Every year as my birthday approaches, I always seem to get a tad sentimental and contemplative.
I take a moment to reflect on the past year and drink in all that I have experienced, learned and discovered about myself, the people I've encountered and fresh perspective on life.
As I type, I'm accompanied by the sounds of Coldplay. Fitting, seeing as though this band has followed me through all of the ups and downs of my developmental stages of life since age fourteen. I'm reminiscent, a tad sensitive and homesick as memories of the past year flood in and expectations begin to build for the approaching era.
Yesterday, my Facebook page decided to load photos and posts of mine from 2010. At first I found it quite odd, but the strangeness quickly dissipated into appreciation. There on my screen l saw the faces of my former roommates, close friends and myself, but from a time, which now seems so long ago.
My posts were filled with anticipation for the processing of my application to join the Peace Corps and my ensuing college graduation. I was 22-years-old and feeling as though I was about to conquer the world, fully equipped with my newly earned degree in hand.
If you had told 22-year-old Maria about everything that would take place over the next four years and where that journey would cause her to end up, she would have laughed in your face, had a slight meltdown and then perhaps would have gotten really excited.
But most of all, she wouldn't have believed it.
Today as I sit and revel in my reality, it's still a challenge for me to fully grasp it all.
As much as I desired to live in another country and devote my life to development work, I never expected things to play out the way they have.
When I would sit and daydream of the places I would someday live and work, Haiti was never one that came to mind.
It never occurred to me that this little island surrounded by the majestic waters of the Caribbean, yet hit with every sorrow and injustice imaginable, would one day be my home.
I never imagined my heart would be opened to have the vast capacity to love that it does.
I never imagined I would be hiking into the mountains to bring aid to children dying of malnutrition.
I never imagined I would watch one of my closest friends lose the little baby she had sacrificed so much for and never gave up hope on.
Never did I see myself bawling my eyes out at the thought of leaving this rugged and country that is more beautiful than I can begin to explain.
My experiences over the past year, mainly from living in Haiti, have been nothing that I ever expected.
Yet, life is better than I ever could have imagined.
I'm learning a new language and conversing on a daily basis.
I'm building relationships and friendships with a people and culture so different from my own.
I'm discovering my true passions and calling.
I'm advocating on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced, yet finding ways to give them the wings to soar.
I'm learning that poverty and poverty alleviation is so much more complex and deeper than I realized.
And every day, in the midst of my euphoria for living out a dream I've carried since childhood, I still question and doubt if I can really do this.
People frequently email me or comment on my photos, telling me how inspired they are by the work that I do.
Recently, a friend thanked me for living out Psalm 82:3-4,
"Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people."
Their praise and admiration is something that always feels awkward and uncomfortable. I'm not even sure I know how to properly live out Psalm 82.
Each day that I'm in Haiti, I have to fully rely on a Power far greater than my own just to make it through.
Although I absolutely love that this is the life I've been called to live, and fall more and more in love with this tiny village every day, I wake up every day feeling very normal and very "unamazing".
And question if I truly have what it takes to accomplish the job I've set out to do.
Living in Haiti has caused me to be more aware of my mortality and humanness more than ever before. While people cheer me on and think I've attained some sort of Saintly status by working in a developing country, I'm just trying to convince myself rice and beans are better than the mouthwatering pizza I miss from home or that I really do love the screaming child throwing a tantrum on the floor.
Being (almost) 26 and living as a full-time missionary has caused me to realize many, many things and possible misconceptions people might have. Here's a few I will leave you with.
1. Being a missionary does not make you a super-hero and/or Mother Teresa - I'm still normal. I still hate sweating in 100 degrees without air conditioning. My immediate response to cutting my finger with a knife or getting 1000 mosquito bites is a cuss word. Sometimes I literally fantasize about Whole Foods and triple-shot, grande soy lattes. The only difference is that despite everything I miss about America, I still wouldn't trade my life for anything.
2. No, I have not sworn my life to celibacy- Just because I'm single and have given my life to serving God in an unconventional way, does not mean I have taken an oath of singleness. Sure I'd like to get married someday and experience this awesome journey of life with someone, I'm just not in giant hurry to do so, or willing to compromise.
3. Living is the greatest adventure - Whether I'm sitting, nose-deep in a book, or hiking into the mountains, I view each day as a chance for adventure. Every day is a beautiful gift. It's never quite what you expect, but it's always better than you could ever imagine.
Everyone has an adventure awaiting them. Go out and discover it and then live it to the fullest.
Here's to you 26!