All views expressed in this post are my own and are written separately from community life in L’Arche International.
In C.S. Lewis’s classic novel The Horse and His Boy, Lewis pens this classic quote: “Come live with me and you’ll know me.” These words have proven to be true in my own life as I have journeyed with adults who have developmental disabilities for the past two years.
On July 8, 2013, I made a radical choice. I left the academy and joined an intentional community for adults who have disabilities (L’Arche). When I first arrived, I was unfamiliar with personal care, supporting people who were non-verbal, or cooking spicy cinnamon chicken (now my trademark dish). Furthermore, I had never helped anyone with bathing, dressing, or laundry. Originally, I questioned my decision to be at L’Arche. Due to my academic disposition it did not always seem like a wise use of my degrees or the skills I had acquired through my schooling. Yet over time, I became convinced that L’Arche was where I needed to be (at least for a season) and it soon began feeling like home.
In L’Arche, I received far more than I ever gave. Sure I worked hard. I cannot even begin to recount the number of times I cleaned toilets, mopped the kitchen floor, or changed bedding. The times I cooked meals, prepared snacks, and took our Core Members (residents) to appointments are too numerous to count. But then again, so are the amount of times a Core Member hugged me when I was down, surrounded me with their love and support during difficult seasons in my life, and showed me that a degree in theology was completely useless unless one first practised the values of love and acceptance.
While I cannot relate all the lessons I learned in L’Arche, I would like to leave you with 5 key themes that I hope will also inspire you.
1) People With Developmental Disabilities Are Incredible Friends
I have always had a lot of friends and those friends have been loyal and committed to me during both good and bad times in my life. Yet, intentionally entering into a friendship with someone who has a disability is a unique experience all on its own. Often times, these friendships are marked by incredible laughter, loyalty, and unrivalled joy. If you don’t yet have a friend with a disability, I would highly recommend it. It is well worth the investment.
2) People With Developmental Disabilities Are Quick To Forgive
One of the greatest lessons L’Arche taught me lies in the power to forgive. We all make mistakes and when we regularly live in close proximity to each other it is inevitable that at times we will get on each other’s nerves. Yet, whenever I offended one Core Member in particular, she was always ready to offer forgiveness by replying, “It’s okay. We’re still best friends.” This experience of genuine love and acceptance has been unmatched by anything else.
3) People With Disabilities Can Be Highly Motivated
While every person is unique and some are more passionate while others more laid-back; for the most part, I have noticed how hard working and invested many people in my community are towards projects and goals. Whether it’s saving for the annual vacation, raising money for our community, or working at a local coffee shop, our Core Members are always ready to lend a helping hand. They take great pride in their work and love to see the products of their labour. Most importantly, they love being told they are making a difference and contributing to society.
4) People With Disabilities Can Be Incredible Prayer Supporters
While not every Core Member belongs to a faith tradition, the ones who do are often faithful and steadfast in their beliefs. Regardless of their religious views, they regularly participate in their own practices and the prayers and worship of our community. At times, they even teach the rest of us about their celebrations and allow us to join in with them. Not only that, but if you ask them to pray for you, they really will. How do I know? I can hear them praying from my bedroom!
5) People With Disabilities Teach Us The Meaning of Love
Love is not conditional or superficial. Instead, it is based on complete acceptance and mutually entering into each other’s dreams and desires. When I am with people who have developmental disabilities, I feel accepted just as I am. Quirks and all. I am able to be myself, but also challenged to grow in areas I am unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. People with developmental disabilities are both loving and lovely.
While every person with developmental disabilities is different, these are some common trends I have experienced from many of them. Together, we build community and love each other. Together we commit to living L’Arche and being a signpost to the world that friendships can happen between people who otherwise are very different from each other, but who, in reality, are not so different after all.