The Onset of Hiccups

It’s sufficient to say I don’t know what I’m doing at this point. I’ve known that you can plan and develop but when it comes to documenting real life, you have no control. This sort of film directs you, you can’t direct it.

I can’t pretend like things have gone smoothly. It’s funny, as I think about how many hiccups there have been in the process it’s occurring to me that I myself have experienced an unusually frequent onset of hiccups. A person doesn’t get hiccups too consistently so when one does, it is noticeable. I doubt that it’s some sort of sign but it has an ironic parallel to the way things have been going. I would tend to call it “insult to injury.” The difficulties are not easy to explain. There are major set-backs but mostly there are lots of minor set backs, bad timing, illness, bad timing, no transport, no story, bad timing. It is just not the same process as it was last year. It’s hard not to let it get to me. I’m in the country for close to a month, the opportunity to get what I need is far less… and continually dwindling.

I think it was a few nights ago when my stomach was aching and I knew how inconvenient it would be to be sick, that I lay in my bed struggling to stay positive and waging war within myself and had my first major realization. It was a simple but profound thought; the lessons I was meant to learn in my last filmmaking endeavor in Zambia, I learned. It went without a hinge and was uplifting all the while. I felt as though I was being carried through from start to end. But I already learned those lessons. Of course it isn’t going like it did, it isn’t supposed to. It wasn’t an uplifting realization at all but it was a wisdom I needed to gain. I’m not saying that the Lord isn’t providing or that he is choosing to make it difficult but if he never changed the test questions we would never learn new material. Sometimes they’re harder.

Today I had another realization, this one offering a measure of consolation and reprieve to my weak constitution. The night I sat in the clinic during labor there was an expectation that the baby was just about to arrive. First it was expected to come quickly then nurses advised it would come in an hour and after two hours passed and an exhausted mother had made very little progress, there was a long period of uncertainty. I felt in myself a doubt begin to arise, first that the baby was ever going to come and as the night drug on there was a strange sense that there wasn’t a baby and this moment of fatigue that sat like a bus on my shoulders would go on forever. It was irrational doubt. There was clearly a baby and there is always an end but there were moments when somehow the wait was long enough that what I knew gave way to what I felt. And what I felt was that because I couldn’t see an end, there surely wasn’t going to be one. I’m sure that there is no moment during those hours when, to a mother, the pains of birth don’t overshadow the certainty of the gift that is coming, especially to a Zambian mother who suffers through the night without medication and with little help.

I have wondered why it would be that promptly on arrival the Lord gave me perfect timing and success and then in the days to follow it has seemed that he has been on his coffee break. Perhaps it was so that in these days that have passed and in days ahead as nothing goes the way it should, that I can go back where I sat and feel the doubt that overcame my faith as I watched in fear the hours tick by.

What I’ve found is that I am deep into the night,  facing an unknown end in the pains of labor. 

When the baby finally came, not only was there the relief, but there was also a clearer view of doubt. Doubt has an unmistakable way of doing to truth what a house of mirrors does to a man on a simple path. It takes what is real and distorts it, and the longer you have to go before you get out the more it confuses what you know along the way.

I have been at war. But there are small glimmers of progress. As I’ve said to my mother, most of it’s lateral progress. It doesn’t necessarily take me forward. It’s some extraneous things but it does offer the relief of movement. And if I were to take what I learned before and apply it, which is probably the goal, I could assume that somewhere along the road what I see in my limited vision as extraneous may not be so extraneous at all.

Photos from top are: Logan, the boom mic man. Capturing some audio with Joyce and her group who sang “Yaweh” in the film “Nawona”, A group shot after we recorded some songs and spent some time teaching them one of our songs for a collaboration project, and lastly I added this photo because its pretty neat and Logan is becoming quite the photographer. He is learning the way.

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Update in Pictures

My blogging in Zambia has been a bit like my dishwashing habits… I’ve let it slowly stack up. We didn’t have internet access until a few days after arrival and the day we got to Namwianga, after having spent a few days in Lusaka, I ended up in a twelve hour shoot. Deep into the night, close to the early hours of morning, a baby was born and I came home weary but having filmed the whole process. It was an exhausting welcome. After that first bit of serendipitous timing, things went much less smoothly. Between some bad timing and some sickness in the night, which led to a late morning and a groggy start, things weren’t getting to a great start. Time is of the essence and I was beginning to feel the pressure of days wasted. There are still many things working against me but a few meetings and a second visit to the village where the mother and the baby live, got the wheels slowly turning. I’m not anywhere near finished yet, but I’m feeling better today.


That’s a good overview. Dad assigned Logan to the job of documenting the documenting process. Which means on the one hand that there are actually pictures of me in Zambia this year (lots of pictures.) On the other hand it means I have to eventually say “Go take photos of something else for a while.”  I had to kick him out once we got to the labor ward at the hospital. That’s where that train ended. Anyway, the point is we probably wouldn’t have pictures if it weren’t for Logan, but we do. So here’s an update in pictures from our time in Lusaka through the last picture of Logan in the woman’s family’s hut today.



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The Inner Workings

At this point you may be thinking, “I know what this documentary is about but… I don’t really know what this documentary is about.”  Isn’t it interesting that you can create something with not much more than a simple idea? Joyful Noise. What images does it conjure in your mind? The beauty of this documentary is that it will unfold before me, as much as it will you. It is a living organism that will grow and change as I spend time in Zambia, looking at everything around me through a joyful noise tinted lens. I have a working knowledge of what I am seeking, and what stories I want to use but it will unfold before me over the next few months just a few steps before it unfolds in front of you. Isn’t that cool? I’m the director of a God-scripted film.

I know just enough to make my heart near explode with excitement as I think about the powerful imagery awaiting, just enough to see how big the things that are coming will be. I liken it to a child shaking an unopened gift in an attempt to guess it’s contents. Here is an enticing present just for you. You know the potential greatness of what’s inside as you hear the muffled sound of your gift hitting the sides of the package. You know what you want it to be and all of the endless wonderful things it could be, but right now its still just a beautifully wrapped package. For just this moment, there is no end to the world of possibilities.~

Dr. Abby Stanley looks at the wound of burn patient before she treats it and teaches the mother physical therapy exercises to increase mobility.



So glad to see you’re going on the Medical Mission this year again. I am going to be spending some significant time filming the physical therapy aspect of the Medical Mission. It’s so incredible and unexpected, I think, how physical therapy changes Zambian life almost more than medication does. I’m not big into using medicine myself because so many times there is a natural alternative. The small things you teach that keep people from living in pain and from becoming crippled, and the big impact they have are very, very appealing to me.
This year for the documentary I am looking to film a cognitively impaired person (most likely a child) who is also physically impaired by the illness. I will be doing some filming pre-medical mission for that story but I would really love to get you informed so that you can keep your eyes open for very powerful imagery on the medical mission. Who knows what will come along. The story unfolds as we go.

I am using the joy that often is expressed in the lives of those with mental conditions. Specifically those with Cerebral Palsy and the special ones who do seem to constantly exude joy through their “disability.” Even though they seem to be more free to make joyful noise than those of us who don’t have their “condition.”

I become more excited to see what the Lord has in store for us even as I type.

See you soon,

Cleaning this child’s wound and doing painful but necessary movements of the legs will take a potentially crippling injury and turn it into a memory of childhood.

A mother holds her child still as Dr. Abby Stanley demonstrates simple physical therapy techniques like bending the leg so the skin won’t grow back too tight and cripple the child. This mother’s hands will hold more than her son’s cries.

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Fear and Doubt… and progress

People like me thrive on having our hand in a multitude of things all at once. We thrive on the thrill, at the price of the occasional overload. It would seem that people who tend to unabashedly take off in too many directions at once are likely to be people who tend to take off towards passions and desires. (I rarely jump on the opportunity to get my hands on some accounting.) I get overloaded because something entices me enough to make me move… and I’m invincible, so why wouldn’t I start something else?

Right now I have to juggle the terrible tasks of things like finishing the oversized dreamcatcher I started, finishing a number of paintings, learning new worship songs, fundraising to do a creative film project and tending to my overgrown collection of succulents and house plants. My life is so hard.

Let’s be fair to me though, taking off towards a goal doesn’t always mean you take off prepared and without risk. Let me offer you a metaphor; sometimes it means jumping and having faith that your parachute is going to open and suspend you till it sets you gently back on the earth… when there’s really a pretty significant chance that jumping out of a plane means picking up dangerous speed till you hit the ground beneath you.

I’m currently 25 days till my fundraising deadline on my film project. In some ways I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at this time last year, in some ways I’m clearly a little bit dumber because I’m doing it again. This is not the first time I’ve jumped out of this plane. I didn’t plummet to my demise last time so I’M DOING IT AGAIN!

I literally promised a group of people that I would do something I had no idea how to do and what’s more, l I asked them to believe that I could do it. This is a group that has accepted the weighty responsibility of ensuring that a clinic, which saves thousands of lives each year, stays in operation through the funds they raise and they put their complete trust in me. It’s one thing to offer something after you’ve done it, it’s another to promise something before you’ve ever tried.

But, we did it… and we learned a lot. For one, God does’t need our money. If he wants operating funds for the hospital, he will get them and I believe that. So, even though I hate the idea of people donating money to fund the film when the goal of the film is to fund the hospital, I know that it’s not going to get in his way. I went into my fundraising knowing and believing that. Then about two days into it I was free falling and started to kick myself for using a fundraising platform that forces you to raise the full goal or you get nothing… not a penny. $12,200 is a lofty goal for a mission trip… it’s a ridiculously low budget for a documentary film project, but even knowing that I started to panic. I got really low because instead of just raising my funds, I backed myself into a corner. When the ground is quickly approaching you begin to really fear that the parachute you put your faith in is going to pull through.

I suffered for a few days, daily surrendering my fears and confessing my faithlessness and each day God provided me enough to get through the next day. I wanted to have full faith that I was going to hit the goal so that I didn’t walk away with nothing but I was struggling. Then one day I got this,I AM IMMANUEL-GOD WITH YOU- an ever-present Help in trouble. No matter what may happen, I am sufficient to provide whatever you need. Instead of imagining how you might respond to terrible things that could happen, draw your mind back to the present and take refuge in My Presence…It is in closeness to Me that you realize how trustworthy I am.” (40 Days with Jesus, by Sarah Young)

And it’s then that I thought… “wow, duh.

I got so stuck on the idea that I needed funds to film and I got greedy thinking that it wouldn’t be a serious financial struggle for me that I forgot that $12,200 is just a number that we estimated. Suddenly the surrender of fear I was trying to force became real. I’m so confident that if God wants me to raise $5,000- I’ll raise $5,000. If he wants me to raise the full deal, I’ll raise the full deal… and if he wants me to do it without a extra penny, it’s going to happen without an extra cent.

Just after that I sat down at the painting I was working on. I saw the look on the little girls face and I recognized it as the same fear and doubt that I had been feeling. It was probably this girls first time to have ever seen a doctor and even though his strange gloved hands and weird instrument felt threatening and unsafe to her we know that it is in those hands that she is being taken care of. Her precious little face shows that she’s not certain and she doubts that seeing this doctor was even a good idea. So as I continue to make progress on this painting, getting it to where I want it to be, her face full of fear and doubt reminds me why my fear and doubt are worth it.

Here are some pictures of the progress I am making on another painting. My first real watercolor portrait.

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“Where we’d been and where we’re going”

It wasn’t a particularly cold day but I think it was windy. I remember it being windy but that could be a subconscious addition to the scene based on the tornado that went sweeping through my insides. It could have been a still November day in West Texas, but I doubt it.  I was in a foul mood, but it was independent of the funeral scheduled that day. I was out of sorts in all sorts of ways. I stood outside of the canopy that blocked the sun from the casket. I do remember now that it was because I was cold and the sun was warm, and I felt like hanging in the back anyway. Things drew to a close. I turned to leave. Something then recalled my attention to a seemingly insignificant statement that was thrown in by my father earlier, something said about leaving early while we were still deciding the riding arrangements from the church to the gravesite. “Dad. Why are you going with mom to her doctor’s appointment?” My black boots clicked as I balanced on a random strip of concrete and shifted my weight with my arms in the air, trying to move my legs more than my pencil skirt would allow. Why hadn’t I noted the oddity in that earlier? Why did I remember it now?

I’m going to let your mother answer that.” he said and kept walking towards the car. I stopped walking on the curb that jutted out of the ugly dead grass to look up as he walked away. Adrenaline surged through my body like tiny knifes. Still frozen, I decided the only option was that she was either pregnant, or she was not. Everything in me hoped that meant she was pregnant.

Mom, why is dad going to your doctor’s appointment with you?” The tornado picked up speed. She had a calm exterior. I sat in the back and tried to look up ‘Hysterectomy’ on my phone without being seen. I felt like the tornado left my body and picked up all of the words and the car and spun them around. All at once they all became very nonsensical and very threatening.


A series of events began to dismantle life as I knew it. For my family it began to unfold with my grandfather’s death and it created in me a fear of phone calls from my parents. My mother’s name would show up on my phone and my heart would beat with a suspicious pulse as she would introduce the conversation with the normal, “How are you?” To which my response eventually became, “First you tell me why you’re calling, then I’ll let you know how I’m doing.” I had received too many phone calls with painful information that seemed to pour from the earpiece. Misfortune became my expectation. It was an unfortunate development with no one to blame, but for the following months and even occasionally to this day, calls from my family  I answered having already braced myself with the usual defense- ready to hear the worst.

That evening that I sat in my dimly lit apartment, I knew that I was going to get a phone call I just wasn’t sure what it was going to say. It’s fair to say that I developed a paranoia for the worst, but this was one time that human intuition was at work and not the effect of months of receiving a steady flow of bad news. I walked to my parents in the dark, bracing myself for something I wasn’t ready to hear.

Then it was my turn to make a call. I sat on the steps of the Administration building on campus waiting for my best friend to show up. I normally hang upside down from the steps and gaze as the cars drive by in the sky and the stars cover the ground. That night I didn’t have to hang upside down, the world was already spinning in circles. Everything was already on it’s head. She walked stiffly up the stairs as if she expected me to end our friendship because it was such a strange and tense request to meet me here. “Stef,” I managed to pull my eyes from the ground, mom has cancer.


New Years Eve- a holiday which I have never found great cause to celebrate. This last year I found even less motivation as we sat a few floors up from the ground in a dim hospital room. The only redeeming quality being it’s large glass windows that allowed for a view and lessened the feeling of suffocation the place caused. The only redeeming quality about the view being that it was dark and city lights are beautiful, no matter how ugly the city. A new year. There wasn’t anything waiting for me in an empty hotel room with a single view that faced the hospital where my mom slept, so I stood by her bed and played with her hair as she fell asleep. In the dark room, silent tears began to fall freely because there was no one around to see my fear. As I ran my fingers through her hair my mind was taken to the thought of the days ahead when it would all be gone and then just as wrenchingly I was taken back to the last time I was in a hospital room running my hands over my grandfather’s head, through thin wisps of hair. Between where we’d been and where we were going, a new year meant difficulties not yet faced, hardships not yet suffered, and the unknown. Happy New Year.


I spent the last days of this year in Colorado with very special people. People who represent what God is doing in my life after death and cancer and filmmaking and waiting and growing. The Lord is always working. I spent a good portion of the last year finding my footing on the path that God had for me which, in part, was trusting Him as I set out to do what I wasn’t really equipped to do. After it was over it was hard to imagine what He could possibly call me to do next. I could have at least anticipated that it would be out of my comfort zone and require me to do things I’m not really equipped to do… but in my fickle human nature I held out in hopes that it wouldn’t require quite as many growing pains to receive the growth He had planned. Silly me. I felt the Lord make plans for me to lead worship and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t woken up with the question, “Are you sure?” already on my lips. But one night, sitting around with some guitars, some worship songs and the bit of discomfort that still follows me, we did what the Lord has called us to- that is, worship. We sang while a couple of strangers listened and the Lord said to me, “Yes, I’m sure.”  Logan started playing the song Healer, a song that I sing lead, that’s really too high for me, that I’m pretty uncomfortable with, that I have a hard time not thinking I should just leave to Kari Jobe. I didn’t dare look but from where I was sitting I could see the couple who was listening from the corner of my eye and read enough of the woman’s body language to know she was crying. We didn’t sing to her, or say the name of Jesus to her, all we did was sing because the Lord has told us to sing. The next day we found out that the woman was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and the words “I believe you’re my healer” didn’t come to her from the insufficient people singing the song, they came from the one big enough to be a healer- and came to her through the insufficient people singing the song.  It was hard not to break down and weep right there in the dining room as I realized that the Lord was doing it again. He was taking unequipped people and being so big that our small offering became enough. I don’t really feel that comfortable singing this song- surprise- but I just can’t really think of another song that would have summarized the Lord’s power and promises as a new year begins.

Happy New Year.

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The Elusiveness the Holy Spirit (with revisions)


Note: it’s really better not to post things on the internet while multitasking and not paying close attention.

I just really admire the way you live week to week.” This came to me from a similar spirit during a recent conversation inquiring about the next thing in my life now that my film project has passed. In the days leading up to the end, this was a topic of unrest. Before I had even seen the one through to the finish, my thoughts had already naturally tended to what would I be waking up to the morning after the film screened. As it were, one of my biggest freelance jobs of the year fell over the next four days so it wasn’t till nearly a week after it was all said and done that I really had that morning where I woke up to… well, whatever I wanted. And thanks to the financial padding of that job, not only had the forecasted aimlessness been bypassed but I got to wake up to something other than the looming dollar signs that tend to hang out over my head. Living week to week is only admirable if you can manage to conquer the uninvited tendency to anxiety that comes with it. I win some and I lose plenty. In any case, it left me free to really look ahead without having to try to see around the responsibilities of life that obstruct my view of the purpose of life.

This is one of the rare moments when you truly find the world at your fingertips, now what to do with it?

The Elusiveness of the Holy Spirit

I was called to take photographs of the thousands of butterflies that inhabit campus. Not a terrible way to make your days wages. I set out with uncertainty as it’s not something I claim to excel in, nature photography. Going into the task I knew that it wasn’t as simple of a matter as seeing the butterflies and taking photographs of them. The client wasn’t interested in photographs of butterflies but rather the influx of them on the campus. Beyond having no way of controlling them, it’s a matter of happening upon one in just the right timing to capture not just the thing itself, a hard enough task, but then capturing it’s interaction with it’s contrasting and unexpected surrounding. It’s not just nature photography but photography of the interaction between man and nature. Even knowing that it would require much more luck than it did skill (if you believe in luck) the elusiveness of such a thing was reinforced as I set out. Immediately after I had stepped onto the lawn I saw my first opportunity. Thousands of butterflies backdropped by the iconic Administration Building, the perfect juxtaposition. I swooped down, honing in on one butterfly directly on the lawn in front of the steps. With the right amount of depth of field this could be promising. As I did, hundreds of butterflies lifted off of the lawn around me, butterflies I hadn’t even seen there. With each step butterflies dismounted from every direction from places that looked, from a distance, to be uninhabited. Standing in the middle of the lawn I was surrounded by a literal thousand butterflies yet capturing the experience was near impossible. From a wide angle, the individuals were diminished into small, unimpressive dots but they moved too quickly to bring the focus in on one, like phantoms even though their presence is obvious and unmistakable. That’s when I began to think about the elusiveness of these butterflies as a visual of the Holy Spirit’s elusiveness to man. There I am amidst something captivating, that literally surrounds me on all sides, something innumerable and unmistakable yet even in the midst of it- it escapes me. It’s there to have and it’s all around me yet it’s my incapacities that keep me from it. It’s walking through trees and seeing only trees with their leaves when, if we only knew to look, we would see thousands of winged creatures that have no intention to disguise themselves as leaves, yet they’re disguised. They’re present, but they’re disguised. We take a step in their direction and they take flight and we’ve unintentionally found them and recognize what we once missed, and we’re in awe. We’ve suddenly seen this amazing thing because we came upon it and because of it making itself known, when it was there for us to see all along. We can see the ones in the air and we know they’re there but with each step hundreds more are revealed to us, we just have to know to look for them. Because one butterfly is beautiful but thousands of butterflies is powerful.

This is how I treat the Holy Spirit. It is all around us, yet it eludes us. Even with great presence we go near it with no recollection of it but it’s not because it’s hidden from us but because we lack the recognition of it. We lack eyes to see. We stare directly at branches of butterflies and we see leaves because we’re not looking for Monarchs. We stare directly at countless miracles and we see chance. We give credit to the things that we do see, to the butterflies in the air, but we fail to credit the constant presence because we aren’t trained in the art of looking for it and so we walk along right past thousands of pairs of orange and gold wings and miss their powerful presence.

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Film Screening-Nawona; The Way You See

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A Medical Perspective

I previously stated that the next photos that I post will be hard to look at for the squeamish but turns out that instead I just went with the medical theme. One or two may be hard to look at but shouldn’t be too bad. Quite a few of this bunch are from the dental clinic. Ok… now back to editing film….



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The Benefits of the Job

If you know me well at all you’ve probably heard me complain about being a photographer. Yes, it’s kind of pathetic I know. When photography became a job, somewhere after the 150,897th picture is when I really decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. All my creativity got sucked down the drain and where inspiration once ran rapid there was nary a bit to be found. It’s about the point that every shot I took looked vaguely similar to a shot I already had. Really though, it’s about the point that I started to get sick of being the person who spent half my time not actually experiencing the things I was doing because I had the compulsion to live behind a camera lens & who spent the other half in front of a computer screen editing shots of something I didn’t experience in the first place. Living that way is in opposition to the way I was made to live but I’m torn between the conviction to experience life and the inspiration to capture life. After all, I started my hand at photography because there are some things that God has created that no representation can do justice. That is, people. While I’ve got my personal issues with the job as a career, I had the best job (by far) on the medical mission this year. Not just because people probably thought that I never actually did any work but because being the one designated to document the experience allowed for two really great things.

Firstly, that camera was like an all access pass. Especially to the best drama and the grossest wounds. I got to film eye surgery and get the closest one will get without being the doctor or the one on the table. Not only did I shoot while teeth were pulled, shots were given and blood was gushing but if ever there was a really good wound people actually came looking for me so I could stick my camera way to close to the mess! (I wore gloves… most of the time.) It was exhilarating to be in on the action and when a man came in to the clinic bleeding profusely from his foot and near death I saw it all. Granted, it was behind a camera but even then there were tears behind the lens so many times. The point is to be the fly on the wall and no one says anything to you and most times people make room for you without question or without saying anything at all and through it you realize it’s important. It’s lives at stake, it’s lives changed and impacted and it’s lives that need someone to share that so it can keep happening, so the cycle can continue. Second to the people who actually bandage those wounds and save those lives, my job had to be the most rewarding.

Secondly, I never took that stupid, heavy camera bag off my hip and people noticed. Many times when we arrived at a place we were greeted by singing and onlookers and children and of course I was usually in the midst trying to get it and because of that I was immediately noted by most people as the girl with camera (not that I’m not somewhat easy to spot anyway) and so for the next three days as I walked around with my camera the villagers came to me to take their picture. So I got to walk around snap people’s photograph and laugh with them as I flipped it around and showed them their faces. The reaction was crowds of bursting laughter every single time. I got to be the most popular person at the clinic because my job was to make people laugh & be happy! And people came to me to do it, I didn’t even have to ask!

Warning! The next time I post I will be posting some of the significantly more gruesome shots and videos. I just thought it is only fair to give you a chance to avert your eyes. Until then, here are some shots for all to enjoy.

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“Greetings Ba Mrs. KB Massingill”

I have days worth of film and audio to go through but among all of the other things that I was doing, this one bit I found more important than the other. Even more important than starting the film.

Ba Mrs. KB Massingill-

{It is just a great gift of fate that I got this ready on the day of your fourth chemo treatment. I hope that as you sit loopy and giggly from the medicine, weary from the trouble of it all that you can really take heart in this little gift. A gift not so much from me, but through me, from people who care so much about you. Too many people sent me greetings with words that I couldn’t bring back from my own mouth with any amount of justice, so I decided to film them. After you watch, you will understand why I didn’t feel capable to bring the messages back with the full extent of their love or meaning.}



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