one week left : expectations

by Kayla Raymond

I know I said I was going to write every day this month, but this past week-end arrived and the intensity of Christmas and my desire to be present overwhelmed me, so I decided to wait until after Christmas day to get back to writing.

My parents gifted my siblings and I, with all of our children, a night at a hotel with an indoor water park this past week-end. I think Rubie and Wishla went down the water slide at least 100 times. Loveson and Jephte made new friends as they played basketball in the pool.

This is my first Christmas stateside in seven years. The last five years my sister has been working at Sunnybrook Community Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on Christmas Eve their church holds a beautiful worship service downtown at their Orpheum theatre. It was a dream come true to finally be able to go there with my family. Zion slept like a little old man in Webert’s arms and Rubie passed out in mine half way through the service, too. With our caramel babies keeping our arms full and our chocolate babies filling the seats on both sides of us – their eyes captivated by the theatre and its majesty – I sat back captivated by the gift of just being. That was Monday night as the church held extra services this year.

We spent Christmas Eve making treats, watching a holiday movie and attending another candle light Christmas Eve service. We made a meal together once we got home and cheered our holiday thrifted glasses, which were filled with sparkling juice (Rubie thought it was so fun to drink “wine”) We opened presents after dinner and I personally went to bed very exhausted as I could hear the boys still belly laughing downstairs to some weird television show.

Christmas day was filled with organizing and rearranging the toy room, doing laundry and picking up the last pieces of wrapping paper. We ended it at my parents’ new place, where another movie marathon took place and the girls beat the boys in Pegs & Jokers (our family’s favorite homemade board game!)

There’s never been a Christmas in Haiti that I can remember loving. Last year felt especially overwhelming as I spent Christmas Eve hosting the orphanage’s Christmas party, which I then cleaned up and immediately began decorating for our Starfish wedding. On Christmas Day, we married six couples and I ran around like a crazy woman from sun up to sun down making sure it all went off without a hitch! The following day was a beach party with our school staff, where Webert and I were responsible for feeding and hosting 80+ people.

I can remember feeling proud of what we accomplished by marrying six couples and honored to serve the school staff to recognize their hard hard work. But, I can also remember feeling super bitter. I hated that Christmas was really just full of work for us. Leading up to all the events was so much shopping, planning and making sure all the funds were in place so that all of these things could happen in the first place. I remember being homesick. I remember being crabby towards my husband. I remember complaining, wishing away all the parties and wanting a slower paced, family-orientated Christmas.

Then, this year came and as I rushed my family to get out the door for the candle light service I still felt like the grinch. Jephte had pushed Wishla out the door, so I scolded him for always pushing and rudely rushing past people. Webert had made a comment to me about gifts, which left me feeling unappreciated. I mean, I did manage to get presents bought and packaged to sent to Haiti and then managed to get presents bought and wrapped for all of our kids and then managed to get the groceries for a nice meal and all the extra ingredients so we could make fun Christmas treats together. I felt like my expectations for what I wanted Christmas to be just wasn’t turning out my way!

And, aren’t we maybe all doing that in one way or another? Creating these expectations that are far beyond the point of the season? Striving to create some picture-perfect, Instagram-worthy picture to prove just how put together we are? And, when things don’t go our way, all the feelings start to get concocted and confused, turning us into real life grinches. I literally despise myself when I turn into grinch mode, but it happens way more than I wish. Blame it on the kids. Blame it on the husband. Blame it on the hundred other excuses I can come up with. But, what it really needs to be blamed on is expectations.

It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my last few years…expectations.

I know that I’ve personally disappointed and failed people because I couldn’t live up to their expectations. I know that I’ve also damaged other relationships because I didn’t set clear boundaries and expectations from the start, either. I know that I’ve set high expectations for things just to happen – our adoptions’ completion being one of the biggest things – only to be left disappointed and left in a place where I doubted my faith. Haiti has a way of teaching you just not set expectations at all, because you’ll more than likely end up disappointed anyways. Whether it be a canceled beach day because of protests or a ruined afternoon plan because of a traffic jam, it’s hard to explain all the ways I’ve been disappointed.

Expectations are a funny thing. We set them and hold them without even recognizing it.

Just by being a white person in Haiti, you’re expected to be a certain type of person in their culture. It’s taken me years to break down walls with people, just for them to see me as an actual person. It has taken an entirely different type of strength to deal with people who will never see me as a normal person, but more or less a means to an end.

Being a “missionary” comes with other expectations, most of which I’ll never live up to as well. Figuring out a life with a blended family, multi-cultural marriage and a heart that’s torn between two worlds, will more than likely always hold unrealistic expectations as well. It’s funny, because I’m now realizing how many unrealistic expectations I hold while simultaneously realizing how mad I am at the unrealistic expectations people sometimes hold me up to.

So, how do we do it? How do we enter into a new year with minimal expectations? How do we take up a space where we are content no matter what? How do we be kinder to ourselves and to those around us, especially our loved ones, when things don’t live up to our expectations? How do we begin to create boundaries to keep ourselves from being damaged by other’s unrealistic expectations?

How does our faith live up to all of these crazy, human expectations? How will God ever live up to them all? With all the waiting and things not going our way and our human, sinful natures getting in the way? How does God still reign in and through it all?

The thing I love most about the Christmas story and Jesus being born in a manger is just how unexpected it all was. From the virgin having the baby, to who the virgin was and the scandal it turned out to be. From the lineage Jesus was born into, to the fact that the prophesied Messiah was born into such poverty. I mean, no wonder the Jews and Pharisees had such a hard time believing Jesus was the true Messiah. Can you imagine what type of expectations were held for the coming of the Prince of Peace?

We all hold these expectations and are probably more ashamed than not to admit how often we are disappointed in God. I know that I’m guilty of this all the time. But, hey, that’s what makes me human and a sinner.

It wasn’t until I realized just how scandalous the Christmas story was and how rebellious Jesus was that my faith journey really began to change. Once I was able to recognize that God doesn’t compare, hold grudges or set expectations for me, I could finally breathe. I forget these truths sometimes, because I still catch myself finding my worth in the financial reports from Rosie’s or the number of likes on an Instagram post. But, what a relief, when I’m kind enough to myself and allow my soul to bask in the grace that God so lavishly pours out to me. How freeing it is to lay down all the expectations I hold and all the other ones I feel people hold upon me.

How beautiful it all can be. If only we were more willing to live in that truth.

God doesn’t hold expectations for you, your life, your work, your experiences, your family. All He desires is you, your heart. He holds you, lovingly, knowingly, having sent His son Jesus to die for you. For us. What a story. What a gift. What grace.