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Finding Calm in Love

Photo: James Schreiner and Hazel Pulliam explore Lourdes, France, together. Photo by Michele Bowe

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4:1

On Tuesday mornings, members of L’Arche in Arlington meet for what we call “faith and sharing”—an occasion to describe how we are growing in our community and the joys and challenges of previous weeks. As we share in a spirit of trust, we experience vulnerability together.

When our community first welcomed me in July 2011, I faced much fear. Transitions have always been difficult for me, and transitioning within L’Arche was particularly challenging. New assistants must embrace a great deal of training, and it was intimidating to learn all the ways that we offer support to our fellow members. It often takes me a while to learn how to drive in unfamiliar areas, and I compared myself to other assistants who had also recently joined but were already familiar with Arlington and Washington, D.C., roads.

Most of all, I worried about cooking. In L’Arche, ten or more people are often present for dinner at our homes each night! As housemates prepared creative meals from scratch, I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know the basics of cooking.

One of the most beautiful gifts of L’Arche is that we are all called to share our weaknesses in faith. In Community and Growth, L’Arche founder Jean Vanier writes, “Look at your own poverty, welcome it, cherish it, do not be afraid, share your death, because thus you will share your love and your life.”

There have been times when I trembled while revealing experiences of my brokenness. As I confided in fellow members, my challenges remained, but they became lighter. Eva Hernandez and I cooked a favored chili recipe together. Bruce Weaver and I had a great time making pigs in a blanket. Everyone was patient as I learned how to drive in the area.

After two months or so, I began to feel more comfortable in the role of assistant, but other fears persisted. As our Arlington households continued to meet for Tuesday faith and sharing, I confided additional struggles with worry and self-acceptance and often felt a miraculous sense of peace soon after our meetings.

In addition to challenges, I also had joyful moments in community life. Bruce and I often visited parks, Eva and I created artwork on the weekends, and it was wonderful to attend worship with fellow members. While expressing sentiments of gratitude and vulnerability, I realized that my fellow members valued me, just as I am.

In the summer of 2012, I was invited to move to the other L’Arche home in Arlington to serve as a leader. I felt very honored to have been chosen for the role, but soon after moving I experienced intense anxiety and grief. I sought some professional support and soon had to humbly admit that I could not fulfill all the responsibilities of the role. While continuing to serve as an assistant, I experienced all kinds of emotions. I was self-conscious about no longer serving as a leader, but it was a relief to seek some help.

One way I was able to cope with the transition was by going for walks with my housemate Hazel Pulliam. We both really appreciated the opportunity to visit a nearby park, and I felt so peaceful with her.

Being a member of L’Arche has been the best commitment of my life. Our community is so life-giving, and it is uplifting to realize that God has called each of us to grow together.

Prior to coming to Greater Washington in 2011, James Schreiner was a member of the L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa. He is known for his contemplative reflections, practical jokes, and affinity for hip-hop music. Get to know James and Hazel by coming to dinner at Highland house.

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