In waiting.

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Backing up image files in preparation for my leave-taking. A bittersweet experience because there are soooooooo many photos of my artwork that I never even shared. I spent the past 8+ years feeling wildly behind schedule and, because of this, often didn’t share as much as I would have liked to. With success came a clamor of commissions and with that a very long wait list. I found it difficult to know how to make each person feel as special as I wanted them to feel. And so I stopped posting my artwork photos. I’m sorta sad about that. There is a beautiful story to be told in those images. I lived a life so full that in some ways it became a burden. And yet…I can’t imagine it having been any different. Such a long winded challenge that was, and yet I’m also grateful for the prolific amounts of art, travel, friends, clients, animals, life and love that my life contained in these past many years.

As I work on remaining commissioned pet portraits, I find myself feeling invigorated by the newness of the work that lies ahead of me in Africa. With each painting completed, an entirely new space of freedom opens up before me. With that freedom comes sparks of inspiration. Where will art take me next? In Africa, will I have time to paint? Will I even be able to source the supplies I need to so? I’ve already got a head full of ideas that want to be expressed. A whole life, really, that simply wants to be expressed.

Forehead kisses.

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I miss my girl, Sharon, so much that I can hardly stand it. She would become especially snuggly the closer it got to bedtime. If it was just the two of us, she’d crawl into my lap and snuggle in as close as possible. An 8 year old that snuggles? Yeah…it’s just about the best thing ever. Sometimes there were tears that needed to wiped away. She didn’t want me to leave. Not ever. I would rock her in my arms and sing sweet songs, giving little kisses on her forehead. Maybe we never really outgrow a need to be loved like that. Never in my life has it felt better to bring comfort to another person. My heart yearns to hug and to be there for her in ways that simply defy words. This must be what it feels like to be a mother. My God…how does one survive this kind of love?

This girl is going somewhere.

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Stella Nambwall. She is 13 years old, a brilliant glint of starlight in a dark sky. Do you know which child I’m talking about? Yes, the one in the gingham dress. The one looking directly into the eye of the camera.

This girl is going somewhere.
I can feel it with my entire being.

There are certain people I can’t stop thinking about. Stella is one of them. Along with her mother, Anna, and her cousin, Harriet. This family feels like the muscles lining the inside of my ribcage. They contain a reservoir of strength, even in their brokenness. Stella’s father died this past May. He hung himself from a tree in the middle of the night outside the family’s back door. I can’t seem to take the edge off of this fact. It was a horrific shock to the entire community. Her cousin, Harriet’s father is also dead. Death is everywhere. It’s made Stella and Harriet close like sisters. They are both bold, respectful, friendly.

Stella and her family are eloquently real to me.
In the closest fold of the mountain, their house sits in perfect lines.
Red dirt and jungle trees.
My eyes constantly falling in their direction, even before I knew why.

There are those times when a magnetism pulls us in the direction of something before we even know the reason. Repeated moments of distinct lucidity. One at a time, the puzzle pieces come into existence until, eventually, locking into place.

In the mountains of eastern Uganda, there’s yet another sad story everywhere you turn. But this girl? This one isn’t stopping at sad. She’s traveling further than that. She’ll keep going all the way to redemption. I can see it in her eyes. I can feel it in my bones. And like tendons growing into the bones creating a connection that is extremely strong and hard to break, we’ve somehow become inextricably woven as one. It doesn’t end with her and it certainly didn’t start with me.

This is a story of deliverance. And Stella won’t be alone as she walks it.

Yes, this girl is going somewhere.
Just watch.

Watch
and
See.

(amen).

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.

Goodbye old studio. Hello new life.

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Yesterday I locked the door of my old studio for the very last time. It was a good place. The light was soothing and the floors were warm. The ceilings were high and the breathing space plentiful. It was the studio space that I moved into with the help of Carl. We had big dreams and that place was a perfect fit. From the very first day, I felt protected by divine forces whenever I entered. Truly, it was an amazing feeling and I trusted it. I moved in only one month before Carl died. Little did I know then, what a true Godsend that studio would be for me over the coming months. When Carl died, I died right along with him. It was many months before I was able to work again, but it was that studio that drew me forth out of the dark confines of my bed and into the warm and sunlit interior of this creative space. Most days, I didn’t really accomplish anything, but even the act of showing up was the miracle that slowly worked its healing magic on me. For many weeks and months, that’s all I did. Show up. Slowly, but surely I found myself producing new work. Sometimes just to satisfy myself and other times to fulfill client obligations. In either case, the progress, however slow, was a gift beyond measure. My clients may never know just how truly important they have been in this process of healing. God knows, the utmost patience has been required on their behalf…and I thank them for that.

Before leaving for Uganda, a very special opportunity came up. My friends, Emily and Karen, two immensely talented artists, were looking for studio mates. I’ve always had private studio space and am not in the habit of creating in the presence of others. And yet…something about this felt so right. SO very right. I already knew the space they were working in, but went once more to look at with new eyes…the eyes of using it as my potential new workspace. I walked in the back door and it was an immediate YES. There was only one stipulation: I would rent 3 of the 5 spaces and, beyond us (and a quiet, fairly non-existant artist renting in the basement), we would keep it a private space in order to eliminate the possibility of too much white noise of more renters. It happily fell into place for all of us and I planned on moving in the day after getting back from Africa. This move would afford me the opportunity to reallocate my budget to accommodate one or two more trips to Africa per year. I didn’t yet know what Africa would do to me…but something in me DID know to prepare!

God had handed me an opportunity and, gratefully, I accepted.

I need to admit that it was harder than I expected to make the transition. And even as I write those words I am grateful that the transition is occurring. You see…moving out of my old studio was, unexpectedly, a huge process of letting go. Letting go of a life I had planned with Carl. Letting go of his daily presence in that space. Letting go of a whole lifetime leading up to the gifts of Africa.

Every single day that I walked into my studio, I would walk through the door, turn to the right and see Carl’s hardhats and Yeti cooler that I had them sitting on. I would say hello and tell him I loved him. Of course, Carl wasn’t physically there, but something of his spirit lingers in those items and it felt so good to have that moment of connection and gratitude with him each day. I would then walk to the back of the studio and reprogram the microwave clock to 12:34. Every. single. time. I walked in the studio. 12:34 was our “I love you” number.  Even after his death, Carl was woven so thoroughly into that space. I always felt his spirit close to me there. I knew how much he loved to see me working hard. I knew how much he wanted to see me happy. I knew how much he would want me to live…no matter what.

I let that space heal me. In the cold of winter and into the briskness of spring, it was a loving cocoon of warmth and light. I felt surrounded by guardian Angels. I prayed and painted and painted and prayed. God infused every brushstroke that happened in that space. He infused me. I cried and painted, listened to endless sermons and worship music. Some days I even danced or smiled and laughed. My heart poured itself out into that space and was equally filled with new hopes for the mysterious future that I could feel waiting for me on the horizon.

How stunningly apropos that my move would take place immediately after returning home from Uganda. I never intended things to work out this way…but God did. He knew all along. Oh GOD! How does He so truly and deeply know everything in my heart?

The task of moving was overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting all the emotions that it would bring up. Not to mention, I wasn’t feeling well (fighting something intestinal…yay, 3rd world travel!) and, of course, a bit jet-lagged. As usual, I had been overly optimistic in my abilities after such an intense journey. BUT! Then Carl’s family showed up. They didn’t even know I was struggling. They simply did what a loving family does best: SHOW UP! First Carmita, then Christine and Lauren…they saved me from much floundering and tears…and the best part? I did not even ask! Such a gift. I felt soooo spoiled. So incredibly, incredibly blessed!

And so…now? I have a big pile of canvases, inventory and STUFF to unpack and organize in my NEW space. It seems that the weird interior of my artist’s mind has exploded in a cluttered mess of the studio floor. I find myself standing on new ground. Both literally and metaphorically. I feel myself stepping wholeheartedly into the rest of my life, into this story that God had written for me all along.

I will always love Carl. Africa has shown me that it is possible to love him forever and yet also to completely move forward. I broke when he died. I fell apart. I was smashed into a million pieces. But something about that mountain in Eastern Uganda put me back together in a way that defies language. It’s a process that I’m still living out…but the best part is that I feel as tho I am truly LIVING. My heart is open. I am steeped in great love, even on this earthly side of heaven.

I feel whole.
I feel able.
I feel ready to live the rest of my life.

Thank you, dear Abba. You are the one who saves me. Over and over and over again.
Amen.

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

Be Still.

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Morning coffee. Psalm 46:10.
Gifts, so perfectly timed. ❤

With only 6 days before I leave for Uganda, my head is tempted to run its treadmill of to-do’s and worry. But there has been a constant reminder to be still, to stay close to God, to not rush, to calm my mind so that my heart can be where God wants me to be.

The closer I get to leaving, the more sensitive I become. I miss Carl more incredibly every day. Yet I also feel the true depth and power of stepping into a story that God has created just for me. And then there are all those ripple effects too.

The busy-ness of these final days before leaving could easily swallow me whole, but I also know that it won’t serve me, or anyone for that matter. I want to be present in this, every step of the way. This is where everything begins anew. This is where my life begins again. It is not often we are given a fresh start in life.

God, even through all the pain that I’ve experienced to get here, I thank You. Thank you for leading me to these kids in Uganda, to all of “this,” whatever it might be. I can feel it’s immensity and I want more of it. God, use me, even now. Give me the determination, the focus and the energy to accomplish all that needs getting done. Help me prioritize. Catch my tears and let them cleanse me rather than deplete me. Walk in step with me because I become utterly lost without you.

Prepare my heart, dear God. I have a feeling I’m going to need it…and I love You for that.

~
Dear friends, I invite you to be a part of this journey…at any level, even prayers. Find out more here: http://www.gofundme.com/KidsOfUganda2015 I am so thankful for each and every one of you. ❤