Twenty-two years ago, I packed up a couple of bags, boarded the train to Seattle, and began an adventure that forever changed my life. I entered the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and was placed as an assistant in the L’Arche Noah Sealth community. I didn’t know anything about L’Arche and was somewhat nervous as I am with any new thing, but I was passionate about living the Gospel more “deeply.” L’Arche was founded on the principles of the Beatitudes, bringing folks with and without disabilities together to share life. Being quite naturally anxious and driven to accomplish things recognized by the public, L’Arche was a welcome and new way for me to live. However, I didn’t know that upon arrival. I was used to waking up each day, getting in my five-plus mile run, and scheduling every minute of every day for full potential. I quickly learned that this schedule did not at all impress my friends with L’Arche, nor did any individual accomplishments. The only thing that they really cared about was the answer to the question, “Do you love me?” And isn’t this the question to which we are all seeking an answer?
When I first arrived at L’Arche, it wasn’t always easy to sit in a living room chair with my new friends, who were often non-verbal, and sip our afternoon coffee or hot cocoa. I was used to filling space with words, activity, and noise. Here though I was asked to be present to the moment. In this discomfort came growth.
In the ways of my previous life, I willed my own future and destiny. In the ways of my new life, I became more willing to what each day presented.
In fact, it transformed me so much that the three tenets I learned while living in L’Arche still create meaning and purpose in my life today. I learned that L’Arche was all about:
- Creating home
- Revealing one’s unique vocation in the world
- Being a sign of hope
During this time of shelter-in-place, stay-at-home and safe-at-home orders, these values continue to take root and grow.
I am not the most natural housekeeper or cook. In fact, the first year that I cooked Christmas Eve dinner for the L’Arche community, I smoked up the whole house, sounding the fire alarms just as twenty-five people entered our doors for dinner. Though I was mortified by this, my director wisely reminded me that creating home was more than the physical space of the house. Ask anyone who knows me and you will find that I don’t particularly notice the details of spaces: shapes of rooms, designs, or textiles. I am so grateful for friends who do. What I do tend to notice is the spirit of a place. Does it feel like a place where people belong? Because ultimately, I believe creating a home does just that. It creates a sense of belonging, a place to which we want to return.
I recently moved back to the neighborhood where I grew up. This realization of home being a place to which we want to return has become clear to me now more than ever since sheltering in place. Though the move and the new place of residence has grief and sadness attached, there is also an overwhelming sense that we are in the right place.
Revealing one’s unique vocation in the world
I grew up very dedicated to spending time in the gym at the YMCA. The people with whom I played basketball were my people. In essence, they created a home in the gym for me. They helped to make me into the basketball player I was then. At the same time, my work as a basketball player was just that….it was work. I wasn’t naturally gifted, nor did I have the natural desire to find myself in the gym each day. It took intention; it took grit; it took encouragement from others. Eventually the hard work paid off. But it wasn’t my unique calling in the world. From an early age, I was drawn into a relationship with God more than anything else. Though I never dreamed I would be a pastor either, my life’s journey has transpired knowing that God’s relationship with me never fails. All the twists and turns are just moments of growth and realization and finding a truer sense of my unique vocation in the world.
Frederick Buechner says, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
This time of pandemic and social unrest is reminding us that sometimes we do work for work’s sake, but ultimately, there are vocations that God calls us to that match our deep gladness with the world’s deep need. Though not anticipated nor desired, hopefully a bright side of this moment is that it is allowing us time to recognize our truest vocations, joining our deep gladness to the world’s deep need.
A Sign of Hope
More than any other time in my life, the words “signs of hope” are appearing in unexpected places because that’s precisely what we need right now. Even in the midst of upheaval, loss, and heartbreak, we still hear good news stories each day. We see hearts in windows, sidewalk chalk on driveways, masks donated, meals delivered, flowers blooming, relationships of trust and solidarity forming. All of these are surely signs of hope.
When my dad died two years ago, Romans 5:1-5 was read at his funeral. It talks about hope:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Grief often paralyzes me when I see the number of people who have lost lives, livelihoods, and family members through this pandemic and when I see the trauma experienced by people of color on account of entrenched racism. And in these moments, I need signs of hope to cling to because suffering is real; suffering is hard; and suffering is uneven, repeatedly impacting some more than others. Thankfully, the apostle Paul reminds us that suffering is not the end of the story. Hope is, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Creating home, revealing vocation, being a sign of hope: these three values I learned at L’Arche have carried me since my time there. During this time of pandemic and unrest, grief, loss, and sadness are constant companions, but thankfully God goes before us in these places. And by going before us, God invites us to create home, reveal vocation to one another, and be signs of hope for a world so desperately in need.
Pastor Rebecca C. Freeman serves as Associate Pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church and has co-led retreats like Women’s Weekend and Day Advent Journey at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center. As a Pastor, she enjoys connecting with people of all generations, walking with people on their journey of life, and helping them understand how deeply they are loved.