because the story’s not yet over

it all began with a puddle of tears soaking into the off-white living room carpet.

it was early spring, six years ago now, when there’s still a chill in the air and everything looks dingy and grey in the weak sunlight. i’d just watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time, i remember, and it’d ripped something open in me, something that cried out for justice and healing and peace, some deep part of my soul that ached for africa, though i hadn’t yet been. i sat sobbing on the floor, rocking and praying (pleading, really) for the wrong things to be made right. “send me, Lord,” i wept. “i’ll go; send me.”

and as soon as i spoke those words, i knew, somehow, inexplicably knew, He would.

and then in November, i traveled to Liberia for the first time; a tiny nation i’d never even heard of but felt drawn to nonetheless. for two weeks, i quieted my soul and followed where i felt His leading. and He led me to the children–hungry children; sick children; hopeless children; scared children. the orphan-spirit in me recognized its kindred in the least of these, and i held them and i rocked them and i cried; oh, how i cried. because i knew that feeling; i had felt that ache, the lack. and when it came time for me to get on the airplane, to leave the poverty and return to privilege (guilty and ashamed as i felt for even having that choice), i knew i would never be the same.

so i went back. time and time again, i went back. i gave those children a permanent place in my arms, in my stretched-wide heart; i became auntie, mama, friend. i gritted my teeth and settled into a life lived in the thin places, in the messy, the uncomfortable. and it was hard; truly, so very hard. poverty took on a face. Michael died, and then Buster did, too. girls were raped, and the kids were beaten, and why in the world was no one talking about it? corruption was everywhere, and always–more death, more bodies, more loss. and then i got malaria, and then my health seemed to just deteriorate from that point on. i wasn’t sleeping well, and my body was sore, my heart tired, and in March of last year, i made the unthinkably difficult choice to walk away.

difficult because even in the hard, there was always beauty:: in Jumah’s fat, sweaty cheeks nestled against my neck. in Mercy’s long fingers that intertwined perfectly with my own. in Leemue’s happy smile and bright eyes, and Beyan’s transformation, and the look on Janet’s face when she told me i was her mother. and in the way these little ones lit up when i called them by name, for they knew–they were no longer overlooked or passed over; i saw them, really saw them, and i wanted to give them back the dignity that had been stolen.

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so in the fall, in the midst of changing seasons and a reminder to give thanks in all things, it should have come as no surprise when He asked me if i’d consider going back. He asked if i’d count the cost and decide if it was worth it. because i’ve tasted, and i’ve seen, friends, and i know the price is high.

but i also know:: this life is not my own. it’s been given to me that i may give it away.
and i know:: it’s when you give of yourself that you truly give.
and i know:: the tender heart of the Father aches for these children, so how cannot mine also?

and i guess that’s what settled it, then, when i decided i’d go. i’m currently making plans for a june-september trip, in which i’ll be reunited with my kids and hug old friends and hand-deliver some love letters and help a community center open its doors to be a beacon of light. i’m heart-thumping-in-my-ears excited and butterflies-in-my-tummy nervous, because i know and i’ve learned:: i cannot do this alone.

for starters, there’s a price tag, an actual monetary amount that i need to raise to buy a plane ticket and take three months off work and pay for accommodations and life in Liberia. $5000. i need to raise $5000…in four months.

and i need people to pray, to start praying now, really, for all the steps of this process. because i know this is going to be hard some days, and i’m going to be tired, and i’ll feel like giving up, and it’s then that i’ll need friends to be my Aaron and my Hur and hold my hands up to the hills where my help comes from.

so. here’s where i swallow my pride and humble my heart and i ask. will you help me? in whatever way God leads you, will you help me?

for if it takes a village to raise a child, i can only imagine it takes many, many more to raise hundreds of them. and there are sons and daughters not of my womb but of my heart who are an ocean away, waiting for Auntie Elena to come back to see them. and my heart-cry for the orphan, for the poor and the oppressed, for the discouraged and down-trodden, for the ones who need Jesus in the most desperate of ways–well, it’s calling me back, too.

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the return to liberia: an update

it was a mere two weeks ago that i stood in church, hands shaking in surrender as i realized the magnitude of what i was saying yes to. a return to liberia. a return to the oppressive heat and sleepless nights. to lives lost too soon, to children who nobody mourns once they leave us. to a land that assaults the senses, to the corruption, the poverty, the things i saw and heard that my heart and mind still have no words for.
but also–a return to regrowth. a return to a simple life, lived without excess. to hope and dreams for brighter futures. to community and to my kids, these young ones who have forever stolen my heart and changed the course of my entire life.

two weeks ago, i said yes. and i started to prepare. i filled out my citizenship application and put out a plea for the funds needed to file it. two weeks later, i’m over 60% funded, with a little over a week to go until my deadline**, and i’m already looking ahead to the next phase of this process.

two weeks ago, i told God, “yes…but it’d sure be great if you could let me know i’m making the right choice here.” and He did. in the scriptures that urge me to spend myself on behalf of the needy. in old journal entries that reconfirmed His call on my life to  “be love.” in the support and encouragement of friends and family who agreed to give, knowing that this, all of this–whatever God is up to–is a worthy cause. “it’s no surprise,” they said. “we all knew you’d be back there one day eventually.” and when i told my good friend Momo that i was coming back to Liberia, he laughed delightedly and told me, “God will provide. you need to be here.”

and i do–need to be there, that is. i need to be reunited with the pieces of my heart waiting for me there. i need to be living out my days doing what i was made to do.

and so i take another step, a little shaky but with all the faith i can muster. and when i falter, and this all seems crazy and impossible and a little of both, i lift my vision higher.

i walk, slow but sure, and every day, i cry a little with gratitude for this crazy, beautiful, messy adventure He has put me on.
wait with me, my sweet Liberia. i’m coming-o! 

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**the first step in getting ready for a return to Liberia is filing my citizenship application, so i can travel freely between countries. the cost is $680, and i hope to file by November 1st. if you feel led to give towards this, please send me a message so i can give you donation info. no amount is too big or small–every little bit helps!

when i want to live a life that says “yes”

nearly seven months ago, i left Liberia. after an especially grueling season, i made the hard decision to fight for my emotional, mental and spiritual well-being and step off the mission field.

i dreamed of returning home to the States and resuming normalcy once more; i wanted to fall into a life of comfort and ease and forget all about the exhaustion of the past four years.

when i got home, i struggled a bit, as most missionaries do when it comes to reentry. the mass consumerism and excessive consumption of the Western world overwhelmed me. i felt guilty after lunch with friends, and i wondered if my kids in Liberia were hungry, if they’d had their fill.

mainly, though, i simply ached to be with them. these kids–they’d become my life. i’d welcomed them into my arms and my heart as if they were my own, and then i walked away from them. but the thing is: i had left pieces of my self, my very soul, behind with them.

and as more time passed, i started to wonder: how can i really live when i’m not whole, when massive portions of my heart lie an ocean away? and it was then that something deep inside me started to whisper, “the story is not over.”

i confess i dismissed it at first. a return to Liberia would be emotional suicide. i’m not ready. what if i can’t handle it again? what if this is just me, not being able to let go?

so i prayed, and i opened up the scriptures and sought out Truth. and i saw, woven throughout all its pages, i saw–the bleeding, tender heart of the Father for the fatherless.

i saw–that it’s when you give of yourself that you truly give.
i saw–that this life is not my own, and i don’t want to fill it with things that will only pass away.

i realized i wanted to live a life spent chasing after God and the things of His heart.
and you know what? for me, that’s found in Liberia.

because it’s one thing to serve the poor and the orphan, but it’s a whole other ballgame to identify with them and live among them, to enter into the hard places and hold their faces in my hands and tell them, “i’m here to stay.”
and i want to stay. i want to spend my days living out the scriptures, defending the cause of the weak and the fatherless, maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescuing the weak and needy (see psalm 82).
you see, i want my life to count for something, for my kids, who deserve someone to settle in for the long haul, someone to say, “i’m not going anywhere.”

and to do that i need to get my hands dirty. i need to step outside my comfort zone and give up the things that were never mine to begin with.

so i said yes. i stood in my church last sunday and raised my face high and told Jesus yes. even though my hands were shaking. even though the tears were falling. even when i counted the cost. i said yes–because he’s worth it.

and i’m looking for people who will say yes with me, who believe in me and the God that i serve and the work he has put in my heart to do. the timing is still off; there is still healing and some recovery i must go through before i can return to Liberia. and there are some very real, tangible needs that i cannot meet for myself that i need help with.

so please–send me a message, ask the questions, find out how you can get involved. i want you on this journey with me, friends.
say yes?

thin-spiration: {week six}

update time!

  • weight: down another pound + a half. slow and steady will win this race!
  • i lasted three days on the caffeine detox before i caved and made myself a cup of bustelo. surprisingly, the detox wasn’t as bad as i expected. i only had a few minor headaches, and wasn’t all that cranky. going to try and limit myself to a cup a day from now on.
  • still trying to cut out as many starchy carbohydrates as possible (except for rice, of course. don’t think this african-girl-at-heart could eeeevvverrr make it without rice!) the first five days or so without bread was tough. really tough. but i definitely feel better without it, and am still considering make the official switch to gluten-free (thoughts, anyone?)
  • am learning that healthy food can (and should be!) delicious! still eating a lot of fresh fruits + veggies, greek yogurt for protein, lean meats–and loving it! recently found a great recipe for baked salmon with olive oil and sea salt. OH. MY. GOSH, Y’ALL. so amazingly yummy. seriously; try it!

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(it’s so wrong, but i laugh hysterically EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. and laughing burns calories, so…)

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(guilty. only it was iced pumpkin donut holes. tasty at the time, terrible later on.)

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(my inner monologue…daily.)

thin-spiration: {week five}

if you read last week’s post, you know that this has been my “fresh start week”. and if you didn’t…well, let me just say i fell off the proverbial wagon and ate copious amounts of chocolate and carbs as an attempt to make it through one of my toughest (non-fitness-related) weeks yet.

but i’m back.
and here are a few updates:

  • weight’s still the same. but i’m okay with that. as long as the number isn’t going up, we’re golden.
  • i’ve begun a detox/fast/cleanse to get rid of stored-up toxins, and it suuuucks. but i’ll be better off for it in the end, so c’est la vie.
  • as part of said cleanse, i’ve cut back on (read: trying to cut out) caffeine, at least for the time being. JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL. (did i mention this sucks?)
  • have been taking advantage of the gorgeous weather and hitting the trails instead of the treadmill. it’s a nice change of pace; sunshine is good for my soul.

finally, here’s some of the good stuff that’s kept me going (and laughing!) enjoy!

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thin-spiration: {week four}

sometimes in life, you just need to hit the reset button. i’m sure you know what i’m talking about. you have a rough day, a hard week, and all you want to do is start all over again, fresh and new.

that’s exactly where i’m at. this past week was difficult on many levels, and i was too focused on just trying to make it through that i didn’t care about eating my vegetables or whether or not i got to the gym. it’d easy to beat myself up for getting off track, but i refuse to let shame have a say

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and so now i’m hitting reset.
and i’m reminded once again how thankful i am for second chances.

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until next week…
xo,
ep.

thin-spiration: {week three}

okay, y’all; you know how this works. but first – some updates!

  1. i’ve lost five pounds. which someone told me is the weight-equivalent of a chihuahua. …so, i’ve lost a chihuahua. not bad.
  2. i also spent yesterday in NYC and carbo-loaded in little italy. so it’s entirely possible those five pounds will come back to haunt me. but i don’t regret any of it. (well, maybe that last slice of pizza…)
  3. still running. up to about three miles before my body taps out on me.
  4. trying to eat as much fresh food as possible and maintain a nutritional balance. none of that diet food for me!
  5. i found out how many calories and grams of fat are in a spoonful of nutella, and i will never be the same. *sadface*

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and finally, THIS: “measuring self-worth based on socially constructed ideas of success is spiritual death.” (buddha)

until next week…
xo,
ep.

love will bring them back to life {an exciting new project}

has anyone ever given you a love letter? how did reading someone else’s feelings for you scrawled out in ink make you feel?
probably…loved. accepted. special. happy.

3002967227_aec483d6b7_zPhoto by Peter Hellberg on Flickr

now imagine yourself as an orphan in Liberia, West Africa. most of the time, people treat you like a statistic, just another face in the crowd. you’re a number, not a name. not a person who a mind + soul, with a heart that cries out because it’s hungry + thirsty for love to fill it.

the heartbreaking reality is that i happen to know orphans in Liberia, West Africa, who feel this exact same way. dozens of orphans, actually. nearly 150 to be exact.
and when i first met them, i saw their neediness, their ache for affection and care. for a hug. for love.

i saw it in their big eyes, seemingly shy to meet my own. in the embraces that lingered longer than necessary. in little hands that clawed at my legs, tiny fingers finding a way to intertwine with my own.

every child deserves to be loved. every child deserves to know she is loved.
but these kids in Liberia? so many of them have no idea…

when i lived there, it was my mission to love those kids back to life. and when it came time for me to leave, my heart tore in two. because who was going to say “i love you” in my absence? who was going to hug and hold, to tell the girls they’re beautiful, to encourage, to affirm?

when i came home, i spent hours upon hours pouring out my heart + soul for these kids. i wrote them personalized letters + individual greeting cards, all to simply remind these children that they are loved more than they could ever know.

and now i’m inviting you to join me.

i am humbled/proud/excited to introduce the love letters for liberia project, a way for people literally from all around the world to send some love to the kids in liberia through letters, cards + care-packages.
the concept is simple: every quarter, people can sign up to be a letter-writer. whether you’re local + can attend our letter-writing parties, or whether you live further away + want to send it through the mail. i will give you the name(s) + age(s) of a child in need of some letter-lovin’. then, i’ll gather them all up, ship them off to a courier (there is no reliable mail service to/from liberia), and they’ll be hand-delivered not long after!

i’ve seen first-hand what an impact love has on these kids’ lives + i am so excited to watch that grow in them, as they learn to see themselves as the beloved.

and you–you get to play a part in this.

so spread the word, like us on facebook,  mark your calendars (september 14 is the letter-writing launch), and drop me a line at elena[dot]pellizzaris at gmail if you want to be involved.
together we can bring love to liberia, one letter at a time.

when you just don’t know

this is a post that i’ve put off writing.

i’ve known that i need to. so many of you have asked the questions that have told me you want to know. “what are you up to?” “where are you?” “how are you?”

the answer is one i hate having to give:: “i don’t know.”

i don’t know what i’m doing these days. i’m doing so much that it’s all starting to run together, and i just. don’t. know.
i don’t know where i am half the time. i go to bed too late and get up too early. my body forgets what time zone i’m in, and i just. don’t. know.
i don’t know how i’m doing. a million and one adjectives come to mind, and i’m feeling all of them, but that just tells you my emotions and not my current state. i’m sorry, but i just. don’t. know.

three weeks ago i left Liberia. i kissed my babies goodbye and held them close. i told them i love them, that i’d pray for them every day, that i’d see them in January. 

i got home and hit the ground running. i spoke at my church and struggled to say the words for the last six months of my life.

i unpacked my suitcase only to repack it again. i realized how much of my life has been spent living out of suitcases. i flew to Seattle.

i drove to Idaho. i met friends who quickly became family, who welcomed me in their homes and fed me meals and laughed with me and prayed for me. i walked on dirt roads and found heart-shaped rocks and heard His whisper in the wind.

i retreated to a cabin in the woods. i shut myself off from the rest of the world and sought answers to the questions my soul has been asking for a long, long time. i cried in a bathtub and took a nap on the front lawn in the sunshine.

i wrote (a lot).

i faced the fears and put words to the feelings.

i swam in hot springs. i drank coffee on a dock. i took a walk in a forest and spent an hour staring at the cottage with the red roof.

i got homesick. even more so once i realized i have no idea where home even is anymore. i watched the birds flying above me and saw the shadows their wings made on the ground. i thought of psalm 91. i took it as a promise.

i learned about myself. i laughed, and i cried. i realized how much i need to grieve the hard things. i felt the weariness. i started talking about it. i gave thanks for the people in my life who love me enough to ask.

i started thinking ahead, making plans, organizing events. 
and in 36 hours, i’ll be on my way home…again.
i am going to rest.
i am going to prepare.
i am going to share my heart openly.
i am not going to hold back. 

because even if i don’t know what’s ahead,
i do know the One who does.

Liberia: the first week back

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.