Candid shot of the classic Patenaude problem-solving process as we devise a method to take a new family photo during our brief time together this weekend. We're used to making things work as a family, from cheese-less mac & cheese in 1990s northern Thailand to once-a-week digital gatherings across time zones to meeting "halfway" for a family vacation in Italy to celebrating Thanksgiving AND Christmas over a weekend in October. "Where there's a will, there's a way." Our family mantra. Yes, we've always found a way, wedging memories into the nooks and crannies of our lives.
"I know I [am] lost but [I'll] miss [these] days." – Bleachers
Here I am, 24 years old in ATX. Not where I wanna be (not by a long shot for this idealist) but highschool me would be impressed and middle-aged me will be nostalgic. Risking a mirror selfie in the office bathroom is my personal invitation to occupy this body and settle into this moment.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
I'm 16 and terrified. I am leaving my childhood behind in Thailand and moving to the opposite side of the world. The far side of the sea. God speaks to me through Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
I'm 24 and tired. I am lonely even while surrounded by friends and loved by family. I feel directionless and ache in privacy. God speaks to me through Psalm 139.
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
Only one Person has witnessed my every quiet moment. He saw me at 16. He sees me now. He hasn't missed a second. Oh my soul, be present, be present. Be present in His presence.
Sometimes I feel like I'm cosplaying the person I want to be when I grow up. Like last night, casually screening a short film I created with my brother and dearest friends at a patio bar in Austin, Texas. Short hair, a pretty dress and easy conversation about new opportunities and upcoming projects, lit by twinkle lights under darkening skies. I never feel like I'm doing enough, but these moments of celebration are special, and a welcome reminder that God's a bigger dreamer than I'll ever be.
"GOOD is the enemy of BEST."
"You can do anything, but you can't do everything."
I feel like I'm constantly re-learning the power of "no." It's hard to admit my capacity is finite, but gosh is it empowering when I let go of things I no longer need to carry. So much of this year has been about narrowing my focus and leaning into the things I'm most passionate about – the dreams only God and I share. But that means disappointing people and missing out on some fun. It looks like going to bed on time and waking up early and guarding my weeknights with a flaming sword. It's a process. It feels so selfish. But it's these practical steps that ensure I'm being faithful to the gift. I'm thankful for friends who believe the world needs someone like me. By the grace of God, I will heed the call.
Twenty-four. Tomorrow I turn another year older, and I admit I'm bringing a bit of sadness along with me. The past few months have been emotionally painful and mentally exhausting. The feelings have been so deep and nameless that at one point I found myself unable to write, resorting instead to talking out loud while chopping vegetables in an empty kitchen. When things fall apart and relationships change, when I see myself unintentionally hurting and disappointing others, I retrace my steps and wonder if I could have done better. And the answer is yes, but you're only human. So, forgiveness. And grace. For myself and others, and accepted from God. He is the God of second chances, third chances, and beyond. He chooses us again and again. So despite my lingering grief, I have hope for this year. He hasn't given up on me. And by his strength, I won't give up on you.
I became a believer outside a traditional teak house in a rural northern Thai village that would be my home for the next five years. The longest I've lived anywhere. When I think of my childhood, this is the view that comes to mind. My first journal was written here. My little brother was adopted here. My parents' faith was demonstrated here. I remember the sounds: roosters crowing, chickens scratching, 6 a.m. motorcycles on their way to the tobacco fields, wooden bells clacking at the necks of wandering oxen, drunken karaoke from the party next door. I remember sensations: breeze breathing through my open bedroom windows during cool season, wind lifting my kite high in the sky, warm river water easing humid afternoons, the drowsy silence after a lingering rainstorm, riding my bike to the corner store (no hands!) for a 5 baht bag of ice. I knew my childhood wouldn't last forever, so I savored each moment, gathering memories with precision using the best words I knew how. Years later, I still miss this view.
One story in particular ties together a warm slideshow of memories, narrated by my mother's voice: Thai beach vacations, overseas flights, Seoul layovers, carsick drives through winding mountain roads, countless late nights of "just one more chapter." My parents driving us three hours to Chiang Mai for a surprise screening of the first movie, overwhelmed on the verge of tears with the extravagant gift of entering the theater and into our favorite world. Walking the streets of the country where it all began, my brother proudly wearing his Gryffindor jacket to hide his untimely chicken pox. Our last vacation before leaving Thailand forever, spent sobbing as we read the final words of our beloved series. Harry Potter has changed me, it has changed our family, and the lives of so many others. Thank you, JK Rowling, for introducing us to these friends we love, for inviting us into your unique imagination, and for showing us the good in the world worth fighting for.
"So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both."
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo
"There's a big difference between fitting in and belonging." – Something a friend said to me last night. I'll be chewing on that for the next forever.
Watching 'Your Name' again this past weekend had me in tears for the second time. I think we've all felt that nameless longing for... something... An overwhelming ache we can't quite put into words... Only a feeling, immaterial, yet it lifts us up just the same, brutal, crashing us onto the sharp reef of our day-to-day lives. We long for home, for connection, for belonging, for fulfillment and adventure - our dreams, our true identity lived out freely, our divine vocation, the assurance that God is pleased with us or at least is listening. The ocean is by turns stormy and silent. We're thirsty, but surrounded by saltwater. I wish I realized sooner that I'm not the only one lost at sea. These days I'm sending up flares, treading water, and praying the tide carries me to other wave-battered souls like mine.