Assistant and Office Manager Malia Ellcey shares her L’Arche story
To give you an idea of what my journey in L’Arche has been like, I must describe the person I was before L’Arche. All my life I struggled to fit in. To feel like I was accepted and loved for who I was. I was the shy girl who didn’t know how to talk to people and didn’t know how to make friends. I grew up believing that no one cared about me: I was useless, uninteresting, of low value, and everyone around me was judging me. I constantly felt like an outsider watching everyone around me laugh, talk, and make friends easily. I wanted to know their secret. Why was it so easy for them and so hard for me? I would get so nervous in social situations because I would never know what to say and I was terrified of saying the wrong thing. Talking on the phone was torture. When I went to college, instead of gaining 15 pounds (the freshman 15) I lost 15 pounds, because I didn’t want to go to the dining hall by myself. I thought everyone would judge me for sitting by myself and think of me as that weird, socially awkward girl who doesn’t have friends.
After college, I moved around a lot, hoping that a new city, a new house, a new job, a new church would make things better, would somehow fix the constant ache and loneliness inside. I’d heard about this thing called intentional community and I desperately wanted it. I did a program called Mission Year in Philadelphia where I lived with 6 other girls and had an internship in the city. I thought, “Finally, I’ll have a place where I belong, where I live in community with people who care about the same things I care about.” But somehow, it didn’t work out that way. I couldn’t be myself in that house. There was constant pressure to be someone I wasn’t, and there was no grace for mistakes. Even though my community didn’t work out that year, I still believed in community and wanted it as much as ever. I moved into another intentional community in Philadelphia the following year. This time I got along much better with my housemates – but I hardly ever saw them. I still felt very lonely and isolated. I was burnt out on my job, and missing my family in Yakima. I knew I needed a change. That’s when I happened to come across an article that talked about different organizations that offered year-long service opportunities. L’Arche was one of several organizations listed. I had heard of L’Arche before, but didn’t know much about it. However, the more I learned about L’Arche, the more I felt that this was the place I had been looking for: a place to learn, and grow, and be changed. A place to belong. A place to learn how to listen better, to set my selfishness aside and truly be present. A place where the core members become more than just people I serve, but my friends whom I love.
And when I came to L’Arche a few months later, I found this all to be true. After years of restless searching, I finally found a place to call home. Since the very first moment I arrived in L’Arche, I was showered with love and grace. I was greeted with an abundance of hugs and signs and cards and presents. Everyone said how excited they were to have me there. They welcomed and accepted me before they even knew me. Before I had done anything to earn it, they welcomed me with open arms. When the core members looked at me they saw a friend to hug, talk to, sit and be with, or ask for help. When I looked at myself through their eyes I put away the other labels that had been haunting me: weird, socially inept, too quiet. When they laughed, I was invited into spontaneous joy. When they danced, I was freed from my inhibitions. L’Arche is more than just a job and a place to live – it’s a family and a home. Families are warm and inviting and accepting – no matter what. They chase away your fears and help you become more of who you really are.
And I’m not who I used to be. All my life I’ve been good at school, but L’Arche has given me another kind of training. One that takes more than just reading, writing, and memorizing – but everything I am. I’ve had to learn to let go of my need for control, to both receive and extend grace, to recognize the gifts of others which are so different from my own. To learn to love people even when there is nothing lovable about them, even when they get on my nerves, even when we drive each other crazy because we are too alike, or too different. I’m learning how to apologize, how to be less selfish, how to listen well and be more patient. I joined L’Arche over six years ago, because I didn’t want to be the same person that I always was. I wanted to be transformed. And that is just what is happening.