Uganda | Chayah House

While in Uganda last January (2013), my heart and eyes experienced things I will attempt to relay here.  Upon arrival, dehydrated after the near 36 hour trip from Los Angeles to Kampala, I found myself immediately heartbroken as our van pulled to a stop light where a small boy stepped forward, he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, holding a can of some kind waiting for the passersby to give him change.  Had this been in the middle of the afternoon, the sadness would’ve been there but the fact that we arrived close to 2am this being my initial experience of Uganda, I began to unravel inside.

After a several hour drive to Jinja, where we would be staying for the next couple weeks, we arrived at a hotel, similar to what us living in Los Angeles would view a church retreat campground facility.  The beds were glorified twin sized cots with mosquito nets above, because as rumor has it, the primary mosquitos carrying malara are out at night… creatures of the darkness.  Since I’ve never had a mosquito bit in my life, and yes, I grew up in Oklahoma, this wasn’t a concern for me, but definitely something I saw the ill effects of first hand just hours later.

Meet Caroline, she and her sister Nevis are pictured below.  As one of my traveling partners Nicole and I stepped from the gate of the soon to be opened Chayah Children’s home, we were greeted by a little girl standing in the middle of the road, beckoning us into her world.  As we walked through the mud-dirt pathway, hedged about with tall green grass and made our way to a building similar to that of a storage space, Nevis called to her sister who came through a heavy metal door, with a deep cough.  As we sat with the girls on the concrete porch, communicating with the little bit of English that they knew, we discovered Caroline had been sick for quite some time, as we sat together, the tears mixed with dirt to leaves marks of pain on Carolines face and we knew the cough was more than a cold.

losangeles-photography-uganda-01

The following morning as sat drinking my coffee, looking out over the Nile, the tears wouldn’t cease or let up, the pain of this little girl, the conditions she was living in, how uncomfortable her little body must be with no big soft bed to craw into and mosquitos and flies constantly making their presence known.  Any Los Angeles child who was sick would surely know the comfort of a soft bed, or at least I imagined.  Over the next couple days we met with the girls mom, we loaded Caroline in the van with us and took her to the nearby clinic, finding out that she not only had malaria but the worst level.

Los Angeles Photographer Katee Grace

Not only was God’s intentionality in the location of the Chayah Home purposeful but our introduction to her friendly and joyful sister Nevis in the saving of sweet Caroline’s life.  As I sat along with a couple others from our group, in the clinic treatment room with Nevis, the tenderness of the care that we had each received throughout our lifetimes seem to well up and overflow with each stroke, each prayer, each song… I have found yet again, that there is nothing more painful that not just watching someone in pain but watching a child in pain.

Los Angeles Photographer Katee Grace in Uganda
Los Angeles Photographer Katee Grace in Uganda

By the end of our trip, Caroline’s energy was restored, her strength regained, and her zest for life evident as we shared star princess crowns and tickles.

Thankful for the resources (finances) we as westerners, and especially those living in Los Angeles, have from which we can choose to share with the world.  Again reminded of the beauty and power of using our privilege for good.

hugs + love,

katee grace

los angeles photographer | world traveler | lover of love + justice 

as seen in: LA Times, Bridal Guide, Coastal Parent & People Magazine
capturing + loving life  |  your moments + my camera = your unforgettable memories
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As you probably know, photography is a highly referral based business and I am honored anytime my name or information is passed along. I love the opportunity to capture memories for new families.
Los Angeles Photographer Katee Grace in Uganda
Los Angeles Photographer Katee Grace in Uganda

engaging with people + living in life-giving relationships

The touch of a living soul that poured out pure love.. It’s that touch that defines connection.” Larry Crabb

Los Angeles Beaches

I find it interesting how it doesn’t really matter what someone may say, how kind or wise, but if their eyes are not willing to truly see me and their heart not open to pour something from inside of them to me, then there is no real connection, nothing received or given, nothing really happens.

There’s a common phrase, “people may not remember what you said but they will remember how they felt when you said it.”  While this is true, it seems to still be a bit empty in the reality of the importance of impacting one another with our words and actions.

As I recently experienced a disappointment, I can definitely feel when people actually see me and when they do, lately I can’t look at them very long because I just start crying.  It’s a powerful thing to truly see one another, not a list of qualities or achievements of a person but to truly see one another.  We can’t simply stay in our experiences and read other people’s lives, experiences, feelings, future and past merely through the scope of our understanding, because while being unproductive and uncaring in our unwillingness to step into their life, their experience, it is also unbiblical.  The scriptures teach the danger of relying on the “mind of sense and reason without the Holy Spirit” and how it fails to lead to the abundant life the Christ died for us to experience.  I get the sense that in relationships with others we can rely more on the mind of sense and reason apart of the Holy Spirit and thus never see the people standing in front of us and right beside us, we see them as mere shadows of their character traits, gifts or dreams but we miss them, we miss their heart.

I think of Hagar in the Old Testament, who by the instruction of both Abraham and his wife Sarai had sex with Abraham and become pregnant with his child but then Sarai became angry and sent Hagar outside of the city.  It’s so irritating isn’t it, Hagar is already a servant, then she is put in this situation and agrees out of her service and loyalty and is then punished.  But when Hagar is outside of the city it is the first time that the scriptures tell us of the quality of God for which he is called, El Roi, The God Who Sees. Alone in a desert, taken advantage of by the people whom she served, yet she experienced an encouter with the living God and she felt “seen.”  I wonder if before we can truly see others we have to first experience something of the love of God and His intimacy that creates a foundation and security in our own spirit for us to know that we are seen, fully seen, and fully loved and accepted in those moments.

I like the phrase from Larry Crabb, modern Christian psychologist who explores what a safe spiritual community looks like and shares an encounter in a counseling session, “I wondered if she might be more afraid that I would speak to her head and ignore her heart, that I would remind her of what she already knew and expect her to somehow feel the impact of familiar truth simply because I repeated it.

Really being with people, present in the moment, willing to see them and be affected by them, gives us a unique place to allow the life of God to come and cause the encounters and relationships to become life-giving and fruitful.

I now realize that I had to be in touch with my own goodness to discover the unique goodness of Helen.  As long as my self-doubts and fears guided me, I couldn’t create the space for Helen to reveal to me her beauty… It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with all our brothers and sisters.” -Henri Nouwen

short story | marie + landon

Instead of being a source of truth and refuge, Marie’s mom was continually sowing seeds of broken trust as she lied about Marie’s father being dead, and forced her to hide money just so they could eat.  With continued lies, manipulation, and neglect, Marie learned to seek her identity and worth in a world of brokenness.  As Marie turned each corner of her life, she found further heartbreak and a harsh delusion of happiness.

Marie met Landon, and though their relationship was intoxicated by the delusions of addiction, their journey began to take a radical turn as Landon entered a local drug rehabilitation program.  Tragically, while Marie was pregnant with their second child and living out of her car, she was attacked and raped by four gang members.  The wounding of that unimaginable experience left Marie in such despair that she saw death as her only hope.  Deep down, she questioned whether or not this is what she was created for, yet she truly wanted to believe that her past could be healed!

short story | santa barbara photographer

When Landon returned from the recovery program, having left behind a lifestyle of destruction, pain and addiction, he began to lead Marie in active steps towards wholeness.  She too entered a recovery program and began the healing process.  As they began to embrace a faith in God and to seek help, things slow began to change.  Marie was pregnant with their third child, the first two children were adopted by a family member, and determined to do this differently now that they were sober.  In an attempt to gain information about having a healthy pregnancy and to learn the parenting tools they were never afforded and didn’t have to parent their first kids, Marie & Landon searched the internet and found WPC.  This was one of their first steps in rebuilding their family and for Marie a step to rededicating her life to God.  They began to understand restoration and hope through the loving arms of the staff of WPC.  Their counselor not only counseled and encouraged the couple, she also opened her home as a place to stay when they had nowhere to turn one weekend.  Another WPC volunteer hosted an incredible baby shower to celebrate the upcoming birth of Marie & Landon’s son.  Marie knew that her family needed more than just diapers and baby clothes, but was blown away by the welcoming response received – the counseling, phone calls, gifts, prayers and support.  Marie and Landon expressed, “It doesn’t matter how strong our faith is, we still need people, we still need help.”  That’s exactly what they found and continue to experience at WPC.

stories of hope | santa barbara photographer

It is an honor to have met and spend a considerable amount of time with Marie and get to share with you her short story.  Having personally experienced heartbreaking and extremely disturbing situations in my own life, I have a glimpse into the pain and healing that Marie described to me and I pray as you’ve read her short story your heart is moved to pray for this precious woman that she be completely knit into the body of Christ and continue to receive the healing of God’s healing oil into the deep places of her heart, as well as that of Landon.    Though this was a short story peaking into a lifetime of a beautiful woman and family, I hope the snapshot into her life reminds us how much pain their is right around us, in ourselves, our neighbors and our communities and how important love and hope for one another is for God’s dreams for our lives to come true.

much love | katee grace

| short story + photography by katee grace |

short story | taurian + baby meridian | writing + photography by: katee grace

found a calling | taurian | story + photography
found a calling | taurian | story + photography

Taurian smiles as she recalls her first memories of her father– his arms wide open asking her to come to him. Sadly, however, those same hands did not tuck her in each night, nor did they hold her hand as she walked home from school. Her parents were unable to care for her because they were teens themselves, so she was raised by her grandparents in South Central Los Angeles. When Taurian talks about her life she repeatedly and enthusiastically states: “I’m so blessed.”

found a calling | taurian | story + photography
found a calling | taurian | story + photography

Graduating from NYU with a bachelor’s degree, she knew that she wanted to spend her life helping people. Her dedication to serving and fighting for refugees took her to Ghana, Africa. Unfortunately, while she was there, she found herself in desperate need of help. She was 23 years old, pregnant and the baby’s dad was nowhere to be found. She eventually was able to return to the States just in time to give birth to her beautiful daughter, Meridian. Taurian gave birth at home, completely unassisted, and absolutely convinced that the Lord saw her through.

Just two weeks after Meridian was born, Taurian began to search for help within her community. That search led her to WPC, where she not only received the parenting tools and support that she had been desperate for, but also incredible relationships that would see her through this new experience. Her WPC counselor began mentoring her through “mommy-hood”, something she had never truly been on the receiving end of. Her counselor continually expressed a sincere love and care for Taurian and her family and shared her own personal experience, which not only created a space of trust in the relationship but challenged Taurian’s will and ability.

As she continues in the Westside Pregnancy Clinic’s Parenting Support Program, Taurian is learning skills specific to her life and the needs of her baby. In her own words, “My deepest desire is to change the tide of absent parents in the lives of their children. With the help of WPC I have a shoulder to lean on, and believe I can overcome my past circumstances and truly make a difference.” With this new found hope, Taurian is ready for a fresh start and she and her baby girl moved to Paris, France this past fall to start her singing career.

found a calling | taurian | story + photography

It is truly an honor to have spent a day with Taurian and her precious buddle of joy Meridian and gotten to write this short story.  Not only did she warmly invite me into her life, her day, her world, but her heart shone through so beautifully as she so naturally invited me in.  As I walked in the door of her home I immediately felt at home, relaxed and welcome.  The day we spent together was lovely and memorable as I recall being introduced around town as her friend.  Not only did she cook a delish curry dinner for me before I hit the road, but she packed snacks for both of us.  Her actions of inviting me in through food and kind introductions were truly just the outward display of her genuine and honest desire to truly connect.  As I read writings she had written over the years I wished my time with her was going to be longer than one day.   It is one thing to have a great display of hospitality but to genuinely open open to each other is so how we were created and so the desire of God, and this genuine and true type of relating with people is what I experienced during my time with Taurian.

Writing this short story you see just a glimpse into the remarkable woman that Taurian is and the challenges that she has overcome.  I almost feel this cannot be called a short story because to me a short story implies many more words, but for the purposes and needs of the Westside Pregnancy Clinic in LA I was privileged to write this short story as part of a series I did for them for their annual gala.

much love | katee grace | santa barbara writer and santa barbara photographer