Painting no-handed: Introducing Florina
All of us are probably able to access this post only by using our hands and fingers.
But can you imagine life without them?
This requires little effort for 18-year-old Florina in Romania, because for her it’s a daily reality.
Florina lives in the picturesque village of Tinca, about 20 miles from Oradea. She was born with epidermolysis bullosa, otherwise known as “butterfly skin”.
This has made her skin ultra-sensitive to physical touch, causing it to blister and tear and form painful sores after only minor contact.
Tragically in Florina’s case, she has also developed “cocoon hands”. Her fingers have become enveloped by skin and now appear absorbed into the ends of her arms, which seem to end at the wrist.
And in a bizarre twist of theological vindictiveness, locals and neighbours once accused Florina’s parents of being responsible for this. In a knife-twist of surely epic proportions, they held that the daughter’s disease was obviously the result of the parents’ sin.
(Such people would be well directed to John chapter 9, which says that even severe illness might have as its ultimate end the glory of God.)
Largely ostracised by her fellow pupils at school, Florina and her family have been helped over the years by Emanuel Hospice.
The first photos we ever saw of Florina were of her at Emanuel Hospice’s summer camp, where she was obviously enjoying herself very much.
And so, in November 2017, in order to to understand better Emanuel Hospice’s work with children who have severe life-limiting diseases, we visited Florina’s home.
Her manner on our arrival was most affecting. With the stature of a 12 year and painfully, painfully shy, she retreated into a corner of the living room with her eyes fixed to the ground.
The taunts of her peers had clearly done their work.
Largely as an ice breaker but also out of curiosity, we asked to see some of Florina’s paintings. We’d heard of her interest in this area from Emanuel Hospice staff, and yet, given her handicap, we expected only the most juvenile standards.
The puzzle of how Florina managed to grip a paintbrush forgotten, we were simply bowled over by the vivid hues and striking colours.
A month previously, I had meandered my way around an art exhibition in Romania’s version of Buckingham Palace, the Casa Poporului. All I can say is that Florina’s work would have held its own in such illustrious company.
And as we voiced our praise, a delicate flickering smile lit up the corners of Florina’s mouth. Like sunlight breaking through a cracked wall to illuminate a long-darkened room.
The remainder of the afternoon passed in a blur of Romanian coffee, heart-rending stories, occasional amusing anecdotes and quiet tears.
And yet I think it was during our farewells that we caught again a glimpse of Emanuel Hospice’s wonder-work.
A small group of early to mid-teens was playing outside the neighbouring property. Their unselfconsciousness, abandon and sheer joie de vivre were typical of children in Romanian villages, and brought smiles to our faces.
Florina, clearly wishing to involve herself, started to inch towards them. The youngsters’ eyes darted in her direction for a moment before giving way to expressions of alarm, their laughter dampened for a few seconds before they turned in the opposite direction.
All this was in sharp contrast to the tender farewell given by Estera, Emanuel Hospice’s social worker. She put her arm around Florina’s shoulders, smiled warmly and whispered quietly “te iubesc mult” (I love you much).
Oh, the beauty of Christian grace!
Your donations to Romanian Ministries paid for
Estera’s salary at Emanuel Hospice in 2017. For this we offer you our heartfelt thanks, and gratefully invite similar donations in 2018.
Florina’s paintings are now for sale at £100 apiece, all proceeds being returned to her family for help with medical expenses.
And perhaps this Christmas as we enjoy the comfortable trappings of British yuletide, let’s remember those in Romania like Florina for whom life might sadly seem like a litany of minor and not-so-minor humiliations.
Our gifts make a difference. Interest makes a difference. And yet love, offered in the Spirit of Lord Jesus Christ, makes the most difference of all.