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Braids of Love


Editor’s note: Missioner SarahJane Cauzillo reflects on the importance of receiving within the act of serving through an experience she had at Nuestra Casa, one of her ministry sites in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I am only human, and so last week I went to Nuestra Casa a little worn-down. It was Friday afternoon, and I was just feeling low and exhausted. Almost immediately the girls could tell something was off. “Sarrita, estas triste?” [“Sara, are you sad?”] My pride told me to shake off my funk and shake them off. I could tell them I was fine, put on my fake smile, and start an activity with them. But instead I let my guard down and vulnerably admitted, “Yes, I am feeling sad and tired.”

I wanted the girls to know that it is okay to feel sad, and it is okay to express those feelings in a healthy way and safe space when they have them. So, I chose honesty. And, to no surprise, the girls responded in love. I was sat down in the sun, and the girls began combing and braiding my hair. This is a common activity, but there was a little more tender and care as they me peinan [did my hair] this day.

I often find it pretty challenging when people ask me things like “What is it you are teaching the girls at the hogar?” Or, when people make comments like, “It is so good that you are making such an impact on those girls.” While I know that many make these questions and comments with genuine hearts, they plainly do not apply or encapsulate my experience at Nuestra Casa. Because, the truth is, these girls have been teaching me so much in these first short months. I have come to learn about what it means to really love. They have shown me that love is a model of the Trinity: to not only give of oneself, but to receive the divine gift of the other as well—a relationship of mutuality.

We read in the Gospel that the last thing Jesus did for his disciples before his Passion was to wash their feet; and, “Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:8). Peter thought being a disciple of Christ entailed solitary “service” with no reciprocity: he should not receive this gift— he needed to be the one giving it! Often, I think that Peter’s attitude in this scene is our common disposition towards “service” and towards “mission.” But, Jesus says this reception is necessary; we must also accept, openly, the gifts of love given to us in order to share in communion with Him and with others.

As the girls’ fingers ran and twirled through my locks that Friday afternoon, we each shared some of the pain of our hearts. We took turns listening, empathizing, and speaking. I realized I was Peter having my feet washed by Christ in each of these girls. The communion we were creating and living into with our vulnerability was one in which we were continuing to realize we were not so different after all. “As Christians, we want to bridge the gap that exists between people,” Father Gregory Boyle, SJ, writes. “Even in service, there is a distance: ‘service provider—service recipient.’ Service is where we begin, yet it remains the hallway that leads to the ballroom. The ballroom is the place of exquisite mutuality… Truth be told, we are all in need of healing; we are all a cry for help. The affection of God unfolds when there is no daylight separating us.”[1]

This ballroom of exquisite mutuality, I think, is the communion Jesus was demonstrating to his disciples with sandy feet and water. In our ballroom back at Nuestra Casa, the affection of God and His Trinitarian love was revealed to me in the vulnerable and tender moments of braiding one another’s hair in the Bolivian sunshine. And, I am all the more grateful.

Reflection question: How can you better receive love from those closest to you?

[1] Barking to the Choir, Father Gregory Boyle, SJ.

SarahJane Cauzillo sought various opportunities during her college years at Grand Valley State University to learn more about pressing social justice issues. Mission trips to Detroit awakened a special interest in working with youth, particularly young women. Serving on mission will be a hands-on opportunity to build relationships with others through sharing the Gospel and ministry of presence. Joining an intentional faith community with other lay Catholics was an essential element in choosing to serve overseas with FMS. SarahJane's hobbies include reading, writing, hiking, camping, kayaking, swimming, discovering new music, drinking coffee, and engaging in rich conversation with loved ones.