I love this picture for two reasons: (1) the pretty pink “paint nails” and the darling little butterfly AND (2) Lane’s chubby little two-year-old foot that still has a baby-ness about it.


And, finally, a shwarma and juice from our favorite roadside stand. Yes, it is brave to eat meat off the spit from anywhere in “Shwarma Alley,” but it’s oh so good.

These are a few of our adventures to date. A place can have such a profound influence on us if we will let it under our skin a bit. What is a special place to you? What do you remember most about that place? OR What picture did you most resonate with above? Why?


Initial Musings Upon Our Arrival

IMG_0008After a treacherous reroute out of Amsterdam, we finally made it to the Middle East. My amazing friend Jamie met me in Florida and took on the task of flying with me from the East Coast to the Middle East, all out of love for me, I guess. I’m still not entirely sure why she signed herself up for such a (mis)adventure, but I’m so so grateful.

Because Steve had to get on out here and get settled in his new job, I was left to get our stuff packed up and get myself and the kids to the Middle East. The Navy (after some coaxing) finally allowed me to take a commercial flight – instead of a Navy flight – out here so that I could bring a companion to help with the kids. I just didn’t see how the trip was going to work without an extra set of hands. I mean, how would I even go to the bathroom on a plane with two toddlers in tow? Not pretty.

So Jamie agreed to accompany us and then stay a bit and help us get settled and just be a witness to the insanity of this entire proposition.

We flew from Ft Lauderdale to Atlanta – uneventful.

We flew from Atlanta to Amsterdam – relatively uneventful. Jamie and Luke in the back of the plane. Lane and I in the middle of the plane. Both kids sprawled out for most of the overnight flight, digging their feet into the other person in the row (at one point, in her sleep, Lane put her foot on the man’s shoulder in our row – “Um, excuse me. I’m sorry.”) So between cat-naps, Jamie and I tried to keep toddler limbs in check and keep toddlers from rolling off their make-shift beds, which only happened a couple of times in my case.

Then we got to Amsterdam. And the tone of the entire trip changed. “Your flight from Amsterdam to Bahrain is cancelled.”

“OK. What are our options?”

“You have no options. You will go to a hotel out in town tonight and come back for a 4:00pm flight tomorrow.”

“No, that’s not going to work,” I say to the woman, refusing to leave the counter. I knew that I couldn’t wrangle my children any longer than was already going to be necessary, and she had to get us on a flight. Somehow. Somewhere.

So she did. After 15 minutes of vigorous typing and lots of Dutch and shaking her head and furrowing her brow and pursing her lips, she says . . .

“OK, I have a flight for you from here to Cairo and then Cairo to Bahrain.”

“We’ll take it.”

I don’t regret the decision now, knowing that we’re alive. But what followed was something equivalent to cheating death. And I’m not kidding.

We boarded “Egypt Air” – not particularly confidence-inspiring – and we headed to Cairo on what can only be described as the absolute most harrowing flight of my life. The turbulence was so bad that, at one point, I began screaming, “Dear God, please save us. Dear God, please save us. Dear God, please save us,” as I clutched my children to me who were both laughing at this point from the “wild ride, Mommy.”

Because we were one of the last to get tickets on this flight, Jamie had to sit a dozen rows back and I had both the kids. Four hours of total hell. People were throwing up. I was hysterical, literally sobbing after I finally stopped yelling. Passengers all around me were reaching out to me to hold my hand and give me a nod of reassurance though none of us spoke the same language.

The flight attendant with the orange lipstick and heavy musk perfume even hugged me a couple of times.

The plane would drop and the engines would rev and then get very quiet and then the plane would drop and the engines would rev. No one ever said I was the calmest flyer in the world, but this was torturous.

We finally landed in Cairo – two white women with strung out children – and we tried to make our way through the crowds of Muslim men, hoping someone could help us locate the stroller so I could at least confine L&L. Maybe it was the shock of adrenaline in my system from the flight, maybe it was pure exhaustion, or maybe it was reality, but Jamie and I were both ready to get out of the Cairo airport. Not somewhere you want to be for longer than absolutely necessary.

We finally boarded our plane for our final destination. Another 3 hours or so, and we landed safely in Bahrain. “It’s so pretty,” Lane said on our final approach – all the lights from the new financial harbor flickering in the very early morning darkness.

We landed at 3am with no luggage and no emotional reserves left. The relief was indescribable. I still wake up feeling relieved that the flight is over (and that we somehow, against all odds, survived).

But then Steve went back to work, and relief gave way to something much fiercer.

To be completely honest, the first week we were here was about trying not to panic. We won’t have any of our belongings for another six weeks, so we had to entertain the kids with what we brought in our suitcases and a generous donation of toys from another Navy family nearby. Every minute felt like we were herding cats, and I was on the ledge.

Even going out into town felt difficult. Everything seemed so different from the last time I was here. And then it dawned on me . . . it’s been seven years. A lot can change in seven years. And it has. That first week was all about realizing how much has changed, including how much has changed in our lives since we were last here. Most notably: we now have two children.

I had to keep reminding myself that the way I felt in those initial moments was not the way I was going to feel forever. But sometimes it’s so easy to forget that important truth when you’re jet-lagged and disoriented. I just repeated the mantra, “Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.”

Since that first week, things have lightened significantly. The old landmarks that I had been used to emerged through all the new construction, and the new landmarks became familiar all of a sudden. The changes on the base became welcomed instead of problematic, and the base is now easier to navigate. What felt like the wrong size shoe during that first week is beginning to feel like a better fit today — just a couple of weeks later.

And when we walked into our favorite carpet store in the souq and saw Yousef, it was as if I could take a breath. He looks exactly the same – maybe a bit more salt and pepper in the hair and beard – and he recognized us immediately. I teared up when Steve introduced him to our kids and he bent down and kissed Lane and she reached up to hug his neck. Seeing our kids climb all over the carpets and run and jump and play on pile after pile, I felt like it was all going to be OK.

In chapter 7 of Found Art, I talk about the healing power of the souq, how it truly brought Bahrain alive to me when we were here in 2003-2004, and how it captures such an essence of humanity – the languages, the bartering, the aromas, the gold, the dancing camels, the mosque alarm clocks that echo the call to prayer as the alarm, and of course the bubble gum pink Hannah Montana watches.

In the middle of that chapter I talk about how Yousef educated us on all things Persian carpets and how we would sit and drink tea with him and he would get the guys in the shop to flop rugs for us – one after another – and we would just take it all in, like a kind of therapy:

Though the souq or the Gulf or Yousef or the silence weren’t the cure in and of themselves, they were the spit and dirt that were mixed together and used as a salve on my badly blinded eyes.

I had been living in a dark place before all this—a kind of darkness that creeps in very slowly and sinuously, and before I knew it, the lights had gone out in my soul. I had been walking around town like this for some time, living but not alive enough. The beauty of the world was lost me, and all the things I loved were forgotten in lieu of all the things I thought I needed to be.

I couldn’t remember what it felt like to create or rest, or what it felt like to breathe. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to feel God, and I surely couldn’t remember what it felt like to pray.

God has a way of taking the most unsuspecting elements and using them to bind us up. When the miracle happens, when he touches our eyes with these elements and we are able to see, we realize that even dirt and spit contain a beauty all their own. . . .

After selecting a rug with Yousef all those years ago (have I mentioned it’s been seven years!), I wrote:

Every time I look at that captivating center medallion, I remember Yousef and the souq and the syrupy sweet tea and the way it feels to really see. The light was just a flicker at first. That’s how the healing begins—a faint but fervent flicker.

May God bind you up today, wherever you may be, as I pray he will continue to bind me up in this new (again) place . . . even if his healing agents are the least suspected: dirt, mud, spit, 117 degree heat, squirrelly toddlers, dancing camels, total displacement.

You never know what might do the trick. Believe me. You never know.

P.S. The picture at the beginning of the post is a set of old doors in the souq. You know I can’t resist anything made of distressed turquoise wood. Beautiful, right?!?!