Trust.

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Jessie Marianiello. Artist. Photographer. Writer. Philanthropist. Adventurer. Lover of life and animals and God.

I had a hard day yesterday. Or, at least, it started out that way. I missed Carl. The tears were too close to the surface. I also felt very surrounded by those who love me on the other side. My grandpas and great-grandmas, Clara and Leonard (my adopted grandparents), my aunt Iffa, and other angels too…some that I don’t even know who they are, but my whole life, since I was a little girl, I have felt this celestial love and protection with me, surrounding me, looking over me.

Yesterday, while looking through photos from my childhood, I felt them especially near. And I needed them. Things are getting so much better, easier…and yet, even in the midst of such goodness, there is sometimes an ache in my heart for Carl that is deeper than all the world’s oceans. On my way to pick up a bunch of old suitcases to use as props for a photoshoot I was doing that evening with my dogs to help raise funds for my upcoming trip to Africa, I got out of my car and was met by this message written on the sidewalk in chalk. The message led straight to the second-hand store I was going into.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

I felt my heart relax back into the hands of God. A weight lifted. The threat of tears evaporated in the sunshine. It might as well have been arrows drawn on the sidewalk with words saying, “Yes, this way. You’re going the right way. Keep going. I’m with you!”

Really, yesterday was good in a lot of ways. Carl’s sister, Leah, shared a photograph of the Ugandan landscape with me that completely lit me up. That evening, Carl’s niece, Lauren, and I did a photoshoot and ended up playing with light in ways that stretched our minds and probably our hearts, too. Before going to sleep, I received midnight prayers and encouragement from a friend. I fell asleep with a mantra of gratitude, thank you God, thank you God, thank you God. My heart was peaceful.

This morning, as my conversation with God continues, I find myself wishing for lots of answers. I’m inspired. Everything is changing and so I find myself asking God, “Who am I? Who do you want me to be for You? God, where am I watering myself down? What do You want me to let go of?” I want to make more of my life about working in Africa. But there are logistics to consider, ya know? I guess I am feeling like, if I knew where my income would come from, I could build the rest around it. Then again, I also know that God knows better than I do. While I’m sitting here wishing for God to give me insights and answers to all the unknowns, it’s quite possible that He is waiting for my heart to find its way first. There is graciousness in this.

As much as I want all the logistics figured out and guaranteed, yes…it makes sense for my heart to find its way first. There is more meaningfulness in this approach. It’s my own worried mind that wants to run ahead. There is a part of all of this that feels so reckless. I want to be smart or wise or clever or all of those things so that I don’t fall flat on my face. But the truth is that Abba is asking for my complete trust. There are no shortcuts.

There are gifts in the time it takes to struggle with something. 

I’ve asked God to use me. And now He is. I gave all of me. And now He is using all of me. I’d regret my decision to throw my life at God, offering myself up to the trenches, but then He leaves me sweet messages written on the sidewalk in chalk. He leads me to the sunshine with my camera. He fills my life with people and love and encouragement. He provides, continuously. In all ways, He has been providing everything plus some, every step of the way. I don’t have to have it all figured out yet. God isn’t going half-way with me, that much I know. Do I get scared about that? Yes. My heart is tender. I’m afraid of more heartbreak and yet I’m feeling led to one of the most heartbreaking places in the world. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know who I’ll be. I don’t know what my world will look like. I don’t know anything, really. But I know that I want to live without holding back. I know that I want to inspire someone else to live their own version of that too. I know I’m here for reason and, most of all, I know I have God.

Abba, please hold us close. Continue to remind us how close you are in every way, every day. Fill us with courage to accomplish the impossible. As we attempt to step into our TRUE path, let us hold nothing back. Prepare us, protect us, fill us with faith, unshakable.

I love you, dear Abba. Bring out the best in me. I’m yours.

Happiness, unstoppable.

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Dear Abba, you’ve brought me this far. Through all those millions of moments when I didn’t think I could take even a single step, when I didn’t want to take even one more breath. My life shattered. My heart broke. When Carl died, my old self died right along with him. You know this because you’ve been alongside me, through every single moment of it all. You were there when I kneeled down next to the driver’s seat of that crumpled car. You were there there when I stood in the snow at the site of the crash, semi-trucks and cars barreling down a busy two-lane highway under a sky that I remember being neither blue nor grey. But for a moment, dear Abba, You quieted the world and created space for the most intimate conversation I may ever experience on this side of heaven. You were there when I told Carl it was ok, that I knew he didn’t mean for this. You were there when I told him it was ok for him to go, as long as he would stay with me as long as I needed him, it was OK because I knew he was going Home to You. Dear Abba, I could feel you. You were in us and with us; You were everywhere and everything. Carl’s presence was separate from mine, yet also like an illuminated medallion of light lodged in the brokenness of my heart. Oh, dear Abba, you allowed us to merge in a way that defies language, right there on the ugly side of the road that took his life. Surrounded by freshly fallen snow and utter loss, You allowed us this. Not just the idea of Carl being with me even after death, but truly, in that moment you gave us the gift of uniting our spirits in a very real and living way. I told him it was ok.  And in that moment, we both knew…it truly was ok. And I felt him go. I felt him being absorbed into You. I felt it right along with him. Dear Abba, you let me die with him, and it was the most glorious feeling I will ever know until I meet You again on the other side of death. This glimpse of what it is to go Home. I felt it. I know. And nothing will ever be the same again. Not ever.

In the eastern pasture, the horses are contentedly munching on the new sprouts of green grass along with the rising sun that has been shining directly into my eyes these past couple mornings, waking me at what seems like an abundantly early hour. I use the word “abundant”  because it feels good to get up so early, welcomed into the day by such a direct invitation from what feels like God himself.

Most mornings I wake up praying. It is not an intention or decision to pray, rather a conversation that is already happening. Many nights even my sleep is filled with prayers and so, when I wake up, it is simply a more conscious awareness of continued communication. I savor these moments. I sink in and attempt to make them last as long as possible.

This morning I woke up praying about Joy, a young girl I recently sponsored through Hands of Action International. That was about a month ago and I have been obsessed with the kids of Uganda ever since. Yesterday I learned that Joy is 10 years old and an orphan. She owns a mosquito net and uses it, but she does not have a school uniform or even shoes.  Not all of the children needing sponsorship are orphans. I woke up thinking about her. I was wondering what her personality might be like. I prayed that she has someone to comfort her when she needs it. I thought about her feet and the red dirt, puddles and jiggers. I tried to imagine her smile and wondered if it comes easily. I wondered if she likes to be hugged and what it might be like when I finally get to meet her for the first time. Will she be shy? Will I? I thought about her name and the deep meaning it holds for me, yes, even beyond the obvious (a sacred story to hopefully be shared someday). I thought about my own life and where God might be taking me. All of these thoughts and questions and imaginings somehow held in the safety of God’s arms and a golden sunrise.

Today my heart feels a certain kind of peace. Yesterday I felt unstoppable excitement. I spent the entire day apologizing to everyone I interacted with for being so overwhelming. Maybe no one minded as much as I thought they might. I was overcome with happiness. Like this. Like the girl in the photo above. I don’t know who she is. Or the others either. I only know that they are the ones that I have become passionate about. They make me feel happiness and I want more of it. My heart feels alive again. A miracles, yes…a miracle, to be sure.

I’ll spend the day painting in the studio. I’m preparing for my largest solo exhibition to date and also a fundraiser for rescue dogs. I paint and pray and try to stay contained in my own skin so that I might stay in better pace with God. No running ahead, no falling behind. Then I’ll come home and work on photos of the kids for a new sponsorship website page. There are 500 children we are working to feed and clothe and send to school. Yes, I used the pronoun “we.” It feels miraculous. I feel a part of this. Thank you, Abba. There is so much to do and I feel such eagerness to help do it, whatever it is. This newfound eagerness has a strange way of fueling the obligations to even my own work that’s at hand. These paintings I’m currently working on are filled with more prayers than any I’ve ever done before.

I do not doubt that much of my newfound energy and eagerness is coming from the sheer amazement and joy in feeling happiness again. I always feel it when I think of those little kids in Uganda. There is joy and a desire to move in that direction that simply overtakes me. This feeling of happiness is still utterly foreign to me after such deep grief. And yet it is also welcome…so very welcome that I am reduced to tears. The grief still exists, but now it is saddled equally with hope–the tangible sort–made up of real possibility and action step that are being made more and more clear each day. I smile and cry and sing gratitudes to the Lord, all at once.

Dear God, if this is grace…I want more. And more. And more…

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.”
~1 John 4:7

plans to give you hope and a future

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For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

It is a time of preparation. My heart feels full and expectant. I sit at my desk as I write this and, outside my window, the buds of poplar trees have finally leafed out enough to dance in the soft breeze. Sturdier oaks are only just beginning their process of unfurling. And yet…amidst all this northern spring, something in my soul feels dusty and deeply pregnant. I let myself settle into this sense that God has been creating a special life for me all along. I feel that He has already placed a part of me into tomorrow and yet, somehow, every moment of the present is equally important, preparing me for what is ahead.

God is being good to me. He allows me this time in the pasture with my horses and dogs. I sit in the dirt and experience long moments of complete peace. I brush burrs from the horses manes and tails for the millionth time. I go to the studio; I meet with friends; I read (a lot). For once in my life, God has given me the grace of patience. This patience does not come from a desire to wait or from a lack of curiosity, but is instead from a knowing that He is doing the deep work inside of me that needs doing so that I might survive the rest of my days with my health and well-being in tact. That dusty, deeply pregnant self within my spirit knows something that my mind cannot yet comprehend. I am grateful for the way I’m being led forward.

In the meantime, I do my best to show up for the work at hand. It is sometimes difficult. My prayers, at times, still feel like desperate pleas for help. There are moments when it feels nearly impossible to tend to today when I so very much want the fullness of tomorrow. But I’m being taught how to strip things down to their simplest forms. When I want to crawl out of my skin with boredom or anxiety or just general resistance, each time, I am gently reeled back in and reminded to use this time to learn and to bolster my soul with His words and presence. Over and over again I am reminded: I am being prepared. I relax back into the flow that has been waiting for me all along. I find easiness there. Or, at least…easier. I quit fighting with myself and relax back into the gifts of now. Grace takes the form of surrender.

to surrender to God is grace…
I’m a slow learner, but I like what is being taught.

In the past couple weeks I have had more good days than bad. This is nothing short of miraculous. Up until now, I was lucky if I had one good day. But recently I experienced 2 and then 3, 4 and then 5 good days in a row. Then a couple not-so-good days followed by more good days. Sitting in the dirt has been good for me.

God is letting me get to know Him and this causes me to feel hope. I’m given glimpses into what’s to come and it is making all the difference in this tendency towards more goodness. I don’t pretend to know anything other than my own willingness. This necklace? It is a reminder. In this one little sentence, I trust, completely.

I’ve saturated myself so thoroughly in God. As I write, I wonder if I might lose a lot of my friends along the way. And yet…I cannot help it: There is no turning back.  I wouldn’t want to. Something tells me that this path is leading me somewhere extraordinary…yes, even in this life.

I lost everything the day that Carl died. I gave myself to God. I vowed that it would not be for nothing.

And I do believe
God will make it so.

Dear Abba, I love you. Thank you for plucking me from my old life. Thank you for breaking me, however painful it has been. Thank you for choosing me. Thank you, through Carl, for showing me what love really is. I am beginning to realize that it was only the beginning…

Only the beginning of
so. much. Love.