By: Charity Lee..The ELLA Foundation
“It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” ~~ Wendell Berry
Life is a journey…we have all heard variations on this theme at some point in our life. As children we approach this journey called life as an adventure. In our innocence we assume that all adventures are magical, mysterious, and fun. Then, if we are destined to do so, we grow up. As we walk further down the path of life we learn that adventures are also perilous, grueling, and fraught with tangible despair. We often get lost along the way. There are no simple directions to and from point A and B. Our paths are full of twists and turns. Sometimes we are so lost we feel there is no way we will ever find our way back home, no way we will ever find ourselves again.
I am not now, nor ever have been, a religious woman but the first time I held my son, then eight years later my daughter, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is a power in this world that is far greater than anything I had ever imagined or acknowledged before and that this power had the amazing ability to create life. I was just blessed enough to be the vessel for this amazing creation I held in my arms, cradled to my chest. And not only could this power create life it also had the power to create all-consuming, mind boggling, fiercely death defying, unconditional love appear in my heart and soul in the blink of an eye. Every time I heard my children laugh I had more proof of this power at work in my life. Every time I saw one of their beautiful smiles more proof was granted to me, a woman of no religious conviction or fervor at all. I did not need a religion. I was given something better…life and love.
Thirteen years after my first real experience of the divine nature of life my life and my love were destroyed in the fifteen minutes it took my son to murder his sister. With seventeen thrusts of a knife I lost the two stars I relied upon to guide my adventure, my journey. I could not navigate the ship of my life anymore. My stars had gone dark and I was drowning in a sea of grief, despair, rage, and pain. I spent many days and nights yelling in rage at this power who gave me my stars only to take them away. I yelled myself into exhaustion and finally into humility. I begged this power to give me a sign, any sign, to navigate my ship by again. I did not want to drown, did not want to die full of grief, despair, rage, and pain. I made a promise to Ella the night she died that I would live life as best I could for her. It was important to me to keep this final promise to her but I had no idea how to do this without her in my arms. So I begged with every ounce of my soul to be given a sign. And my wish was granted.
The night I let go of my anger and begged for a sign my daughter came to visit me in a dream. She sat on my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck, and told me to stop thinking with my brain and start thinking with my soul. She told me to stop looking at life with my eyes and to look instead with my heart. She told me there are signs everywhere that mark the good and bad paths we can walk upon in this crazy, mysterious, magical, painful adventure of life. All I had to do was remember love and the signs would be clear. She hugged me, kissed me, whispered in my ear she loved me. I woke up in tears and have been able to see the signs that mark my path ever since. I have faith in love so I have no choice but to have faith in my signs. I follow them no matter if I want to or not. I can promise you my signs have pointed out to me many painful paths I have not wanted to walk down. But I do because I know all my signs point to a greater and even more amazing love than the love I have in my life now.
Which brings me to the point of this blog…
Two months ago I was having a conversation with a professor of mine. I met with her to tell her I was not going to enroll in the MSW program this year because in the year since I put in my application I decided to start The ELLA Foundation™. She wanted to know more so I told her what the ELLA is about and what I’d like to see it grow to be. After hearing my story she asked me if I knew a man named Bill Pelke or had ever heard of Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing. I said, “No.” She said, “You should look it up.”
That was it. Three sentences, one question, two statements, twenty-seven words. But those short simple words struck a chord in my soul so I filed them away and went about my day. I Googled Bill and Journey of Hope the next day. I spent a hour on their website reading stories and news articles. This was no small barely born ELLA Foundation™. This was an international and well known nonprofit whose members were all somehow affected by murder and were all opposed to the death penalty. Like all websites there was a ‘contact us’ button so I decided to listen to the notes that had strummed my soul strings and contact Bill. I hit the ‘contact us’ link and sent an email. Just because I am a little type-A I decided I would call too…a number was listed after all…and left a voicemail too.
I assumed I would receive some generic computer generated reply back, assumed there was no way a President and Co-Founder who traveled the world to tell his story and spread the message of love and compassion for all humanity would have the time to personally contact me. I should know by now never to assume anything. I heard from Bill in less than 24 hours, we talked, I sent him a video of a speech I gave, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bill likes to say that he does not know how to open doors but he knows how to walk through them when they are opened. I always laugh and say that he knows how to open doors just fine. The only difference in our techniques is he is quiet and gentle both in his knocking and his walking through. When I see a door that needs to be opened I have no problem kicking it down and making my entrance as loud and obvious as possible if need be. Different methods; same result. The door is open and ready to walk through.
Because I trusted and followed my signs and Bill graciously opened his door when I so persistently knocked at it, The ELLA Foundation™ and Journey of Hope have walked through many doors together and now have the opportunity to walk through another.
Journey of Hope was asked by Mpagi Edward Edmary to come to Uganda to aid his efforts for the abolition of the death penalty in his country. Edward spent eighteen years on Uganda’s death row and was exonerated only because his alleged victim was found to be alive. Since his release he has spent his time working to build a school and orphanage for the children of death row and other inmates who were forced to leave school when their family member was incarcerated.
When Maria Donatelli, Coordinator for the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was made aware that the Journey of Hope was going to be in Uganda during the 9th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty, she invited the Journey of Hope to attend a two day conference in Kigali, Rwanda sponsored by the WCADP and Hands Off Cain.
From Rwanda Journey of Hope goes to Nairobi, Kenya for several meetings.
Bill asked if I wanted to go to Africa with Journey of Hope as a Journey of Hope member and representative of The ELLA Foundation. Of course I said yes. We leave for Africa on October 3, 2011 and return home October 19, 2011. We will speak in middle schools, high schools, college classes, and at rallies. We will visit Uganda’s death row for men, the women’s prison, and family members of death row inmates. We will share our stories of pain and loss and spread the Journey of Hope message of love and compassion for all mankind and ELLA’s message of Empathy, Love, Lessons, and Action™.
We are joined on this trip by Bill Babbitt and Randy Gardner
Bill speaks around the world about his brother Manny who was executed in 1999. Bill has raised over $2000 so this Journey can take place.
Randy founded Back to Basics Organic Farm and Ranch in honor of his brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was executed by the state of Utah by firing squad on June 18, 2010.
These two brothers will share the torture that their families went through because of state sanctioned executions.
If you had told me the night my daughter was murdered that I would one day be the Founder and Executive Director of an international violence prevention and human rights nonprofit foundation I would have looked at you like you were crazy. You may look at me like I am crazy because I decided to live my life based on signs from a power we cannot see with our eyes.
I ask you now…which one of us is crazier? Open your heart and follow your signs my friends and your journeys will be blessed…
Stay tuned to The ELLA Foundation™ for blogs about our shared Journey of Hope.
Journey of Hope
Dream One World
World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Hands Off Cain
Murder Victims Families for Human Rights
Back to Basics Organic Farm & Ranch