Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Living fully in service

What does it mean to be fulfilled? To have all the cracks in your life filled with something meaningful? I think I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that fulfillment is something more akin to “life/work balance” that today’s media tell us is so important. This “life/work balance” that companies and advertisements project onto young adults in particular actually has some pretty specific stipulations: you’ve got to have a job that you love and you excel at, lots of friends and lots of fun nights socializing with people, you’ve got to look good all the time and oh yeah, maybe find some time for God and spiritual development in the midst of it all. 

But even when I was trying to achieve this prescribed balance, I felt like I was pushing up against walls that my own mindset was building. Even when I’d worked really hard on something that was important to me, even when I was satisfied by my appearance and even when I’d head a full social life, there was still a crack in there that wasn’t being filled.

I’ve had a wonderful life so far, full of amazing opportunities to travel, study, form relationships and enjoy the love of my family. I did spend time journaling, praying or engaging in some other spiritual practice…and yet it felt like I was still pushing up against those same walls.

I’ve kind of taken up yoga recently. I say “kind of” because I haven’t established a routine by any means, but it’s definitely become more of a habit since I have experienced for myself the same positive effects that I have always heard it has on the mind and the body. What is interesting to me, though, is the mysterious disconnect between the actual physical movement and its effects. Yoga has been proven to brighten your mood, reenergize your body and help you sleep better. On a one-dimensional level, you’re just moving your body in ways that seem unremarkable (this coming from a beginner—I’m sure advanced movements are more impressive!) But then, somehow, you feel more relaxed, happier and fulfilled in some way.

In coming to Haiti, I’ve been learning to give of myself more fully to God’s service. I’ve found that I feel more of a sense of purpose and design than I did before. I’ve felt myself breaking through some of those boundaries that I kept coming up against through my work as a teacher, through new experiences and through chances to connect with people leading very different lives from my own. 

It’s not easy. I still struggle with relinquishing some of the things I’ve held onto that I’ve been so conditioned to think are going to make me happy. I know that I’ll never have the strength to give up all of those things, but somehow, the cracks are still starting to be filled. On a one-dimensional level, I’m teaching students about definite and indefinite articles in English, I’m going to church with local communities and I’m going to the outdoor markets to buy food, but at the end of the day, I’m feeling filled up in a way that I hadn’t before. I don’t know how it happens, but it seems to me that God’s service has that same mysterious disconnect—you’ve done something that seems simple and unremarkable you’re left with something that fills you up in an indescribable way.

Students working on a group project where they had to write a menu you could find at a restaurant using food vocabulary. They also had to write a script to act out a scene between a server and customers.


Alan and I visited the campus of FSIL (The Faculty of Nursing Science at the Episcopal University of Haiti) in Léogâne where we were hosted by The Rev. Donnel and Janet O'Flynn, Episcopal Volunteers in Mission who I met during YASC orientation. This is a side view of the main class building.

Local artwork for sale hangs on the walls of the FSIL campus's main building

Janet, Donnel, Alan and me

The temporary, open-air building where services at St Croix Church in Léogâne are held. The sanctuary was destroyed in the earthquake in 2010 and the church has a special offering solely for the purpose of rebuilding it.

A short clip taken from the balcony of our house of a marching band processing on the Battle of Vertieres (Kreyòl: Batay Vètyè) Holiday on November 18. The holiday marks one of the most important battles fought for independence from the French during the final stages of the Haitian Revolution in 1803.

A relaxing day off by the pool at the Roi Christophe Hotel, about a 5-minute walk from our house

Doing some conjugations in preparation for the final quarter exam! Fun stuff

Monday, November 9, 2015


I have thought a lot about the importance of “staying” lately. What do I mean by “staying”? If you’ve read former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ book Where God Happens, you may have a clue. For those of you who haven’t, I’ll give a very simplified (and therefore probably limited) explanation of what Williams means when he refers to this. Williams explains that “staying” is when we draw closer to God by embracing exactly who we are at present and exactly where we are. One of the most important things Jesus does is pledge himself to the real world instead of to a world of fantasy and distraction from the moment we’re in. By embracing reality along with the challenging and difficult parts, we’re actually turning towards God. This is where, Williams argues, true goodness happens.

Why am I using “staying” as an introduction to this post? I’ve come to understand within the past couple of weeks the cruciality of “staying” during my time in Haiti. Obviously, “staying” in the physical sense, but also in the mental and spiritual senses. I believe that “staying” in my particular situation calls me to remain in the present moment, soaking up all that I can about the people and God’s work here as the weeks tick by. A year seems like a long time, and it definitely is in some ways, but even as I enter my second month here, I’m realizing that my time in my placement is never getting longer, but shorter.

Perhaps the most important part of my placement in Haiti that I feel the need to stay present in is my teaching. By putting in the effort to encourage my students and readjust my teaching style or pace when necessary, I’ve quickly come to enjoy teaching and cherish the relationships I’ve already begun to form with my students. When I am really in “the zone”—that is, I’m completely focused on whatever concept I’m trying to teach or clarify—if the students understand the concept, I feel much more of a sense of value and fulfillment in my work than if I am distracted by something unrelated. 

I’ve come to love the little moments of victory. When my students smile or laugh in class; when I ask them to present their homework in front of everyone and I can tell that they understood the assignment; when I see that they’re having fun with a game; when their eyes aren’t glazed over at me when I’m trying to explain how apostrophes can be used to indicate possession in English (not applicable to French or Creole). 

So, it is with God’s hand that I “stay” joyfully, and for as long as possible, in the moments that daily life in Haiti brings.