Ruby Slippers and Dirty Flip Flops.

IMG_6939-1szc

IMG_0409-1

IMG_6841-1szc

AHHHHH!!!! I might die from smiling so hard!! I just listened to a voicemail from these three lovely people from UGANDA!! Wow! It felt sooooo good to hear their voices! Crazy ol’ Maurice, Bettina Bergöö and Charles the artist all want to know when I’ll be back. There is worthy work to be done and good times to be had! Awww, man…clicking my dirty ol’ flip-flops 3 times….

there’s no place like home…
there’s no place like home…
there’s no place like home…

Bududa, my home away from home, I MISS YOUUUUUU!

Waiting.

IMG_8106-1psszc

“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,
Jessie

Where are you? Are you here?

IMG_9679-1szc

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!

IMG_0155

“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.

IMG_9409

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. ❤

A letter to Joy.

IMG_8776

April 18th, 2015 was the day that changed everything. It was the day I met joy. It was the day that things shifted–a cellular sort of shift–the kind in which you instantly know: there’s no turning back. It was the sort of shifting that happens very few times in a lifetime, the kind that swallows a person whole. A radical rearrangement of…well, everything. On that day, God handed me a map in the shape of Uganda. Along with all of its pain and beauty, the whole achingly immense, impossible, perfectly imperfect lot of it, He slid it into my heart like putting a memory card into a camera and, from the moment it snapped into place, I knew that God had just given me everything I had been praying for. On that day, I took on the sponsorship of an 10 year old girl named Joy. Yes, there is obvious goodness in her name, but it was and is about more than that. It is a story that I someday hope to tell, but for now, I will say this:

The day I met the kids of Uganda was the day I met Joy…
and that was the day my heart started coming back to life.

JOY  noun \ˈjȯi\
: a feeling of great happiness
: a source or cause of great happiness : something or someone that gives joy to someone
: success in doing, finding, or getting something
: a source or cause of delight

And now? It seems I’ve handed my life over to Africa. A lot can change in 3 short months. Then again, a lot can change in a millisecond. As I write this, I feel the horrible moment of Carl’s death saddled side by side with the gift of God so thoroughly transplanting my heart to that red soil so far from home. One might have never happened without the other. Oh God, I wish it could have happened any other way, but in my heart of hearts…I know this is the story that has been written for me all along. My job is only to follow it. The great big question is this: What do I have to lose?

There is immense freedom in immense loss. In a lot of ways, I can see that God was preparing me for this all along. At times, this is difficult to admit. It’s an acknowledgment that makes me want to kick and scream at all the pain and heartache I’ve traveled through to get here. And yet…here I am. I’ve been given two things: an invitation from God and the freedom to follow it.

This past week, I finally started working on my first letter to Joy. On an allegorical level, my writerly brain spent quite a bit of time contemplating what one might write if the emotion of joy could be a real and living being. I can get as clever as I want, but the lovely thing is that Joy IS a real and living being! I found myself writing a letter to both joy and Joy all week long. One was to myself (sometimes my younger self, sometimes my current self, sometimes to my older self and sometimes to an imaginary entity all together), the other was to a young orphan girl in the mountains of eastern Uganda.

In other words, it wasn’t just a letter. Something else was happening. It was (and is) God gently knitting things into place. To be honest, I’ve been a bad sponsor “mom.” I should have wrote to her a couple months ago. Then again, maybe the timing was just right because the letter turned into a portrait and, with every extra minute spent in communion with Joy, I felt my heart softening in ways that I might not have been able to experience earlier. I found myself starting to truly care for this little girl whom I’ve not yet met. I found myself falling in love.

IMG_8736

As I continue to work on painted portraits for clients, it was easy to sneak in short breaks to play with Joy’s portrait whenever I had time to spare in the in-between moments of my schedule. I found that I enjoyed mixing colored pencil with the monochromatic effects of graphite. Mind you, oil on canvas is the medium I normally work in. Everything else feels foreign! But it was good to stray off course for awhile. I find that the map God gave me has a significant number of routes leading me OFF-ROAD on a regular basis. The map I was once using has become all but useless. No problem. My old map played a fantastic role in all of this. Abba’s got this figured out perfectly.

As joy begins taking up more and more space in my heart, I feel my energy returning. I’m not as easily run down. I have a better ability to put in a full day’s work in the studio. I’m not as easily overwhelmed. I’m eating much healthier. I’m getting more exercise.

When Carl died, I died right along with him. Wholly. Completely. Friends and family and faith kept me on some sort of supernatural life support. My heart broke. It broke wide open. And then God gave me this. Joy and a new life. He took this mess and turned it into a gift of grace.

God’s grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to secure. From regret-riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid-to-die to ready-to-fly. Grace is a voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off!

When grace happens, we receive not a nice compliment from God but a new heart. Give your heart to Christ, and he returns the favor. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.” (Ezek. 36:26). ~Max Lucado

In a few short weeks my lungs will be breathing in the air of Africa. As relationships deepen and connections accumulate, I realize that this is just the first step of many ahead of me. And yet, through the grace of God, I feel ready. I feel strong enough. I feel resilience creeping back in. I feel a continuous flow of happiness and joy, enough to bolster against the bad days and heartache that I’m almost certain to experience again in following this path.

I liked the blank space of Joy’s portrait. I liked that it still had something left to tell. I like the way we’re all in this story together. And yet I decided to fill the blank with a spill of bright light. Because JOY is a colorful space. It lacks nothing. May the same be true for this girl who I am only on the cusp of very barely getting to know. May there be enough light to spill over the edges.

IMG_8773

“May the God of hope fill you with all the JOY and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” ~Romans 15:13

Dear Abba, ease our pain. Put color in our lives.
Help us find our way, fill our hearts.
I love you, I thank you, I am forever yours.

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

11537709_10207172092931380_6000976177862857813_n

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!

Let her sleep for when she wakes, she will move mountains.

IMG_7946

Today has been a day of rest. Deep and necessary rest. In the past 2 weeks I have traveled to Minneapolis twice, upheld approximately 20 social engagements, and gone to the studio more days than not (admittedly, painting is a slow process that refuses to be any other way these days). With the help of God, I survived Mother’s Day and, with the help of a(n incredible) friend, I hauled 7 months worth of garbage to the dump. I got organized (a Herculean task), met with my financial advisor, and came up with a pretty awesome plan. I attended a workshop on project funding, filling my brain and heart with ideas that I’m excited to let shimmy and shake into place. I’ve kept up with a spring load of housework (why does spring have to be such a messy season?!), hosted friends, and took care of a literal ton of animals (1 ton = approx 2 horses, 3 dogs, 1 cat). And the list goes on. In other words…

Life is full. Life is busy. Life is good. Life is challenging.
And?
I am exhausted beyond measure.

Every day contains a week, a month, a year. Or, at least, it often feels like it. On the outside it looks like not a whole lot is getting done. Or maybe that is just my own insanity speaking. Even so, I hold all of this in the palm of my hands with gratitude, the moments of nourishment as well as the accumulation of movement that has so easily worn me out.

This grief is such a strange, strange process. Emotionally, I’m beginning to feel so much better. That’s a serious step in the right direction. Despite this newfound strength, it seems my body is keeping me firmly planted in the present. I often feel so weary that I think my bones might break. Truly. Who is this shattered shell of a body? Lest I forget, I’m reminded in no uncertain terms that my current state of being still requires all of me. The wild blue yonder continues to place patience on the agenda and yet, even in this brief state of slow necessity, God’s quickening has already begun. There will be no rushing ahead and, in surrendering to this, I realize just how quickly a new path is being laid out in front of me. In truth, God is wasting no time.

In the next week, I am attempting a quieter kind of focus. My body simply cannot sustain this pace, at least not yet. May there be nothing but me and God and time in the studio. Nothing but brushing horses and eating a whole lot healthier and going to bed as early as nesessary. Hushing the pace, slowing the speed. Oh, sweet solitude. Daily naps and daydreaming allowed. My life: simplified.

But wait…all of this is just taking us the long way around the mountain. What I’m really wanting to tell you about is the way that things are beginning to lead me forward in the direction that my heart has been praying for all along. Where do I begin?!! The rain falls on the tin roof of my cabin as I write. It has rained so much in the past couple days that there are tiny rivers forming in the sand. A million minuscule rivers, all flowing the path of least resistance. With the persistence of rain, the easier those little rivers flow. The rain that was so very, very needed. Dear Abba, I feel you bringing me to a place that I’ve been praying for since the day Carl died. This prayer that I’ve been putting at your feet since the very beginning of so much loss. This intimate prayer, too powerful for words.

My hands are open, palms up…in willingness, in surrender. As though in answer, a month ago I met two women who are doing extraordinary work in Uganda. Since then, my despair has increasingly been replaced by peacefulness, hope, happiness. My life has not been the same since. I’m obsessed, really. I want to give myself over completely. There is more clarity in my next steps. God is putting the invitation directly into my hands. I can’t know where He’s taking me until I get there, yet I feel profound trust in the path ahead. I understand, even as I write this, that tomorrow might not look anything like I imagine it. I presume nothing, but there is one thing I know for sure and that is the way He’s been answering my prayers…all along.

“There is no patience as strong as that which endures because we see ‘him who is invisible’ (Heb. 11:27).” ~Streams in the Desert (Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this).

My last journal is filled with so much pain. So much learning. So much faith. And now? There couldn’t be a better time to begin a new journal. To fill with even more learning, even more faith, even more healing. I experienced pure enjoyment in creating this journal cover today. As it becomes so very undeniable to me that Africa is holding a piece of my heart, I am letting God prepare me. If it is His will, I hope to travel to Uganda in August and, until then, I have offered my time and talents to do what I can to be of service to Hands of Action International from where I’m at. I’m also, with equal importance, praying for the energy to get thru the projects I committed to in my life before Carl’s death. I am grateful for the tasks at hand. This is sacred time. I would not be able to handle the weight of God’s gifts if I weren’t slowed down and protected by this timeline of events and even my own ability. I can be patient because I have faith that God is using this time in deep and gorgeous ways.

“God I trust you with all of my heart.
Wherever you want me to go, I will go.
Even if it’s not where I planned
lead me and I will follow.”

I look forward to filling these new pages with whatever is to come.
I love you, Carl. You are with me and in me and a part of all of this.
I love you, Abba. You turned my whole world upside down. And then you gave me everything.

the master weaver.

IMG_3535-2szc

THE PLAN OF THE MASTER WEAVER
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me,
I may not choose the colors,
He knows what they should be;
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the under side

Sometimes He weaveth sorrow,
Which seemeth strange to me;
But I will trust His judgement
And work on faithfully;
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best,
So I shall weave in earnest,
Leaving to Him the rest.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttle cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why-
The dark threads are needed
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

I took this photo in Morocco over a year ago. There was the sound of rhythm happening in their work. The thrum of threads, the movement of the shuttle–a sacred sort of sound, all its own. In the dark corner of a towering and beautiful old building of a rug seller’s shop, magic was happening. I do not know the story of these girls. I do not know if they were paid enough for what their talent deserved. I do not know what kind of hardships awaited them at home, if any at all. But what I do know is that, out of emptiness, they were creating something beautiful in both color and sound.

This prayer was given in honor of my grandpa from his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It was tied with ribbons in a leather case containing an exquisitely beautiful bible, its pages edged in gold. I clutched it tight in my arms, holding it for my grandma, as the pall bearers carried my grandpa’s casket and placed it in the hearse. I was trying to comprehend the reality at hand, while my mind fiercely, sharply relived the same ritual of Carl’s casket being carried away from me only weeks before. The tears that rolled down my cheeks were huge with pain, my brain and body and heart only able to carry the weight of one loss at a time.

I share this photo in black and white because I have not yet made it to a place of color. I spend a large part of every day praying that the grand design of all this heartache will someday become known to me. And, if not the grand design, then at least some colorful sort of pattern that might light a fire in my belly once again.

I traveled in Morocco as part of an personal and ongoing project of photographing and painting stray dogs. Or, at least, that was my intention. When I got there I found that there were very, very, very few stray dogs. In a difficult economic climate, that didn’t make much sense. Even so, I was hopeful in the idea that perhaps the Moroccans were simply taking good care of their dogs. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the lack of the stray dog population was due to the fact that they were being round up and shot to death. The cats, however, were another matter. There were cats everywhere. Many of them were in horrible condition. Others, a little more lucky if they found a kindhearted store owner who might put out some milk, food scraps, or even a cardboard box for them. I found myself being pulled down a very unexpected path, deep into the labyrinths of the medinas where, instead of photographing stray dogs, I began to photograph the cats. They were everywhere, at every turn. I was emotionally and mentally unprepared for this change of plans and the heartache I would feel at the end of each day. Even so, to be a witness to such suffering made me feel more alive. My entire life, I have been drawn to these difficult places. The places where others turn their head. Who am I, holding a dying kitten, to think that I might have anything to offer a situation as desperate as this?

Looking through photography files in search of this weaving image made me wish I had the ability to throw myself into travel once again. There are hundreds of more images, many of animals, haggard or in distress. But right now I realize that patience is required. I am in my own desperate place. The weaving that is being done is made up of dark, knotted and confusing threads. I wonder, at times, why my healing path in losing Carl has been so slow and full of seeming failure. And yet…I trust that each time I knock up against pain and disappointment, fears and deep, deep sadness that God is asking for me to reach for Him. To trust Him. We all have a different path to walk, a different purpose. Perhaps my purpose will lead me places that will require a stronger foundation than others might require.

I don’t know.

But what I feel is that this time is sacred. As difficult as it is and as much as I want to untangle myself from it…something is being woven. And in all these dark days and difficult nights, THIS is the thing that gives me hope.

I love you, Carl. I know with my whole heart that your life and death and my love for you is leading me someplace where most people don’t go.

{originally published Jan 17, 2015}

wild horses.

IMG_5839-1szc

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

This photo is from a somewhat recent adventure into the wilds of the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming. We crawled out of our tents at sunrise, drank a hearty dose of camp coffee, and then headed out by foot in search of wild horses. We followed a herd most of the morning, but they were restless and we were often left on the mountain with no horses in sight. It didn’t matter. We’d find them again.The morning was cool, but inviting. We walked to the edge of the earth and then we walked some more.

My friend, Sage, shared this quote today and it made me think of this photo. I decided to dig it up from the archives and share it with you tonight. Today started out its rough and usual way…but it got better. I received and then wrote a message to Carl’s brother, Andrew. It had the miraculous effect of somehow lifting my spirits. I tended to more of Carl’s life details with his mom and then we went out for a hot chocolate. It felt good to spend some time with her, just the two of us, without the usual commotion of kids and a houseful of chatter (which I also love!). I connected with several friends, took care of the horses, tended to some Stray Dog Arts business, took a bath, gathered information for a grief counselor, unpacked more of Carl’s things, did two loads of laundry and played with the dogs.

This is what I would call a good day. Good days make me a little nervous because the few that I’ve had have been followed by even more difficult days, but…I’m going to take this day for what it is: a gift. Perhaps these gifts will start building on each other and a breathing space will occur.

These mountains and wild horses are something that Carl would have loved. I looked forward to bringing him there with me, but it never happened and now it never will. There are a lot of things that I will never get the chance to do with Carl. That is, except in spirit. I lived an adventurous life before Carl and I don’t have any plans of changing that about myself.

Everything feels craggy and broken. It’s sometimes hard to breathe. But then…there are these vistas. If I am brave, I will continue giving myself to the very edges of things. And, in this way, I will know that I have lived and loved well.

I love you, Carl. Always, you are with me. Always, you will be my most precious mountain.

And for the umpteenth time, I’ll share my very most favorite song. This song…it’s about unconditional love. Oh, this life…it has offered me much.

{originally published Jan 2, 2015}

mapmaking.

IMG_4079

How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?

I read these words yesterday, from a book given to me for my birthday from Carl’s sister, Christine. We were sitting on the bleachers of an indoor pool watching her kids swim when she gave it to me. For an entire hour, we were suspended. Held in an 80 degree tropical paradise. The white noise of splashing kids, an industrial air system and a whole pool full of water sounds. I wished I could bring a thick pile of blankets and pillows and books and stay there forever. I would have liked to make my new home in the far corner of the upper-most bleacher. But eventually we were spit back out into the cold winter night. It was a nice reprieve while it lasted. And anyway, now I had this new book to carry back into the world with me. It looked good. It held promise. It’s title? One Thousand Gifts (by Ann Voskamp). The cover has an image of a woman’s hands cradling a nest with two pale blue eggs held in its center.

Yesterday. Yesterday was a soft, but privately dangerous place. Dangerous only because I felt no desire. For anything. I ate a few chips. I repeatedly crawled into bed. I stayed in my pajamas all day. When I finally took a bath and got dressed at 8pm, I ran an errand and then went back to bed in my clothes. Ok, fine. Some days are going to be like this. But something inside of me knows that this can’t go on forever. It’s a comfortable place almost safe from panic, but creating its own form of anxiety, the kind that grows until it’s capable of locking its jaws around you. It’s a place where, if you stay there too long, things begin to die. This is, of course, the exquisite danger. It is a pallid place.

But inside this dangerous landscape I found something good. It’s a barren place stripped of all pretense, false ambitions and external expectations. Nothing matters and I realize that there is a tremendous amount of freedom in that. Since Carl died, there is only me, the shell of me. In all this nakedness, I am stripped even more bare. There is only one thing and that is the ground beneath my feet (if even that). There is also the great expanse of my future. Everything needs to be rebuilt. I have nothing. This can look any way I want it to. But first I need to be willing to build. It’s up to me to decide if I want to live fully or just empty.

Living empty is easier. Or maybe it’s just the best place to start. From this empty place, I am crying myself clean.

I can do this, right? I can pick myself up and move on. But first I need to extricate myself from this sticky web of grief. Herein lies the conundrum. At least for now. And in this now, it seems I am only capable of one thing…and that is surrendering myself to this quiet mapmaking. I’m impatient to get control over my life again. It’s impossible. I have bills to pay and animals to feed. I get scared. I don’t know how to tell this story. It’s too intricate. It’s too simple. It’s too beautiful. It’s too pathetic. For now, I’m caught in an actionless Neverland, a middle-of-nowhere. The only way out is to give myself what I need. This requires exorbitant amounts of faith (sometimes more than I have). It requires, more than anything, that I keep one finger, or even one strand of hair, on the pulse of hope.

Over and over and over my mind finds its way to the incredible plans that Carl and I had together. I can feel something inside of me, something that was inscribed onto my spirit before I even entered this world. It tugs on me even when I want to be left alone under the covers. It’s been running the course of my whole life and holds the same story that led Carl and I together. It is made of steep mountains and risks. It is bigger than either one of us. It always was. And we both knew it.

I want to run towards it and away from it, all in one breath.

I play with the threads of this pull. I unravel and braid and weave entirely half-crocked scenarios of outcomes and possibilities. It’s pointless and good. It’s like the weather. There’s a lot less control over it than we attempted to believe. We wove a sail, little more. We pointed our boat in the direction we hoped to go, but the rest, all along, was up to the wind.

As I write, I begin feeling like I’m talking gibberish. It’s all gibberish until I bump up against something real. And what’s real, anyway? My love for Carl is real. This unseen phenomenon that I feel pulled towards, that is real.

Last summer, Carl and I went on a trip to the farthest reaches of northern Minnesota. We took back roads all the way there and back and everywhere in between. We reveled in being such good traveling companions, both favoring the roads less traveled. We sometimes drove slow to make it last longer. He looked out his window looking for blueberries. I looked out my window looking for strawberries. It was a hot dusty day, windows down. We laughed when we realized what the other was doing. We had driven far off the main roads onto dirt roads that led us off the map and, from there, we bumped and scraped our way down unused and overgrown logging trails. We loved it. There was a sense between both of us that this is what our whole gorgeous life would look like…this open-hearted willingness to explore, fearlessly, together.

And so we are. Even after death, so we are.

I have work to do, but I’m still map-making. I write my way to acceptance of this. And I know my clients will understand because I’ve attracted them into my life for a reason. I cry with gratitude for their presence and their understanding. As I write this, I take a deeper breath than I have since visiting the pool.

Again, I ask myself, “How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?”

And I realize that I’ve been doing it all along. I lean into a dream that I had yesterday. It was early evening when, after being struck by the gravity of that question, I felt a sudden need for sleep. In the dream, I was talking with God and Carl. Their voices were soft, optimistic, calmly eager, gently smiling, as if making great plans while trying not to wake the baby. I don’t remember what they said to me, but it was good, comforting. I was a hundred percent in on it. It was, very definitely, the best dream I’ve ever had.

I took this photo during that summertime adventure with Carl. But now I’m realizing that was only the beginning. We’ve already traveled far, far, far off the map and, in my heart, I know I need to rest up for whatever is ahead. I need to heal because this is going to be a very incredible journey. It’s a journey that started a long time ago. For now, I just need this resting spot. Just for a moment. Let there be this peace. Let there be this sense of believing. Please God, let my energy return.

I love you, Carl. You…who is always with me, always watching out for me, always ready for the next adventure.

{originally published Dec 20, 2014}