Tough and Tender

By Nina Hill, FC 18 Costa Rica14291656_10210690789011650_6292239754277269355_n

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7

As this Jubilee Year of Mercy draws to a close, mercy really needs no introduction; it simply needs to be practiced. These past three weeks in Costa Rica have taught me immeasurably about the merciful nature of God, and the call we all have to be merciful. I have been working in the children’s hospital at Manos Abiertas, a home for people with severe disabilities. The Hermanas (Sisters), staff, and supporters of Manos are steeped in a culture of mercy and love which allows them to gracefully dance through the tough and the tender steps of their days.

Of the many faces of mercy, I regularly see two throughout the day: the tough and the tender.

Often the tough… Seeing families and children unglued because of poverty and disabilities is tough. Learning a new language and new tasks in a new language is tough. Coaxing tiny feet into tiny shoes is tough. Being far from my friends, family, and home is tough. Loving children who were deemed unlovable and unable to be cared for by their families is tough.

…But always the tender. Holding a pint-sized hand is tender. Stopping to talk to the adult residents on my way to lunch is tender. Watching the Hermanas dance and sing with the kids is tender. Sitting at the bus stop talking to my new friends is tender. Sharing a meal and swapping stories with my community is tender.

Everywhere we go there is brokenness, sorrow, grief, and suffering, but it is always partnered with beauty, joy, gentleness, and hope. That is in many ways the cross; it’s easy for us to feel the roughness of the wood, to cave under the weight of sin, and wallow in the brokenness of a world that would kill its own creator, but it is necessary to share in the joy of a heart freed from injustice, to celebrate the beauty of realizing human dignity, and to offer our hands and our hearts to help heal the world with the mercy of God.

Learning the steps to this new dance is difficult, and it often feels like as soon as I get the hang of the steps, everything changes and I am left doing the awkward “sway and snap” until I figure out the new steps, but every morning, whether I’m ready to dance or not, God coaxes my feet into my shoes, holds my hand, and draws me back in to the reel and quietly asks “bailarias conmigo?”.

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How Do I Describe FrancisCorps after Two Weeks?

By Kaitlyn Sterneker, FC 18 Syracusephoto-oct-04-12-32-06-pm.jpg

It’s easy to think back on your day, talk about your day to your friends, roommates, and parents, or even journal about your day. What is difficult to do, however, is to describe the experiences in a rich and full way. How can one properly do justice in explaining the feelings, emotions, thoughts, and perspectives one feels throughout the day? Despite the, “How was your day?” question, no one REALLY wants to know about the facts of your day as much as they do about the experience of living through the day.

I come from a mid-western town of roughly 2,500. Suddenly, I’m on my way to live in a city of 150,000 with two other women I have yet to meet, be a part of a community I knew little about, and be the farthest I had ever been away from home for the next 11 months. I have now been a New York State resident for 14 days and the experience from the last two weeks has been indescribable, but I’ll try and do my best in three words: spiritual, loving, and life-changing.

Spiritual is found in the meeting of the incredibly strong community of Friars and Sisters.  It is found in the learning about Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi and the history of the Franciscan life.  This spirituality only continues to grow as we continue to dive into our prayer life and the life of our community. The more I dive into my own spirituality, the more peace overcomes me in realizing Jesus IS my life and my beloved.

Loving is found in the acceptance of my new community, both in the community in which I now live and in my placement site.  It is also found in the community I come from. The support from my family and friends back home and hearing how excited and enthusiastic they are about hearing about my experiences (in the best way I can try to describe to them) help bring such fire and energy into the work and life I’m encountering. The Franciscan community has been the most supportive group of individuals I could have ever asked for. Not only are they excited about this opportunity for me, but are willing to provide whatever support is needed for a successful transition into this new life.

The two weeks here have been absolutely life-changing. Between the spiritual growth, the support, the acceptance and love from everyone, life-changing is the only word that fits. I have ten and a half more months and I’m honestly wondering how much more life-changing this year can get. Every single individual I have met in my week of work, week of retreat, and weekends at church have had a positive influence trying to ensure I love every single day and they are doing a fantastic job. I have no idea what is going to come, but if it’s anything like the past two weeks then this year is going to go by way too quickly!