Monday, February 28, 2011

One Week In

I have survived my first week in Liberia!!!

It's been an interesting week. I wasn't sleeping well the first few nights, so that just made for one tired Ashley. I was trying to adjust, get some sort of routine and make sense of the chaos that I left behind when I left in July. I spent this weekend getting my room (and life) in order, so I was in bed last night before 10pm! I also went to the beach for a swim yesterday--the water has been cold, but it is just so great to be back at the ocean! Speaking of cold...I have had to use my thin blanket almost every morning! That's how I know that I'm really Liberian, but it's good to be warm. Some of us sat on the front porch yesterday afternoon, playing dominoes and eating popcorn. It was cloudy and my hair was wet from swimming, but I had goosebumps. But, by the end of our game I was sunburned! This is already a strange dry season.

To end on a fun note (I have a more serious post up next). I have discovered the ultimate Liberian doughnut! To make the best use of stale bread, you smother it in creamy peanut butter and then top that with Fundelina. Mmmmm....sometimes you just have to improvise!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back in Liberia

In case you haven't heard, I am back in Liberia. I arrived on Sunday afternoon, thanks to the amazing new Delta flight! My travel time went from 24+ hours down to 15! Thank you Delta!

I had trouble sleeping the first few nights, but am better adjusted now. The heat hasn't been bad, which has been a blessing! Ihave gone to five orphanages so far, and it has been really great seeing the kids again! It's kind of strange when you've been away for so long--everyone's excited for those first few minutes, and then it's as if I never left. The good news is that I learned a long time ago that reunions won't be like the movies...but they will be sweet and full of laughter and smiles! Sorry this is short, but here are a few photos from the past few days!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

LIB Here I Come

I am sitting on the airplane, slowly sipping my last glass of OJ for awhile. Taking an 11 hour flight to Accra and then another 2 hours to Liberia. These past 7 months have been awesome...hard...full of love and has been everything. Thank you all so much for your continued prayers and support. I am looking forward to sharing this next step of the journey with you all!

Love in Atlanta,
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Monday, February 14, 2011

It Could Have Been Me [Or You]

Exactly four years ago today, I was running around like a crazy woman and staying up until 3am packing for an adventure of a lifetime. You see, on February 15, 2007, I boarded a plane for Monrovia, Liberia for the first time. February 14, 2007 is a milestone date for me. It was the last day of my so-called "normal life". This is what I wrote in my journal on that night four years ago:
I'm seriously going to just spew out love for 34 days straight. Everything is pretty overwhelming! Hopefully I will get some good sleep tonight; ready and refreshed for the longest, craziest day of my life. My life will never be the same again! That is what is exciting...and scary!"

I thought spewing out love for 34 days was difficult...but [mostly] spewing out love for 4 years is another story! I would have never guessed that four years later, I would still be in Liberia, and it would be called home. I know so much more about the country and culture; and I deeply love the people--especially the children that have so greatly impacted my own life. My life has not been the same since that February 14th four years ago.

Sometimes people ask me questions like, "when did you know that Liberia was your calling?" or "when did it click?". The single experience that made Liberia real and that made this all click happened just 5 days after I arrived in Liberia, and it has to do with a girl named Rosie.
[Rosie greeting me on my last morning in Liberia in 2007]

I remember Rosie so well. Cautious, skeptical, stern looks, the type to just sit back and observe. Rosie hardly said a word. One afternoon, we were sitting inside a thatched wall school, reading books and letting the kids play with my camera. I hadn't figured out how to have conversations with the children in the orphanage about their past. But for some reason, I started asking Rosie about her family, and her life at the orphanage. And for some strange reason, she began to open up and tell me her story.

Rosie had been at the orphanage for four years. She came from far away--"on the other side of the river"--but I didn't know enough about Liberia to know what she meant. She had two older siblings and two younger siblings; she's a middle child, just like me. She likes gospel music and she loves to sing. Both of Rosie's parents died during Liberia's civil war. Two of her siblings went to live with her aunt and the other two went to live with her grandmother. I asked if she got to visit her siblings and she put her head down and was holding back tears. The only thing I could say was, "you don't get to visit often enough, right?" She still kept her head down, without saying anything. Rosie has finally started to open up to me, even asking me about my family, but now she was completely silent. I sat back in my chair and my eyes welled with tears. I tried to watch the other kids playing through my tears, but then I just lost it. I put my hands over my face so the kids wouldn't see my crying and tried to compose myself. That didn't work and I just needed to get out of that room. All of the children became concerned, so I told them I was just going to go outside for a minute. I walked down the back steps and headed towards the lagoon to take a breather.

I wasn't crying because Rosie has lost her parents. Or because she seemed so sad. I was crying because I couldn't imagine her pain. Her siblings were at home and together, and she is the one who got let go of. If I were her, I'd be angry and asking God "why me?!" It was in that moment that I understood her silence. As I walked to the lagoon and back, I wrestled with God and asked why her?!

When I came through the line of coconut trees, all of the children who I had left inside were waiting for me. They all ran up and hugged me and grabbed my hands. I noticed that Rosie wasn't with everyone else. She came walking through the crowd and when she reached me I explained that it wasn't her fault and that she hadn't done anything wrong. I went on to explain that I was sad because she was sad. But that we shouldn't be sad because God gives us hope. The kids smiled and nodded and then we headed back inside to read more books.

That moment with Rosie forever changed my life. Hearing her pain broke my heart, but made me want to love her even more. In that moment, I realized that it could have been me. I could have been that middle child that nobody wanted. I could have been the one shipped off to the orphanage. It could have been me, but thank God that it wasn't. I also realized that I didn't have anything adequate enough to give these kids, but that I could be Jesus' hands and feet.

For the rest of my trip, every morning Rosie would be waiting for me in the driveway of the orphanage. As soon as I jumped out of the van, she was there with a smile on her face and would grab my hand. We would spend hours together under the plum trees, talking and laughing, and she would patiently teach me to crochet. To this day, whenever I show up at her orphanage, the children alert Rosie that I'm there, and she comes out with a smile and grabs my hand. Today, Rosie is a beautiful young woman.

It could have been me. Or it could have been you. But thank God that it wasn't. Thank God for Rosie--that her past and her pain were used to change my life. And that her story can be used to change all of our lives. Because of Rosie, four years later, I am still in Liberia being Jesus' hands and feet to those who need to feel His love the most.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Return to Liberia

It is incredibly hard to believe that I have been away from Liberia for 7 months! This is the longest period of time that I have been home since this whole Liberia journey started four years ago. It's been quite the roller-coaster ride, but I managed to finally find a good, comfortable place at home. That's the problem. I feel like whenever I get too comfortable, that means it's time to go back. As we say in Liberia, 'I can't lie''s going to be hard, but mostly bittersweet. My last night in Liberia was spent doing this:
Soaking up the fresh and salty ocean breeze, the sound of the waves, the sight of the horizon and the beautiful Liberian sunset. And, feeling like crap. I'd been in bed for four days with malaria and a broken foot. I hadn't eaten anything besides some bread with butter. I was pretty puny.

Home couldn't have come sooner. Home was rough, very rough, for the first two months. Last night I was thinking back to those first eight weeks that I was mostly stuck on the couch watching pointless TV. Having to sit on my butt and pull myself up the stairs with my arms every night to go back to bed. Those moments when I was in tears, just "wanting to be normal."

And then there's the past few weeks. Good weeks. Weeks that have brought growth, new friends, true community, and passionate prayer and praise. Times that I feel alive and better than ever. This is so good but I am already mentally trying to prepare myself to leave all of those things behind. Again, "I can't lie"...there's butterflies, anxiousness, stress and sometimes there's bargaining.

This is when I have to think about what's really important. Who, and what, really matters. For such a time is this. The call, the obedience, the reward. Last night, I poured my heart out in my journal about all of my fears, hesitations, and just feelings of not wanting to leave, and then feeling guilty for feeling that way. And that's when God said, "It's ok to feel this way. I am right here and with you every step of the way. I am going before you and will be behind you. My angels will be all around you. You can do this!"

And then I look at this:
And I think to myself, "Yes, I can do this. It's moments like this that make it all worth it. God, I trust you. Lead me. My heart is expectant, my eyes are open. Give me strength. Fill me with your love and your joy. Help me to show your love and joy to others. Give me peace. Peace that passes all understanding. I seek after you, and when I seek, I will find you. Jesus, be the center."

I'm leaving for Liberia on February 19th....that's 16 days, people!? Please pray for me as I prepare to leave. This Sunday will be my last Sunday at New Hope, so if I don't get to hug your neck....just know that I appreciate and love you all! And, I'm flying standby on the new Atlanta to Monrovia flight, so be praying for open seats! Thank you all for your continued prayers and support and for making it so gosh-darn hard to leave home to go to my second home!