One Gigantic Puzzle

Alli Smiling

I feel like my FrancisCorps experience has been one gigantic puzzle, and I’m a sucker for a metaphor so we’re gonna roll with it. I start with building the shell of the puzzle with the flat-edged border pieces. These pieces represent what it took to get me here to Syracuse and involved in something as beautiful as FrancisCorps. It’s the moment where I first stumbled upon the program online two years ago. It’s the email reminder from Jenny Rose last March that the application deadline was approaching. It’s the butterfly in my stomach when I hit the “Submit Application” button. It’s the clarity I felt after the interview, and in the excitement in receiving the call of acceptance. It’s the discernment of where God was calling me to serve, and it is the peace of the decision of being a youth mentor at CYO. It’s the waiting for the year to begin. It’s the wondering who my community members will be. It’s the hoping that they are also Taylor Swift fans. It’s the sadness of leaving my friends and family. It’s the joy thinking about the people I will meet. It’s the nervousness in moving to a new place. It’s the feeling of not knowing what the experience will be, but knowing that God led me here for a reason. It’s the thrill of finding out what that reason is.

Then, I move onto what I would call “The Clumps,” where I begin to test out pieces that look similar to each other in hopes of completing certain sections of the puzzle. I start with the community section. I see the pieces displaying my own strengths, areas of growth, passions, desires, quirks, past experiences that have shaped me to who I am, and I begin to attach these pieces to the same of RaeAnn, Tristen, Lucy, and Paige. There are gaps in this section as some pieces are missing, but we quickly work to find the ones that have escaped underneath the couch. Once we do, we are able to attach the experiences we’ve shared this year. We add the jokes we’ve cracked and the laughter that followed. We attach the cries and the vulnerabilities shared, and the understanding and compassion for one another that came along with them. We add our travels, our time spent playing games, our movie nights, our conversations at dinner. We look at everything we’ve done together, noticing how different our individual pieces looked from afar, but how perfectly they fit together.

I move onto service. I see the pieces of the first few weeks of service spent cleaning the rooms in CYO’s basement. I see the excitement of the after school program. I see the hours upon hours the youth team and I spent talking, conversing about the ways in which to best support our children. I see the activities we plan, and the snacks we distribute. I see the welcome academy, hearing the songs we sang with the students in elementary school. But, most prominently, I see the people of CYO. I see the coworkers and clients that I greet as I walk in to work every day. I see those waiting to see their case managers for assistance. I see their presence of gratitude, and how hope, resilience, and joy fill the spaces around them. I see the children I have come to love and care for deeply, which are pieces I hope to never lose when I unbox the puzzle down the road. I feel the warmth in my heart as I feel their hugs and hear their laughter. I feel the pieces of their sorrows and woes, wishing I could remove them and fill the gap with something brighter. I see pieces denoting the moments where I’ve come up short in supporting the kids, but I see the moments where I know I’ve made an impact. I notice how scattered these pieces once were, especially in not knowing how exactly some of the pieces would fit with the rest of the puzzle, but once again, I notice the completeness of this section.

This year, my knowledge of Christ’s presence in all things has been solidified, and in the experiences, I’ve had in my year with FrancisCorps, I’ve felt just how deep God’s Love truly is. God’s Love, and my encounters with it through prayer, are the puzzle pieces connecting the sections of community and service. I see a piece of God’s Love reflected in my community and how they’ve helped me realize that there is no possible way to serve God and serve others without also taking care of myself. I see another piece of God’s Love reflected at CYO. God’s Love connects me with the children of CYO, and I see the parallels between my relationship with the children and my relationship with God. I see why I must give total control to God in how the puzzle pieces of my frustration with a student who is having a bad day and is refusing to listen mirrors the frustration God must feel when I try to do things on my own without His help. Alone, the sections of community and service are beautiful in their own regard, but allowing God’s Love to connect the two brings along a powerful, life-changing transformation. I am beyond grateful to have been forever changed by this incredible experience, and while my puzzle remains unfinished for the moment, I am looking forward to what awaits after I place the final piece at the end of the transition retreat.

So, what does await me at the end of this journey, you may ask? I do have some long-term plans; working closely with the kids at CYO this year provided me the opportunity to have some first hand experience with leading a classroom, which reignited a desire in my heart for teaching, so I believe that is where I’m being called in the grand scheme of my life. But as for next steps: who knows? I’m planning on hopefully finding a job and working to apply to Masters of Education programs for the fall of 2024, but this year has widened my heart to allow the peace of knowing God’s got the wheel, so I’m letting Him drive the car.

Categories: General

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