The things L’Arche teaches me

Sarah Ruszkowski

Published 22 November 2017

My first year in L’Arche in Washington DC, just out of college, was incredibly formative for me. I moved across the country from the people and places I knew and loved, and entered a beautiful and complex community. I was challenged, loved, hurt and empowered all at the same time. I recently came across a reflection that I wrote five years ago of what I learned during those first twelve months in L’Arche GWDC.  Rereading it delighted and surprised me with joy and gratitude.

[A brief excerpt…I have never been short on words…]

“I have learned that holding someone’s hand makes me brave.  I have learned that dancing around the kitchen like crazy people is one of most effective solutions to just about anything. People need to hear that you love them and why you love them, often. As much as possible. All the time. Girly television shows bring people together.  L’Arche is my home.  I hate folding and putting away laundry. I enjoy being alone. Just take the garbage out. It is okay to be angry and it is even more okay to forgive. There are things worth fighting for. There are things not worth fighting for. I am beloved. I share about my family all the time. It is okay to stop and talk to strangers. Sometimes you just have to cry in the van in the parking garage. People need to feel heard. I will always need my mom.  It is important to do what you can, then do what you must. Not everyone has the same definition of clean.  Enthusiasm is my gift. When singing around the dinner table with my housemates, my voice magically gets better. True friends are honest. I can shave a man’s face. Being together with someone in silence is a gift. Window clings spread holiday cheer. God is revealed in the daily-ness of our lives.  And I have so much more to learn.”

We just celebrated my one year anniversary here at L’Arche Chicago, and my six year anniversary in L’Arche. And I just keep learning and receiving so, so much. When I stop to think about what I have learned this year, I can almost physically feel my heart expanding. This year, like that one six years ago, involved a move across the country–returning to my beloved Midwest, but leaving my first grown-up-home in DC. Again, I entered a beautiful and complex community.  And this time, I brought with me all the gifts and lessons of the prior five years of L’Arche. My place in community is different, but the way that L’Arche loves me is not.

This year, here in L’Arche Chicago, I have learned so much (including but not limited to):

I learned that the heart is built to make more space for loving more people. I am a person that needs hugs. Affirm people’s outfits as if they are the most stylish person you have ever seen, each time you see them. (It makes them feel like a million bucks.) There is a distinct humility that accompanies being the new girl. Always make more coffee than you think you need. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. People need to be reminded that their story matters.

You can be the master gardener and still not like to eat the tomatoes. Words are so important. It takes time to build trust–be patient. The message of L’Arche is so unbelievably needed in our world today and it is a great honor to be entrusted to share it. When your heart is broken, find someone who will offer a 13-minute prayer over you, and have you laughing by the end. Understanding the history is crucial. I love creating color-coded, ridiculously-detailed event timelines for people. I left a part of my heart in Ontario House in L’Arche GWDC. Ask a bunch of questions and remember the answers–it helps people know how important they are. Miracles really are possible, as evidenced by the $10 Hamilton tickets we won. The practice of naming one another’s gifts is one of the most important things we do in community. Enthusiasm is still my gift and window clings still spread holiday cheer. God is revealed in the daily-ness of our lives. And I have so much more to learn.

This is a non-exhaustive list. I am so very grateful for this past year in L’Arche Chicago, for the lessons I have learned and love I have received. Hopefully in five years, when I look at these lists, I will continue to be delighted and surprised by joy and gratitude.