My life is blessed and beautiful.

Back again

It has been a very long time. Gosh. Almost a year.  But I have been thinking lately and the thinking has been forming words.

I felt like I couldn’t write for a long time.  First it was busy-ness.  Then I didn’t really want to write.  Then things were hard, in ways that I neither can, nor want to, share in any sort of public forum.  And then I entered into that cycle of “well now it is just too late, since I haven’t written in so long” so I wouldn’t write and the time between would get longer and then I “couldn’t write because it had been so long” and then…here we are.

But I decided I want to write again (inspired by a retreat, some lovely writing friends, and the upcoming new year).  And it doesn’t just have to be about the happy stuff and it doesn’t just have to be about the hard stuff.  It just needs to be about life.

So here we are, on the cusp of 2013.  I have learned a lot this year.  And I thought I would word-vomit it today, and reflect a little more in depth later.

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.  When you have to stay awake all night, bake.  Despite very intensive planning, our house will be late at least half the time (though I am working hard to decrease this percentage, one event at a time).  Being late is not the end of the world.  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. The stickers only stick if you let them. Just take the garbage out.  My little brother continues to be infinitely cooler than I am.  It is okay to be angry and it is even more okay to forgive. Honey makes medicine go down smoother.  There are things worth fighting for.  There are things not worth fighting for.  My “mom bag” purse is a black hole of preparedness.  I am beloved.  I share about my family all the time. Vehicle inspectors can either be really crabby or really nice.  Mistakes happen.  It is okay to stop and talk to strangers.  Sometimes you just have to cry in the van in the parking garage.  Dogs shouldn’t live in cities.  People need to feel heard.  It is a lovely thing to know and be known…by your Starbucks baristas.  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.  My Kiersey personality indicator has me as a “Guardian Provider”.  I know how to host a party.  I feel dumb every time I go to the hardware store (Dad assures me it can get better).  Writing is how I express myself.  Window clings spread holiday cheer.  Everyone loves getting mail.  God is revealed in the daily-ness of our lives.  And I have so much more to learn.

The end for now.  Or the beginning again? I hope to be back on here again, sooner rather than later.

joy

The Art of Being

I am infinitely more comfortable with the art of “doing” than I am with the art of “being.” “Being” does not really come naturally to me.  I want to be active. I want to fill the silence.  I want to plan activities and “do fun things.”  It is not that these are bad goals to have, not at all.  The “doing” is a big part of my job.  But “doing” is not everything.  Not even close.

Peter has been in the hospital the last couple of days.  (Don’t worry, he is much better and is coming home soon!)  When Peter is in the hospital, our home organizes it so that someone is always with him.  Because of my weekend schedule, it turns out that I have shared time with Peter in the hospital for many, many hours in the last couple of days.  (As a matter of fact, I am sitting in his hospital room right now, as we listen to his favorite instrumental CD and he snores away.)

The thing about Peter is, he is not looking to chat with you for hours.  On a normal day, not in the hospital, he is happiest sitting at his desk in his room, playing with his blocks and his “mochilla” of pens.  You can join him, sure, and sit next to him reading or resting, that’s fine.  But most of the time, he isn’t looking for you to “do” anything (unless it is make him coffee 🙂

It isn’t about “doing” with Peter.  It’s about “being.”  Sitting here for hours in the hospital, Peter and I were just…together.  We chatted, we laughed.  I attempted to translate for him.  But mostly, we sat–Peter in his bed, playing with his pens, me with my feet up on his bed, reading or watching television– listening to the “Cuban” Pandora station I created.  Just being.

This lifestyle demands a reverence for the art of being. Yes, I can complete the routine Wiki and check things off of a never-ending to-do list.  I can plan, plan, plan.  And believe me, I do.  It is a necessary part of living in a L’Arche home. But what my housemates need most from me is my presence.  Maria and Peter and the other assistants need me to be with them.  They need me to love them and give them all my strengths and all my weaknesses in the moment.  They need me sit, quietly, with the understanding that I am enough.  Me–just “being”–is enough.  In learning to accept this from myself, I am learning how to receive this from my community.  Be it the unexpected, 3-minute-long hug from Maria that stops me in the midst of my frenzied attempt to “check things off” or the casual smile in my direction from Peter as he glances up from his pens, I am a constant recipient of the gift of presence.

They just need to me to be here, with them.  I just need them to be here, with me.  It is a beautiful art, this art of “being.”

Grocery Shopping

I have not blogged for a long time, (sorry, Grammy!) but I am back! I think that my life may actually be returning to a more normal pace, after an incredibly busy pre-holiday, holiday, and post-holiday season.  It is a relief, believe me.

**After texting my college roommate about the following incident, she suggested I blog about it.  This one is worth sharing 🙂

Today I was in charge of the Monday Grocery Run.  While historically the “smaller” of the two weekly grocery runs, any run that involves shopping for 10+ people is not small.  My cart overflowth, if you will.  When I got to the checkout line after about an hour of shopping (which is a significant improvement in my efficiency), I was patting myself on the back.

I could tell that the girl checking out my groceries was confused by my very full cart.  When you are 22-almost-23 and look 22-almost-23, it does not usually make sense to the other shoppers (or cashiers) why you need 6 different loaves of bread, 5 gallons of milk, and enough bananas to feed a small army of monkeys.  Given her obvious confusion, I tried to make small talk to indirectly explain my full cart.  “Goodness, its expensive!  I really love at the end when you tell me how much I saved with my VIC card!  I suppose though, when you are shopping for a house of 10, it’s to be expected.”  She freezes mid checking-out.  She looks at me incredulously and proceeds to ask, “How many kids do you have!?”

“How many kids does it look like I have, lady!?”

Okay, I didn’t say that.  I thought it though.  I laughed and told her no, I did not birth any of the nine other people in my house, but rather I live and work in a group home for adults with disabilities.  She nodded and smiled but I could tell she was still confused.  Most people are a little perplexed when I explain what I do.  I could try explaining it until I was blue in the face, but until you come see it—the usual pile of random stuff (I originally typed “crap” and then changed my mind) on the piano bench, the artwork on the walls, the pictures on the fridge—you probably can’t fully understand our lives.  I can’t even really explain how it works, putting 10 people, with disabilities and without, in a house and saying “live together, help each other, love one another.”  Somehow though, it creates a beautiful home.

But no, I do not have any children, thank you very much.

Three month check-in

This week marks three months of me being here.  Where does time go?  I know I haven’t written in awhile, but you can chalk it up to life craziness.  Blame ND.  Three weekends ago I went to visit home-both my homehome in IL and my Notre Dame home, and this past weekend Notre Dame came to visit me here in DC when our football team played Maryland in the Redskins’ stadium.  But here I am.  Three months in.

In L’Arche, the first three months are basically a discernment process, through learning and doing, of whether or not this is where you are supposed to be.

This is where I am supposed to be right now.  I feel it in the deep parts of my heart, already, after only three months.  It is scary to admit that out loud, because I am still fearful that I will jinx it.  But there you have it.  This is where I am called to be.  It isn’t easy, and sometimes I miss sitting on the futon with my roommate or the couch with my mom, more than I can put into words.  There are days when people annoy me, when I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of fully caring for someone else, when living in community is just…hard.  But this is growing up.  This is me, figuring out who I am.  And L’Arche—this L’Arche, my L’Arche, is beautiful.

I wish I could better describe Maria’s hugs.  Within her arms, I feel safe.  She pulls you in so tightly, as if to tell you, “You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve got you.  You are not alone.”  And I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I feel afraid.  Sometimes I worry that I am too far from home or that I am not qualified to be responsible for someone else, as I am just learning to be responsible for myself.  But then Maria hugs me.

There are a lot fewer pretenses in my home than in the rest of the world.  For many of the core members, pretense is simply impossible.  Therefore, they just live their lives fully expressing who they are exactly as they are.  It makes me want to be more like that.  Here I am world.  No fakeness, no pretending.  Just being.  It is a lot harder than one might imagine.

There is so much beauty in my life here.  There are some gross things (I won’t go into detail…).  There are some irritating things and confusing things and difficult things.  But there is so much beauty.  I was able to share this beauty, if but for a moment, with some of my dearest friends from college when they visited last weekend.  I cannot even explain the joy I felt in being able to introduce this part of my life to that part of my life.  I just want to share what this place is with everyone.  Please come visit me (said in hopeful tone, nudge, nudge).  I can try to explain what its like, but it doesn’t make sense until you see it…

One of my favorite quotes/prayers is by Pedro Arrupe.  It reads, “Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.  Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”  I feel like this might be happening with me and L’Arche (said in whispering tone, as not to jinx it…)

Grownups

Sometimes I feel entirely unqualified to be a grownup.  Or at the very least I don’t measure up to what I am discovering is an unrealistic understanding of “grownup”.  Kudos to you, Mom and Dad, because I think that whole “grownups are all-knowing” thing comes from the two of you knowing the answers to the questions that I would ask.  Or at least pretending?  I am presently feeling a bit like a fraud grownup.  For example.  I was on “drop-off” duty this morning.  Obviously, I printed out directions there and back AND took the GPS because let’s be serious, even though I’ve driven it before, I rarely actually know where I am going.  We get there without a hitch, I sign them in and go to drive home.  And I can’t get the key to turn in the ignition.  I did everything I could think of, but there are only so many options when it comes to turning a key.  I used my tried and true technology approach, where I got out of the car and got back in (the equivalent to turning off your computer and turning it back on).  No luck.  I sat there contemplating how embarrassing it was going to be to go in and ask the man sitting at the desk to come out and help me turn the key in my car.  Especially since I was wearing hot pink pajama pants because I did laundry last night and started sharing time at 6 am this morning and all other pants were either wet or still in the dryer in the basement.  On my second try calling the house, Megan answered and after I explained to her what was going on, she explained that when that happened you just had to jiggle the steering wheel while turning the key and that should work.  Obviously? How the heck would I know that?  How the heck would a grownup know that?

Then I get home and get a phone call from the person in charge of all of our property stuff who is away on a retreat, reminding the house that some guys would be coming to look at the leaky something or other.  “But not to worry because Jonathan would be there and had it covered.”  False.  They show up and I am the only one here.  I don’t even know what is leaking.  Sure come on in, guys.  Again I felt like a real grownup would know what was leaking and whether or not you’re supposed to follow worker people around when they’re in your house and what kind of small talk you should make.  And a real grownup would not still be wearing the hot pink flannel pajama pants.  So I let them in, walked them up and then sat in the kitchen drinking my coffee.

Moral of the story?  There is no possible way that real grownups know the answers to all these questions.  So is everyone around me just rolling with the punches pretending to know what is going on?  Probably.  I can do that.  Roll with the punches. Go with the flow.  Learn as you go.  All things that a scheduled planner such as myself really struggles with.  But I am trying. I guess this is part of growing up now, isn’t it?

 

**I am going to begin by patting myself on the back for just a second, please bear with me.  I am on the cooking schedule FOUR TIMES this week.  I’m not entirely sure how/why this happened.  BUT. Yesterday I made chicken tetrazinni for twelve people, today I made tacos for fourteen.  And the food has been pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  (I believe can thank the genes that I inherited from my mother for that.) Okay, done with the self-adulation and on to the actual point 🙂

Tonight, there was a moment at dinner when I just leaned back in my chair and looked around.  There were fourteen people at the dinner table tonight.  It is hard for a room not to be exploding with energy with that many people present.  We also all happened to be in really good moods.  There was lots of laughter and calling down across the long table and story-telling and silly jokes and joy.  Lots of joy.

The chef gets to lead the prayer after dinner.  I decided to keep the happy juices flowing.  As we passed around the candle, we shared something that brings us joy.  The responses ranged from hippos to flowers blooming in the spring to finding certainty about an uncertain future.  Joyful things.  For me, it was the fact that yesterday I skyped with my parents at the computer in our main room and my family here got to meet my family there.

After a prayer of gratitude for all the joy in our lives, we ended with Maria leading us in song.  It went a little something like this.

“I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart.  Down in my heart to stay!”  The whole table was singing and laughing.  The song ended and began again as people remembered the verses from their childhood.  The joy was real and tangible today.  Down in my heart to stay 🙂

 

 

To accompany

Words are very important here at L’Arche.  We are not on duty or working a shift, we are sharing time.  My housemates with disabilities are core members.  When you are paired with someone for support, for feedback, for life…it is called accompaniment.

To accompany: to go along with or in company with, to join in action, to exist in association with.

I know, providing a definition for a word is so incredibly “6th-grade-attention-grabber”.  But it is important to understanding my life.  I am “going along with and existing in association with” a lot of people right now.  I am not alone.  I have mentioned Maria before—with her songs and her laughter, a woman who has a profound depth that is often overshadowed or hidden.  I am her accompanier.  This means I am in charge of her doctors’ appointments and her medicine and her hair appointments and her money.  I am the one who runs to the store to buy her mouthwash when it runs out and I am the one who works with her on her goals and plan for the upcoming year.  I am Maria’s advocate.

But accompaniment is not unilateral.  She is my accompanier too.  She is the one making sure that I have a place here.  I’m holding her hand, but she is holding mine too.  When we do her prayers at night, she is praying for my brother just like I am praying for hers.  When we are sitting on the couch and I put my head on her shoulder and she pulls me in for a hug, I can guarantee you she is the one advocating for me.

We have team accompaniment too, when someone comes in and meets with the assistants in our house to help us communicate with each other effectively, by “joining us in action”.  I have a role accompanier, one of our home life coordinators (my boss) who “goes along with me” in my role, providing feedback for me and supporting me through my transition into my role as an assistant.

I think that if the world had more people intentionally walking together, intentionally accompanying each other, it would be a much better place.  Example number seven hundred million and eleven why L’Arche can serve as a model for life.  And that, friends, is your vocabulary lesson for the day.

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