Well, I made it through my first week back in Liberia! I arrived around 5:30pm GMT (that’s four hours ahead of you east-coasters, thanks to Daylight Savings Time) last Sunday on an extremely full flight from Brussels. I was exhausted (full flight = less space to stretch out and try to sleep), hungry and more than a little irritated by the time I finally cleared customs and somehow found my luggage in the abyss that is the RIA baggage claim—but I and both my suitcases made it nonetheless. I walked outside to be met by Deb and Ashley’s smiling faces, a thick blanket of humidity and the strange assortment of smells that only someone who has visited Liberia can understand. After a dinner of hamburgers and french fries and a warm(ish) shower outside under the stars, I crawled under my mosquito net and slept like a baby for about eleven hours. I remember waking up a couple of times through the night, aware of the heat and how much I was sweating, but I was so tired that I just fell right back asleep.
I woke up in the morning to the cacophony of sounds that I’ve grown so accustomed to here in Liberia: cars honking, birds chirping, dogs barking, people laughing, gates opening, and friendly conversations happening in the front yard. I went around the house, greeting all my Liberian “family” that I hadn’t seen in a year. There were lots of hugs, lots of handshakes, and even some singing from Ma Mary and Piko! We had a brief staff meeting, and then I got to work unpacking my luggage and setting up my room. By the time all of that was done, it was around 2:00—which meant I needed to quickly get dressed and get in the car to head over to an orphanage. The kids at this particular home knew that I was coming, and I was greeted with lots of smiles, hugs, and questions about my time in America. After some games, songs, and answering even more questions, I went back to the house where I enjoyed my favorite Liberian meal (pumpkin soup over rice—with “plenty pepper!”) and a walk along the beach at sunset.
The rest of the week was spent getting back into my regular routine of life in Liberia. It’s amazing that, even though I’ve been gone so long, it’s like I know exactly what to do to fall back into life here: carry the bucket of water down the hall to flush the toilet; take anti-malarial meds and a vitamin every morning after breakfast; tuck the mosquito net in at night to avoid unwanted critters in your bed; don’t leave food out because of the ants; etc. I was away for an entire year, and yet every part of me remembers how to do all the little things that make up day-to-day life here. It’s uncomfortable yet familiar, complex and yet also easy. Though in the past I have fought against it, Liberia has become my home. In fact, on Tuesday afternoon as we were driving to an orphanage, I was thinking about all these things, and I suddenly heard that still, small voice: You can settle in for a while here. You’re home.
In the past, I would have fought that whisper with everything I had. I would have argued all the reasons I could come up with as to why I should have a different life, one with a doting husband and children, with a white picket fence and the whole “American dream.” But, as all who know me well have seen during the past few months, God is doing a work in me, and I am learning to lay down what it is that I want and surrender with joy to whatever may come my way. Is it always easy? Of course not. But on Tuesday, when I heard that quiet voice, I realized that deep within me, I instinctively knew it to be true. I am home. Liberia is where I have been planted for this time and this season. Instead of yearning to uproot myself and settle down elsewhere, what would happen if I decided to dig in my heels, stick with it, and allow my roots to go down deep? I would grow. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what all this is about anyway? I’ve spent nearly three years back and forth between here and the States, and the constant transition has transformed me like nothing else in my life has. I thought I was coming to Liberia to help orphans, but I have seen that this time here has been just as much for me as it is for them, just in a different way.
One of my favorite quotes ever is from Jim Elliot, who reminds us, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I used to be someone who had a difficult time being fully present; I was either haunted by the past or preoccupied with the future. But I’ve realized that, in the past three years, I have missed out on so many things because of that. And I don’t want life to pass me by any longer; I want to fully experience all that this time in Liberia has for me. Again, I know it will not always be easy. There are people and places on the other side of the Atlantic that I sometimes miss so much that it hurts. There are moments of frustration and discouragement, moments when I feel utterly alone, like I’m trapped and don’t know how to escape. But life here in Liberia is also filled with beauty and a love so pure it transcends my human capabilities. There are times of stretching, times of learning, and I always come out on the other side so very different than I was before.
And I am thankful beyond any and all words for each one of you who are walking with me on this journey. Thank you for praying for me, for encouraging me when I want to give up, for challenging me to stop fighting and allow myself to grow. Thank you for letting me to be real and honest; for giving me space to talk about what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, what I’ve lived through. And thank you for caring about the things my heart breaks for; for loving Liberian orphans that you’ve never even met, for being a voice for the children here who need us.