one life to live

by Kayla Raymond

Eight and a half years ago I bought a one-way ticket to Haiti. What a whirlwind it’s been since that day. I’ve been thinking about that person I was then: fresh out of college, 22 years young and so very, very naive. I just looked back to the very first blog post that I wrote on May 29, 2012 and it’s evident I was madly in love with Webert (good news, I still am today!) I shared how I couldn’t wait to be a mama to Jephte and literally 24 hours into my Haiti story Loveson made his appearance. So much happened. A lot of it very quickly. I could have never, ever predicted all that was to come.

I started this blog way back then to serve as a place to share the stories of all my adventures. While I did that, it became so much more. I shared the needs and time after time, you all rose to the occasion and helped raise the funds for whatever the need was. I shared my family and how we grew into what we are today. Remember that time I got engaged and then 24 hours later a dying baby showed up at the orphanage and we decided to take her in? You all supported that and cheered us on! How insanely wild. I can’t imagine what our live would be today without our Wishla. I shared my dreams and heart. There were seasons when I didn’t write much and seasons when I had tons to share.

I look back on so much of our walk in Haiti and it’s almost comical how God unraveled it all. He intricately pieced together so many things, in order for so many more things to come to fruition. Thinking of Webert’s story, he started the school with nothing but his faith and a hard work ethic. He began praying for someone to come along and help him continue on educating the children in his village and we were those ridiculous people God chose for him. Just some proof that God uses broken, super ordinary people to advance His Kingdom.

working together in 2010

Webert laid his eyes on me the summer of 2010 and he’ll admit that instantly he knew his prayers were going to be answered, but he remained faithful and never once asked us for help. He simply befriended us. We eventually found out about his school and I simultaneously fell in love with him. We moved forward by founding our non-profit with the simple purpose to build one school building and operate a small sponsorship program. Today, we reach more than 1,200 students, employ nearly 90 people and have six beautiful buildings that sit up on the mountaintop. Even the story of how we gained legal rights to those grounds is a miracle.

People’s mouths drop open when we tell that story, and as they should! But, the school is just one piece (a very big piece, but nonetheless, just one) to my Haiti. As time went by, we became responsible to the care of the children living at Tytoo Gardens Orphanage. One of the kindest people I ever got to do life with, Esther King, and her family were running the orphanage in 2012 when I moved there. Their time in Haiti eventually came to an end and Touch of Hope picked up a lot of the responsibilities after they left. So much life has happened inside that compound. So many people have come to visit. So many stories are held within those walls.

While we remodeled it in many ways to bring it back to life, the children that call that place home are what made life in Haiti so special. They truly hold a huge part of my heart. Their pictures hang in our dining room now. With thousands of miles separating us, I don’t want time and space to diminish what these kids mean to our family. Frequently, my kids point to each of their pictures and we call them out by name and share our favorite stories. Some have nicknames, others are our unclaimed favorites, and we want Zion to grow up knowing these kids are our second family.

And while life brings us to this season apart, I hope these kids never forget how much Webert and I love them. Our life in Haiti was crazy, and I don’t always have the words to fully describe what I mean by that. We were put into some really hard situations, making really hard decisions and several relationships were severely strained because of it. But all that pain represented us fighting for their safety and well-being. It’s a responsibility I never asked for, it has held decisions I wish I never had to make, but damn…I wouldn’t change it. These kids represent the future of Haiti and it’s one of our biggest honors to fight for them so that they can become all that God intends for them.

The school and orphanage and the people we served through those ministries, opened my life and heart to so much more. Through a series of other wild events, I dreamt up Rosie’s. But, even Rosie’s and where the name comes from holds so much. For those that don’t know, Rosie was my first goddaughter and her mama was a jewelry artisan I worked with. I actually just found the picture of the day I brought her and mama home from the hospital and it feels like a literal lifetime ago since we snapped that picture outside her home. I’m not even sure I recognize the person I was way back then. And one might ask, what was I thinking wearing that little plastic headband?! So weird.

We would bury sweet Rosie just 13 months later. She lost her life to pneumonia and she would be the first of many I would bury during my time in Haiti. The sound of Judeline screaming as we buried her is something I will never forget. Judeline then stayed at my house for the next two weeks because it was too hard for her to sleep without Rosie at home. When I think about all the things I did in Haiti, that was one of my biggest honors: creating a safe space for her to grieve and heal. I remember one night I made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and we just sat there watching TV, saying nothing. God taught me so much about His love through all of that. Judeline wore a bright yellow dress to my wedding just three weeks later after burying Rosie. I can remember her smile as she danced. I remember winking and smiling back at her and it was like a mutual agreement that we were going to be okay.

Another thing I’ll always be thankful to Judeline for is her style. The girl is always dressed so cute and trendy! When I first moved to Haiti I was under the impression that I needed to wear a skirt all the time. The organization I originally traveled with had me believing all the crazy things. It was a funny belief that Haitians were old-school Africans and all wore tribal dresses, when in reality they’re heavily influenced by American culture and care a lot about style. One day, I wore the only pair of jeans I had brought to Haiti with me and Judeline went on and on about how cool my jeans were. I finally asked all the ladies, “is it okay if I wear jeans?” (most of them did every day anyways) and they all started belly laughing, telling me I can wear whatever I want! So from that day on, I started wearing jeans and Judeline always laughed at me when I did.

Today, Judeline and I remain close friends. She has a daughter, Gracie, who is a month younger than my daughter, Rubie. I get to the opportunity to live out my dreams of running Rosie’s and knowing it’s all in honor of Rosie…that’s an honor I will never lose sight of.

Rosie’s has grown into so much more than my wildest dreams could have ever dreamt up. The expansion in Haiti and our greeting card initiative are adventures we are constantly in awe of. I started Rosie’s in 2014 to be a small business venture to support my family and today we support 30 mamas on our payroll plus purchase from 10+ other companies that create so many more positive ripples of hope.

I flip through old pictures and it’s the strangest feeling to ache and miss people with my whole being yet not wanting to return to the island at all. I often wonder if I’ll ever get excitement to jump on an airplane again like I did way back when.

Yet, I long for those days. The bonjou (good morning) greetings of each new day, the hugs from Antoinette, the eye rolls from Hermanie who was constantly challenging me to be better (still is today!), the smell of rice in the school kitchen and yelling “AMOOOOUSE” to the kindest cook in the kitchen. The memories of being slapped on the hand by my mother-in-law and learning all the tricks to shopping in the local markets. Drinking cold Prestige and eating friend plantains with pikliz. All the meals delivered to me in my office because the ladies knew I hadn’t eaten all day. The kisses on the cheeks and the farewells after a long day. The sounds of goats outside our gate and the sound of ocean waves. The security guards playing with my children outside, yet another extension of our family. The clean clothes being pulled off the line every Saturday morning and playing soccer outside until the sun went down. The sleepovers with the Tytoo kids and so many bowls of popcorn. The Sunday morning worship, when the least of these gathered and worshiped the King of Kings. The sweet babies and hearing all the stories their mamas held. The sound of dominos being slapped on the table tops. The horns honking in the crazy traffic and the silence of a still morning near the ocean.

Each day held so much in its own. The every day miracles.

The kindness I as shown. The hospitality I was shown. The grace I was shown.

My life is forever change.

It’s hard to truly grasp all that Haiti is to me and my family. It’s hard to come to terms that Haiti and our full-time life there is finished. It’s hard thinking back to the person I was in 2012, knowing all that I know now. So much good has happened. And so much crap has happened, too.

God pieced together so many things to unravel His story in Haiti. It’s hard to now fathom all He’s been doing for our family to move to America now for the past 2+ years.

Even before transitioning, He burdened my heart so intensely. I can remember calling my mom multiple times, just not knowing how I could keep on. People kept leaving, people kept dying, people kept stealing and lying, people kept knocking and asking for help, and God kept placing desires in my heart for a life in America. I remember feeling super ashamed by that in the beginning.

In 2018, after a wild three months of building Rosie’s expansion and losing someone very dear to me, I tucked myself in a cabin in Indiana and did four intensive days of debriefing. One of the exercises was to make a collage of pictures from magazines that depicted my life. The collage was a hot mess. It was noisy and full of color and lots of layers. But, down in the bottom corner I tucked in a picture of a house with a white picket fence. I later shared with the couple doing the debriefing and the friend I was with everything the poster meant to me. I spent 2.5 seconds saying the house in the corner represented my dream to live in America with my family. When I was done, my friend told me I had no reason to rush past that dream. There was no shame for wanting that dream for my family. I was free to have it. It was odd hearing that out loud and even harder to accept.

I fell hard to Satan’s lies that God couldn’t give us all that we desired. And, it wasn’t just about moving to America and having a home, it meant hundreds of miracles and provisions in paperwork and visas. It meant so many scary unknowns and it meant people coming into place in Haiti to carry on with all of our responsibilities. Slowly, God worked it all out. He made a way. He did it in all the crazy ways He knows how. It’s never lost on me the miracle it is to have my family nor will it ever be lost on me to be where we are today.

So, why all the story telling? Because it’s true, our life in Haiti has come to a close. We are on longer “transitioning” to America. We are here. We are living and even some days thriving. We aren’t moving back. I’m constantly asked in various ways when we are going back; could we actually be here for good? And, it’s exhausting to say the least.

And while we will be living in America full-time for however long God asks of us, our hearts and souls remain so alive for Haiti and its people. Each day I still have the honor of waking up and working for Rosie’s and our mamas. Each day Webert is in communication with Haiti and leading in some different way. While we aren’t physically there anymore, our work continues on by the grace of God.

It’s hard writing this and formally saying this. I feel so many expectations are held, for me especially, to be the girl from Haiti. People define me that way: “my friend from the Haiti” or “the girl I was telling you about from Haiti.” Over the years that’s been my identity. So, it’s hard saying I’ll no longer be that girl, even though my heart will forever be that girl. Hell, I’m married to a Haitian and have Haitian children and run a business that works with all Haitians – you won’t ever get it out of me! But, now it’s about becoming more. A newer version.

So, since I am no longer the “girl from Haiti” there’s then been this weird phenomena of people expecting me to be kinda the same me they remember me as before I went. But, that’s no longer true either. I don’t really seem to fit in because of all that I hold.

This version holds a new perspective. A perspective that seems to make people uncomfortable in our tidy, conservative corner of the world. A perspective longing for people to wake up to their privilege, their white savior complexities and their comfort. A perspective that doesn’t really believe in short term mission trips and wonders if maybe global adoption isn’t the answer and says “we’ve been doing it all wrong” type of things. A perspective that questions the motive; a perspective that challenges the societal norm; a perspective that just isn’t here for a put-together, perfect life. In the end, it’s a perspective that longs for brokenness, because after all of this, I now realize the most is learned and the purest of love is held in the brokenness. In the loss. In the suffering. In the unknown.

So with all of that, today, I bid farewell to {rice, beans and love}

You followed along and were my greatest cheerleaders. You allowed me to be real in this space and for that I’ll always be thankful. God taught me so much along the way and it was a privilege to share His lessons. I learned that just maybe, writing was a gift of mine. I learned that just maybe, I could be a voice for voiceless. I learned that just maybe, I could make the world a bit better. This blog and space allowed me heal in a lot of ways, too. My biggest regret was not writing more. There are still so many more stories to tell. But, I feel God gently telling me to hold onto them. He’s going to give me another avenue.

Today – well honestly, this last year – I slowly come to terms that I’m no longer “the girl from Haiti” and maybe some day a new blog will be inspired and in that space I’ll share more. I’m getting to be kind of a political, social activist kind of gal with all that’s going on in America, so who knows what that will all inspire.

So, to my Haiti:

I’m glad I fell in love with you when I was young and naive. I made some wild choices in our early days together and I don’t think I would have done so had I not been that way. You gave me my greatest blessings: my husband, my first three children, some of the most beautiful relationships and a perspective to life that I’ll always be grateful to have. You broke me in all the ways I prayed to God for. You opened my eyes to the heart of Jesus; I saw suffering, injustice and oppression in its truest of forms. You allowed me to create and be a part of something that is so much bigger than myself.

My wish would be for every one to find their own type of Haiti. While it holds all the things our flesh tries to avoid, it encapsulates every thing the soul needs. When we learn to be broken for the sake of Christ, we are drawn all the more closer to Him.

I’ll leave you with this, because it’s what God has been telling me over and over again these days:

We all get one life. Just one darn life to live. In this life we will be given much, but with much, we will be expected to give it all away. For as Christ followers, our days are to be spent making self less in order for Him to be more. Our lives should be spent in the trenches, for it’s there that our perspectives are shifted to eternity. How can our perspectives remain on eternity when we place ourselves on pedestals of privilege and pride, success and fame? We are called to love the least of these, not for a pat on the back, but to be humbled of ourselves. How foolish we are when we let our own self get in the way of God working out all His glory.

We get one life. I hope we spend it learning from one another, serving one another, and loving one another. For it’s our commission to bring heaven to earth and to spread the good news of the gospel. I’ve got my eyes set on eternity, where one day all nations, tribes and tongues will fall to their knees in reverence of our Father.

Until next time.