Throughout my young adulthood, I have been searching out my vocation. L’Arche Heartland has given me a place to practice a vocation that St. Therese of Lisieux described as “the little way”. By “the little way”, St. Therese meant drawing close to Jesus through the everyday, ordinary tasks given to us.
In order to describe my vocation in “the little way” with L’Arche, I must elaborate on how the ordinary and extraordinary intersect in this community. At L’Arche, I share a home with four men with intellectual disabilities. Daily life in our home requires much responsibility of me, though none of the daily tasks appear very grand. One does not need a graduate degree from a prestigious university to do the cooking, cleaning, transportation, assisting with hygiene, and medication administration in my home. But as I go about my life in L’Arche, day after day, year after year, slowly the people in my house and in the larger community have showed me the many gifts that people with intellectual disabilities have to offer.
The mission of L’Arche is built upon mutual relationships between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Through these relationships of both giving and receiving, we are able to reveal one another’s gifts. Some of the gifts manifest themselves through such simple things as laughter, compliments, and a sense of wonder. Sometimes people with intellectual disabilities have a transforming effect on those around them, helping “the helpers” to realize new gifts that they could not previously perceive. For example, I have had to learn patience before recognizing the patience of a person with an intellectual disability. In L’Arche, the people with intellectual disabilities are often the teachers, showing us firsthand how to receive our lives as a gift from God. It is a gift to be close to people who are dear to the heart of God.
Receiving the gifts of people with disabilities transforms the ordinary in L’Arche. As I go about the mundane tasks of sustaining a household, these ordinary experiences become transformed by the extraordinary way that people with intellectual disabilities draw me closer to God. Following St. Therese of Lisieux again, this is a little way to live, but it is also a short path to the kingdom of God.
-Andrew Nelson, Live-in Assistant