4th Heaven Day.


“Peace I leave with you,
My peace I give to you;
Not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your heart be troubled,
Neither let it be afraid.” ~John 14:27 NKJV

I woke up feeling hopeful. I had taken the day off and so it felt a little bit like a holiday or a birthday. And, in truth, it is a birthday. It’s Carl​’s Heaven Day. For me, it’s an equally special day because it’s the day I gave my life to God. Four years ago. Carl died and so did I. God took my life and, in the taking, gave me His. It wasn’t a decision, just as it wasn’t a decision for Carl either. It wasn’t anything that either one of us could stop. Rather, it is something we were both chosen for. In one moment, our old lives snuffed out. And we became brutally, completely, new. The day that Carl died, my life went out from me and was replaced by a glowing force that, even in my darkest moments has held me and kept my heart beating in a song beyond myself.

I’ve dreaded this day for weeks, planning every aspect of my life around it, giving this day space to be whatever it needs to be. Grief is a funny thing. It never guarantees you anything.

Even so, today started out with genuine peace and calmness of heart. Unexpected, but so very welcome. It felt like New Year’s to me. As if it could be January 1st with a whole new fresh year ahead of me. Except this “new year” is bittersweet in a way that splays my thoughts before I even make sense of them. The road behind me seems short, while the one ahead of me feels excruciatingly long. Over the course of the day, optimism gave way to sadness and sadness to the heaviness of melancholy. But, somehow, the feeling of peace remained.

I allowed myself a nap. I rested deeply. I ate a late lunch. And then took another nap. Again, resting deeply. I was soothed by dreams and memories of so many moments, like clips on a movie reel, coming alive in my heart and mind. Moments of joy and goodness, poignancy and purpose, all that have happened in this after-life since Carl’s passing. Maybe I should have left the house today. But something in me needed to, instead, spend time in this inner landscape.

All day long I keep going back to one thought.
Just last week.
Holding the hand of a dying woman.

Feeling so much love flow from her.
The warmth of her feverish hand as she softly squeezed mine. The gauntness of her young body and face ravaged, most likely, by the last stages of AIDS. The look of tenderness in her mother’s expression. Simply holding space because it was the only common language we had.

The feeling of Jesus saying, “this one,” and somehow that including all of us. The warmth and acutely tangible current of love so unexpected, so profoundly nourishing. The line between life and death, a tenuous thread at best. A holy moment. Our connection, like a prayer. She was the brightest spot in the entirety of that otherwise awful place.

How many precious and life changing moments made of Heaven have I been a part of since Carl’s passing? Sometimes shattering, other times simply dazzling. They have become too numerous to count. This life here in Africa has changed me. My encounters and experiences are both heartbreaking and joy-filled in ways that have destroyed me and are recreating me. God asks us to “count it all joy.” And, in the truest sense, I am beginning to understand what that means. Carl, my best angel, continues to love and encourage me, even from heaven.

It’s been four years of the most deeply challenging gift I’ve ever been given.

This evening, the girls and I will go out for a nice meal to celebrate “Papa Carl’s” Heaven Day. God sustains me in this journey in ways I could have never created or imagined or asked for on my own. He sustains all of us, if only we allow.



“Waiting For the Doctor” :: by Jessie Marianiello

I’ve been looking through and editing images today of an incredible community of children who I have completely fallen in love with. Most of the photos break me wide open with immense JOY and even wider open in my desire to return. Never in my whole life have I felt so saturated in happiness and love.

As part of our yearly audit, our team worked hard on updating the students information. We took their photos, measured their height and weight, noted progress and loss, provided an opportunity for each student to receive a medical examination and treatment from Dr. Samuel, as well as new shoes, a pencil and some sweets.

But there is another side of the story that my camera did not always capture. While my lens was focused on the smiling faces of children, behind me there was a constant line forming around the edges of the tent with villagers who were coming to us in hopes of finding even the smallest amount of help. Some of them had walked long distances in great amounts of pain. All of them waited patiently, respectfully, hopefully.

We were blessed. We had a doctor working alongside us. And not just any doctor. Dr. Samuel joined our team from Kenya. Despite significant and recent tragedy in his own family, he was by our side to help in any and every way he could. I have never met anyone quite like him. He is a special man, indeed. He worked tirelessly to help as many people as he could in the time he was there. The only supplies we had were what our small team had brought with us in suitcases from the U.S. plus a few things we picked up once we made it to Uganda. Dr. Samuel was working with the bare minimum in terms of medical supplies…and yet the number of people whose lives he changed are countless.

You see, the presence of Hands of Action International and Hands of Action Uganda was, for most of those people, the one and only opportunity they would have for medical attention of any kind. Some were living with life-and-death illnesses. Some were carrying babies that they were afraid might not survive. Others were living with the pain of serious fungal infections, dental problems, and a miscellany of injuries that we might have difficulty fathoming. No matter what our income level here in the US and in other first world countries, we DO have access to medical and dental assistance in ways that many of these individuals will most likely never know.

This photo makes my heart feel the heaviness of the world. I was reluctant to share it, but lest we forget…this is a reality that exists. I want to always remember that every soul matters. None of us can help everyone, but most of us can help someone. I am grateful for my experience. I am hopeful because…yes, it really does matter.

with love,

Steep mountain pass.


This morning, in church, I sat looking at a near wall-size photograph of Mount Kilimanjaro. Due to the angles of architecture, my chair just happened to be situated in a way that caused me to look straight at this behemoth of a mountain or, rather, for IT to look straight at me. It hung on an unlit wall in preparation for an upcoming VBS event. I didn’t notice it at first, but once I did, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to write here. Not for lack of things to write about, quite the contrary, actually. So many layers of thoughts, prayers, passions, commitments, projects, excitement, exhaustion. A fine mix of grief, work, hope and healing. I travel far, each and every day.

I have been dreaming of horses nearly every night. In the dreams, I am always riding them and we are always moving quickly, our bond deep and otherworldly. A good friend recently told me that she is getting the sense that I will be leaving sooner than I imagine. She told me that she is excited for me, but sad at the same time. She told me how proud she is of me. I love her for sharing these thoughts with me, even if I can’t imagine how or why I would be leaving sooner than planned. Since I am, indeed, planning on going to Uganda in August, I assumed she meant that she feels like I might leave for Africa sooner than expected.

And then this morning I woke up at about 4:30am, with the boisterous sounds of birdsong. I wanted to record the jungle-like animation. It was still dark out, but their chirps and calls were so much louder and more lovely than usual. With these sounds, I awoke with the stark realization that the leave-taking my friend was sensing could just as easily mean that I don’t have much longer left here on earth. It seems unlikely, the odds nearly impossible…but then again, that’s sometimes the way death comes. I continued to listen to the birdsong and realized how beautifully neutral I felt about this. At the center of all that neutrality was a deep feeling of love, a trust that I am safe.

In the first few months following Carl’s death, I admit: I wanted to die. I would not have committed suicide because I feared my spirit might be forever separated from Carl and God, but I prayed fervently for God to please take me Home. I prayed for a lot of things. Mostly, I prayed for God to help me. “Please God, help me, please help me.” And He did. Because I survived each and every horrible moment until one day I decided that I wasn’t so sure I actually wanted to die. When I got to that place, I asked myself what I would do if I got cancer or stung by a bee (which I’m highly allergic to) and was a bit surprised when I realized I would fight for my life. I had turned a corner. I was coming back to life and, in the weeks and months since, my desire to FULLY LIVE has grown with each day. When I finally found my way to Joy and the kids of the mountainous region of the Bududa District, Eastern Uganda, I knew for a fact that I no longer wanted to die. Now I have things to do. My life and my work is not over yet. Not even close.

The desire to live or die. What a weird thing to write about, I know. I write about this with honesty because, for some reason, it feels like a pebble left in the path of a story that’s still being written. As though someday I might return to these words and better understand something that is still a mystery to me.

I sat in church this morning, looking at that huge photo of Mount Kilimanjaro and thought about Africa and whether or not I might live to see it. Everything felt so surreal, an ocean of aloneness separating me from the chairs and people surrounding me. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just something I was aware of. A neutral but profound observation. I sat and looked at that mountain looking at me and thought of Carl’s surname: “BRATLIEN.” It means “steep mountain path.” His sister, Diana, mentioned this shortly after Carl’s passing one evening when we were all sitting around the kitchen table talking about our heritage. My mouth dropped open when she said it.
“What did you say?!” I asked in disbelief.
“Bratlien,” she said. “It means steep mountain path.”
And in that moment, I felt my whole world shift into place.

You see…for many years I had been living by a very clear vision. The vision is that my life (and purpose) will lead me through steep mountains. I didn’t know how or even where exactly…but I trusted (and continue to trust) it completely. I have made plans and decisions around this vision, my entire adulthood. Carl, my beautiful man…I could have never known that life would take me to a mountain that looks like any of this. I could have never known that you would die in a car accident. I could have never known that I would break so thoroughly. I could have never guessed that everything would so thoroughly change. But here I am. God, use me.


I cried a lot in church this morning. Silent, snot producing tears that are impossible to avoid once they start. I cried and felt alone in the sea until I reached over to my sister-in-law, Carmita. I reached to her from the deep waters. She felt the depth, saw the tears and reached for my hand. Everything fell back into synch, but the tears continued to flow, unstoppable. We were studying John 18, those final moments of Jesus’s life. I cried because Jesus was about to die and death still feels startling real to me. The sermon was about God using our brokenness as a way to draw us closer to Him, just as He did with Peter who denied Jesus three times, yet was restored. I cried because Jesus feels so close to me. Getting to the part of the story when He is about to die feels like I am experiencing the death of my very own beloved, by deepest friend, my everything. It hit me hard in a wholly new way. Bible stories no longer feel like just stories. God is in me, in my life, in this steep mountain path, in my love, in the people and animals around me, in my willingness to travel to the ends of the earth and even my willingness to die. I felt God in a way that broke me open–completely–all over again.

None of us know when our final day will come. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that I never want to forget how absolutely precious every moment of this life truly is. It’s been a painful road to this place with probably many more painful days ahead. But, dear God, I give you my heart–all of it. Please, take me to the mountain.

Dear God, as I wrote that last sentence, I just remembered the very last song that Carl ever sent me (we were having a constant conversation through songs). God On the Mountain. Oh, dear Lord…I listen and cry even harder than before. You knew all of this, all along. You have a plan for everything. You break me wide open. And I trust You like I’ve never trusted before.

I love you, Carl. My beautiful man…my steep mountain pass…my path to God.

Happiness, unstoppable.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plans to give you hope and a future


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I do believe
God will make it so.

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

Only the beginning of
so. much. Love.



I don’t yet know how to talk about this. I don’t yet know how to talk about much of anything that is going on inside of me these days. All I know is that something shifted in this 5th month of my new life. I could not have referred to my existence since Carl’s passing as a new life before now. My vision and my heart was too full of death and loss and pain. But, all along, I’ve been praying for guidance and, all along, that guidance has been undeniably constant. I have been praying for God to use me. At the center of those prayers was a desperate plea that He make the loss of Carl and my love for him worth something. But nothing has to be done to give it worth. The value is inherent and, all along, God has known exactly what He is doing. All along…there has been a plan…and I’m in it, Carl’s in it, you’re in it, this little girl, Joy, she is in it.

It’s no longer a question of IF God will use me. Instead, I now find myself asking when and where. It is requiring a little bit of patience on my part and, for once in my life, I think I’m ok with that. I sense the depth of where life is taking me and it is not for the fickle hearted. He is preparing me in ways that I cannot yet even fathom. I understand the dangers of rushing ahead and I know my heart will break irreparably if I don’t keep pace with God–whether that means moving forward or holding still.

In the coming weeks or months or years, I will probably be sharing a lot more with you about Joy. For now, I just want to introduce you to this little girl who is already changing my heart. That is her tiny little fingerprint on the clay necklace on the right. She is as real as you and me. I want you to know about her so that you might see the way God is working in our lives…mysteriously, beautifully, powerfully, painfully, JOY-fully.

I don’t know anything. And yet God gives us glimpses. A part of me feels incredibly vulnerable in sharing this, but I feel Him asking me to lay this journey out openly. And so…

Here’s what God has told me so far:

I’m going to bring you somewhere beautiful. It is going to be so beautiful that without Me you would feel incredible loneliness–but because of Me you will instead feel peace, you will feel grounded. You will feel connection.

I am the way and the truth and the life.

Let Me move you.


Simplify your life to its barest self.
You’ll find that you don’t need much.

Keep all aspects of life simple so that you will see My way.

Where you are meant to go, I will get you there.

Get radical.


You are going to find so much happiness that you’re not going to be able to contain it.

I will ALWAYS be with you.
Every. Single. Step of the way!

Live out loud, for others to see. Share it all. Share Me.

You will have everything you need, in all ways, to do everything I ask of you.
The things I ask of you are the things you’ll want.
Trust me. Even when it doesn’t make sense.

We are creating space for a certain kind of freedom…a freedom that you’ve never before known and that I promise you will love…you’ll love so far beyond yourself that, someday, when it comes time for you to die away from your physical body, you’ll merely turn into particles of light. You’re love will last long beyond you.

I’ll take care of your heart–through it all–just as I always have.
Bring it all to me. All of it–both the sadness and the gratitude.

You are covered in love.

There is an army of angels protecting you. You will be able to go absolutely anywhere without fear. You will go places where other people do not.

You will build a family and it will be brighter and more love filled than you can even imagine!

Your world will look much more different than the one now before you.

Dear Abba, yes…I am yours. I don’t know where you will take me in this life. But I trust you. With my whole heart. I’m in.

with prayers of grace,