Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Five Years Ago

This is about 10 days into my first trip to Liberia. Total bliss is the only way to describe it.
Five years ago today, I was boarding a flight from Atlanta to London. From London, I would fly to Freetown, Sierra Leone and then on into Monrovia. Five years ago, what I thought was a 'normal life' came to an end. When I stepped onto that plane, my life changed. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Jet lag, the heat, total darkness, the smell of burning charcoal, total chaos. Welcome to Liberia!

Despite feeling totally clueless as to what day it was or what was going on, I distinctly remember the drive from the airport. Between the wind blowing through my hair and the deafening crickets, it was almost as if the ride with the windows down was silent. It was pitch black, and we were dodging potholes the size of our van. People were walking all along the side of the highway, with an occasional person walking with a lantern. I was intrigued--I wondered where all of the people were coming from, and where they were all going. Somewhere along the drive, I remember seeing a clump of low, wide palm trees next to the road in the stillness of the night. Those trees, along with the distinct smell of burning charcoal, are like a snapshot of life that will always stay with me. In that instant, I clearly heard a gentle whisper, "welcome home, stay awhile."

At that point in time, I thought, "alright, five weeks...I'm staying awhile." What I didn't realize then, was that His whisper meant awhile. Um, like five years, awhile. If you would have asked me, I don't even think I would have predicted that one! I remember that instant as if it happened only five minutes ago. It's one of those times in life when God makes things so clear that there's no denying it.

I think that if I would have had communication with the five-years-ago-Ashley, I would tell her that this is only the beginning. That things and life will be difficult and amazing. I have seen too much death, children suffering, hunger, poverty, hopelessness, corruption, and every other evil thing. I have laughed and cried until there was nothing left. I have wept and celebrated. I have sacrificed, gone against the grain,  and missed out on things. I've confused people, sent them running away, lost friends and gained new ones. I have experienced His freedom and true joy. I have pleaded and begged, experienced miracles and overflowed with thankfulness. I have deeply loved; sometimes without getting anything in return. I have had to say goodbye to innocent children who should never have died so young. I have understood God more, grown closer to Him and found Him in so many unlikely places. SO much has happened over the last five years, but it has all been worth it. Every single thing, good and bad, has been worth it. It's part of my journey. It's part of my story. It's all been a part of His perfect plan.

Thank you so much for every single one of your prayers, encouraging emails, financial gifts, donations (undies, vitamins, etc.), moments of laughter, sweet fellowship and acts of kindness! I know I say it alot, but it's totally true--I cannot do any of this without you! Thank you so much for listening--for listening to the stories of children and needs that I share, for letting me pour out my heart on this screen, and for letting me know that you're hearing me loud and clear by responding to the things that you hear and see. I cannot thank you enough, and I am excited to share these next five years with you! Only God knows where I'll be and what I'll be doing then, but I know that no matter what, the journey will be worth it!

Love in Liberia,

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