Choosing Grace

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Choosing Grace: Moving from "I" to "We"
by Michael Hoggatt
 
Much of what keeps individuals with disabilities from belonging, whether in personal relationships or more communal ones, is not an issue of difference, but rather an issue of Grace. Over the next two weeks, using lessons learned from life with my daughter, I want to examine a couple simple choices that can create opportunities to both give and receive Grace within our relational spaces, including those spaces which include persons with disabilities.
 
Often I hear I-you dynamics in response to disability. I am understanding—you are disabled. I am empathetic—you are in need. I am a missionary—you are a mission assignment. This approach places one individual as an actor and one as the recipient of relational dynamics.
 
However, my experiences have taught me that pity and objectification lurk in this dynamic. I have also learned that Grace lives in the “we” of relationship. The choice to move from “I” to “we” is a choice of belonging, a choice of friendship, more importantly, it is a choice of Grace.
 
It was one of those days in which the frustration and struggles associated with parenting a child with disabilities were piling up. My daughter was pushing all my buttons. Exasperated, I sat next to her on her bed and decided to be open. Softly, I said, “Summer, I love you, but sometimes it isn’t easy being your daddy.”  
 
She smiled at me and said, “But we never stop loving each other because we’re a family.”
 
“That’s right, sweetheart,” I said as she squeezed my neck tightly.
 
In that moment, we made a choice. The choice wasn’t to have each other in our lives. We had made that choice the day we met eight years earlier. On that day I walked into her group home and saw a three-year-old playing alone at a table. Before introductions could be completed by the social worker, she ran to me and grabbed my neck. It was at that moment that we chose each other.
 
The choice we made sitting at the edge of her bed that afternoon, however, was one that required an acknowledgement of the gap that existed between us, between any two people in fact. An acknowledgement on her part that she has struggles and areas of weakness, yet simultaneously an acknowledgement that I too have struggles and weaknesses. Despite the acknowledged gap, she reminded me of a commitment to choose Grace. She reminded me that it is not an I-you dynamic, but rather the WE of relationship.
 
In fact, choosing Grace allows us to live life together. It is the heartbeat of Friendship if the relationship is to move beyond superficial notions of congeniality into deeper levels of intimacy. Society tends to overlook the struggles of families and individuals affected by with disabilities, or, at the very least minimize and trivialize. This is not friendship, at best it is an “almost friendship*.” Almost friendships are based on an “I’m OK you’re OK” standard. This standard keeps intimacy at bay and results in one member of the relationship feeling superior for their ability to “overlook” the many shortcomings of the other. This is not friendship. This is pity, which quickly turns to resentment and distance.
 
Grace, however, steps into the Gap between us and refuses to back down. Grace says, “Yes you have shortcomings and struggles; however, we never stop loving each other.” It says, “I am here, with you in your struggle.” It steadfastly proclaims, “I am not leaving your side, no matter how tough it gets.”
 
The surprising thing about Grace, however, is not how difficult it is to give, but how difficult it is to acknowledge one’s own need. True friendships require not only a need to dispense Grace, which some would have you believe is all that is needed to walk alongside those affected by disability. It requires, as well, an acknowledgment of our need for Grace. Learning to receive Grace as dispensed from my daughter with her struggles, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and passions is something God has been teaching me since the day we met. This is one of many blessings that life together with those affected by disabilities brings, as we mutually step toward one another in Grace.
 
*see Baca & McNair (2015). Almost Friends. Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability 2(1), 27-41.
 
Read Part 2:  Choosing Presence
 
About the Author
Michael Hoggatt is a parent, educator, and advocate. His academic research is focused largely on access policies for college-going students with disabilities. Currently, he serves as a professor at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, where he supports students with disabilities as they work toward their academic goals. Additionally, he serves as faculty in the Masters of Disability Studies program at California Baptist University in Riverside, as well as serving on the board of directors for Friendship Ministries.

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Comments

Michael,

You are grace to me. I thank God for men like you, true men, who seek Truth and live it.
In my teaching I share the concept you so elequently wrote about with the phrase and training activity "We instead of Me". From now on every time I share with leaders and teams I am compelled and honored to share your grace story and that precious moment and conversation with your daughter. She and you teach me the deeper things of life with this. Thank you and bless you my friend.

Thank you for the good article. Happy new year.

gustavo woltmann

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