Floritas: A teacher's life is changed in Bolivia

Maureen Giusti  is a Catholic school teacher in Boston.  In the summer of 2013 she participated in a Maryknoll immersion trip to Bolivia.
Three little flowers are the smallest gift that has left the biggest impact on my life to this day. Three little flowers are what showed me the true gift of selflessness, acceptance, and humanity. Three little flowers are what showed me the true gift of seeing God in another human being.

When I first experienced the ‘tug’ at my heart to venture outside of the United States to experience God’s world and His people, I had no idea that my heart’s conversion would take place in the small city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. While reading an issue of Maryknoll Magazine one day, I stumbled across an article that mentioned a Catholic educator’s immersion trip that would be going to Bolivia the following summer. It was literally one sentence out of this whole magazine issue. And it was the biggest ‘God nod’ that I have ever ‘stumbled’ upon.

Being a person who is convicted in faith and following wherever God calls my heart to go, I set off to make this dream a reality, and a few months later we were off on the journey that would change my life forever.

Arriving off the plane in Cochabamba, I was exhausted, and wearing the same clothes from the day before. I had no idea what I was about to experience, but I will never forget walking off the plane on the tarmac and breathing in the air while taking in the view of the surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking. And as I hopped into the car without seatbelts, I was about to be taken on a life changing journey that will forever impact how I live my life each day.

The Maryknoll community and the Bolivian natives taught me more than will ever be realized. Being immersed in a culture of acceptance, steadfast faith in God and His will, and true value of being fully present to one another, I was shown that the meaning of life is so much more than I have known in the United States. The simple act of ‘being’ was radically different in Bolivia, and I experienced my heart being converted and re-evaluating what was truly important to me in my life. And that one day, while visiting the neighborhood of K’Ara K’Ara, my world was forever changed.

As the immersion group was visiting the neighborhood of K’Ara K’Ara, we were standing in a circle and talking for a while on the upper level balcony where a Maryknoll Priest resides. Below him resides a family of a mother, grandmother, and two young children, the oldest whose name is John, and he is 6. After about a half an hour of standing and talking, I turned to see John coming up the stairs holding 6 plastic stools with three little flowers on the top stool. There were five of us in the group, so John joined us without so much as a word. And I held onto those three little flowers. Those three little flowers, those floritas, are what made me re-evaluate and think about my life here in the United States. The impact on my heart has now stemmed forth into how I live my life, and to how I choose to be a part of the ‘social norm’ in America.

For example, I look at this recent season of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the fact that Mary and Joseph said ‘yes’ to the request from God to bring forth the Savior to the world. The coming of Christ, the celebration of the Holy Family, and the manifestation of that family here on our earth today is what we should be focusing on. But as I walk by store windows, see commercials on the television, and hear conversations from co-workers about the stress of the holidays, I think back to those three little flowers, and how they will mean so much more than any material item bought from a store will ever mean.

Everything that I have been immersed in throughout my life has been due to media telling me what I should consume, which stores have the best deals, and what the best item is for Christmas. But this season I have been digging deeper into my heart, and remembering the lessons I learned in Bolivia. The greatest gift of Christmas is not to spend money or time shopping. The greatest gift is the one given with the most love, and that is the gift of oneself.