Overflowing.

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It’s amazing. These prayers. Over the course of the past several months they seem to be flooding into my hands. They are prayers for the widows we’re working with. Prayers for the children, our Ugandan “Camera Crew.” I have been gathering these prayers for weeks now after inviting others to pray for and connect with an individual a world away, someone to walk with on this journey called life. These prayers feel powerful, as they build a bridge from here to there and back again. When I return to the village in Uganda, I will hand deliver these prayers to their recipients. And you know…I think I will never tire of being the messenger of so much love.¬†ūüíó

My hands become empty so that they might overflow with something that was meant for more than me. Amen.

 

as the cat crows.

This morning I woke not with the crow of the rooster, but from the loud meow of my old cat hollering down from the ladder of the loft. Feed me, love me, be with me! In the village, I got used to the morning ritual of a different set of sounds: roosters crowing, cows bellowing, the soft voices of children being sent to fetch water and beginning a long day of chores.

I woke up this morning at about 6am. The meaning of time has been temporarily erased. Honestly, I’d like it to stay this way as long as possible. Preferring to give myself over to my own internal rhythms, I’m certain I would accomplish much more with a lot less stress. I’ve slept for the better part of 24 hours since returning home. I feel rested although still disoriented from what feels like a very, very long night‚Ķlasting several days ever since getting in the taxi with Moses and his two young boys, Joshua and Joel as they accompanied me to the Entebbe¬†4 long days ago. There were a flurry of goodbyes and hugs once we got to the airport. It all happened too quickly. Time collapsed and then stretched itself into some strange travel warp made even stranger by extreme fatigue and delayed flights. But now the day is sifting itself out of the darkness. Still no sun in this northern landscape, but the quality of sliver-blue holds its own sort of beauty. It is a color made purely of snow and tree trunks. With no visible sun, winter creates its own version of color.¬†Dark pine, naked oaks, white papery birch‚Ķyes, I do remember now why I love this place, even in the depth of winter. It holds a certain kind of quietness that cannot be found anywhere else. I burrow deeply into this strange environment, insulating myself as thoroughly as possible while I make the internal adjustments needed to somehow become alive and present in¬†this otherworld, so different from the one I just left behind in the hot, life-filled humidity of Eastern Africa.

I feel as tho I could go days and days without interacting with the outside world. I want time to process and pray and simply get back to work. I want to paint. I have a lot of work to do and find myself wanting to move back into my world of current responsibilities as simply as possible. I want to conserve as much energy as I can so that I might finally celebrate completion of past obligations. On the other side of all those long awaited commitments is a vast and terrifying freedom that is calling my name. In all reality, the cold crispness of winter is a perfect fit for what needs to be accomplished. This is not the time to give into distraction. There is a stark quality to my exterior world right now and, if I’m wise, I’ll use it to my advantage. The lushness of Africa awaits. For now, I have a journey of preparation¬†ahead of me and, since it can’t be avoided, I might was well find the sweet spots of enjoyment. Delicious¬†coffee, being in the presence of my horses, dog snuggles, good music, time spent in the studio, softly falling snow‚Ķthis time of quiet can be useful if I allow it to be.

Without a doubt, my life in Africa awaits. God has already gifted me with a clear vision of where I’m headed and my trust in that¬†is implicit. ¬†Absolute, complete, total, wholehearted. Faith is a powerful thing. It has, it is, and it will carry us far.

Yes, I cried yesterday with sadness and pain over my return. But I’m not going to allow myself to remain in that dark place longer than what was useful. I have love and aliveness filling my life both here in Northern Minnesota and in Eastern Africa. I choose not to take these things for granted.

The snow has started falling and my horses, Dakota and Colorado, weave their large, magic-like dark bodies through the trees. They are snow-covered, like their landscape‚Ķyet their eyes shine with intensity and invitation. They are silently calling me to them. I feel myself respond and it seems¬†that God uses the same technique. God is in those horses, in this snow, and in all the opposites I’m carrying within me from Africa, too.

I let myself become a basket, a skeleton of vines being woven into a better story.

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The work of a basket weaver in the mountains of rural eastern Uganda. The view from his home was breath taking. I came upon him while hiking the mountains from a visit with a widow I’m working with. The view from this man’s chair under the tree outside his simple home is forever embedded into my soul. So is his smile and welcoming warmth. Dear Abba, thank you.

Dear Abba, thank you for the view. Thank you for the past 24 hours of deep sleep, for your undeniable presence in both my dreams and waking thoughts. Thank you for the healing that comes so easily when I allow for it. Thank you even for the starkness of this re-entry. I feel clear and calm, ready to move forward with You from this space. I feel Your freedom, even in the details of now.

 

I love you. 


Not too many more days and I’m gonna get to see my beautiful girl, Sharon. I have missed her every single day since I rode away from her just over 3 months ago. She was the hardest part about leaving. I wonder if she misses me too? I keep her photo near me in the studio as I paint. She has my heart. As in like…allll of it. I gave it to her the night she got sick…the night she started staying with me because I realized she had been abandoned…the night I heard her say her very first words out loud: “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you too. Oh Sharon…I love you too.”

Dear God, bring me home.

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“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be…Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.” ~Erich Fromm

I only want one thing. To begin my life. This new life. The one that includes mountains and humid African air and a world filled with all sorts of love.

I am happy now. My new life has already begun. These are the days of preparing. The days of closing the chapters of my old self and preparing clean sheets of paper for a new story to begin.

These days, I find myself getting down on my knees to pray. It somehow shuts out the clamor of my mind and the world around me and puts me in direct communion with God. My prayers no longer even have words. They are made of a silence that needs no translation. Sometimes, the clutter of my prayers are burned away so completely that I think this must be what brings me to my knees.

Dear Abba, yes…please…take me to that place you have allowed me to see.
Amen.

Beauty for Ashes.

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This morning, I received this photo in my inbox. It was from my good friend, Moses, in Uganda. I was sitting on the floor of my living room, drinking my first cup of coffee and writing in my journal. These past two days I have been giving myself that extra time with God in the early hours of the day. I was feeling such a deep ache in my heart as I wrote…hashing out difficult dreams reflecting the awareness that entire chunks of my life have been falling away over the course¬†of this past year–like an iceberg cleaving–entire sections of the things I once held dear have slowly fractured, then crumbled away, falling into the ocean.

I pressed blue ink to white paper asking God if there is something more He wants me to understand.

And that’s when the photo showed up.
10 women.
Widows.

Like a prayer answered in no uncertain terms. His voice was clear. The details of what has fallen away won’t matter. Yes, Carl will always matter. But those other things? Not so much. Not much at all. God is multiplying in ways I cannot yet even grasp.

Since returning home from Uganda, I have been in the beginning phase of starting a micro-lending and education program for widows in Eastern Uganda. I will be traveling back to Uganda in the near future to document the stories of these women and, in time, begin working intimately alongside them.

Wow. Would I have ever imagined my life would look like this one year ago? Certainly not. I guess this is what they mean by beauty coming out of the ashes. Oh, and those ashes…they almost suffocated me.

But there’s a reason and perhaps this is why…perhaps only just the beginning of why. I look into the faces of each one of these women and, with my whole heart, can stand alongside them, knowing that “…he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” ~Isaiah 61:3

Dear Abba, I thank you for these women. Make us beautiful for You. Make us strong, resilent, joyous and loving for You.

Thank you, friends, for walking so steadfastly next to me on this journey. Thank you, Mukhobeh Moses and Hands of Action Uganda for partnering with me and the organization that I am in the midst of bringing into being.

Carl, I miss you into the deepest part of my being. And yet…
I have faith that there will be beauty for these ashes. In the form of 10 women, it is already true.

I love you, Carl, always and into every aching heart, may that love grow.

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Photo credit: Mukhobeh Moses :: Bukibokolo, Bududa District, Eastern Uganda.

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Photo credit: Mukhobeh Moses :: Bukibokolo, Bududa District, Eastern Uganda.

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.

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. ‚̧

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‚Ķit 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‚Ķa 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‚Ķso 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

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.