Thursday, December 13, 2012

Good Gifts Market

Introducing the 2012 Good Gifts Market!
[I know this is late, but, better late than never, right?]

If you're still looking for the perfect gift for that special someone, maybe I can help. I have an assortment of items from Liberia that I think your family and friends will enjoy! The best part is that 100% of the proceeds go back to Liberia! If you are interested in any items, please leave a comment or send me an email, and I will get your item(s) in the mail ASAP so that they make it in time for Christmas! PayPal is the best method of payment (it's the fastest!), but I will also accept cash and checks! Please add $5 for shipping!

Paintings -- SOLD!
Painted by a local Liberian artist, these paintings both depict daily life in Liberia--selling bananas and the walk for water. The paintings measure 15" high x 10.5" wide. I can't guarantee that they are perfectly square, but they look to be pretty close!

Alfreda's Dolls -- SOLD!
These dolls are handcrafted by Alfreda, a local artisan. Alfreda learned the art of doll making from her mother, and creates beautiful dolls from natural elements like wood, grasses, leaves and nuts. The dolls are approximately 11" tall and sit on a base that is 3"x3". You can click on the smaller photos for up-close pictures of each individual doll. 



Amazing Grace Jewelry 
Bracelets -- $15 each

All of the beads are made from recycled glass bottles in Liberia. Each bead is carefully handcrafted, and some are hand-painted. They are strung on an elastic cord, so they will fit any wrist size! Please click on the two photos below to see the individual bracelets up close!


 Necklaces & Earrings
Left -- $20 (does fit small)
Middle -- $45 (set)
Right -- $50 (set)
(If you would just like to purchase a pair of earrings -- $10)



Textiles
Wine Bottle Carrier -- $15
Made from a recycled bean sack.

Purses -- $30 each
Made from traditional Liberian lappa
[The Mary Purse]
[The Georgiano Purse]

Miscellaneous
Bracelets -- $7 each
Made from wooden beads and strung on elastic cording. Fits most wrists!
[Cross bracelet is SOLD!]

Wood Carved Box -- SOLD
Carved by a local Liberian wood carver. The box measures 7.5" across x 4" deep x 3" tall.

Liberia Bracelets -- $8 each
Great gift for any lover of Liberia! Should fit most wrist sizes. Available in the colors below, except the pink/blue combo is SOLD OUT.

 If you would like to purchase any of these items, please leave a comment or send me an email: ashleystoll [at] gmail [dot] com. I want to get these in the mail ASAP, so again, PayPal is the preferred method of payment, but I will totally work with you!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Six Months + Lucky


This morning I realized that today is my six month mark. Exactly six months ago, I left Liberia and arrived back in Atlanta and met my nephew for the first time. I have been away from Liberia for six. whole. months. In the last 4+ years, I haven’t been away from Liberia for this long...except for that time I got malaria and broke my foot. It's hard to believe. 

Liberia seems like so long ago, but it also seems like it was yesterday. I can feel the heat, and smell the dusty, salty, smoke-filled air. I can hear the traffic, waves crashing and laughter. I can taste Ma Mary’s cooking and fresh pineapple. That world seems so far away from my current world.

There are so many things that I enjoy about this world. I love ease and comfort and family and delicious meals and quiet; and stupid things like straight hair and Target and a bowl of cereal. Life here is lovely and comfortable, but it is also very uncomfortable.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Liberia. Some days, Liberia is an hourly thought. I can’t and won’t forget the past, but it can be a struggle to live in the present and to not put all of my focus on the future.

I get weekly phone calls from Liberia, which I think helps with making it feel closer. Today I talked with Jogma and Cyrus and Evelyn. Talking with Jogma just like we would talk under the plum tree, and hearing her giggle, made my heart hurt for Liberia. I want to be there so badly. I would [crazily] trade the ease and comfort and good food and straight hair...I really would...so that I could sit with Jogma under the plum tree and laugh. To giggle with Yamah and Christian and Massah. To have a meaningful conversation with Janjay or Helena or Janet. To squeeze Koiboi and carry him around, even though he’s much too big for that now. To love on Anna or Naomi or Ma Ruth or Mercy. Or to hold Lucky’s hand while we sit next to each other.

So often, here seems so much better. [And don’t get me wrong, there are so many great and wonderful and amazing things about here!!!] But when I think about there, it just seems right. If I’m honest, it does make me cringe a bit [or alot]...but my heart is there. I might not always be happy there...it’s hard, so hard...but I am content...and there’s a difference between the two. 

My heart also hurts for Lucky.
Lucky is my daughter. She’s the smiling face that you see at the top of my blog. You can’t help but look at her and smile! The thing is, this photo is literally like a once-in-a-lifetime photo. The older Lucky has gotten, the less she smiles. She rarely speaks, and hardly shows any emotion. Her smile, or a few words, are like gifts!  Lucky and I have a very special relationship. I do all the talking...and alot of times I ask her if she thinks I’m crazy, to which I get a blink or head shake. She’s quiet, but I know something’s going on inside of her. She observes and listens intently and notices everything. After I left Liberia, some coworkers were doing a project with the kids where they asked them something to the affect of ‘who loves you?’ Lucky’s response was, “Auntie Ashley.” [melt my heart]
Lucky really is my heart. 

Lucky is the other person that God keeps bringing to my mind. I think he brings her to my mind frequently because she is the ‘face with a name’ for me. She represents the thousands of children that I’ve met in Liberia, and the thousands of children who need help. She truly is voiceless. God has so many hopes and dreams and plans for her. There is so much potential and promise! 

Lucky’s story has always been a mystery. I have asked many times about her past, wondering if that was the reason for her silence, but could never really get any answers. When Deb got back to Liberia a month or so ago, she was told that Lucky was no longer at the orphanage. She tried to figure out what happened to her, but she was only told, “her uncle came for her.” Before I knew this, God had already started bringing Lucky to my mind. When Deb told me the news, I was heartbroken. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever see her again. I keep trying to remind myself that she knew she was loved, but then I wish I could tell her or show her how much I love her. And I have to keep the faith that I will see her again.

I’m just asking that you keep Lucky in your prayers. That wherever she is, that she is safe and that she is taken care of and loved. I hope to know the young woman that she becomes, and I know that God has so many great plans for her life. Lucky is a big part of my story, and a huge reason why Liberia is so close to my heart! Please pray for Lucky.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Friend Lamie

[I really wanted my next post to be fun, upbeat and light-hearted. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Sorry. Maybe the next one?]

Does God ever just bring people to your mind? You know, you just keep thinking about them and praying for them? I have learned that when someone keeps coming to my mind, there’s usually a reason. Just the other day, I was going to ask you to pray for two people...two people that God keeps bringing to my mind. The truth is, I wanted to show you photos...so you could put a face with a name and pray...but I didn’t want to show you this photo:

This is Lamie.

I have sat down many times to try to write about Lamie. But there just never were the proper words. I haven’t talked about him to most people, because again, words were not sufficient. I would try to tell the story, but there wasn’t a happily-ever-after yet, so I waited. Today, just now...the story ended.

I met Lamie just before Easter. Well, when I met him, he couldn’t even tell me his name. I honestly didn’t see him until Elena asked me if I’d seen the man laying on the side of the road by the dumpster. That evening, after we loaded our bikes up at the end of our bike ride, we intentionally drove past the dumpster. There laid a man. We weren’t sure how long he’d been there; a few days, at least...and the sun had been blistering hot that week! We began to talk about our options, as we tried to figure out what to do.

The next morning, we sent Momo [thank God for Momo!] to go investigate. When you’re the ‘white woman,’ you quickly (and sometimes difficultly) learn that if and when you jump in to help, it complicates things and changes the entire situation. You are suddenly either held 110% responsible, or you are 110% to blame. So, that’s why Momo went on a fact-finding mission. He began to ask the women who were selling in the market about the man laying on the side of the road. People told Momo that the man was crazy, he ‘wasn’t correct’ and that whenever someone threw 5LD (about 7 cents) his way, he’d buy alcohol. During Momo’s investigation, he took the above photo and came back to the house. 

The situation didn’t sit well with Elena or I. It didn’t make sense. It was too hot for someone to be out in the hot sun all day. The man was very thin. And to make matters worse, he was disabled and couldn’t even get out of the hot sun, garbage and his own toilet if he wanted to. Even if the man was a crazy drunk, he surely didn’t deserve this. Even the chickens scratching around the dumpster deserved a better place to scratch.

Momo continued to investigate, and eventually heard that a woman in the area used to care for the man. So Momo went to talk with the woman, and she told him that she couldn’t take care of him anymore, so she had to put him on the street. Momo met with the woman a few more times, in order to get sufficient information, before the white women got involved. We decided to go and meet with the woman and her husband. We prayed that they would be compassionate people who really cared for the man, but just became too overwhelmed. We sat under the coolness of the mango tree in their yard and talked about ‘having a human heart’ and not being able to leave a human being like that. We were told that they just didn’t have a place to keep him, but that they had built a friendship. Long (and painful) story short, we agreed to finish a small room on the side of their house for the man to stay, and we would help provide things like soap, a mattress, laundry tubs and clothes for the man. When we met with the woman, we learned that the man’s name was Lamie.

We bought a mattress, put it in the bed of the truck and went to take Lamie from the street. He got a bath and clean clothes. Momo gave him a haircut. Lamie couldn’t communicate, but I told him that he didn’t have to say anything because I could see the thankfulness in his eyes. I think that’s when I became his ‘daughter.’ 

Lamie lived in his new room for a week, and then all hell broke loose. We ‘weren’t doing enough’, the woman couldn’t take care of him anymore, people were threatening her and wanted a share of the money she was getting (she wasn’t getting any money...we were scraping to provide!), and so she was going to put Lamie back on the street. [We were expecting this to happen, but were hoping and praying that it wouldn’t.] There was so much ungratefulness and anger and deceit and evil...I had reached my breaking point!

We knew the woman really didn’t care for Lamie; so we knew he couldn’t stay there...but where would he go? We were also angry...so we wanted to take our room (or at least our zinc) with us. I’ll be honest, there was anger and I felt so disappointed by the human spirit and there was principal. That’s when things got momentarily ugly, but in the end, we took Lamie and his soiled mattress and left. Lamie ended up living on our front porch. It was truly a team effort to bathe him, dress him, bundle him up at night, do his laundry, make sure his mosquito net was over him and help him move around. We were all pushed to the limit--taking care of Lamie was taking time away from the children and our other responsibilities. We were exhausted!

But, Lamie’s cheeks got fatter. He was eating...and eating. He was clean. He was starting to talk and smile and limp around with his walking stick. I enjoyed bundling him up at night, and talking with him. He would just laugh and laugh. Drinking hot tea was a treat and he even started bossing Momo around! Lamie was improving so much, but he couldn’t live on our porch forever. We began asking around to see if there was any kind of old folks or nursing home around. After a few attempts, we found an old folks home downtown, and they sent three social workers to our house. They were very hesitant and, in actuality, probably didn’t want to take him, but they did. I had to tell Lamie that he wasn’t going to live on my porch anymore, but he was going to a new home...that was inside and he’d make friends.

During the week that he lived on my porch, I tried to ask Lamie about his life. He couldn’t remember much, but whenever I would ask him about where he was from or his family, the tears would well up in his eyes. I could tell when he would get flooded by memories. It was evident that Lamie had had a stroke, and his left side was paralyzed. It also affected his speech and memory. He told me he was a tailor, and he used to work in town on Mechlin Street. I told about how I sew with the girls at the orphanages, and maybe one day when he was healthy and strong, he could sew with us too! That brought a smile to his face.

The next day, we loaded Lamie and his mattress back into the bed of the truck. I didn’t want to take Lamie to his new home because I knew that he was sad to go and I felt like that was saying we were giving up on him. But, because I’m his ‘daughter,’ I took him to his new home to show him that he was a part of our family, and that we weren’t giving up on him.

Because of our work schedule, we would go and visit Lamie about once a week. If I told him I’d see him on Tuesday, I would make sure that I was there on Tuesday! I had to stick to my word with Lamie, because I knew it mattered to him. His new home wasn’t the best of places, but there wasn’t any other option. There were about 25 other old people living there, and it was always fun to see them, especially the ‘characters’. They always brought a smile to my face, and I always brought a smile to theirs. 

Lamie began to improve. He was gaining more weight; which could only be seen in his fat cheeks. He was getting around alittle bit, with the help of his walking stick and friends. He was smiling and laughing. I felt like our prayers had been answered, but I also knew that the home couldn’t fully provide for all of Lamie’s needs.

After a few weeks, Lamie got sick. He was coughing alot and not eating very much. One day when I went to visit, I found him laying on the floor on the other side of the room--he had tried to get around and had fallen and couldn’t get back up. I was worried. I kept praying and kept visiting Lamie.

My time in Liberia was coming to a close, and I knew I was going to have to tell Lamie that I was leaving Liberia. I went to visit, and explained to him how I was going to the States because my sister was having a baby. I told him that I didn’t know when I was coming back to Liberia, but that I would always be thinking about him and praying for him. He didn’t say anything, but the tears began to roll down his cheeks. That made me lose it! I gave him a big speech about how I wasn’t giving up on him and that he was still part of my family and that he couldn’t give up on himself, even when the people at the old folks home were giving up on him. I told him I would come back in a few days before I left for America.

That day was terrible. I was sad and he was sad. There wasn’t much to say. I gave him another speech, and prayed for him. I told him that I would come and visit him as soon as I got back to Liberia. He was so sad, and I told him that he needed to smile so I could remember him happy instead of sad. And just like that, as he was laying in his bed, he rolled over and gave me the biggest smile. His smile matched the smile he had when we snuck plums in for him and he ate one...juice dripping all down his face and arms...he was like a kid in heaven! That’s how I remember Lamie--his big toothy smile, his child-like laughter and his strength and determination to overcome so much!
I was thinking about Lamie alot yesterday, as well as this morning. I checked my phone and I had four missed calls from Momo. I called Momo and he told me that he went to visit Lamie today and when he got there, he was told that Lamie had died.

My only response was, “are you serious?!” And then my eyes began to well with tears.

Life is so unfair. This isn't right. It doesn't make sense. Why does a man have to suffer so much and feel so unloved and unwanted, only to die alone. I am filled with sadness, but I’m still seeking the joy.

Lamie’s body is whole again. Lamie died knowing that those crazy white people loved him. We fed, clothed and gave cold water. We fought for truth, justice and for what was right. It didn’t matter that we were different or that he was from a certain tribe or that he was a stranger. It didn’t matter that he was physically disabled--his heart was gold! He brought laughter and unity and compassion. He was an example, and a reminder. There is no happily-ever-after for this story and this morning, Lamie’s story came to a close. But, I know that his story and his life weren’t told and lived to be forgotten. He lived his story so that he could be remembered. His insurmountable obstacles, but he kept that spark in his eye. The joy in his smile, despite his circumstances. His literal example for us, to be the Good Samaritan. Lamie was my friend--my beautiful, laughter-filled, sweet-spirited (unless he wanted a haircut from Momo) friend. At one point, Lamie had taken everything out of me, but I pressed on because Jesus filled me and equipped me to keep going. Lamie was and is a part of my story...and a reason why I just can’t walk away from Liberia.
[This is the only other photo that we have of Lamie. Consider this the "after".]

[The next post will be about that second person that I was going to ask you all to pray for! And then we'll get something happy up in here!]

Monday, October 29, 2012

Diamond in the Rough


Diamond in the Rough:  in a natural state without decoration or other treatment.
 I will go before you and make your rough places smooth. --Isaiah 45:2

If you've been around here for awhile, you're familiar with Jogma. She is 18 years old and in the 12th grade in Liberia. If you've been around here for years, you might remember a quilt that Jogma made a few years ago. Her 'Wisdom of Heart' quilt raised $1400 to make a house a home for the children at Danny Feeny Memorial Orphanage Home! At that time, Jogma had never met the children at Danny Feeney, but she was proud that her handmade creation could benefit other children living in an orphanage about an hour from her own orphanage. {Jogma's first quilt is extremely special to me because I LOVED the quilt, but someone else won it at the auction. That kind and generous woman gave the quilt to me, and has since passed away. I cherish that quilt!}

Fast forward about a year to sometime in 2010. Jogma started to ask me about the older girls at Danny Feeney, and wanted to know if they could sew. After a few conversations, Jogma started taking the 1+ hour drive with me to Danny Feeney every week and began to teach the girls there how to sew. Jogma loved teaching the girls something that she loved so much, and I think she forgot about that $1400 that helped move those girls to a new and safe home that they could call their own.

Now, in 2012, Jogma began to work on her second quilt for me to bring back to auction off at HeartCry's annual Pasta Dinner and Silent Auction. Jogma began to cut and sew and create. Jogma never measures, always makes up her own designs, and does everything with a foot treadle sewing machine or by hand. I would sit on the porch with Jogma's infant son Joshua on my lap while she worked on her latest quilt. We talked about school and life and sewing...and there was plenty of laughter! Jogma finished the quilt and gave it to me just before I left Liberia in June. I packed the quilt in my suitcase and it set out on it's journey back to Georgia to be a part of this year's auction.

This year's auction is on Friday night. We have sold out of tickets for dinner, but we would LOVE for you to come and participate in the auction, as well as to learn more about the orphanage that New Hope works with in Haiti. The doors open at 6pm and the auction opens at 6:30pm. This year's live auction items include: a 5 star quail hunt and overnight lodge stay, a NASCAR VIP experience and a helicopter tour and overnight stay at Chateau Elan; along with great silent auction items too! This is a night that you don't want to miss!

Jogma has no idea that her Diamond in the Rough quilt will be a part of the silent auction, and that this year's proceeds will be used to move over 100 children in Haiti to their new orphanage! Yes, for the second time, Jogma's quilt is going to help children move into their desperately needed new home! I cannot wait to call Jogma and tell her the story of quilt, and how she has changed the lives of orphans living half way around the world from her in Haiti! Please join us on Friday night, and be apart of the the story!

What: HeartCry's Pasta Dinner and Silent Auction
When: Friday, November 2 at 6pm
Where: New Hope Baptist Church-Rainbow Room
Fayetteville, GA
Why: To build a new orphanage in Ganthier, Haiti for the children of Masion d'Enfants par la Foi

You can also join us on Saturday, November 3rd for HeartCry's 'Footsteps for the Orphan' 5K. All proceeds from the weekend will benefit the kids in Haiti, as well as HeartCry's ministry. You can register for the race here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

If I'm Honest...

If I’m honest, this past month or so has been extremely difficult. So many thoughts, feelings and emotions have been swirling through my mind and heart.

If I’m honest, there is not a day that goes by that my mind doesn’t tirelessly try to think and plan and question and problem solve. My mind can be consumed with thinking.

If I’m honest, it’s hard. Really hard.

If I’m honest, some days I have to remind myself of all of the things that I’ve experienced over the past five years--yeah, those things really happened! Some days it’s hard to believe, and other days I thank God over and over again for all of it!

If I’m honest, I feel alone. I don’t feel like anyone understands or relates. And when I’m questioned, I usually just cry because I don’t feel like I can adequately explain things and I don’t feel like people can or will understand.

If I’m honest, I’m scared! My mind immediately flashes back to March-May...when things were unbearable. When I thought I couldn’t take anymore, but things kept coming. I don’t want to walk through another valley like that again.

If I’m honest, I’m all over the place, and I don’t have my things all together. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I feel totally unqualified.

If I’m honest, I feel a great deal of pressure. Whether it’s real, or imagined, I feel like alot of people are watching and waiting. {Even though it drives me nuts...thank you!}

If I’m honest, I really miss Liberia...especially the people!

If I’m honest, I am desperate for community--people to share life with. People to laugh, cry, hope, dream and grow with.

If I’m brutally honest, I don’t want to do it alone. I want a partner to share it with.

If I’m honest, I need your prayers! I feel like I’m quickly approaching a crossroads. Actually, I know I’m there already. It’s time to get with the program, to do this...or not do this. It’s overwhelming.

If I’m honest, I hope that you’ll join me. I cannot do this alone. There is so much praying and planning and work to be done...and I need you! {But don’t all raise your hands at once, because right now, I just need your prayers! I’ll let you know when it’s time.}

If I’m honest...really honest...I’m standing on the ledge, and I just can’t jump. It’s frustrating--I know God is faithful...He’s been faithful time and time again. I can also see down the road and it’s SO good--I’m living purposefully and lives are being changed...but it’s still hard....and that’s ok.

If I’m honest, sometimes you just have to be real and honest with the people around you, and this is my ‘safe place’ to do that...where I won’t just start crying...so thank you for listening!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What is IT All About?

[My favorite road sign in Liberia was always a reminder: Do Not Stop...Keep Going]

This...all of this...is all for You. It's about being so close to You that nothing else matters. It's about the hunger and thirst to know You more. It's the desire to be in the middle of You moving and working and being a part of that. It's about going outside of myself and letting You use me to do incredible things. It's about loving and serving others. It's about slowing down, living simply and loving deeply. It's about knowing You more intimately and making my heart more like Yours. It's about sharing Your incredible and unconditional love with others. It's about You and Your power and Your glory. It's all about You!

It's about kindness and compassion. It's about being rooted in Love. It's about all things working together for good. It's about learning, growing and stretching. It's about worship, praise and thanksgiving. It's about a real God, who longs to walk in the garden with His children. It's about delight--delighting in my Savior as He delights in me. It's about seeing truth, beauty and hope in the world around me. It's about being a city on a hill. It's about Light going into the darkness. It's about pure and faultless religion. But it's not about "religion"...it's about relationship. It's about calling and conviction. It's about the Body of Christ and fulfilling my role within the Body. It's about the opening of eyes, ears, hands and hearts. It's about love--not Hollywood love or fairytale love; but life-changing, deep-to-the-point-of-painful Love. It's about generosity and using my blessings to bless others. It's about declaring the Word of the Lord. It's about You, Lord. It's not about me, us, a church, a denomination, a number, a statistic--it's all about Jesus! His love, grace, mercy and power!

Use me...use us...use the church...use all denominations...use the Body of Christ to speak up, to speak out, to love unconditionally, to listen, to encourage, to change lives, to bring hope and healing, to break chains and bring freedom. Help me...us...to say yes!

Jesus, bring Heaven to earth!

[excerpt from my journal on September 26, 2012]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

These Hands

I don’t know why, but for the past week or so, that’s the phrase that keeps coming to my mind.

These hands.
What about these hands? 
They aren’t pretty. They’re rough and dry with craggily fingers. There’s often dirt under my nails…or I’ve bitten my nails off. Let’s just say, I could use a manicure.

The more that phrase keeps coming to my mind, the more I start to really think about [and look at] my hands. [and then I resist the urge to bust out into Jewel...nevermind.] I’ve been thinking about where my hands have been and what my hands have done. What my hands wish they’d done. What my hands can do, and will do.
These hands.

I’ve spent the last two days looking through ALL of my Liberia pictures from the last four years. All 23,193! [no joke.]

I started to take notice of my hands. I started to make mental notes of things my hands have done. 
These hands have held and clutched and clasped and gripped and welcomed and worked and encouraged and taught and given and received and explored and moved and created and held on and let go.

I've thought about the situations my hands have dealt with. Times when my hands have just gone up in the air in despair. Days when my hands have clasped tightly onto another hand—a dear friend, a prayer warrior, a dying man, a sick child, a parent who has lost.  How my hands have brought and offered all kinds of things—a drink of water, bubbles, food, Bibles, toys, wheelchairs, a warm blanket, my heart, laughter, comfort, medicine—everything. And sometimes nothing at all.

Empty hands.

I think those are the best kind. 

Hands that are ready and willing. Hands that have no clue. Hands that are nervous or fearful. Hands that are open. Open wide to the Father. Hands needing grace. Hands desperate for joy. Hands raised as an offering. Hands praising and thanking. Hands exploding with worship and awe.

These hands are mine.

I choose what to do with them. Where to take them. I choose yes or no. I choose hard or easy. I choose open or closed.

so. much. responsibility.
so. much. power.
so. much. potential.

I want to be responsible with these hands.
I want to be faithful and loyal with these hands.
I want to share life--the highs and the lows--with these hands.
I want to tell stories and share needs with these hands. 
I want to walk alongside, admire, honor and respect with these hands.
I want to love and serve with these hands. 
I want to bring laughter, hope and healing with these hands.

God, use these hands.

Despite how powerless and unmotivated and unequipped and plain-jane these hands are--You have used them over and over again--and You will continue to use them. Help me to keep them open. Lifted up to You. Give these hands peace, so that when they’re tempted to tighten their grip, the grip will just relax and the fingers will open again. Make these hands bold and adventurous. Place clear direction on these hands. May these hands never forget where they came from, or what they’ve experienced. These hands mustn't forget what they’ve learned; the hands they’ve held and the moments when it didn’t matter what they were or weren’t capable of. Let these hands continue to bring hope to others...and even sometimes, to myself.  Use these hands to bring light to the darkness and to bring Heaven to earth.

Lord, make these hands Your hands.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Gift for Joshua


If you’ve been around here long enough, you probably know that there are a few children who are extra special to me. [I’m not supposed to have favorites...but I do.] One kid--um..young woman--who is extremely special to me is Jogma. You’ve heard alot about her already: here, here and here. Jogma and I have always been close, but her pregnancy and difficult four-day-long-labor really cemented our friendship!

It’s hard to believe that little Joshua will be one year old in less than two weeks! Time has flown by...and he’s so stinkin’ cute!  First birthdays are a HUGE deal in Liberia! I think a big reason is because so many children don’t live to see their first birthday, so the parties and celebrations are BIG! Today, I’m asking for your help to make Joshua’s birthday alittle more sweet!

Before I left Liberia, I gave Jogma a few small things for Joshua’s first birthday. I could  give Joshua clothes or toys or a big party, but I think one of the best gifts that I can give is an opportunity for his parents, Jogma and Cyrus. Both Jogma and Cyrus are extremely hard-working and incredibly smart! They have big dreams for their son, but they also have dreams for themselves--they want to continue their education.

That’s where you come in! 

Jogma has finally made it to her 12th grade year at a local Catholic high school. She is a bright student, and she really loves learning. Whether it’s reading Harry Potter (yes!) or learning a new skill ...she is like a sponge! Jogma needs $420 to finish her senior year of high school. This will cover her tuition, text books, uniform and other supplies. If you want to donate $5 or $500--AWESOME! Or, maybe twenty-one people want to each give $20, or one person wants to give $35 every month...or any other combination.

To begin with, Cyrus will take a twelve week course in Microsoft Office and the internet. Then he hopes to take more advance courses in Access, basic SQL and A+ Hardware. These courses will take 8 months, and then the final 16 month course is a Cisco Certified Network Associate. I would LOVE to raise enough money to cover the first two courses, which will cost $210, plus the cost of a used laptop. 

By furthering Jogma and Cyrus’ educations, they will better be able to provide for their family and it will give Joshua a brighter future! If you would like to donate, please leave a comment or send me an email and I can give you further details. Thank you, and a super huge thank you from Jogma, Cyrus and Joshua!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Today's Thoughts

It's time for this. It's been awhile. I'm feeling introspective today. Really, there has been so much on my mind and heart these past few weeks. But also, honestly, I have wanted to hibernate.
16+ hours of travel, straight off the plane to Chick-Fil-A to meet my nephew Ethan!
The first few weeks of being home were great! I spent so much time with my family and my new nephew [stinker came early and was waiting on me to get home!]. I caught up with friends. I enjoyed the things of home--my bed, hot showers, straight hair, good food, fast internet, church...just to name a few. But after about two weeks, I was sitting in church, and the thought came to me--it's been easy and enjoyable thus far, but it's about to get difficult...really difficult.

Right now, I'm somewhere between difficult and really difficult. Don't get me wrong, home is great...but home is hard. Such different worlds with different mentalities and different ways of life and different purposes and ways of relating to others with different struggles and distractions. There are so many obvious differences on the surfaces, but there are so many differences under the surface too. I usually spend a good month trying to remember how to be an American. No joke. Conversations seem surface and superficial, and sometime awkward. Sometimes things or situations or reasons don't make sense. Sometimes I just don't get white people [no offense...but there are also plenty of times that I just don't get Liberians either]. It's just an adjustment.

Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into a month. I've been home for a month! The busyness of life in America has taken over. Those dang iPhones have also taken over, ha! I feel disconnected. I ache for community. I desperately want to connect with like-minded people who are [preferably] around my age. I told my mom the other day that I really feel like an alien, and I can't figure out where the aliens hang out around here. It's true.

I get multiple phone calls from Liberia every week, sometimes multiple phone calls in one day. They make me so happy, and make me miss Liberia--mostly just the people who are on the other end of the line! I hate when I miss a phone call from Liberia, but I love the voicemails of child after child telling me hello and that they're missing me plenty-o! I'm missing them plenty-o, too!

Ok, so let's get the nitty-gritty out of the way. The frequently asked questions:
Q: When are you going back?
A: I do not know. My time with ORR is finished, but I know that I will go back to Liberia. I will be home for awhile.

Q: Are you going to get a job?
A: [my toenails curl...and I try to smile, be nice and answer the question...] Right now, no. I have money saved, so I'll be ok for now. I also need the time to rest, enjoy, be still, wait, grieve, etc. I am continuing to refinish furniture (great excuse to turn on some worship music and get lost in paint therapy), and will probably just stick to that as a "job" for now.

Q: What's next?
A: That's a great question! I have no idea! It's time to get life back in the reigns, and really spend some time being quiet and still. God has given me alot of ideas, dreams and passions, and I need His guidance and clarity. It's exciting.

[Those are the three most FAQ's, but I'm going to throw in the most important FAQ that's not really a FAQ, but I sure wish it was!]

Q: How can I pray for you?
A: How much time do you have? You can pray for my continued adjustments to life on this side of the ocean. I don't want to fall back into 'normal life', but want to continue on the momentum from all that God taught me during my last 4 months in Liberia. Pray that I will take the time that I need to rest, think, grieve and reflect. Pray for understanding from those around me. You can be praying that my eyes, ears and heart will be open to His voice--for wisdom, clarity, direction and guidance. Pray that God would provide me with the things that I'm aching for--community, worship, fellowship, friendship, fellow dreamers. You can also pray that I would figure out how to live day-to-day life here in America with the same desperation and purpose that I have in Liberia...it's tough. I think that's a good list to start with!

[If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask...but I can't guarantee that I have the answer.]


All of that to say, I'm home...things are good, but it's also difficult...and you can be praying for me! The introspectiveness is really starting to go crazy, so I'm sure there will be much more to share in the near future. I also had a birthday yesterday (I'm ninety two years old now, according to the wait staff at the Mexican restaurant that put the candles of my cake yesterday....but I feel so young and look so good, haha!), and I really believe that, although this past year was quite the ride, this is going to be the best year yet! Thank you again for all of your encouragement, love, prayers and support!!!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

[Famous] Last Words


I woke up early (before 7am) this morning and just laid in bed listening to all of the sounds. The hum of the bugs. Birds singing--today is a new day. Traffic passing on the highway. Horns. A child crying. Footsteps. Momo talking loudly to his wife on their porch. Chickens. A hammer. Gates opening and closing. A motorcycle zooming down the road. Gentle rain begins to fall on the tin roof. This is my early morning. This is my Liberia.

I roll over and take in the view from inside my mosquito net for a minute. I'm thankful that the next time I sleep in a bed, I won't be surrounded by a net, and my feet won't be hanging off the end. I take mosquito inventory. There was a breeze last night, so my net came untucked. Three mosquitos! I kill all three and wipe the blood from my hands. Then I pray that one of them doesn't carry malaria.

I untuck my net to exit. Slide my feet into my flip-flops. And just like that, my last day in Liberia has begun. So many thoughts and emotions. My mind starts racing; thinking about all of the little things I need to take care of before I leave. I think about going to say goodbye (I prefer "see you later") to the kids at Frances Gaskin in a few hours. That's pretty much going to suck. I think about that last stroll across the tarmac, that last inhale of sweet Liberian air, and that last glance around...red meets green meets blue. And then I will be inside that freezing plane! I will wake up flying over the city lights of Atlanta. I'm leaving home to go home. How does that even make sense?

It's hard when your heart is torn and wants to be in two places. Two places thousands of miles, and one big ocean, apart. I'm leaving the land of black, lush jungle, huge sky, bright stars, laughter, noise, beauty, ocean waves, sunsets, waiting, change of plans and simplicity. I will land in the land of white, tall trees, electricity, running water, hot showers, salad, real milk, carpet, quiet...sometimes, too quiet, air-conditioning, hectic schedules and iPhones. That world is different. So incredibly different.

I will miss the children. I will miss my teammates. I will miss Momo. I will miss our Liberian staff. I will miss walking to the beach--the salty breeze on my face and the instant 'ahhhh...' that the ocean gives me. One of my favorite things to do is to watch the sunset. The sun sets perfectly over the ocean here, and I love watching that last sliver of sun disappear below the horizon. I can't help but think, 'another day complete.' Eventually I will miss Ma Mary's cooking. I'll even miss my dog One Love. Soon life will be quiet, and sometimes it will feel boring.

This week has been quite the whirlwind. So many things to do, people to see, loose ends to tie up, memories to make, things to be thankful for, and in the midst of it all remembering to slow down and just enjoy. There have been alot of tears, hugs, laughter, honest conversation, questions, fun, and thanksgiving. It's hard to believe--I will be on a plane in about 8 hours.

I am anxious, excited and expectant. There are thoughts of doubt, fear and worry; but honestly, God has really been giving me His deep and underlying peace. The final sentences of this chapter are being etched on the page. But I am so looking forward to the page turning and the new chapter beginning. Those first few sentence will be sweet! I will land in Atlanta [and most likely drive-thru Chick-Fil-A for breakfast--hello, welcome to America!] and go straight to meet my new nephew that was born on Thursday! I can't wait!!

I would greatly appreciate your prayers over the next several days and weeks. I am ready for the rest, quietness and comfort that awaits me. I can't wait to celebrate a precious new life with my family! I'm looking forward to catching up with friends, creating, enjoying, sharing sweet fellowship, gathering around the table with loved ones...all of those simple things that I really miss! But I will also need stillness. I need to hear His voice. There are so many ideas, hopes and dreams that God and I need to wrestle with. I need wisdom, discernment, guidance and clarity. Pray for those times that my heart aches for Liberia, the children and the people here. Pray, pray, pray! But also join me in being thankful. Thanksgiving brings joy! I am thankful....so, so thankful! God has been incredibly faithful over the past five years! The great news is that each and every new chapter will be full of His faithfulness!

I have so many stories and photos to share with you over the upcoming weeks. And I know that once I'm home, God will stir up new thoughts, stories and reflections too. I look forward to sharing those with you! I am thanking God this morning for ALL that He's done and for ALL that He's going to do!


Jesus, thank you. There aren't enough words. You are so good and so faithful! Thank you for the past four years. They have been beautifully difficult. Thank you for how you've moved and worked in me and through me. Thank you for love--your unconditional love that has no limit, and for the love that you've give me for Liberia. Thank you for beauty, laughter, joy and  fellowship. Thank you also for the stretching, pain, ugliness and deserts. Your refining process is long and painful and lonely...but it is good...so, so good. I wouldn't trade any of it! Thank you for this chapter. Thank you for the chapter that is to come. Be with me Jesus, continuing to fill me with your perfect peace. I'm only asking for my daily bread, and I know that you will provide. Jesus, I want to give it all. It is all for your glory. Give me strength, passion and gladness. Fill me with joy! Continue to give me your heart--help me to love like you love. My desire is to know you more--to walk with you in the garden in the coolness of the morning, fellowshipping, laughing and listening. I want and need to hear your voice. Speak to me, Jesus. Thank you Holy Spirit for guiding me and for helping me in times of trouble and fear. You are my comfort. Father, thank you for your provision and protection. Bring for your light and truth and bring justice where there is injustice. Bring the darkness into the light. Help me to love the unlovely. God, thank you that your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for you constant grace. Jesus, be near to me today, and during this time of transition. Continue to speak to me, and reveal yourself to me. God, you are good. May everything that I do be for your glory! Amen.


[I wrote this this morning, but for some reason it didn't post. So, now that I didn't make it on the flight and I'm back at my house, I'm posting it. There's a reason why I didn't make it on tonight's flight--I'm holding on tight for the ride!]

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Changes!


Dear Prayer Partners, Supporters and Friends,
I want to thank you for consistently praying for me and supporting me over the last four years. I cannot tell you how crucial your love, prayers and support are for me while I am in Liberia!  I really could not serve in Liberia without you!
Over the past four years, God has opened my eyes to so many things about the world around me. I have seen God’s hand of provision and protection on my life, the ministry of Orphan Relief and Rescue, and on the lives of the children that we love and serve. God has taught me so much about Himself, myself and the body of Christ. God continues to work miracles, answer prayers, change lives and make His name known in Liberia. God has been incredibly faithful, and I have never felt His hand more on my life.
Over the past six months or so, I have really been seeking God’s direction for the next step of my journey. The searching, seeking and wrestling has been both beautiful and painful, but God has given me clear direction that it is time for the next step. 
I will be leaving Liberia on June 3rd to come home for the birth of my nephew. When I leave Liberia, my time with Orphan Relief and Rescue will come to a close. The decision was not easy--my heart is still for Liberia and the children here. But, God has been opening my eyes to more needs in Liberia and enlarging my heart to include others. 
I don’t know what the future looks like but I know this: I know that God is in control, and I know that I will be back in Liberia in the future. I need to come home, enjoy my family, rest and recuperate, but then I will really be seeking God’s direction for the future. God has given me ideas and dreams, but I want my dreams to be His dreams. 
I will keep you updated on the dreams that God leads me to, and I look forward to continuing to share my heart for Liberia with you all! There truly aren’t enough words to say an adequate thank you! You have been a part of this journey, every step of the way, with your love, prayers, encouragement and support for me personally, and also for Orphan Relief and Rescue’s ministry. I really could not have done it without you! Please keep in touch--you can always email me, and I will continue to update my blog and share needs and prayer requests. I look forward to sharing the next chapter of my journey with you, and I hope that you will once again join me!
Love in Liberia,
Ashley
P.S. My current prayer requests are:
-I’ve been praying for various “impossibles” over the past few weeks. We have multiple children that are ill, a few of which have quite serious medical problems that cannot easily be treated in Liberia. We have also been dealing with other seemingly impossible situations, but we are trusting in a God who makes all things possible!
-My last few weeks in Liberia--that my time would be used wisely, and that it would just be a sweet time of fellowship, joy, laughter and thanksgiving!
-I have so many mixed emotions, and I know it will only get more emotional as my time comes to a close. God has really been giving me His perfect peace, but I want (and need) His perfect peace to carry me through until the end.
-For perseverance and strength to finish well.
-God’s wisdom, guidance and clarity for the next step.