Stumbling Upon L’Arche

Ursula Bowling and Family

Ursula, holding daughter, Joy, with husband, Michael, and son, Ephraim.

I must admit that I stumbled into L’Arche. Looking for a topic for my doctoral dissertation, I became part of research that Dr. Kevin Reimer was doing on altruism and the caretaking behaviors demonstrated by L’Arche assistants. Little did I know how the weeks that I would spend in L’Arche Noah Sealth in Seattle and L’Arche Mobile would change me.

There are so many moments I will never forget. The experience of being welcomed by Pearl, a core member in Mobile. Having the core members sing “Thank you God for giving us Ursula,” and singing it back. Being allowed to travel with the Seattle community on a vacation to the Oregon coast, including the most incredible motor boat and horseback riding adventures of my life. The generosity with which the assistants I interviewed shared their stories with me.

My time at L’Arche was a tangible experience of grace, proof that there really are places in the world where people are accepted for who they are. In L’Arche I found communities where people commit to the hard work of loving and being faithful to each other and where the gifts and limits of others and the self are accepted and transformed through love.

Though my time in these L’Arche communities was brief, these memories and experiences left me praying that the family I hoped to have would also be a place where “we celebrate the unique value of each person and recognize our need for one another.”

Fast forward a few years. My husband, Michael, and I were sitting in a restaurant with our one-year-old, Ephraim, discussing baby number two, when the idea of adoption came up. Although we had talked about adoption before, we had always thought it would be in the future. For reasons neither of us fully grasped at the time, we felt that God wanted us to adopt our next baby.

One year, a failed placement, and a lot of frustration later, I was annoyed we did not yet have a baby and began making some phone calls.

In one such call, the woman said to me: “I can’t believe you’re calling. We got a call Friday from a couple who just had a daughter. The baby has Down syndrome and for a range of reasons they can’t parent her. You all match the description of the type of family they were hoping to be able to give her. Would you be open to adopt her?” The next week we found ourselves on a plane to Pennsylvania, where we met our daughter, Joy Aanya.

My experience at L’Arche prepared me to be able to wholeheartedly say “yes” to the gift of my daughter. At 15 months, Joy is a bundle of energy and activity. She loves crawling, broccoli, waving, laughing, and her big brother. Feeling the weight of her against my chest, smelling her hair, seeing her smile, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God brought her to us.

L’Arche is a sign of hope. I heard that a lot during my time in L’Arche communities. It is now that for my husband and me. We adore our daughter, and yet there are moments in parenting her that are hard – ear infections, rude comments, the maze of early interventions, and uncertainty about the future. Yet, there is also peace and joy.

To us, L’Arche means confidence that there are places in the world where the beauty of our daughter is seen and celebrated. We give to L’Arche out of gratitude for all the gifts that L’Arche has given us, especially our Joy.

Ursula discovered L’Arche while researching her dissertation subject: the altruism and care-taking behaviors  of L’Arche assistants.