with new eyes.

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This weekend I opened up my wee little tiny cabin to my friend, Brittany. She’s a mama of 3 and rarely gets time to herself. She works hard and is always taking care of everyone else before herself. Brittany was a long time friend of Carl’s, although I didn’t come to know her until after he passed away. One thing about Carl is that he had a whole world full of beautiful friends. He loved those who were a part of his life dearly and, even tho there were countless people, he made everyone feel like they were a best friend. The thing is tho, is that it was true. His friendships genuinely were that real.

With both of us having busy schedules and full lives, Carl and I had to work pretty hard to spend quality time with one another. In the process of making that time together, we didn’t get all the opportunities we would have liked to introduce each other to our different worlds of friends. Anyway, we had our whole lives ahead of us. There would be time later. But time got cut short. And so it is that many of my friends now only know Carl from what I have written about him. The church where we held Carl’s funeral, one of the biggest in town, was filled with people who loved Carl…from wall to wall to wall. The day was a blur, one that I only just barely survived. It was the day that I met so many more of Carl’s friends. The beauty is that many of them have remained a part of my life and we have begun creating meaningful friendships of our own. Carl filled his life with good people. Hard working, down to earth, generous, loving people. Brittany is one of them and I know without a doubt that Carl is happier than ever to be a part of our connection.

Since returning home after my first trip to Africa, I find that I no longer take very many photos of everyday moments. I used to all the time. But these days I can’t seem to be bothered. Everything looks grey and lifeless, broken down, dirty, uninspiring. I feel like a broken record, but it has been hard to be back home. Every day here is often nothing more than a reminder of all that is gone. I think about Sharon and the women I’m working with in Africa and can’t help but feel that is where my “real” life is waiting.

I find moments of reprieve when I am with my horses. I go out into the pasture to feed them and, after throwing the hay over the fence, I smile with the snort and snuffle, their words of gratitude, while I respond with my own sing-song of “you’re welcome.” I duck between the barbwire and rub down each horse. As I walk up to Colorado he bends his neck around and encloses me against his side. It’s his way of saying thank you, I love you. It is his hug and I get one daily. It is the one moment of every day that I feel fully present. Yes, even here.

Once I walk away from the horses, the blur picks up speed and dullness all over again. There are moments of incredible inspiration when I find time to work on Africa-related tasks. I struggle to carve out the time I need to process so much goodness and transition. If I had that time, perhaps it would make the tasks related to old commitments a bit easier. But let’s face it: this earthly life was never intended to be perfect. I fluctuate between extreme agony in needing patience to attend to all the things I must do before I can leave and sheer panic that I’ll never accomplish it all in the short time that I have. My time-line, I should mention, is entirely self-created. Even so, it feels carved into a rock that is not entirely my own and, believe it or not, I feel comfort in that. It reminds me that something bigger is at work and, whatever is meant to be, is going to happen, despite my failings.

I want to shrug off all my struggles and grieving once and for all. But it doesn’t work that way. I know that. The thing I didn’t know was how giving up the comfort of my cabin for a night would end up being such a great and much needed gift to me. This evening, while in my studio, Brittany texted me a whole pile of photos from her stay. They took my breath away. I instantly felt a nostalgia in looking at them. A fondness, as though looking into an easier past. My everyday world through the eyes of another. I found it beautiful. The quirky wall of spices and tea. My cat, Viscosa, at the window. A shelf lined with an eclectic mix of antiques, cups, and whatnot, along with the view beyond: oak trees outside my kitchen window. The wine and treats I left for Brittany to make her stay feel a little more inviting. Even the cracked window overlooking the lake became something worth appreciating.

Experiencing my world through Brittany’s eyes was something I needed more than I could have known. There have been dead parts inside of me and, over time, they’ve begun to spread in ways that are dangerously invisible, like an ugly noxious weed with roots underground. I don’t want to live with the feeling of so much deadness, even in this time of “in between.” It is the sort of deadness that has begun to take up space even where the emptiness of grieving has left off. Without even realizing it–through her photos, her heart, her way of seeing–Brittany brought my world out into the light and, in doing so, has helped return those lifeless places back into being.

Brittany gifted me with a journal in exchange for her much needed retreat. The words she inscribed in the cover’s pages could not be more fitting. Today I am glad to have eyes for a new way of seeing. There are comforts and a quality of light to be cherished. Yes, even here, right now, in this very moment.

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Photo credit: Brittany Sand. Images Copyright Brittany Sand 2016.

The beginning of a new life.

IMG_3320I wish I knew where to start when it comes to sharing the the journey I’ve been on with Sharon. You see, she’s not just a story. She’s not just a photo. She’s not just another kid. She is my heart. She is somehow my other half. She is and always will be my first daughter, even if she’s not biologically mine.

Her story is long and complicated. It is filled with abuse, hunger, abandonment and suffering. But those are words that speak only of her past. Today, Sharon is walking towards an entirely new future. Let’s not over-simplify things tho. There are still struggles, there are threats…but more powerful than any of that, we’ve found a resting place of HOPE. We are finding the first glimmers of HAPPINESS and believe me, for this little girl, the simple gift of happiness is something worth celebrating.

Yesterday, “Uncle James” was able to help me take care of the details of making sure Sharon’s school fees were paid. You see, Sharon has moved. She’s starting a new school. She’s starting a new life. I don’t know what it is about Sharon’s quiet, giggly self…but she breaks open hearts in the most beautiful ways. James is a dear friend of mine from Uganda. He is my brother, truly. We met in August the first time I traveled to the village of Bukibokolo. I don’t mean to throw these terms of family endearment around lightly. I’m not sure when this familial relationship of brother/sister began, but even Sharon instinctually picked up on it and dubbed him with the honorable title of “Uncle.” You see, James loves Sharon, too. As a child, he walked the same rough road that Sharon has had to walk. And now? It seems that God is transforming James’s past pain into a love for children who need it most. Sharon loves her Uncle James and I do too. He’s making sure that her school fees are being spent as they’re meant to. He’s checking in on her on a regular basis. He is a source of constant love and support for both Sharon and I.

I’m attempting to say too much in one blog post. It makes it hard. It’s impossible to contain this much love and difficulty in one sitting. Perhaps I should have been writing more all along, but you see…I couldn’t. Because it’s complicated. It’s a story about real people with real feelings and, in some ways, living in real danger. I tread lightly with all of it. There is still so much untangling and praying to do.

I want to tell you everything and yet I don’t know how. Perhaps there are pieces of this story that aren’t meant to be shared in its entirety, at least not yet…or maybe ever. But for now, I rest in knowing that progress is being made. Sharon is with her mother. The woman who I thought had abandoned her own daughter had her own side of the story. While in Uganda, I made arrangements to meet with her and I’m glad I did. Her story is also complicated. And yet I want to believe that she is doing the best she can. I want to help her to be the best mama she can be. I want to give Sharon and her mother that chance. Because I love Sharon and every child deserves a relationship with their parents if at all possible. The situation with Sharon’s father is dubious, violent and heartbreaking at best. Sharon’s mother is another matter. Now that Sharon and her mother have been re-united, there is potential for goodness to increase, mature and maybe even flourish. For the first time ever, Sharon’s mama has a network of support in a way that she never had before. In the way that she’s needed in order to even be a mama to her daughter. God has blessed me in that Sharon’s mother wants me to be Sharon’s mama, too. The genuineness that is growing out of our gratitude for one another brings tears to my eyes, even as I write.

Sharon has a whole family of people here in the United States that already love her, especially my Bratlien family, who already think of her as a granddaughter, niece and cousin. From that family, she has a very special aunt and uncle who have helped me to cover her first semester of school fees. With each person that becomes a part of my life with Sharon, I become more amazed by the way God moves in our lives…how He changes and heals us in ways that we never imagined. We’re all so broken, but God knows, He sees, He hears, He understands…and He uses us to help heal one another. It is turning out to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.

Sharon begins her first day at her new school on Monday. Let’s pray for her, please! May this be only the beginning of an upward looking life.

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Sharon and I the day we had to say goodbye-for-now. It was a hard day, indeed!

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Sharon and her biological mama, Christine.

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Sharon and BOTH her mamas! 🙂

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Sharon and Joy. They are like sisters. And, to me, both are my daughters.

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Uncle James and Sharon. School starts MONDAY! 🙂

I love you, Sharon! And dear Abba…I thank you beyond measure.
B-E-Y-O-N-D  M-E-A-S-U-R-E!!!!!

Amen.

 

 

 

Psalm 95, a prayer.

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“I speak to you from deepest heaven. You hear Me in the depths of your being. Deep calls unto deep. You are blessed to hear Me so directly. Never take this privilage for granted. The best response is a heart overflowing with gratitude. I am training you to cultivate a thankful mind-set. This is like building your house on a firm rock, where life’s storms cannot shake you. As you learn these lessons, you are to teach them to others. I will open up the way before you, one step at a time.” ~ Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Hands down, the one thing that the children most often asked us to pray for them was for knowledge. They are so eager to learn. So observant. So motivated. So very, very willing to do whatever they need to do to gain knowledge. Going to school or experiencing a new opportunity of any kind is a tremendous gift in Uganda. It is a country whose economics are not in a position to guarantee it’s children an education. Many children go without even the basics.

I continue to learn from these children and their community. If I could have one prayer these days, I too would ask for knowledge. Dear God, please give me the knowledge, the insights, the experiences and connections to help lead me forth in the ways that You have planned for a greater good. Help me to build a strong foundation in everything I do.

I pray for hope and a future for this young girl and the many who are in a similar situation. Ultimately, I pray for the ability not only to survive, but to THRIVE. Dear God, please fill us with the JOY we are capable of experiencing. Thank you for the presence of this young girl in the world. I believe in her, with my whole heart. Let us hear You, deeply. Dear Abba, show us the way.

Where are you? Are you here?

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View from the backyard. Bukibokolo, Eastern Uganda.

Craaaaazzy ol’ Maurice! (think Beauty and the Beast) Thanks to my new solar powered friend, Bettina Bergöö, this is how we came to lovingly refer to Morris (pronounced “Maurice”) during the last days of our stay in Bukibokolo. Morris is the elder brother of Moses. He is a community leader, a husband, a father, a grandfather. And during the time of our stay in Bukibokolo, Uganda, he was also our cook and ever-vigilant caretaker. Morris is a lean, short-statured man, but his character is as big as a mountain and sharp as an eagle. Every day, several times a day, Morris would full-heartedly walk into a room and ask:

“Where are you?
Are you here?”

IMG_0590Before you could answer, his eyes would drift towards the ceiling and he’d crumple into laughter. We’d usually respond: “I am here! Morris, where are YOU?!” ha! Ohhh Morris! A true character, indeed. Needless to say, his words have been playing on repeat in my head ever since my return. It’s been 3 days since Africa and, each morning, I awake at 4am with my heart still fully planted in the mountains of Eastern Uganda. My body seems to have managed it’s way, with deep reluctance, back to the States. But the rest of me…. ??

Where am I? Am I here?

It goes without saying that my time spend in Uganda was absolutely life changing. Of course, I doubt this surprises anyone. I’m not even going to try to write a post that summarizes the experience. Instead, I think I’ll just let it trickle out a little at a time. To do otherwise is both impossible and overwhelming. In the past two days, I have also begun the slightly gigantous task of moving from my old studio into a new one. The opportunity came up just before leaving for Uganda. The pace of answered prayers has my feet flying out from underneath me as every aspect of my life moves in motion towards this story God is writing for me.

Oh, goofy ol’ Morris…thank you for such impossible questions. I’ve been happily turned upside down (or right side up?) and all I know for sure is that nothing will ever be the same again.

I am here!

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“Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~Isaiah 30:21

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.

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!

Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd…

I was letting the words roll peacefully off my tongue, slowly pondering their meaning as I did so. I woke up feeling broken, sad, a little lost. But the grey morning had thinned its sky full of clouds until finally giving way to a perfect blue. I was driving country roads out to a sheep farm belonging to a friend, on my way to help feed the bottle lambs. Little did I know that God had been shepherding me in that direction all along. Not understanding the depth of my need until surrendering myself to the sunlit glow of Julie’s world, what did I know? A world of newly born lambs, attentive ewes, the flitting songs of barn sparrows. All that softness, golden light and energy. Oh, Abba…you knew. All along, you knew. 

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.            ~Psalm 23:1-6

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Leah, Carl, and Diana…with Jethro, Bambi and Bashful.

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The Lord is my Shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am not alone; I am comforted; I am guided and kept safe. My cup overflows.  I love you, Carl. I miss you in a way that can’t be undone. But truly? It is well with my soul. And, oh, dear Abba, I am thankful.