Dream Bigger.

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“When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.” ~Leonardo Da Vinci

Earlier this week I was given guidance to dream bigger. I’m already a pretty big dreamer and so…to dream BIGGER? Yeah, I’m willing to give it my all…even if I don’t entirely know what that even means just yet.

This morning I have been looking through images from Bududa. I can’t seem to get from Point A to Point B in my editing endeavors in any linear fashion because I get distracted by the sheer beauty that so many of these photos contain. This little girl’s name is Mutenyo Evelyne. She hung out with us a lot while we were working in Bududa. She was as curious and sweet as her eyes might lead you to believe. I’ve had her photograph open on my computer since Tuesday because her eyes have captured me, her expression creating a peaceful stillness buoyed with possibility.

Dream bigger, her eyes say.

I want this girl to dream as big as she possibly can. And I want to dream right along with her.

When I left for Uganda, I didn’t really know where God would end up leading me. I knew I was going there to photograph, document, and tell the stories of a particular group of kids and their community. I went there as a Hands of Action volunteer, but the entire time leading up to the trip and even during the time of my stay, my deepest prayer was, “God, plug me into where I am needed most!” I wanted to find my place in this great wide world of need. I wanted God to use me. I trusted that He would. I wanted more than a 3 week experience doing short-term mission work. There were moments when I prayed, “Oh, dear God, please don’t leave me hanging without a sense of place after this is through.” There was a bit of desperation under the surface of that prayer, but He listened to my heart on that one, too. He has a plan.

And you know what? I am falling for His plan hook, line and sinker. lol I’m laughing as I write that…only because it’s true. I’m not even aware of when, exactly, “it” happened. It was incremental, perhaps a bit like the way a baby grows. You don’t notice how fast it happens when they’re in your arms all day long every day, but eventually you turn around and and can’t believe the change that’s taken place!

I left for Uganda with a backpack full of camera gear and several journals. Included in all that gear were a few point and shoot cameras that had been donated after a last minute moment of inspiration to capture photos from the kids’ point of view. Little did I know how important those inexpensive little cameras would become! Actually, I have a feeling that even I still don’t know the full potential of this new journey that I have so divinely been sent on.

This is what the good stuff is made of. Meet my Camera Crew (below): Emma, Emma (a common boy’s name in Uganda) and Godfrey…just three of the fourteen kids that became a committed and integral part of a photography project that I haphazardly pulled out of thin air just days before leaving. God is GOOD! That project changed everything. As my dear friend Moses would say, it is giving me the way forward.

I’ll tell you more about the camera project in future posts, but for now let me just say that the kids took it seriously. Very seriously. It was also my doorway into getting to know the community in a much more intimate way. Those involved became my special crew, my students, my interpreters, sherpas, guards and best friends. They were eager to participate and learn in every way possible. We were a team. It didn’t matter that we sometimes spoke a different language; it didn’t matter that we came from opposite ends of the earth. We found a common thread and I daresay it has woven our lives together for good.

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Emma, Emma and Godfrey, eager students learning how to use a camera tripod.

Since the moment I left African soil, I’ve been obsessed with getting back. I keep saying that I can’t wait to dive into the work that awaits me there. My friend Poppy finally asked me, “Jessie, what IS the work you are going to be doing now?”  Ahhh, such a simple, yet powerful question! Leave it up to Poppy to get down to the brass tacks.

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I believe in these boys. This is the look of limitless possibility.

The short answer is this:

  1. I am working to further develop the camera project as a means of creating continued education and opportunities for the kids involved.
  2. I am working side-by-side with Hands of Action Uganda to grow a micro-loan lending system/cooperative group to help widows get back on their feet after significant loss.
  3. I am helping with the photography, rebranding and websites for Hands Of Action Uganda and Hands of Action International as well providing social media and content in the form of photography, stories, and video.
  4. Last, but not least…I am sooo drawn to work with orphans on some level. I will give that time tho. I have a feeling it is something that will come to me if and when it is meant to be.

Needless to say, all of this seems like as good a place as any to start. When I asked God to use me, He didn’t hold back! In all honesty, I am overjoyed. Meanwhile, I am preparing for a solo exhibition of canine painted portraits with my whole heart. This show is over two years in the making and it is also what is going to propel me into the Whateverafter.

See those kids in the photos above? I believe in them. I believe they can do anything. Emma (left) has a heart of gold. He is gentle, observant, and thoughtful in ways that make him stand out like a shining star. Godfrey (right) is quieter and a bit more likely to go unnoticed in the scheme of things…oh, but that boy, more than any of the others his age, has an eye for detail! Every single one of the kids that emerged to be a part of the camera project is remarkable in some way.

Let this be just the beginning of limitless miracles. It is my hope that the camera project will cause those involved to see the world with new eyes. It is my hope that it will forge a path towards continued education…perhaps someday even creating an opportunity for a university education. If given a chance, what might these kids be capable of? How many other lives might they touch in the process?

All I know for sure right now is this: I want to find out.

Dear Abba, thank you for this journey you’ve set me on. Make me Yours…over and over and over again. You have touched me to the current of new water. Everything before this led to now and everything beyond this leads to what is still to come. May Your grace be limitless.

Teach me how to dream BIGGER. Teach us all.

Dear Abba, I love you.
Amen.

Parking Lots.

Went to the grocery store tonight and, as I pulled into a parking space, I became paralyzed with sadness. You see…there was a really tall, big guy with short hair, a cap and a big beard walking out of the grocery store. He was holding the hand of his daughter, the sweetest looking little four year old you can imagine. She had a shock of bright blonde hair. Happiness spread out in a ripple effect around them as she jumped up into her daddy’s big red truck. It looked so much like Carl and the little girl we dreamed of having together. I watched them with such longing. I imagined how that scene would have made my heart smile a million times if…if only…

My gosh, my heart has broken into so many pieces. It is moments like these that just can’t be plan for.

Then I saw my friend and Africa travel co-hort, Jenn, in the parking lot. The exchange I had with her ended up making me laugh and smile. God’s grace overlapped when I ran into sweet Betty Port, a woman who worked for my parents all of my childhood and well into my adulthood. I hadn’t seen her in almost a decade! She knew what had happened and offered her love in the way that only Betty can do. When she asked about things, I told her my plans to go to Africa. I told her how I had given my life to God the day Carl died. I told her about how this is where God is leading me, about how God was using this tragedy to bring me to all these things I could have never imagined. My eyes brimmed with tears, but I felt the beauty of God in that moment and so did Betty. She gave me a hug that said everything words could not.

And as I sit here now, there are still tears in my eyes. My heart still feels so immeasurably raw from seeing that man and his daughter. The reality of the dreams that Carl and I had together are irrevoably gone. It hurts. So much. I let myself lean into the peace of knowing that God is taking me somewhere new. My heart still wants to smile and laugh as I watch a little girl of my own holding her daddy Carl’s hand. The hurt is indescribable. And yet…over and over and over again, I am offered a choice.

So I choose to continue living. I choose to love those little kids I’m about meet on the other side of the world with my whole heart, my whole being. Because that is what love does. It continues.

I love you, Carl. It doesn’t go away. It just keeps growing. God, give me the grace to choose You…over and over and over. It is the only way I am going to survive this world. Give me something to sing about. I know You will. You are. Dear God, help me to live, truly Live.

A flight to Uganda, unicorns, provision and babies in suitcases…

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Yesterday I purchased my plane ticket to Uganda. Oh my dear Lord, my heart is full. On November 8th, 2014 I gave my life to God. I handed it over. I asked Him to use me. ANYTHING, God please, just use me. And now? He did, He is, He will. The opportunity, coupled with complete passion, to work with these kids in Uganda came up and I told God that if He provided, I would go. Within mere days HE PROVIDED! In the form of just a few earth angels, the costs were covered.

Of course. There is no need for me to be surprised. God is a funny guy. This has not been a light hearted life…and yet, somehow, He has brought lightness to my heart. Not even one detail has been overlooked!

After texting friends and family in celebration, and having a few good cries of happy tears, I wandered the woods several times throughout the day, walking with my palms up in a revolving prayer of thanks, guidance, protection, thanks and more thanks.

Last night I had a dream that I rode a unicorn. She was buckskin in color and so beautiful, maternal and calm. She was grazing in a large and rolling pasture with other horses too. It took several tries, but eventually I got on her back by pulling myself up by her dark mane. Ah, to ride bareback. She was perfect and we moved well together. Never mind that her unicorn horn was made of paper and paint. She was gorgeous and so was the experience.

Later in the dream someone left me a small suitcase with two newborn babies in it, a boy and a girl. Before the person left, I was told that the babies could stay in the suitcase, but one was crying and so of course I opened it up. The dream would switch…one moment I was with my friend, Emily, then my sister and nephew. But the babies stayed the same, in all their messy sweetness. I was like a fumbling new mother. My sister laughed at me.

Oh dreams, sweet weird, weird dreams….
Oh life, sweet weird, weird life…

Oh Carl, sweet, sweet love of my life. I thank God for you. I thank God that even His calling you Home has brought me to this. Uganda and unicorns, babies and tears and laughter….

I love you! I love you!
I love you!

2:34. The only thing missing is 1.

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I took this photo on Wednesday, the moment before I closed the door to Carl’s place for the very last time. We had finished packing. Everything was thoroughly cleaned. The vehicle and trailer were loaded. I asked to be alone for a moment before hitting the long road home.

And so there I was–looking into the sun-drenched living room of Carl’s farmhouse–trying to memorize an entire history of sunlight, wishing for things that would never be, attempting to remember everything that ever was. I picked up my phone to take the photo and, when I looked at it, the time read 2:34pm. I knew it was Carl’s way of letting me know he was with me. 12:34 was our number. If the clock fell on those numbers and either of us noticed, we would send a text simply saying “12:34…I love you!” It made me smile every. single. time. We noticed it so often that it started to seep into lots of other hours, too. After awhile, any hour ending in 34 turned into an ancillary twitter of goodness and love.

This morning, just before sunrise, I had another dream of Carl. The dreams…they have been coming more often now. Some are more difficult than others, but I am grateful for all of them. These dreams feel like moments when Carl’s and my spirit are able to more easily access each other. Other times, they simply feel like grief-stricken conversations with God. Either way, always, for this I am thankful.

This morning’s dream was especially poignant. The cat meowed and I woke up crying. In the dream, we were out west. Carl had been diagnosed with a completely unexpected and quick moving terminal illness. We were all working to get things in order, to get things back to Minnesota. My dad and uncle were there, fixing hitches and trailers. Carl’s people were there taking care of a million details. We were all in a state of shock, a blur of movement and impossible emotions. Carl was trying to get as many things done as possible so that others wouldn’t be left with a mess. I was helping too, but all of a sudden I had a painfully acute and urgent need to talk to Carl. I needed answers to questions while he was still here. He was worried and busy and so I had a hard time getting him to stop long enough to see how desperate I was for him to tell me what I needed to know. But then he stopped. We both stopped. I asked and he answered. And then the grief came. That crushingly deep wave of grief that sometimes comes…and I started to cry. I told him I loved him and I didn’t want him to leave. He wrapped me up in his arms and, together, we both cried from a deep and infinite place, that place made up purely of our souls. The intensity of our sadness and love were the same; our bodies had no beginning or end. We held this embrace for a long, long time and it is from this place that I awoke today.

It feels good to write again. I was afraid that, after the pause I needed to take while in ND, that I might not be able to return to this daily ritual. In its own small way, this writing habit has been saving me.

Last night I took my first bath since all of this happened. The bathtub is my go-to mode of “self-care,” but I have not been able to take one since before Carl’s passing. Never mind that my body has been a tangle of knots and discomfort. You see, I couldn’t remember the last time I took a bath without talking to Carl on the phone while I did so. The bathtub became a painfully exaggerated reminder of his absence. After the funeral, my friend Erin came to stay with me. She gifted me with bags of epsom salt and oils. I’ve been self-medicating with ridiculous amounts of lavender and peppermint in an attempt to stave off the worst of this depression and bodily aches. But I told Erin that the salt would have to wait, that it might be a long time before I would start taking baths again. Last night’s bath marked some sort of minor turning point. I soaked in that salt and oil infused water until it went cold. I dog-eared the pages of a book that spoke all the words I needed to hear.

And then I slept.

Healing comes in the tiniest of increments. Like little crumbs that are nothing on their own, but will someday, hopefully, add up to something easier and more functional. That embrace I received from Carl in my dreams this morning, it is still living and holding me tight. I’m nowhere near ready to feel better or normal for anything longer than a fraction of a moment. I’m not yet ready to leave this grief.

For now, there are dog kisses and Henry smiles and long baths. There are good books and great friends. There is Carl’s family and prayer and song. There are Carl’s blankets and a mountain of good memories. There is this old flannel shirt. And still…there is an ocean of tears that I do not doubt will carry me somewhere extraordinary, even if this new paradigm is nearly impossible to get acclimated to.

I love you, Carl. Thank you for your light.

{originally published Nov 28, 2014}

miracles that dwell in the invisible

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Last night I dreamed of Carl. We were at the airport waiting for the boarding of our flight to be called. There were a lot of people buzzing and bumbling around us, a particularly busy terminal. And at one point, Carl and I sat down together, looking at each other with radiant smiles out the corners of our eyes as we reached for each other’s hand. We felt bright and excited to be going somewhere new together, silly with the sensation of love, anticipation and fun. We were on our way to Florida–for my birthday.

It has been a morning of tears. Because, you see…
This was really supposed to happen.

We had been tossing ideas around for a few months. Carl’s birthday was exactly one month before his funeral. It was our first birthday “together.” Things got busy out west and we weren’t able to celebrate his birthday side by side. I was so bummed about that, but we made the best of it. Carl sent me a video of him playing music on his porch. He went for a nice hike. He called me a dozen times. Throughout the day, we took turns keeping each other from feeling sad about the miles between us. He told me we’d make up for it on MY birthday. Over the course of the next few weeks, he musta said to me more than a dozen times: “There’s a lot of things I don’t know, but one thing I know for sure is that I WILL be with you on your birthday.”

You see, Carl didn’t make commitments he couldn’t keep. Ever. If there was one thing that drove me crazy, it was his inability to commit to a plan. I always thought I was the spontaneous one in the crowd. Ha! Carl had me beat by a million miles. It was also, in some wild way, something I loved about him. He could go with the flow like nobody’s business.

For a long time, I’ve been feeling like my 40th birthday would be a hard one. I don’t have a problem with my age or even aging for that matter. I never have. But this year needed to be special. It would be the thing that would carry me forward with a sense of hope and inspiration to make this life what I want it to be. Carl and babies, my art and adventure and building a life together were a part of that dream. It was the totality of the dream, really. We had big, BIG dreams together and, the thing is, we were the type of people that would actually make them come true.

Last night, I got a text from Carl’s brother, Andrew, saying that it had been a particularly hard day for him. It was for me, too. He said that he had told his wife, Tiara, that there are so many days in the past year that he’s wished he could will his heart to stop, but can’t. He said that there’s some purpose for us here and that sometimes he feels like the only thing pulling him forward is this curiosity to see where it goes. He couldn’t have said it more perfectly.

There is this impulse to curl up in a ball under a mountain of Carl’s blankets and never move again. And, yes, each afternoon I have been laying down with Carl’s favorite raggedy old quilt. In these moments, Henry (Carl’s dog), snuggles in next to me especially tight, the weight and smell of Carl’s blanket instantly causing him to relax and sleep. I breathe it in, deeply. My other two dogs curl themselves around my legs and, often, it is during this time that I feel Carl close to me, talking to me, telling me things I need to hear. Telling me that I can do this, that he loves me, that he’s with me. He tells me things that I can’t even remember. And, eventually, something causes me to get up. Maybe it’s Carl, pulling me by my hands out of bed. It is not a place to stay. There is still life to be lived, even if that feels mostly impossible right now.

In the dream, just as we were about to board the flight, I realized that Carl was nowhere to be found. He was most likely meandering, curiously taking in the world and talking on his phone. I was starting to panic. All the moms in my life showed up and began looking for him, having him paged on the airport’s intercom system, spelling out his name, touching the arms of strangers. Everyone was looking for him and, meanwhile, in my mind’s eye I could see him, happy as a lark, drifting in the wrong direction–away from me. He wandered slowly by the airport bookstore, touching the covers as he talked on the phone. He was smiling and enjoying himself. Meanwhile, the pilot was trying to get me to try on different shoes. Some of them were Carl’s shoes and, somehow, Carl was tricking them onto my feet without even being there.

For a long time, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do for my birthday. I kept asking Carl, “What do YOU think we should do??” Every time he responded by telling me that we should do whatever it was I wanted to do. He would take me anywhere in the world. It would be his gift to me. We were going to make it fit into my impossibly busy pre-exhibition schedule and so I decided we shouldn’t waste too much time on flights and getting over jet-lag. We considered Puerto Rico, the southwest and a million places in between. We’d save a motorcycle trip across Australia or Chile for March, when my show would be complete and Carl would have more time, too. Then my dear friend, Kristine, found out that a gallery would be representing her artwork at Art Basel in Miami Beach, FL. It is a dream come true for her, and (as artists) for both of us, really. Art Basel is a crème de la crème of success in the world of Fine Art. Carl and I decided we would go there–to celebrate Kristine’s success, and also sneak away to celebrate my birthday and each other. On Friday morning, Carl told me he was going to purchase the plane tickets the following Monday.

Monday never happened. On Monday I was helping put a cross by the side of the road where Carl was killed.

So many dreams–vanished–in a puff of cold air. I am lost; I am sometimes floundering; I’m not sure how to proceed. I have enough tears inside of me to fill an eighth ocean.

I took this photo while sitting by Carl’s side on the shore of Lake Superior this past summer. It was one of the happiest moments in my life. I must have told him I loved him a million times that day. We were talking about babies and adventures and all the goodness that we couldn’t wait to step into together. It was ridiculous how good I felt, Carl holding my hand that whole entire day.

I know that miracles dwell in the invisible. The prayer is that I will make myself available to them.

My life continues. I love you, Carl.

{originally published Nov. 22, 2014}