It's been a long summer. The type of summer that leaves you frazzled and bewildered, rather than relaxed and rejuvenated.
But more than a long and tiring summer, it's been one long year. A year that has been filled with so many incredible ups and downs, yet, one that has required me to pour myself out more than I ever have before.
The birth of Jasper House Haiti has been the most sensational experience of my life. Watching one of the greatest and largest dreams of my heart slowly become a reality has been inexplicably exciting, wonderful and purely divine.
However, what I failed to realize was that as I was pouring out 150% percent of myself, I wasn't receiving any kind of refuel.
When I was eighteen, I read a short story called, "The Starving Baker." This allegory describes a town baker who runs his shop day in and day out, practically alone, serving the needs of his loyal customers. He loves what he does, but little by little, his passion takes a toll on his personal wellbeing, causing him to reach a place where he is emotionally, mentally, and physically starving.
The irony is, he is so busy serving bread around to everyone else, he never stops to eat anything he serves...
No words have ever rang truer for my current state of life.
By the time this August rolled around, I was cruising on auto pilot.
I hadn't picked up my bible or journal in a solid two months - which, is rather rare for me.
I hadn't been sleeping well, eating right or exercising - another rarity for me.
I was feeling overwhelmingly isolated and lonely, and cut off from everyone I loved.
Overall, I had reached an incredibly unhealthy place, and was drowning under the weight of my responsibilities.
But then, like a sweet, and unexpected gift, the doors opened for a two week trip to the exquisitely beautiful, Pacific Northwest.
As our plane descended over snow capped mountains, and majestic forests, my heart leapt in my chest.
For the first time in almost three years of moving to Haiti, I was given a chance to exhale.
I spent the next ten days allowing myself to finally face some hard truths I had bottled up and stored deep down where even I didn't think I would find them.
I began to cope with the brutal reality that I had become a starving baker.
When you live a life of service, you develop the mentality that pain and suffering is your new normal. Comfort is a luxury that needs to be sacrificed on the altar of idolatry, and your personal wellbeing is put to the back burner, while tending the needs of others takes the front seat.
You begin to feel guilty when you treat yourself, or indulge in something that brings you pleasure. Like the occasional $10.00 purchase of imported Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, or binge watching Stranger Things over the course of two days on Netflix, or spending the day relaxing at the pool of a nearby hotel.
Slowly, you think those things need to be concealed, and hidden from an outside world who might judge your varying choices on how to take care of yourself. You convince yourself that if you aren't in some type of physically challenging situation, then you aren't serving God well enough, or fully living up to your role as a humanitarian/missionary/aid worker, etc.
In addition to the martyr mentalities that are developed whilst living abroad and serving others, as you feel more and more cut off from your loved ones back home, and disengaged with fellow expats also working in said country, the emotional and mental strain of feeling utterly isolated and detached from interaction with those who share commonality with you can be wholly debilitating.
Thus, this is where I found myself.
Almost three years into full-time life in Haiti, and my inner man was hanging by a thread.
I was perpetually exhausted and rapidly running out of fuel and passion to keep myself going.
I heard a quote that resonated so very deeply with me.
"Sleep doesn't help if it's your soul that's tired..."
My soul was worn and tired and left with little else to pour out, and something needed to be done.
Amidst my trying to make connections and manage the business front of Jasper House, my trip to Portland provided the therapy I didn't realize just how intensely my soul needed.
Learning how to balance being an American in Haiti, a white, foster mom to a teenager Haitian girl, a CEO of a new non-profit, and now a manager of burgeoning social business, as well as my personal well being has proven to be the most daunting feat of my life.
While I personally love things that challenge me, all of this has left my soul chronically fatigued and malnourished.
So there I was. In Portland making the conscious decision that I would allow myself to absorb all the things that would make me feel alive again, and remind myself that I am still a young and vibrant woman, who doesn't need to apologize for taking care of herself.
My lovely friends, Katherine and Rae, (whom I had coincidentally met in Haiti, and who also fully understand the struggle of living in this brutally beautiful, juxtaposed world) curated a most tranquil and therapeutic introductory weekend to the natural wonders and beauty of wild Oregon.
Mt. Hood, Multnomah Falls. Trillium Lake, Cape Falcon, Cannon Beach and the Colombia River Gorge were just a few of the glorious views my eyes had the pleasure of resting upon. Breathing the pure, mountain air, gazing up at trees so tall they seemed to reach the sky, and being entranced by the sublime peace that encompassed Trillium Lake, slowly I could feel my soul coming back to life.
I stood looking out at the still waters reflecting the picturesque and powerful presence of Mt. Hood, watching as dogs splashed into the water after a ball, and precious couples stood on the shore, and soaked in the sweet simplicity of this most perfect moment.
A wave of emotion rushed over me. My eyes filled with tears. It was a moment words can hardly describe.
As much as I love Haiti and Jasper House with every fiber of me being, there's still a part of me that wants mountains and lakes, and playing fetch with a golden retriever, and a companion by my side.
As much as a I love the unpredictable and exciting nature that Haiti brings to life, there's still a part of me that longs for deep conversations over coffee, and walks through parks.
As much as I crave dives in the Caribbean Sea, fried plantains, fresh coconuts and moto rides, there's a part of me that desires a little house in a sweet neighborhood that doesn't have to be protected by a ten-foot concrete wall topped with barbed wire.
As much as I love speaking Kreyòl, dancing Kompa, and doing life with my Haitians, I miss dating people and making friends with those who understand my culture and upbringing.
And most of all... I'm realizing that all of this is okay.
While I stood by the gorgeous and healing waters of Trillium Lake, I could hear God speaking to me for the first time in a long while. The words were simple and oh so clear.
"Do you trust me?"
The tears collecting in my eyes slowly began to roll down my cheeks. After nearly three years of living and loving this unbridled, and magical island of Haiti, I was letting myself admit that I missed my other home. The home that raised me, educated me and taught me how to be who I am. The home that prepared me for a life abroad, and showed me the world is filled with endless possibilities.
Inside of me resides two very alive, different and unique people.
Haiti Maria and American Maria.
Haiti Maria hops on motos without a second thought. She speaks Kreyòl as if it's second nature. She eats street food, and dances until she can dance no more. She loves passionately and fiercely, and gives her life for her purpose to see Haitian women restored and empowered.
American Maria loves nature, and bike rides, and coffee with friends. She is business minded and loves to connect with others to share about the passion of Haiti Maria. She goes on hikes, enjoys kayaking and exploring bookstores, and dreams of one day owning a home and having a family.
This dichotomy is not an easy one to reckon with. Because when I am Haiti Maria, American Maria is neglected, and when I am American Maria, I feel I am doing an injustice to Haiti Maria.
Being in Portland allowed me to face these realities. I am equal parts of each of these sides of myself, and that's okay.
I have been so focused on being Haiti Maria over the last year. The other, very real parts of myself have been suffering and I was placing an unnecessary amount of guilt on myself admitting that the needs of those parts are also very real.
In talking to my good friend Rae in a lush and green park, she explained to me what she describes as a "reset button." She uses this technique with the elementary children she teaches in a summer program, helping them deal with anger and uncomfortable emotions. When they feel an outburst coming on, she tells them to press their "reset button," and it helps them calm down and begin to think rationally again.
Portland was my reset button. My chance to refocus, recharge, and allow myself to come to terms with the fact that I have real personal needs that need to be met from time to time.
Forcing myself to suffer unnecessarily only hurts me. It damages my ability to do my job and influence others. It affects my productivity, attitude and even my love for others.
When you become a starving baker, everything starts to grow dim. What once shone brightly, slowly turns dull and grey. Your fire burns out, and you lose your sense of drive and direction for where you are going.
You feel lost.
You feel alone.
You feel helpless and ready to give up.
This is a very dangerous place to be. When you reach this point, you risk throwing in the towel prematurely. The weariness of your soul drowns out the voice inside of you telling you to keep going. It brings you to a stopping point where quitting seems like a very real option.
And that's detrimental on all levels.
That's when you know, it's time to press the reset button and find a new hope, perspective and sense of refreshment when it all seems to be caving in on you.
Recreational therapy is real and sometimes extremely needed.
Discovering whatever it is you need to start over and find a renewed sense of self and purpose is not weakness or selfish. It is absolutely vital to the longevity of your life and work, especially if you fulfill some type of role as a caretaker.
I had to press my reset button, and that's exactly what I did.
I reset as we hiked Mt. Hood.
I reset by the waters of Trillium Lake.
I reset over coffee with a dear friend.
I reset as I laid in the grass of a beautiful city park in downtown Portland.
I reset solo kayaking on the Willamette River.
I reset doing hot yoga.
And it was good.
I breathed in and I breathed out, and I allowed myself to dream about a future that maybe involved a house and weekend hikes, and maybe a little more back and forth from Haiti. I allowed myself the freedom to admit that life in Haiti is hard and I have to try my damnedest to not become so cut off and isolated, and downright burned out.
I have to refuse to live in fear of facing my weaknesses. I don't have to be strong 100% of the time. I can cry, I can admit my failures and mistakes, and I can face that doing all of this alone is really, really freaking hard.
And it's okay.
Living in fear of facing what's standing in front of you is not only pure madness, but absolutely damaging to your psyche.
Living in fear of being that missionary who needs to go home a little more often, or live a little more comfortably than before, is also quite ridiculous. Who is keeping tabs anyway? What is this unspoken tally of who is more hardcore and can handle the most challenges? That type of mentality is harmful on all levels.
It's okay to admit when you're afraid, when you're drained, and almost to the point where there's nothing left to give.
Find your reset button, whatever that may be, and press it.
Press it, breath in and breath out, and allow yourself the chance to start again.
Believe me, it's worth it.