Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Leaving

L'Arche is meant to be a place where people with developmental disabilites can find a home for the rest of their lives. So, then, what does it mean when one decides that it is no longer the place he wants to call home?

This is something I've been pondering the last few months. A core member who has lived with us here at L'Arche Heartland for 10 years has made the decision that it is no longer the place for him. With the help of his case manager he has explored other alternatives and at the end of this month will be moving into an apartment run by a residential service provider in town.

L'Arche is good, but it isn't perfect. It's not the right place for everyone. Assistants come and go. Some are here for a short time, others for a relatively long time. It is rare, these days, for an assistant to commit to L'Arche for their lifetime. And we understand that. We might be sad when an assistant decides to leave, but we understand that they are moving on to the next step in their journey and we send them off with our love and best wishes.

So, then, why do we assume that every core member will want to spend the rest of their life in L'Arche? Why do we view it as a failure on our part, that we weren't able to provide them what they needed, if they decide to go? Granted, in my experience it hasn't been common for a core member to decide to leave, but does that have to mean it is a bad thing?

The founding story of L'Arche talks about Jean Vanier welcoming Pierre and Phillipe into his house and sharing life with them. But the part that often gets left out is that there was a third person who moved in, another core member named Dani. But it became apparent that L'Arche was not the right place for Dani, and he ended up going back to where he had been before. This part of the story doesn't often get shared. I think many people think it tarnishes the beautiful story. But does it really?

I think it shares the very human nature of L'Arche. We aren't a solution, we aren't able to save everyone. We are just a sign of hope that life can be lived differently, that beautiful things dwell in unlikely places, that everyone deserves to have a community that loves and supports them. It isn't perfect. L'Arche can only do so much, and sometimes what we can do isn't what is needed or wanted.

That is what I've been reminding myself these past few weeks, and what I will cling to during these days of our core member's transition. We are not perfect, but we were good for him for a time. He's now decided that another living situation is what he needs, and that doesn't mean that we've failed. It means that we have been his home, recognized his gifts, celebrated his life, and done our best to love him while he was with us.

And that, to me, is the opposite of failure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the dance of community

Tonight, I was at a dance that was held in our day program space. It was after a long day at work, followed by our weekly prayer night gathering, and then capped off with the dance. Earlier this afternoon, I had been dealing with some emails about one of our core members from the day service they attend that were less than positive. I also had a conversation on the phone with another core member who is in the midst of a process that they hope will end with them moving out of L'Arche Heartland and into a different residential community. Then, at prayer night, a couple things had happened that left me a little frustrated. So at this dance, I wasn't in the best emotional space for dancing, and one of the assistants caught me sitting down, staring off into space, with my chin in my hand.

"What's the matter, Mark?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing really," I replied. "I was just remembering when I thought that L'Arche was a beautiful little community where everyone loved each other and got along."

The assistant laughed, and then our day program coordinator, who previously had spent a long time as our community leader, said with a chuckle, "See, he read about it in this book..." She was referring to how my introduction to L'Arche came through the book Adam: God's Beloved, which is a lovely little book about Catholic priest Henri Nouwen's relationship with a core member named Adam at a L'Arche community in Canada. Which, as I said, is a lovely little book. But any assistant will tell you that it doesn't give you the whole picture of what life in L'Arche actually is.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love L'Arche. Even on days like this, when I'm tired and frustrated and maybe a little disillusioned, I will openly admit that L'Arche is one of the best things that has happened to me. There are things that happen here that are lovely and beautiful and life altering and, I think, are glimpses of the Kingdom of God.

But the reality is, L'Arche is full of people. Broken, hurting, awkward, sensitive, lonely people. And any time you put people together in one place there is sure to be drama. And L'Arche has its share.

One of the beautiful, life altering parts of L'Arche, at least for me, has been the part where it says that it's ok to be broken and hurting and awkward and sensitive and lonely, and that being any (or all) of those things does not mean that you are any less beautiful or loved or valued or part of the community. It's the part that says that maybe things aren't going well for you at your day program, but that isn't the end of the world, because at the end of the day you are more than your behavior or your shortcomings or your flaws. It's the part that says, it's not a failure if someone decides that L'Arche is no longer the place where they want to live. Because people change and grow, and what they might have needed at one time isn't what they want or need anymore. So it's ok to celebrate the part of the journey that they shared with us and to send them off to the next stage with our love and best wishes. It's the part that loves you, even when you are frustrated or not at your best, when you let things you can't control upset you or drag you down. Because you are surrounded by people who love you, and will be there waiting for you when you are ready, to reach down and give you a hand back up.

And it's filled with people who, when you aren't in the mood to dance or feel like you can't, will be there to dance for you. People who will receive you with open arms when you feel like you're ready to get back up and give it another try.