Saturday, August 30, 2014

There and back again

Here is a letter I shared this past week with my seminary community. I wanted to share it with you to let you know about what is next in my great, big adventure.

To the Wartburg Community,

I want to take a moment to share with you a part of my story. I feel like it’s a little long, but it is how and why I came to this place in my discernment.

During my time as Admissions Specialist, I have been given the gift of having many conversations with people who are discerning a call to ministry. I’ve heard them talk about what gives them joy, things that they are excited about, and where they feel they might be called to go.  In the midst of these conversations I have been engaging in some discernment myself, and thinking about some of those very same things in my own life.

Wartburg has been a special place for me since I first visited as a college student. It became even more special when I finally made the decision to come and be a student here. It was a community where I was supported, encouraged and loved. I grew immensely during my time here. I especially loved my job as a student worker in the Admissions office. It was then that I began to think that working fulltime in the Admissions office at Wartburg might just be my dream job.

So, in 2011, when I met Karla at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza and talked with her about the transitions that were occurring in the Admissions office and that they would soon begin looking for an Admissions Specialist, I was excited about the possibility and I asked her to keep me in mind when they began the search. But at that time, I was in the midst of a crossroads in my journey.

I first heard about L’Arche communities through some of Henri Nouwen’s books. L’Arche is an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. The first L’Arche community was founded in France, and means “The Ark,” to symbolize Noah’s Ark and how it was a shelter in the midst of storms. There are L’Arche communities on six continents and in about 40 different countries throughout the world. They offer homes for people with intellectual disabilities where they are not just taken care of, but where they are seen as people with their own unique gifts and talents and spirt to share with others. Henri Nouwen lived the last ten years of his life in the L’Arche Daybreak community near Toronto, Canada and served as their pastor.

My first year of seminary I really began to get into some of Nouwen’s writings, and so a friend suggested I read his bookAdam: God’s Beloved, which is the story of Henri’s relationship with Adam, a core member of L’Arche Daybreak (Core member is what we call the members of L’Arche who have intellectual disabilities, because we believe they are at the heart, or the core, of the community. Those without intellectual disabilities who choose to live in the community are called assistants). I knew as soon as I read that book that L’Arche was something special and something I wanted to find out more about. I didn’t see it as a potential reality for me at that time because I had already started the seminary process and didn’t think I could deviate from that.

The idea of L’Arche kept popping back into my life at various times, but I always had a reason as to why it wouldn’t work out or be possible. But in 2011, after I had served in my first call congregation for about 5 years and was coming to the realization that I needed to be somewhere else, the idea of L’Arche popped up again, and I didn’t really have an excuse this time. So, in conversation with some friends and with a spiritual director, I decided to explore the idea of L’Arche further. I contacted L’Arche USA (which oversees the 15 L’Arche communities in the United States) and began the conversation with them about joining a L’Arche community.

When Amy and Karla contacted me, then, in 2011 when they were ready to begin the process to look for an Admissions Specialist, I told them that I was happy they thought of me but that I had discerned myself in a different direction and wouldn’t be applying for the position. It wasn’t an easy decision, I mean here they were asking me to apply for what I had thought for years would be my dream job, but I was in conversation with L’Arche and wanted to honor that. In May of 2011, I moved into L’Arche Heartland in Overland Park, KS.

L’Arche Heartland is a great community made up of four homes which house 15 core members and about eight assistants. While the homes operate separately, there is a lot of interaction between them. The entire community is constantly getting together for weekly prayer nights, monthly community nights, birthday and anniversary celebrations, weekend trips to places like the zoo or a Kansas City Royals game, and often just to share meals at each other’s homes or to go to the park. I really enjoyed my relationships with the core members and the other assistants and really began to think that L’Arche might be becoming my vocation.

At the end of 2013, when I heard that the Admissions Specialist position was open again, I admit I was intrigued. It had been my dream job for quite some time, and so I emailed back and forth with Jealaine and Karla about the position. When Amy contacted me to have an initial conversation about the position, I thanked her but said that I didn’t think I was interested. I felt that I was happy in L’Arche and was content to stay there. But then, one day out of the blue, Jealaine emailed me the position description with a comment about how it was just to keep me on my toes, or something like that.

I read the position description and it reminded me of everything I loved about working in  the Admissions office as a student. I laid awake for most of that night with the idea running through my head. So I told myself that I would just apply and I would have an interview and then I would tell them thanks but no thanks, and that I was still called to stay at L’Arche.

So the next day I wrote an email to Amy explaining everything that had happened between my last email, where I said I wasn’t interested, and this current email saying I hoped I could still apply. Luckily, Amy understood (she really gets discernment, in case you haven’t figured that out yet) and said I could, indeed, still apply.

I applied, and figured that we would have an initial phone interview and after that interview would be when I would tell them I wasn’t really interested. But instead they called and said they wanted to fly me from Kansas City to Dubuque for an in person interview. So, I flew out, and had a really great conversation with Amy, Karla and Eileen. I really felt like they were people that I could work well with, we had a lot of similar ideas about call and vocation and discernment and what an Admissions Specialist’s role is in the midst of that. I also loved being back on campus, which I hadn’t been since my three year retread in 2009. So it didn’t work out like I had planned. I couldn’t tell them that I wasn’t interested in the position because, after my interview and time on campus, I was actually really excited about it.

So when they offered me the position, I decided I would accept it. I told my bosses at L’Arche that I was going to accept it and we came up with an end date for my time in the community there. It wasn’t an easy decision, and the two weeks leading up to my departure were definitely not easy. I was filled with second thoughts, which I told myself was natural. Of course it would be sad to leave this community I love, but I would be going to another community that I love. It would work out.

Since I have been here at Wartburg, I have met some great people. The faculty, staff and students of this place continue to be pretty amazing, just like they were when I was a student. The prospective students I have had conversations with have been faithful people, earnestly trying to figure out God’s call in their lives. The work of an Admissions Specialist is really good work.

But throughout all of those conversations, I have come to discern that while it is good work, it is not the work I feel called to do. I think if I had taken the call in 2011, when it was originally presented to me, it probably would have been the dream job that I thought that it was. But the truth is, in between 2011 and today, I have had the opportunity to get to know the people and work of L’Arche and I think it was there that my sense of vocation shifted.

I don’t think I made the wrong choice to come to Wartburg. I think I needed to come here to see if this was my call. During my time here I think I have realized that while it is a good job, my heart just is not in it. My heart is still with the people at L’Arche Heartland and so I need to go back there. I deserve to be in a place where I feel called and Wartburg deserves to have someone in this position who feels like their heart is in it.

I am grateful for the time I have had here, for the people I have met and the relationships I have formed. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful people in the Department for Vocation. The office is always a good place to be, with constant laughter and fun. So that makes the decision that much harder, but I still believe it is the choice I need to make.


I make the trip back to L'Arche at the end of next week. It's with a lot of excitement, anticipation, eagerness and joy... but it comes with some sadness. I will definitely miss the colleagues and friends I have made during my time here. I would appreciate your prayers for everyone involved in this transition.

Here's to the coming new adventures!

Friday, March 14, 2014

a new adventure

It's with a lot of joy but also a lot of sadness that I share this news with all of you.

After almost three years of living in community here at L'Arche Heartland, I have decided it is time to move on. It was not an easy decision. I have loved experiencing life with my brothers and sisters here in L'Arche. Life has never been dull. Every day has been different. I have felt extraordinarily welcomed, unabashedly accepted and unconditionally loved during my time here. I have gotten to know so many wonderful, amazing, compassionate and fun people and they have definitely impacted my life and made me a better person. Experiencing life in L'Arche has been one of the best things I think I've ever done. So to think about leaving here hasn't been easy, it has brought (and will bring) a lot of tears, but I'm thankful for the way that my life has been changed because of my time at L'Arche. My last day here at L'Arche will be Friday, March 21st.

So, what's my next adventure? I am going to move to Dubuque, Iowa where I have been called to serve as the Admissions Specialist at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I worked as an Admissions Assistant during my years as a student there, and loved it a lot, so I am excited for the opportunity to do it on a full-time basis, to journey alongside people as they discern the call of God in their lives, and determine if Wartburg Seminary is the community for them. It will sure be exciting work, and meaningful as well, and I'm looking forward to working with all of the wonderful people in the Department for Vocation of Wartburg Seminary. My first day on the job will be April 7th.

So I would appreciate your prayers, for myself of course, but also for the communities of L'Arche Heartland and Wartburg Seminary during this time of transition.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Community as a Rock Tumbler

A couple of years ago I attended an event sponsored by the L'Arche community in Saint Louis. They had brought in a speaker to lead a workshop in the afternoon and then speak at an event that evening. The speaker they had brought in was Sister Sue Mosteller, a Sister of St Joseph, who is affiliated with the L'Arche Daybreak community in Canada. She was going to be presenting and speaking about accompaniment in community. Sue had spent the previous 30 or so years as a member and community leader of L'Arche Daybreak, and so she knows a thing or two about life in community.

She shared a lot of stories about how she has accompanied people in community life, and shared some practical ways that we can accompany others. There is one thing that she said that has stuck with me for quite some time, and it is something that I have found to be true. In one of her talks she compared life in community to a rock tumbler.

When I was younger, I had a rock collection. These weren't special rocks, at least to anyone other than me, but they were rocks that I had found and I thought they looked cool, or that they were an interesting color or pattern. I kept most of them in a box in my bedroom. I never really did anything with them, but I remember looking in a catalog and seeing a rock tumbler and how it was advertised to make your rocks shiny and smooth. I remember thinking that I really needed one so I could polish my rock collection.

The way a rock tumbler works is that you put a group of rocks into a barrel, and then you add some sort of abrasive element and then a bit of water, or some other lubricant. Over a span of time, sometimes multiple weeks, the barrel slowly rotates and the rocks tumble around. They bump into each other and rub against one another, often through different stages of tumbling involving abrasive grit of varying hardness. The length of time that a rock remains in the tumbler depends on the hardness of the rock and the smoothness that is desired.

I can appreciate this analogy. After living in L'Arche for the past three years, I can say that it sometimes feels like a rock tumbler. There are days when we bump into each other, when we rub one another the wrong way. There are times when even the slightest action can cause someone to get upset. It's when someone else has bumped into one of our rough edges. It hurts. It reminds us that we aren't perfect.

But even just three years in, I can see some of the results. The way I might have handled a situation even just a year ago might not be the way I would handle it today. A community member who may have gotten on my nerves in the past is now a friend (or at least tolerable). Something which seemed completely awful before doesn't elicit quite the same dramatic reaction as it once did. After living with people in community, after bumping up against the others, even for such a short time, some of my rough edges have begun to wear down.

With a rock tumbler, the end result is a rock that has become smooth and shiny. The rough edges have been worn down through the process of the rocks tumbling into one another and the result is something beautiful.

I'm not saying that I'm a smooth and shiny rock. Pretty far from it, most days. I think that someone could live in community for years upon years and people could still find some rough edges to bump up against. I would even dare to say that Sister Sue Mosteller, or even Jean Vanier (the founder of L'Arche who has been living in community for 50 years) have some rough edges of their own left. But life in community makes us into something better than we are on our own. It rubs away that which detracts from our inner beauty and it brings forth that which shines. It helps us reveal those things inside of us which are special and colorful and brilliant. I think it also makes us aware of our own rough edges, so we are more forgiving about and willing to turn a blind eye towards the rough edges of those sharing life with us.

Community as a rock tumbler. It isn't easy. It can even sometimes even be painful. But it calls us toward being the best versions of ourselves, and it brings out the beauty in each one of us. And, for that, I'm thankful to be bumping around in this barrel we call L'Arche.