a turn of events

In my last post, just a few short weeks ago, I filled you all in on the latest news from my crazy-busy life. In it, I mentioned that I was working two jobs and thinking about a possible move to Virginia.

Three weeks from now, I will be working one job and living in Seattle.

Crazy, right? But that’s just how God works sometimes. Not long after I last blogged, I received a phone call, giving me the opportunity to move out to Washington and work in the Orphan Relief and Rescue stateside office before my return to Liberia (which will likely be next year). Honestly, at first, I had no idea what to say. I was shocked and completely caught off-guard. But the more I mulled it over, the more peace I felt. And I started thinking that this actually could be a really great thing. It may not have been what I thought I wanted at the time, but I’m okay with that.

The prophet Jeremiah once prayed, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his [own] steps” (10:23). As I ready for this next chapter, next phase, next adventure and next season, I can only hope to honestly echo his words with acceptance and trust.

leaving Liberia

As most of you know by now, I will be taking a break from the field and leaving Liberia on March 2. That, my friends, is only 27 days away. And, as I’ve said many times in the past, time here is flying. It’s like I blink, and a day is gone. Then two days. Then a week.

As I start looking ahead to my leave, trying to plan and prepare for all that it entails, I find myself on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. So much of me feels torn. There’s the Elena that is at home here in Liberia—and then there’s the Elena that is so happy to be going home to Pennsylvania. My problem is that I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two. In fact, I don’t even quite know if that is possible.

Now, please hear me when I say that I am very much looking forward to this upcoming season at home. Aside from spending precious moments with my Papa, and being there for my sister (who is expecting), I am also thankful to have been granted a time of rest and refreshment. I believe God has much work He wants to do in my heart, and I feel the best place for me to go through that is at home. I am looking forward to sweet times with friends, family, and my church. And I’ve been so blessed to be able to stay with my dear friends Bala and Laly again, to be a part of their family once more, and to spend my days with their little ones that I love so dearly. God is good, my friends. Yes, this time at home is necessary, in some ways—but it is also a gift, and I treasure that.

But going home means leaving here—leaving the kids, my team, my Liberian family and friends. I have spent the better part of the last year and a half in Africa, and it’s difficult to think about that changing. The kids will be fine; of that I have no doubt. They are healthy and thriving, and they have plenty of “aunties” and “uncles” here to give them the love and care that they need. But I will miss them. Terribly. They have been a part of my daily life for so long now. I know their names, faces, stories, moods, needs. We are a part of each other’s lives, so it is going to hurt to leave them behind—not because they will not be okay without me (because they will), but because I wonder how okay I will be without them.

Same with my team. They’ve seen me at both my best and my worst, and we’ve been through a lifetime of experiences together. This past weekend at Robertsport, as we were sitting around the campfire, made me realize just how much of me is invested in them, in ORR, in the work being done in Liberia. Still—I must go for a while.

On a more personal note, as March 2 gets closer and closer, I find myself fighting against fears and insecurities that I know are lies but feel very true. Part of me feels like a failure. Part of me feels weak, useless, ashamed, like I’m giving up, like I’ve wasted all this time and money. I worry about my finances, about being able to survive in the States again, and I worry about disappointing the kids, ORR, my supporters—even God. It is such a heavy burden to carry. And it’s a truly sucky (because I can think of no other word that fits so well) feeling.

So this morning, as I was having quiet time, I started praying for God to reveal to me His way of looking at this situation. And then I felt Him speaking words of truth, life, and love—cool water upon my parched desert of a heart. He was saying that I needed to stop being so hard on myself. He said I can walk way on March 2 in peace, knowing that I have done the job He has given me—and done it well. I have “trained up a child in the way that he should go.” I have “preached Christ crucified.” And, most of all, I have “loved deeply—from the heart.”

This morning, my Abba told me that He was proud of me. And oh, how I needed to hear that. He also gave me this scripture, which I will hold on to in the coming months:

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly…and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed….” Isaiah 40.1-2

Yesterday, Deb asked me if I would like to go see Beyan and bring Christmas gifts to the kids. My immediate reponse: “Umm, YEAH!” (Everyone knows I can never resist a Beyan-visit!)

When we arrived at the orphanage, Sarah was the first kid to come up to us. Right away, Deb and I started oohing and aahing over how much she’d grown. Moses showed up next, followed by a giggly Koiboi. And then I saw Beyan, in his telltale red and black striped jersey, poke his head around the corner and give me a shy little smile. Immediately, I called him over to me and gave him a huge hug (I have to say—there’s nothing like a snuggly Beyan-hug! It’s one of my favorite things in the world!) He, of course, was his usual frisky, mischievous self; every time I pulled out my camera, he’d start “bluffing”, acting all serious and doing his best to hold back his smile:

Then I’d make a funny face or pull him close and poke his belly, and he’d dissolve into giggles again.

Later, as I watched him laughing and playing with his friends, I was struck (yet again) by how much of a change I see in him. When I think of the Beyan I first met in 2008, I remember a pathetic, frail, hungry and neglected little boy. I remember a boy who didn’t smile, didn’t talk, who just sat in the dirt and stared at me with the saddest eyes I think I’ve ever seen. Those eyes haunted me; those eyes are one of the reasons I came back to Liberia.

Today, the Beyan I saw had no more sadness in his eyes. His belly was full of rice, and there was a light and a joy in him that was never there before. As he handed me three pink flowers he picked off a bush, I felt like my heart was going to explode with happiness. And, when I knelt down and looked into his eyes and asked him, “Beyan, do you know that I love you?”, he smiled and nodded yes!

I know that, as much as I joke about Beyan being my “son”, and even though the kids call me his “ma”, he is not my own. I know the day will come when I will have to say goodbye, and I know it will tear my heart apart. Until then, I will cherish days like this one, moments of laughter and hugs and love. They’re what keep me here.

two years later

Today is my Liberian two-year anniversary. It was a mere 730 days ago that this crazy, wonderful whirlwind of a journey began.

Two years ago, I had just gone through a messy, painful, drawn-out divorce. I was on the verge of losing my job and, consequently, my apartment. I was over my head in debt and bills I couldn’t pay, some of my (seemingly) most meaningful relationships had fallen apart, and I was honestly pretty close to falling apart myself. I had absolutely no clue what came next or how I would get there even if I knew what to expect.

I arrived in Liberia for the first time on November 21, 2008, shell-shocked and exhausted, still having trouble believing it was actually happening. I had clearly heard God tell me to go to Liberia, and I truly believed that it—whatever it was—was the culmination of a dream He put in me almost two decades ago. I was finally on African soil, and I knew deep down in my core that it was going to change me forever.

Liberia both captivated and tore my heart apart. I saw things I didn’t want to see, things I didn’t know how to process or explain. Poverty became real. It had a face—the face of a beautiful people that deserved so much more. For the first time in a long time, I wept for someone besides myself. Walking away from Liberia almost broke me, yet something inside knew that I’d be coming back.

One year ago, I was packing up the remains of a life I once lived, preparing to return to Liberia at last. I’d just gone through a season of intense prayer, of confirmation and later doubt, of waiting, of loss of hope and then hope renewed, of trying to come to terms with the fact that my entire life had become something not my own. Everything was changing…
I had finally come to a place where I could laugh again, where I felt a lightness of heart, where my life was filled with good people that I loved and who loved me. And I was saying goodbye to it all. I was going back to Liberia. I remember feeling excited. Happy. Unsure. Scared. Hopeful.

During my second stay in Liberia, I laughed, cried, learned, taught, wrote, questioned, prayed. God used that time to grow me in a way I had never thought possible. He used Liberia (and all the experiences that came along with it) to completely turn my world upside down. Each day was more challenging than the last—yet also more rewarding. And when the time came for me to go home, I was once again torn. I knew that I was supposed to come back; I knew I wasn’t done in Liberia. Yet I also ached for home, for the way things were. A part of me wanted to just…go back.

Even so, today I sit here, back in Liberia once more. Looking back, I am simply awestruck that this is where I am, that this is who I am. I see things with fresh eyes these days; even so, I know I’m only getting a mere glimpse of how all the puzzle pieces from the last two years fit together. Somehow, though, I have peace. I feel stronger…

I’m amazed every day as I feel Him working through me. What’s even more amazing to me, though, is how I feel Him working in me. He has promised me newness, beauty from ashes, and I believe this season is the beginning of it. He is taking all my broken pieces and shaping them into something glorious, soon to be revealed. He’s rescued my raw and wounded heart and is anointing it with His oil. He’s seen my emptiness and whispers to me that soon I will be full. He brought me all the way here, to the “land of liberty” in order that He may set me free.

life lately

First off:
a) I realize that the last time I blogged was more than two months ago.
b) I apologize. But…
c) …life has been so busy. And…
d)…blogging will (hopefully) become much more regular from here on.

As you know, I got back from Liberia in late June, and spent the first month or so resting, relaxing, and catching up with those I love so dearly. August and September (thus far), however, have been an absolute whirlwind. I made two trips to Canada, did speaking engagements about Orphan Relief and Rescue, held two major fundraisers, and packed for Seattle and, after that, Liberia.

I arrived in Seattle on Sunday and was happily reunited with some of the team. Along with that, I had the pleasure of getting to know some new people who have joined the Orphan Relief and Rescue family. This week, we’ve all been meeting for prayer, worship, Bible study, and teaching. The field team has also had the privilege of spending time with a sweet, feisty Cuban woman named Margarita who is a crisis and trauma counselor. She has been helping us process some of the events that happened this year in Liberia.

We also had a day of silence and solitude at Mt. Rainier. Honestly, I can’t sum up the experience. All I can say is that it took my breath away. It was challenging, transforming, and…necessary. In a word: incredible.

Finally, despite all the headaches from rising airfare costs and ever-changing itineraries, I was able to purchase my plane ticket back to Liberia! I leave Seattle on September 30 and will arrive in Liberia on October 1. Though I wasn’t able to get the exact itinerary as Debbie, she and I will be leaving Seattle within just a few hours of each other and have plans to meet up in Brussels. Please keep the both of us in prayer, as we make our final preparations to go back.

Again, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making memories with me these past two months. Every coffee date, concert, sleepover, shopping day, road trip, sweet prayer time—all of it was just amazing. I love you guys, and can’t wait to update you again from Liberia in just a few weeks!

This year, I celebrated my first Christmas in Liberia! To get the kids into the spirit of the season, we in the Child Development Program taught a Christmas lesson—complete with stories, Christmas songs and even an art project! We talked about why we celebrate the holiday, about the significance of Christ’s birth and how thankful we are to God for sending us His Son. It was a beautiful reminder that all over the world, whether here in Liberia or back home in Canada and the US, people everywhere were celebrating Jesus and His glorious birth!

Then it was time to get to work and make some Christmas bundles! Each bundle contained a washcloth, a toothbrush, two pencils, some candy, a small toy and an apple (here in Liberia, the apple symbolizes a heart, so to give someone an apple is to say, ‘I love you.’) 

After that came Christmas deliveries, which was probably my favorite part! In addition to a bundle, each child received some new clothes, (there’s a pic of Deb and I fitting the kids for new outfits below) a new pair of slippers (ie, flip-flops), and a notebook with a letter from someone in America. I loved sitting with the kids, helping them read their letters, and watching their faces light up as they heard about people they had never met but who loved them and wanted them to have a wonderful Christmas. It was so personal, so intimate, and beautiful.

Of course, one of my favorite things about the holidays is spending time with those that I love. Whether it was swimming in a pool on Christmas Day (well, I was sick, so I ended up just watchingeveryone swim!), eating baked potatoes and playing dominoes with some friends, or worshiping during one of the most intensely and intimately beautiful Christmas Eve services ever, I was struck over and over again by how richly blessed I am.

I’m so thankful to have been able to truly celebrate this Christmas, in every sense of the word. The angel said, “Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy!” What a reason to celebrate!

This holiday season, I’m thankful for the gift of joy, for the gift of friendship, for the gifts of smiles and laughter and hugs and tears. And even though I couldn’t be with you in person, I’m ohsothankful foryou. I know it’s a little late, but I’m going to say it anyway: MERRY CHRISTMAS to each of you! I hope it was your most joyous one yet.