On our recent community retreat at Loyola’s Ecological Retreat Center, we prepared to look ahead towards the next five years of life in our community; what we would like to continue, what we would like to start doing, and what we’d like to stop doing. Since my five year anniversary lies ahead in November, I also took the opportunity to reflect on my experiences over the past five years at L’Arche Chicago.
I currently serve as the Development Director for our community. However, this is the fourth role I’ve held. Prior to this I served L’Arche in a jack of all trades role, Operations & Development Coordinator, where I did anything from payroll, house maintenance, insurance benefits, and managing our databases. Before that, I lived in Friendship House with Tim, Chris, and Elbert alongside many assistants and the community dog, Allie. I served as house coordinator for about a year. And prior to that, I had the best job I have ever had: a live-in assistant at Friendship House.
During the retreat, Elbert and I shared a room. It reminded me of the fond memories we’ve shared throughout the years; from when I moved in as a young man out of college, to the many afternoons of harvesting tomatoes in the Friendship House garden, and to the early days of COVID lockdowns weathered together in community. When I was helping Elbert put his socks on, I reminded him of the time he wore three layers of socks during the polar vortex of 2019 and how Elbert was one of the few brave souls who was willing to show up to work at Concordia’s cafeteria that day. He is a hard-working man who sticks to his commitments, and finds pride and joy in his work, even on the coldest of days. Our shared time also reminded me of the many trips Elbert and I have taken together; visiting Madison, WI and L’Arche Clinton, spending time in my hometown with my parents, and taking a road trip last Christmas to the Atlanta area.
Throughout the retreat, I continued to think about the past five year while enjoying downtime with core members. While we continue to grow as a community, working towards building and opening a fourth home, and I take responsibility for garnering financial support for that growth as development director, I find myself missing the slowness of simple time spent in the homes with core members.
L’Arche is a sign of God’s love manifested on earth, not because of a charismatic leader, a great vision, or a unique hierarchical structure, but because of the fact that people with disabilities are at the center. This is why people with disabilities who live in L’Arche are called core members. They make up the core, the heart, of the community. They are the ones who point us to Christ and maintain the simple traditions and life in our homes.
I realize now that in my personal pursuit of new responsibility and growth opportunities, I have lost sight of these simple, yet profound L’Arche truths. It is easy to forget and miss the small things that make L’Arche special when focusing on achieving exciting dreams and goals from the office.
Sometimes, I wish to start over my life at L’Arche to discover this wisdom for the first time. It is greatly needed in today’s world where people measure their status and success on their political viewpoints, and their level of busyness and achievement. As a live-in assistant, I had the opportunity to let go of my ego and desire for big responsibility, do away with many things of this world and share a simple life with core members. There were many days where I was called to just be there with core members in their grief, in their joy, in their anxiety, and in their care for me. It truly is the best job I’ve ever had.
I am grateful that this retreat gave me unstructured time with core members, and by myself to reflect. This rejuvenated my commitment to continue learning from the lessons my time at Friendship House taught me and find a better balance between being and doing in my day to day as Development Director. While I am tasked with leading our L’Arche for Life Campaign, I have been humbled by the slow work it has been to raise the funds to make our fourth L’Arche home a reality. My time in Friendship House reminds me that I can only do so much, and I am invited to trust in the slow work of God to help turn the hearts of people towards generosity.