Thursday, December 8, 2011

La Virgen María

Over the past few weeks I´ve been in a constant battle with myself over the language of Spanish. I wish I had studied more before I left. I wish I actually practiced with my friends when they tried to help me by talking with me in Spanish. I wish I had pushed myself to respond back to them with more than one word, that way I could have actually practiced having a real conversation in Spanish. I wish during all of the years I studied Spanish in school that I actually paid attention in class and challenged myself. I wish the only phrase I could remember from class was something more useful than ¨¡Pone el chicle en la basura!¨(Put your gum in the garbage! -I was caught every¨ class with gum in my mouth, you´d think I would stop chewing it after the first 3 times of being told to stop...)

I keep reminding myself that I can´t change the past and to not dwell on it. I just wish I could communicate better with those around me. There is so much I want to tell them, but it takes so long for me to form a sentence. I carefully choose what I think is important to communicate. Then, take several minutes trying to explain it to everyone. When all else fails, I switch to English and eventually we figure out the word I´m trying to find in Spanish.

I´m so impatient right now. I need to have more patience with myself and accept that it is a slow process. I need to stop thinking about it and let it happen. Everyone we meet tells me I know ¨bastante (enough)¨, but I want to know more! I want my words to flow better. I want to offer some word of comfort when I see a friend struggling.

Recently my sister in community, Ana Laura has been swamped with things to do. There are always children screaming her name outside our windows and doors at every moment of the day. When someone is sick or hurt, she is the first they call. She is always wearing a different hat (musician, nurse, cook, liason, translator, mother, friend, sister, motivator, teacher...). It is so beautiful to see her selfless love for all of those around her. She goes above and beyond for everyone. I´m constantly trying to find ways to help her.

On Tuesday, we all got up very early to take a bus to San Francisco Parish for 6:20 AM Mass. We decided to go to this mass so that we could be ready in time to meet the rest of our group (the sisters, Honduras house, and all the rest of the people visiting the sisters in San Pedro Perulapan right now). After Mass we realized we would have enough time to walk to our house instead of take a bus. As we walked, Ana Laura let all of us go infront of her. I slowed down my pace to try and walk alongside her and offer some kind of gesture of comfort and appreciation for her. I know she must have been tired with all of the work she had been doing and the fact that us girls (there were 6 girls in our room because we had 3 girls from the house in Honduras spend the week with us) were up until 1 AM talking about everything you can imagine before bed.

Before I could say anything, she looked at me, smiled, and said, ¨Isa, you have such a strong presence here.¨I was blown away by that statement. That´s exactly what I wanted to tell her. She was the one comforting everyone! Talking with her is always such a comfort for me. She uses hand gestures and sound effects. Two of my favorite things! I almost always understand what she is saying because of this. And she is currently the only native Spanish speaker in our house right now. She gently corrects my poor Spanish and helps communicate my thoughts to everyone.

As she talked to me about my strong, calm presence, I was reminded of all of the texts Fr. Theirry wrote about our mission. We always want to do, do, do. That is not our mission! We are called to be there. To follow the Cross, wherever it leads us. To remain faithful to the promises we made. To always have a presence similar to Mary´s at the Foot of the Cross. She doesn´t speak. She doesn´t push anyone away. She does not take the Cross herself. She is there, at a small distance from the Cross. She is praying and giving Jesus her gaze of compassion. That is all I am called to do. Speaking Spanish fluently and rapidly is a great perk, but it is not my mission.

I am so thankful that Ana Laura reminded me of my mission and for the example that our Mother Mary is for each of us. I´m so grateful for this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception. I entrust my mission and all of the intentions of my sponsors and those dear to me, to her on this day. May Mary wrap us all in her mantle and keep our eyes fixed upon the Cross always.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Thanksgiving was a little bit different this year, but certainly full of many things to be thankful for. Usually we begin the day of rest on Wednesday evening by traveling about an hour away from our house to San Pedro Perulapan, where four religious sisters of the Servants of Jesus´Presence reside (order of sisters with Heart´s Home). We typically have dinner with them, spend the night at the finca (property where the sisters grow coffee), and leave the following afternoon after attending Mass at the Church of San Pedro.

As we sat around the table at lunch discussing traditions of Thanksgiving and celebrating Jöel´s one year anniversary here in El Salvador (my brother in community from France that will be here until February), I found out we would be spending another night in San Pedro with the sisters. The whole day became a day of celebrating. We enjoyed ice cream cones for the first time since I´ve been here. And there were lots of sweets to enjoy all day. Not only do the sisters grow coffee, they also have bananas, plantains, oranges, and limes.

Aleth, a former missionary from France that served here in San Salvador about three years ago has been here since Sunday along with her husband Yoann. The two of them got married only three weeks ago, went on their honeymoon to Honduras and are now visisting with us until the beginning of December. At one point we all huddled around a small computer screen and viewed their beautiful pictures of their wedding. As we viewed the pictures, it was amazing to see how many people in attendance at their wedding are former missionaries or members of the Fraternity of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

I enjoy learning about other cultures and traditions that my community members have. We had people from France, Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, and the USA all together for Thanksgiving. In my house there is Ana Laura from Argentina who has been here for 18 months and is leaving in February, Jöel from France has been here for 1 year and will be leaving us in February, Fabiane from Brazil has been here for 8 months and will be here for another 6 months, and Thomas from France has been here for 2 months and will be here for another 10 months. And then, there is me, from the USA, serving for about another 13 more months. Also in my house is Analía (consecrated lay missionary) who has been here for the last 3 years, is from Argentina and is currently in France working at an assisted living home until January).

At least one meal a day the topic of movies is brought up. The quotes ¨come back Jack!¨from the Titanic and ¨paz interior¨from Kung Fu Panda are some favorites of the house. I´m pretty sure everyone in my house is more familiar with American Films than me. The other day, the guys sang the French song that is always played in every movie when they show the scene of the Eiffel Tower. Maybe by the end of my mission I will know all of the words to it.

I think my favorite part of Thanksgiving was getting to share my favorite movie with everyone. For 3 hours we watched the Bollywood film, ¨Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave-Heart will take the Bride)¨. We watched the film in Hindi with Spanish subtitles that we couldn´t help but laugh at, especially when the subtitles would suddenly become French for a moment and then switch back on their own. I´m glad they all enjoyed the film and that we were able to share in it together.

I have so much to be thankful for, including getting to Skype most of my family for the first time on Thanksgiving day!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

¡No más mantequilla de maní!

I was told over and over again by countless people that during the course of my mission I will discover the true me. I will learn things about myself that I never took the time to notice before. I will learn that I do not need as many things as I thought I did to survive. I will learn to live simply. I will be appreciative of so much more. I will gain new talents. I will learn my weaknesses. New strengths will be uncovered. Little did I know that I´d discover an allergy right away.

Constantly I´m told by the people we visit that I should watch what I eat. Many believe that Americans have weak stomachs. They are amazed when I tell them that I love rice and beans. I especially enjoy the pupusas too! Pupusas are the typical food of El Salvador. It is a tortilla with cheese, beans, vegetables, or meat inside that is cooked on a griddle and served warm with salsa. You must however eat it with your hands. It is a messy dish, but so delicious!

I´ve been monitoring what I eat and thought I was in the clear. Until, Monday morning (11/21/11) I awoke at 1:30 AM. My entire body was itchy, warm, and I felt like bugs were crawling all over me. I checked several times and there were no bugs on me or around me. I drank lots of water and when my two roomates saw my legs covered in hives they said we were going to the clinic. Luckily for me, the clinic is right down the road from our house.

As we prepared to go to the clinic, we ran through a list of all of the foods I had eaten within the last 24 hours and suddenly I realized... peanut butter! In the past, I remember having a slight reaction to peanut butter that usually only lasted several minutes. But, over the last week my community and I had eaten peanut butter at least once a day. The day before, I rememebered eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (happily teaching everyone the word PB&J!) and then having a cake with peanut butter in it.

The doctor didn´t understand when I tried to explain to her in the little Spanish I knew, that this was not just a problem with peanut butter here. The peanut butter I had a reaction to was in fact the very peanut butter I brought my community as a gift from the States, because I heard how much they enjoyed it and that it did not exist here. We had been feasting on the large jar of peanut butter for days. We all laughed at the irony. Then, the doctor gave me a shot, some medicine, and instructions of ¨¡Ño más mantequilla de maní! (No more peanut butter!)¨. After a complete day of rest, medicine, and plenty of water, I´m feeling much better. My sister in community, Fabiane (the one who accompanied me to the clinic) reminded me that next time I desire to eat peanut butter I should remember the shot. I think I´ll remember the feeling of non-stop itching the most. There will be no more peanut butter for me! I´m okay with this.

Once again, I´m extremely thankful for my brothers and sisters in community. They all checked on me constantly to make sure I was okay. They let me sleep for hours after my reaction and take it easy the days that followed. It is such a blessing to have such an understanding, loving, and flexible community.

Gracias a Dios!

Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for all of your love, support, and prayers. I apologize for not updating my blog as frequently as I would like or not responding to all of your e-mails. I read every one of my e-mails and I am truly thankful for each and every one of you. Thank you for all of your patience and uplifting messages. I hope to update my blog and upload some pictures next week. Enjoy this time with family and friends. You are all in my daily prayers.

The weather here is warm and I´m currently at our retreat house ( a coffee plantation about an hour away from our house where 4 religious sisters live) for the day. Every aspect of this mission has truly been a great blessing. Thank you for helping to make this mission possible!

Bienvenida Elizabeth... Isabel... Courtney... uhhh...

It has been almost 3 weeks since my arrival here in El Salvador. I received nothing but warm welcomes, smiles, and gracious acts of hospitality from the people here.

On the day I arrived in San Salvador, my community patiently waited for over 2 hours for me to get through baggage claim and customs. It took so long because my 1 checked bag was left behind in the United States with pretty much everything in it. My suitcase, along with about 20 others was left behind due to the plane not being able to hold all our weight with a plane full of passengers and an excess of baggage. I had a feeling something was going to happen as I was packing last minute several hours before my flight. And still I didn´t pack a change of clothes in my carry-on. So, when I found this out all I could do was laugh and think - TOTAL ABANDONMENT. Alright, truly starting off my mission on the right foot. At that moment I actually felt free. I literally have nothing. As Father Thierry de Roucy, founder of Heart´s Home writes:

"Putting into practice the experience of God is often putting into practice the experience of God´s proximity in the most concrete things, in the most meaningless events, in the most unexpected coincidences. The fact that our hairs are calculated is for us more revealing of God´s existence and tenderness than the the fact that all the stars in the sky and all the sand of the seashore also are well-known. Man has got such limited sight that he can more easily see God in the microcosm of his existenc than in the macrocosm which surrounds him. Nevertheless, we cannot make this experience of God without accepting a real abandonment: in order for God to act in our lives we need to let things go, we need to ask Him to be our good manager, we need to hand Him over our purse. The more we trust in God, the more His power can be effective in us.
As soon as she entered teh cloister of Carmel, Therese (of Liseux) wanted to possess nothing. She wanted to decide nothing anymore. To pass from the world to Carmel, she took only a few steps but those steps meant for her will to entirely belong to God. From then on, her ideal no longer was to decide but to say "yes"; it was no longer to manage but to abandon herself; it was no longer to invent but to correspond. The result has been immediate: her fecundity becomes a great one, her goods limitless. Her wealth becomes that of God. In Heart´s Home, such a secret was revealed to us. That´s why more than looking with trepidation and anguish for the ways to achieve our mission, our constant worry is to marry God´s will, to abandon ourselves to His Love, to correspond with the call He sent us. We want to put our confidence in God more than in a strategy.¨ (Fr. Thierry de Roucy; Therese, a worthy model for Heart´s Home)

Like a child, I was well taken care of by my community. They clothed me, fed me, called the airport to arrange the drop-off of my suitcase the next day and then let me sleep for several hours.

I am truly thankful for the patience and understanding of my brothers and sisters in community. I made things complicated with my name and they are always helping me clarify and explain to our friends.

When my community heard of my name back in the beginning of the summer, they tried with great difficulty to pronounce it correctly. Then, my sister in community, Analía (permanent missionary with Heart´s Home) met me for a short visit while she was visiting Heart´s Home in Brooklyn in August. She explained the difficulty my community was having with my name and asked me what my second name was. I said Elizabeth, but preferred to be called Isabel because I have a lot of friends with the name Elizabeth and I like the name Isabel. The message was not completely received and when I arrived here some people knew me as Courtney, others as Elizabeth. Now the list is endless... Courtney, Isabel, Elizabeth, Isa, Chavella, Gringa...

Sorry for the confusion! I answer to all of these names though! :)