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Overcoming Discomfort and Making Friends


“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

In the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, my siblings and I received a group text message from our mother explaining the details of a caroling outing at a local convalescent home. When the time came, our family of seven trudged into the center with faux smiles on our faces, ready to sing some songs in our out of key voices. Over the course of the night, I noticed how very few residents actually looked at us while we sang. They stared at the floor, the television, or into space. I knew that many of them would die there, in a place surrounded by people who didn’t seem to care one way or another.

It has never been easy for me to spend time with the intellectually disabled. I am perpetually jealous of those who effortlessly form friendships with the disabled. The discomfort I feel around them stems from my own issues. So when I met Andrew during an afternoon barbeque recently, I was expecting to have the next 30 minutes taken up by being polite in a situation I felt awkward in.

Instead of allowing me to wallow in my discomfort, God used this interaction with Andrew to show me His presence in my world. Andrew has difficulty walking, talking, and eating by himself. He communicates mainly through limited sign language. What makes Andrew special, however, is his relationship to L’Arche. Founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier in France, L’Arche creates, “inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.”

Andrew was accompanied that afternoon by his companion, Sito, a friend of one of my housemates and a recent college graduate. Though Sito had only been living at a Washington DC L’Arche community for three months, I could see the ease in his relationship with Andrew, and the joy he had around him was palpable. Seeing Sito treat Andrew as not only his equal, but as his friend, helped me to put aside my nervousness. I was being called to treat this man as Christ would have.

For the rest of the afternoon I spoke to Andrew as if he had no disability and was just another friend at a party. I talked to him about his favorite movie (Toy Story) and asked him about his day. Most of the time he didn’t respond, but he did motion me over to read a Sesame Street book to him. To an outsider, it may not have looked like he was listening to me read, but at the end of every sentence he acknowledged me by turning the page.

I don’t know if Andrew will remember the short time we spent together, but it is an afternoon that I will never forget.
There are going to be many things that will make me uncomfortable in mission, but by opening myself up to these new experiences, I will be able to discover Christ in those moments of discomfort, and as Andrew showed me, I might just make a new friend in the process.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.