Christelle is a volunteer in the L’Arche Ipswich community. In this piece she reflects on how celebrating her birthday in the community brought her to a deeper understanding of L’Arche.

Celebrating your birthday in a L’Arche community is very special. It was during that celebration that I came to understand the deeper meaning of L’Arche. We sat around a huge table, which was complete with decorations and different ways of communicating ‘Happy Birthday, Christelle.’ People were laughing and there was a sense of life.

Who I thought, around this table, is the most disabled? This, I realised, was difficult to know. For me, this is what L’Arche is about – the being and living together – without distinction.

Since arriving in the UK, I have found myself exploring my vulnerability and my limits. There has been a new language to learn, new codes of conduct, and a different culture to my own. There have been times when I have wanted to hide myself in a corner, to be unseen. Yet on that evening, when I celebrated my birthday together with my husband in community, I was welcomed and accepted as I am.

L’Arche birthday celebrations follow a simple, beautiful, recipe. A home-cooked meal, the birthday person’s favourite cake with candles, and the magical and moving moment at the end of the meal when each person - holding a candle that is passed around the table - gives thanks for knowing the birthday person.

It makes you realise, and feel through your whole body, that you are valued. It helps you to know that your presence is more important than you think and that what is most important in life is the ‘here and now.’

Regardless of our vulnerability, our disabilities, our emotional baggage, we all have something to offer. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about L’Arche is coming to recognise how much we receive - more than we could ever imagine.