Things found.

God works in mysterious ways. Once upon a time, perhaps 10 years ago, I left my beloved garden in the country and moved to the middle of the city. I was just finishing a master’s degree while simultaneously starting up an art business. I was obsessive and driven in my hard work, but there was a quiet side of myself that it seems was whispering prayers into a future I could have never planned for. In a little more than a month, I will finally be living in Uganda where I’ll be building, growing and living amidst model gardens. A garden that will provide my little family and our community with a whole lot of nourishment, education and encouragement. All because I was forced to walk in the footsteps of a widow…I’ve been delivered to so much more. And a quiet dream that I had all but given up on is being fulfilled in more meaningful ways than I could have ever anticipated. I love you, Abba. Thank you for taking care of me the way you do.



“To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace.” ~Brennan Manning

I’ve been doing a lot of grace seeking these days. It’s become a full-time job. It’s an awful upside down full-time endeavor. The edges of things have begun to fray, a frightening concept if I didn’t have such a deep need to discover what is at the center of all of this. I’m hoping for the impossible. I’m seeking a reason for all of this. I’m not asking WHY Carl died, only God knows the answer to that one, but I am steadfast in wanting my love for Carl, his love of everyone around him, and the pain we all feel in losing him to hold meaning in our lives from here on out. Something real. Something that, someday, I will look up from this vast ocean of grief and realize how it’s brought us all somewhere that we could not have arrived at otherwise. I speak in terms of everyone whose Carl’s life and death has affected, but there is a very deep seed of desire for *something* that is also completely personal. Yet even in this private need I sense a ripple effect that craves to travel well beyond my own self-seeking needs. Whether I want to or not, I keep breathing into this mystery. Or perhaps this mystery keeps breathing into me. I am choosing to not have lost so much for nothing.

Over and over, I travel away and towards this “choosing” on an almost constant basis. I’m unwavering and thoroughly floundering in this commitment, all at once. To find purpose in the unthinkable. I am not at all certain that I’m made of the right material for what this life is asking of me. The details are still too unknown, the pain too palpable, turning these moments of optimism, so easily on its head.

But this strange conviction keeps returning. I fumble with a sense of faith that won’t seem to leave me alone.

Yesterday I went to church with Carl’s sister-in-law, Carmita. I have not gone to a real church since I was in high school, and even that was at the demands of my parents. But when Carl’s new-born niece recently passed away, just two hours old, something shifted inside of me. Carl and I went to the funeral service only two weeks before his own passing. It was beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. Anna Claire’s death gifted me with a knowing that I had found a home in my spirituality, a place within myself that I could count on for comfort, a place to hold me when nothing else made any sense or things seemed to be falling apart. It was the first time in over 30 years that I attended a religious service and was able to find exactly what I needed in it. The pastor read the most beautiful scriptures and then admitted that he didn’t have all the answers. For this reason, I immediately liked him. I told Carl that I wanted to go to that church and he whole-heartedly agreed that I should go with Ervin and Carmita sometime soon. I was (and am) awe-struck that such a tiny person, who had barely breathed into this world, could change the lives of so many, so completely.

Carl and I talked ALL the time. But what I loved most were the spiritual conversations that were weaved into everything we lived or did or tried to plan, everything we experienced or attempted to understand. I can’t even tell you how many times a challenge would arise, making life difficult or causing impatience (a truck would break down, or we would be delayed in seeing each other, or an issue with business or another person would come up, or our plans to move to Alaska would be postponed, or we wouldn’t be able to live together as soon as we wanted to, or…) and every single time, instead of getting hung up on the problem or set-backs, we would both genuinely be amazed and find ourselves saying: “WOW! Isn’t it cool how [something good] happened because [something else] went wrong?!” We got good at seeing how the rearrangements of life’s details kept leading us somewhere better than we could have gotten to if things had gone the way we planned. With each challenge we became closer. With our whole hearts, we trusted that we were being divinely guided–and we let ourselves be guided by that trust, wholly.

I have never fit into a spiritual box of any sort and yet somehow, together, we created this beautiful bridge to a space of shared faith. Carl was a constant source of fresh perspective for me and my spirituality expanded in ways that I find difficult to explain or summarize. We learned so much from each other.

Yesterday, when I went to the church that I had wanted to visit since Anna Claire’s passing. The service began with song after song of good music. I immediately felt Carl’s presence with me. There were guitars and a stand-up bass, a big hand drum and several gorgeous singers. I NEVER sing along (ugh, I hate sing-alongs!), but wow, that music invited breath. I found myself a part of that music in a way that I wasn’t really expecting. I felt Carl standing beside me, holding my hand. In my mind’s eye, we looked at each other and smiled. I felt him thoroughly enjoying the service, too.

The music was wonderful, but the part that really floored me was the scripture. It was the exact same scripture that was read at Carl’s funeral. A synchronistic fluke. I cried. Not for the words, but for the knowledge that, all along, it was meant for me to be there. How could a two hour old baby lead me to such a gift? Somehow these strange synchronicities give me comfort in my own loss. Carmita and I both experienced the service, each in our own way, and I was glad for her presence in my life. If we had known when we first met, nearly a year ago, how deeply we would need to lean on each other, I’m quite certain that we both would have ran for the hills in opposite directions. But instead, there we were, sharing a package of kleenex, somehow helping each other to remember to breath.

In this life, I have given my greatest offering. And that is Carl. I am letting him go (an offering) from my heart to God and, in doing so, I find myself in need of the deepest kind of grace. I am broken.

In writing this, I struggle to bridge that gap between the myriad of beliefs that make up this world and even this circle of readers. This is not about church or religion. It’s about something much more beautiful and profound than any of that.

But, yes, yesterday I went to church. I cried; I found meaning in the music; I felt Carl’s presence and held his hand; I sat next to the woman who, in heart, is now my sister, too; I met beautiful people. And whether in church or outside of it, I find myself pulled over and over and over again by a desire to keep living this life as fully as I had planned to do with Carl.

I do believe that this was always meant to be. Right now I just pray for the strength, confidence, trust and energy to make myself available to whatever it is I’m here for. There’s really not a whole lot of room for doubt or complacency if I’m going to live this out the way I feel I’m intended to.

I love you, Carl Bratlien. I love you, sweet baby, Anna Claire. Thank you for leading me to this view. May grace be with us all.

{originally published Dec 1, 2014}

miracles that dwell in the invisible


Last night I dreamed of Carl. We were at the airport waiting for the boarding of our flight to be called. There were a lot of people buzzing and bumbling around us, a particularly busy terminal. And at one point, Carl and I sat down together, looking at each other with radiant smiles out the corners of our eyes as we reached for each other’s hand. We felt bright and excited to be going somewhere new together, silly with the sensation of love, anticipation and fun. We were on our way to Florida–for my birthday.

It has been a morning of tears. Because, you see…
This was really supposed to happen.

We had been tossing ideas around for a few months. Carl’s birthday was exactly one month before his funeral. It was our first birthday “together.” Things got busy out west and we weren’t able to celebrate his birthday side by side. I was so bummed about that, but we made the best of it. Carl sent me a video of him playing music on his porch. He went for a nice hike. He called me a dozen times. Throughout the day, we took turns keeping each other from feeling sad about the miles between us. He told me we’d make up for it on MY birthday. Over the course of the next few weeks, he musta said to me more than a dozen times: “There’s a lot of things I don’t know, but one thing I know for sure is that I WILL be with you on your birthday.”

You see, Carl didn’t make commitments he couldn’t keep. Ever. If there was one thing that drove me crazy, it was his inability to commit to a plan. I always thought I was the spontaneous one in the crowd. Ha! Carl had me beat by a million miles. It was also, in some wild way, something I loved about him. He could go with the flow like nobody’s business.

For a long time, I’ve been feeling like my 40th birthday would be a hard one. I don’t have a problem with my age or even aging for that matter. I never have. But this year needed to be special. It would be the thing that would carry me forward with a sense of hope and inspiration to make this life what I want it to be. Carl and babies, my art and adventure and building a life together were a part of that dream. It was the totality of the dream, really. We had big, BIG dreams together and, the thing is, we were the type of people that would actually make them come true.

Last night, I got a text from Carl’s brother, Andrew, saying that it had been a particularly hard day for him. It was for me, too. He said that he had told his wife, Tiara, that there are so many days in the past year that he’s wished he could will his heart to stop, but can’t. He said that there’s some purpose for us here and that sometimes he feels like the only thing pulling him forward is this curiosity to see where it goes. He couldn’t have said it more perfectly.

There is this impulse to curl up in a ball under a mountain of Carl’s blankets and never move again. And, yes, each afternoon I have been laying down with Carl’s favorite raggedy old quilt. In these moments, Henry (Carl’s dog), snuggles in next to me especially tight, the weight and smell of Carl’s blanket instantly causing him to relax and sleep. I breathe it in, deeply. My other two dogs curl themselves around my legs and, often, it is during this time that I feel Carl close to me, talking to me, telling me things I need to hear. Telling me that I can do this, that he loves me, that he’s with me. He tells me things that I can’t even remember. And, eventually, something causes me to get up. Maybe it’s Carl, pulling me by my hands out of bed. It is not a place to stay. There is still life to be lived, even if that feels mostly impossible right now.

In the dream, just as we were about to board the flight, I realized that Carl was nowhere to be found. He was most likely meandering, curiously taking in the world and talking on his phone. I was starting to panic. All the moms in my life showed up and began looking for him, having him paged on the airport’s intercom system, spelling out his name, touching the arms of strangers. Everyone was looking for him and, meanwhile, in my mind’s eye I could see him, happy as a lark, drifting in the wrong direction–away from me. He wandered slowly by the airport bookstore, touching the covers as he talked on the phone. He was smiling and enjoying himself. Meanwhile, the pilot was trying to get me to try on different shoes. Some of them were Carl’s shoes and, somehow, Carl was tricking them onto my feet without even being there.

For a long time, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do for my birthday. I kept asking Carl, “What do YOU think we should do??” Every time he responded by telling me that we should do whatever it was I wanted to do. He would take me anywhere in the world. It would be his gift to me. We were going to make it fit into my impossibly busy pre-exhibition schedule and so I decided we shouldn’t waste too much time on flights and getting over jet-lag. We considered Puerto Rico, the southwest and a million places in between. We’d save a motorcycle trip across Australia or Chile for March, when my show would be complete and Carl would have more time, too. Then my dear friend, Kristine, found out that a gallery would be representing her artwork at Art Basel in Miami Beach, FL. It is a dream come true for her, and (as artists) for both of us, really. Art Basel is a crème de la crème of success in the world of Fine Art. Carl and I decided we would go there–to celebrate Kristine’s success, and also sneak away to celebrate my birthday and each other. On Friday morning, Carl told me he was going to purchase the plane tickets the following Monday.

Monday never happened. On Monday I was helping put a cross by the side of the road where Carl was killed.

So many dreams–vanished–in a puff of cold air. I am lost; I am sometimes floundering; I’m not sure how to proceed. I have enough tears inside of me to fill an eighth ocean.

I took this photo while sitting by Carl’s side on the shore of Lake Superior this past summer. It was one of the happiest moments in my life. I must have told him I loved him a million times that day. We were talking about babies and adventures and all the goodness that we couldn’t wait to step into together. It was ridiculous how good I felt, Carl holding my hand that whole entire day.

I know that miracles dwell in the invisible. The prayer is that I will make myself available to them.

My life continues. I love you, Carl.

{originally published Nov. 22, 2014}



Good morning, from Henry. It’s the first morning after Carl’s funeral and this space “in between” yesterday and forever is stretching out before me like a giant fog-filled ocean. I’ve been waking up at sunrise every day. Carl and I always tried to motivate each other to get up early. These first moments of the day are hard. The last ones are, too. I try not to move for as long as possible because, when I do, the reality of Carl’s physical gone-ness is sharp and raw. I pray that the dogs will keep sleeping. But they don’t. Louie, my Chesapeake, kisses my face with his big ol tongue until it makes it hard to breathe. Ella, my dumpster dog, stretches her graceful legs and white paws towards my heart, reaching her sweet nose for a kiss, too. And then there’s Henry. Carl’s dog who has been a part of my own dog family since the moment they met. Henry tips over on his side a little bit and then comes “the smile.” Anyone who has met Henry knows about his smile. He’s all teeth and grins and a stubby wagging tail. He creeps across the bed over me and the other dogs and whatever else is in the way and snuggles in close for belly rubs and kisses too. Just when I think I won’t be able to do it, something pulls me forward. The day feels brutal, but then there are these dogs. I attempt to lift myself up because this is equally hard on Henry and he needs me to help him, too.

Yesterday, before everyone else arrived at the church, I had time alone with Carl’s body. It felt good to be with him and break down in the way that I needed to, without anyone except my sister watching from several pews away. I cried hard, my head resting on the side of the casket. But after a little while I felt Carl’s presence and an incredible peace washed over me. Pretty soon I noticed that a soft smile had crept across my lips. As difficult as this is, I know it was meant to be. I brought Henry with me to the church because something inside of me knew that he needed this closure as much as me. Henry got to say goodbye to Carl, too. It was beautiful, really. And afterward, Henry laid down on a church pew next to me, head and all, and I saw and felt his body get washed over with that same incredible peace that I had experienced too. He tipped over for a belly rub and we both felt a calm as though both of us were being held by Carl’s love. Neither one of us moved from that spot for a long time.

I am so grateful that Henry was not in the car with Carl that night. Henry and Carl were INSEPARABLE and so it is a miracle that, for some reason, Carl left him at home. I have seen the car and I know without a doubt that Henry would not have survived that wreck. But here he is. Finding moments of happiness in cheddar cheese and snuggles with my other two dogs and trying to bring frozen horse turds in the house from outside.

Carl was a 6′ 5″ gentle giant. Henry is a 6.5″ Popeye-like little renegade. Henry’s personality is as big as Carl’s. I love that little dog and somehow, someway…we are just gonna have to try to help each other through this.

{originally published Nov 15, 2014}