Finding Hope In My Community


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Dear Friend,

Over the last few days, I have felt a need to share publicly about my current thoughts and feelings and so have turned to this long-forgotten blog as a way to do this. Please know that this reflection comes at a time where I am processing information that is difficult to talk about and heartbreaking to me on a personal level.

On Saturday I, along with the rest of the world, learned the results of L’Arche International’s inquiry into Jean Vanier through a letter that was shared by L’Arche USA’s national leader, Tina Bovermann. That letter can be found here.

Since then I have also watched the following interview with L’Arche International’s leader Stephan Posner. This interview is in French but English subtitles are available.

This news has been utterly heartbreaking.

Jean Vanier is one of the founders of L’Arche, the community that has changed my life and the life of thousands around the world. L’Arche is my family and since I joined the L’Arche GWDC community in 2015 Jean Vanier had become someone whose words and teachings I looked to for wisdom. To learn that this person who has had such a tremendous impact on the formation and beliefs at the heart of L’Arche not only lied about his knowledge of sexual abuse that had been perpetrated but also used his power and influence to abuse women who sought spiritual accompaniment from him has been a gut-wrenching experience. Reconciling what was believed to be true about Jean Vanier and the revelations from this inquiry will take more than a few days of reflection.

As I process this information I have been going through the various stages of grief… shock, denial, anger, sadness… but mostly a mix of anger and sadness. Anger that core principles and values of L’Arche like vulnerability and accompaniment were weaponized to manipulate and cause harm. Anger that the idea of loving each other as we are despite our common brokenness might have been used to excuse inexcusable behavior. Sadness that these women had to endure this abuse. Sadness that L’Arche’s trust in Jean Vanier was misplaced. I anticipate that I will continue to feel a variety of things over the coming weeks and months, perhaps even years of reflection.

In this, however, there have been reminders that hope remains. I have found hope in this article about how one community used L’Arche’s understanding of how to hold one another in times of death and grief to share the news with the community so that the community could turn to one another and support each other in processing the information together. But most of all I have found hope in a reflection that was shared by my friend from L’Arche GWDC, Alice Felker. Her words are as follows.

“Jean Vanier used to be a personal hero of mine. The founding story of L’Arche was one of the most impactful stories of my life. When news broke of Jean’s despicable behavior, I originally didn’t know how to simultaneously hold the story and community I love and this terrible discovery about its author and founder.

“But then I was reminded, as I often am in L’Arche, that the story was never really Jean’s. The story at its heart always belonged to our core members (people with disabilities).

“It is often said that on one of the first nights in L’Arche, the power went out in the house. Assistants (people without disabilities) could not figure out how to turn on the lights. One of the founding core members taught them how to flip the breaker, restoring light to the home.

“L’Arche was never meant to be led by assistants, or the founder: it was meant to be led by core members, who have always been at the heart of our communities around the world.

“This is a time where the light in L’Arche homes will once again be turned on by our true founders. Core members will lead us in praying for the courageous women who shared their stories (many core members in DC/VA have already done so), in sharing love and support with them, and in healing our communities. Core members will teach us how to form better, safer L’Arche homes. Core members will guide our new, authentic and honorable, stories of togetherness and mutuality.

“I trust our core members to guide us through this disillusionment—I have immeasurable and unshakeable hope in them, and I am honored to follow their lead, alongside many assistants and community members around the world, today and everyday.”

I find hope in this call to look to the core family members in L’Arche for guidance, and I too am honored to follow their lead. I am reminded of a time that my friend Deb and I planned an afternoon trip to Tryst (a favorite coffee shop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC) for tea, but Deb decided on the way there that we should actually go to the McDonald’s because we would be able to get much more sweet tea for our money. In this time of uncertainty, I have faith, that while we may not go where we expect, that our core members will lead us to the place where we need to be.

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo

Celebration and Community

Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. About what it means to have and build community. About my beautiful L’Arche community out in Washington, DC.

At the beginning of January, I flew back east to visit my family and celebrate the wedding of two dear friends from L’Arche. I surprised my Euclid family by showing up for dinner several days before the wedding (I say surprised, but I had been on the dinner calendar for weeks) and soaked in an evening of watching tv with the guys, sharing a meal, and passing the candle in prayer. It was a much-needed retreat into what once was a weekly ritual of simply ‘being with’ one another. After dinner at Euclid, I went down the street and made it to Ontario House just in time to join them for their after-dinner prayer, what a treat! The wedding itself was one of the most fun I’ve ever been to. In part, I’m sure, because I felt like I knew almost everyone there. At every turn, there was a new person to catch up with and another hug to give. Throughout the entire event, I was reminded of the ways L’Arche leads us to celebrate each other and each other’s gifts.

Then the week before last, my friend Waltico, one of the members of Ontario Home, passed away rather suddenly. Walton was a coffee drinking, pen stealing, paper folding, Cuban storyteller who had the ability to invite me into ever-needed quiet peaceful moments. Hearing him “purr” (even from another room) always gave me the sense that all was right in the world. One of my favorite things was hearing him come into the L’Arche office and rushing to find a pen and a piece of paper for him to horde in his mochila and to fold and tuck away in his front breast pocket. Since his passing, I have been overwhelmed by the way in which current and former L’Arche GWDCers have celebrated Walton together. Texts back and forth and an evergrowing collection of photos and memories shared on the “L’Arche GWDC Assistants and Alumni” Facebook group have been a constant reminder of how well L’Arche mourns and grieves together. What a gift this man and this community have been to me.

I still haven’t found this here in Denver. I have bits and pieces of it, but I can feel the difference between my ease at L’Arche and the struggle with which I begin building new relationships. After almost three years of being surrounded by the rituals and routines of a bustling tight-knit community, it’s tempting to feel isolated by my ever-changing schedule and limited time spent with people who know me so well. I had forgotten how much time and energy is needed to create that depth of familiarity. But yet there are glimmers of community beginning to shine through. Nights spent chatting with my roommates, moments laughing with my coworkers, and of course the gift of having one of my closest friends here in Denver as well. It’s been important for me to remember that the speed with which these new relationships gain depth and meaning cannot be expected to match that of what I experienced at L’Arche. That very few places have the same intentionality around building meaningful relationships that L’Arche has, and that for many people, that type of friendship building is new and/or different. I find myself facing the unknown, but full of hope and anticipation for the ways I will be able to continue developing this new community of mine.

Perhaps the hardest part of my first six months here in this place has not been in building community, but in realizing that I am much less sure about the program that brought me here than I had believed. Two classes and one semester in and I’m more confused about what I want to do with my life than I think I’ve ever been. Frustrated by the program’s structure, disappointed in my disinterest, I’m taking this next semester to do some deliberating and reevaluating, and of course some focused community building.

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo

Settling In


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Dear Friend,

Well, I’m starting to find my footing here in this new place. Every time I think about the fact that I’ve been in Denver for a full 20 days, I’m shocked. How can it have been that long? How have I been away from DC for almost an entire month?!?!? It’s mind-boggling to me that so much time has passed and yet here I am.

Today was the beginning of actually having some real structure to my life here in Denver. That is to say, I had orientation for my new job… For those of you who are wondering where, I’ll give you a clue: Bring on the red and khaki! Tomorrow is my first shift and then next week my first full week. I’ve enjoyed having a break, especially after feeling so exhausted when I left DC, but my savings account is going to be grateful for the reversal of money flow.

I’ve been working on several posts about the road trip out to Denver, a farewell to DC post, and several about things I’ve been doing over the past few weeks… but they don’t feel complete, so I haven’t shared them with you all. I find that I struggle to sit down and do things like write when I don’t have some sort of structure and routine, so hopefully my coming out of endless free time will help me finish those up and share them with you.

Until then, I’d like to share my Denver Donut Shop List. As you may know, I had a goal of visiting the Donut/Doughnut shops of the DC area, and I’ve decided to carry on the tradition. Fortunately for me, Denver has a much better selection – YUM!

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo