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Posted on January 12th, 2013

Before heading down to Haiti, I was trying to get my expectations in line; with prior experience in a developing country (Kenya), I figured that some of the sights, smells, and challenges would be the same. There will be the tragic contrast of stunning natural beauty and shocking man-made filth. There will be unsanitary paths. There will be undrinkable water. There will be mosquitoes.

That’s about as far as I could anticipate and, armed with a couple of variants of packing lists, I tried to be responsible with what I brought down. Fortunately, New York was not in the depths of winter so I could get away with bringing a light jacket along. After a handful of flights and a pretty restless night, I touched down in Haiti with around half of the team members; the others were delayed and stuck en route and would arrive in the following two days.

The physical expectations of Haiti were more or less spot-on. I felt fairly confident that what I had packed would be sufficient and I knew that others on the team had things that could help in some of the unexpected situations. But my expectations of the environment around me (and my preparedness for it) were only one part of the picture; it was only after a short text message exchange with Courtney, a fellow team member, today that I started to realize the much larger part.

She wrote, while thinking about the trip and about being back in New York: “There was no bulls—, you know?” And then it hit me.

A big part of why it felt so hard to come back to New York is because I was re-immersing myself in an environment where everyone else has expectations of me. In Haiti, there really was no such thing and that was so incredibly liberating. I could be genuinely me with everyone. I was free to spend all of my energies on everyone else, which is why I could write that I was able to give all of me while I was there.

Upon returning to New York, I also return to a world of corporate and social ladders. I return to a world where I am judged for what I wear. And how much time I put in at work. And the size of my apartment. And how much I weigh. Indeed, there is so much bulls— getting in the way of what my heart, mind, body, and soul was able to do in Haiti that it feels like I am handcuffed by it. What am I to do?

I have already accepted that my employment is a means to an end; I don’t feel particularly passionate about what I do there and I use it as a vehicle to support initiatives that better align with me. So long as that remains true, I feel that I ought to play along with the corporate culture and do whatever I can do get the most out of my job so that I can apply the most outside of my job. As a result, a significant of my time and energy will be spent on curating an image of myself for other people. That, for me, is a form of the wastefulness that I discussed in my previous post.

Perhaps the most frustrating part about this is that I don’t know how to solve this problem yet. Over the past couple of days, I have intentionally sought solitude so that I could spend time processing everything, thinking about what responsible balance I can strike being in New York while being mindful of all I had just experienced, and avoiding situations where I feel less genuine. I am called to be in this world but not of this world, and I honestly don’t know what it means for me while I live in one of the most worldly cities on the planet. I don’t know where that responsible balance is.

Despite this, I told Courtney that I am determined to change something; if I returned to the life that I had before the trip, it would have almost been just as well that I did not go on the trip at all. I wrote earlier that I would volunteer more and that I would save more so that I can donate more, which is a good start I suppose. I can’t expect to have all of the answers and my life figured out immediately after I have a truly life-altering experience, so maybe the best course of action is to let my thoughts and emotions mellow out for a bit. Perhaps I’ll rely less on myself (for once) to sort it out and, instead, give it to God to nudge me in the right direction at His discretion.

Of course, I remain open to any thoughts or tips that you may have. For those of you who pray, please join me as I seek the right balance and to find a God-honouring purpose here in New York.

One Response to “Expectations”

  1. Michelle Marshall Says:

    Baby steps…open heart…quiet time to hear God. So thankful our paths crossed in Haiti! May we all be changed by what we experienced together!!

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