It has been one month since I moved back to North Carolina after a year of living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Just as quick as I arrived back home I was on another plane to Colorado for a week away with my boyfriend. Once that week was over I was busy working at Community Math Academy in Shelby, NC. And now I’m busy preparing for a new year of teaching in Buncombe County as well as adjusting to a new home in Asheville, NC. Many people have asked me if I miss my kids or if I miss Haiti and how I’m feeling. To be honest I haven’t given myself any time to think about it or process my emotions so that is what I’m doing here.
I do miss my kids. Every day I wake up and I wish I could hear Angeline say, “Good morning princess.” Every day I wish I could make coffee from instant coffee grounds and hot water from our water cooler. Every day I wish I woke up to smell garlic cooking in our kitchen and to see Mommy Soso smiling in the hall. It’s hard to wake up and not experience those things. I miss all the hugs and all the laughs. I miss the food and the sunshine. I miss hearing Creole. I really miss it all. Living in Haiti was hard. Before moving there I went on two, one-week trips to visit. One of those weeks was a mission trip which sparked my love for the kids and Have Faith Haiti, and the other was an interview with Have Faith. During those weeks I was on cloud nine. I loved the sweat rolling down my back and the dirt on my feet because that meant I was in my favorite place with my favorite kids. The reality of daily life is not always as sweet. Learning to adjust to taking care of children 24/7 and the responsibilities that come along with that while also adjusting to a new culture, language, and climate were very difficult in my first few months in Haiti. I know that I complained a lot and most days I was very uncomfortable, but today sitting in my air-conditioned home with literally everything I could ever want or need right at my fingertips I’m missing the mosquitos buzzing in my ears and the sun shining down on my cheeks because that means I’m not in my favorite place or with my favorite kids anymore. I think this is a constant struggle as a human, to not be content in our current state of life. We always want what is next or what was, at least for me this is generally true. I wrestled with this struggle constantly while in Haiti because I knew that I did only have one year with my loved ones there and I didn’t want to waste it. The children and God taught me a lot this past year about being content. Paul stated in Phillippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This was something that God was really teaching me this year. It doesn’t matter where I am or what the circumstances may be, what is most important is being present through God and especially with the people that he has surrounded me with. No matter how hot it was, no matter how tired they may have been, no matter how sick they were of eating the same food, no matter booboos or hurt feelings the kids were always content. There is a joy in those kids that only comes from being well loved and well cared for. If children who have been abandoned can be joyful daily then why can I, who has been given everything my whole life not also be joyful daily?
Many times, while I was living in Haiti people at home, would talk about me like I was a hero or a saint, but the real heroes are my friends in Haiti. The real heroes are the kids who have been dealt a really difficult hand from a young age but still shout of God’s goodness every night at devotion. The real heroes are the nannies who come to work although there are violent riots in the streets. The real heroes are the teachers who show up to teach our kids each day with a smile on their faces. The real heroes are the ones who cook three meals each day to not only feed 40 little mouths but also the bellies of our staff and anyone else who has walked through the gate that day. The real heroes are the teenagers who are brave enough to love a stranger like me even though constantly during their lives they have been hurt by the ones they love. These are my kids and my co-workers, who turned into my family while I was living in Haiti.
One of the most important things that I learned while living in Haiti was to embrace each season of life. The Bible says that there is a time for all things and anyone who has lived on this Earth knows that this is true. There is a time to be surrounded by Haitian children and then there is a time to be surrounded by children in Swannanoa, NC who need someone to advocate for them. There is a time to serve in Haiti and then there is a time to serve in America. This has been something I’ve been wrestling with since the day I chose to move back home because while I was in Haiti I felt that I was working for God, and although it was very difficult it also filled my soul like nothing ever has before. So as I move home I’ve decided that I’m so thankful to be working for the state of North Carolina and to have the opportunity to advocate for children with disabilities, but the state of North Carolina is not my boss. God will always be my boss and I can shine His light just as brightly here as I can in Haiti.
As I was leaving Haiti my heart was broken. I was struggling to understand why I came to this place to love these people so much just to leave and rip both of our hearts out. In reflection, I believe that this is the road for Christians. We go where He leads and we love the people that he surrounds us with, with no boundaries or borders or walls. We love with our whole hearts and we don’t try to protect ourselves because we know that this is what Jesus did. And when He calls us somewhere else we hurt and we cry because we did love with our whole hears, but isn’t it so much sweeter to know the depths of real love than to always protect ourselves and not know that love?
A year in Haiti taught me that new clothes don’t matter. A year in Haiti taught me that social media doesn’t matter. A year in Haiti taught me that job titles don’t matter. A year in Haiti taught me that constantly being busy doesn’t matter. A year in Haiti taught me that God does matter. A year in Haiti taught me that trusting God and following him wherever he leads does matter. A year in Haiti taught me that relationships matter, really more than anything else on Earth. When I lived in Haiti I was taken to the simplest way of living. I decorated my room and made it homey but I didn’t have the luxury of driving to Hobby Lobby every time I needed a decoration like I do now. My days were filled with teaching and taking care of children but I also had time throughout the day to slow down and read or workout or talk to the nannies or rest. America runs on a different schedule than a lot of other places. When I was in Haiti I would sometimes miss the fast pace life of home but now that I am home I miss afternoons reading a book in a hammock or laughing with Mommy Soso while we did dishes. A year in Haiti has taught me that I need to slow down. If I’m constantly running and being busy 1) my soul will always be empty because I’m not taking the time to let Jesus fill me up and 2) I will speed by the people in my life that God wants me to love. We can’t see others when we’re running as fast as we can to work or the perfect home or the perfect wardrobe or the perfect car. I’m 25 and when I was a few years younger I thought that I loved being busy. I thrived in that fast pace and it made me feel like I was actually doing something meaningful, but now I know that a slower pace of life is so important. If we look at the Bible God constantly asks us to slow down and rest. Jesus rested and he is our ultimate example so I think that it is safe to say that when the world is shouting at us to hurry up that is not a heavenly command but instead one of man. I know that I want to follow heaven, not man. A year in Haiti taught me that I don’t need to have the perfect clothes or the perfect life that people see on Instagram. I don’t want to get to heaven and ask God if he liked my post. I want to get to heaven and ask God if I followed him and loved others like he called me to because really that is what a meaningful life consists of.
Being back home has been tough. I’m in a new town, in a new home, at a new school, in a new classroom. I’ve been sucked back into the worldly view of social media and the “perfect life.” I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even slowed down to read my Bible. I constantly have to remind myself to rest but it feels like I’ve been strapped into a rollercoaster and I can’t get off. Every day I wake up and if feels like there’s something missing, and there is something missing. I’m missing my little girls. I’m missing the nannies and my Mommy Soso. I’m missing my big girls. I’m missing the boys and their rambunctiousness. I’m missing the older boys and their sense of humor. I’m missing Haitian food and palm trees. I’m living in a new world, in a new season where no one really knows what I know or has seen what I have seen. I don’t want sympathy or to be the center of attention, but it’s hard to carry this daily and to act like it never happened. It’s hard to throw away food that hasn’t been eaten when I know there are bellies somewhere else that are hungry. I even give myself a guilt trip for using a dishwasher because for the past year we hand washed all the dishes (and hated it). It’s hard to live in the land of plenty when just a month ago I lived in a land of need. I am so thankful that God called me to Haiti. I am so thankful that he wrote the names of 40 sweet children and 40 adults on my heart permanently. They will always be my family. I will always love them. I am so thankful that God let me see a world where I wasn’t the center of the universe so that I could see that He really is the center of the universe. I’m so thankful that God made me less so that Jesus could be more. I’m so thankful to have seen a different part of the world. I am praying daily that I take this experience and apply it to my daily life. I don’t want to live the way I did before I moved. I don’t want to forget that electricity is a luxury for some. I don’t want to forget that clean water is not free for everyone. I don’t want to forget the work that it takes to do laundry or to go to the grocery store. I don’t want to forget that there is joy in playing with sticks and rocks. I don’t want to forget that love knows no language, or skin color, or religion, or gender, or culture.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” -James 1:27