Choosing Presence

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Choosing Grace:  Choosing Presence
by Michael Hoggatt
Read Part 1:  Moving from "I" to "We"
 
But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and it won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:40-42 MSG).

Like Martha I find that it is often easy to mistake the immediate for the important. During the first eighteen months after Summer came to live with Mandy and I, we experienced a period of adjustment. We were learning behaviors and needs. We were learning our limits and hidden reserves of strengths. We explored interventions, met with therapists, attended IEPs and court dates. In short, we were busy.

It wasn’t that we weren’t enjoying our time together, but we were “fussing” far too much about a great many things. Furthermore, in our desire to provide all the “little things” we were often missing out on the essential things. Then one day everything changed…

Less than a year after our adoption was finalized, we were given the diagnosis of kidney cancer. The day we received the diagnosis we were told we had a short window in which to operate before the tumor, which had swallowed an entire kidney and broken off into her lungs, would burst and possibly prove fatal. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Needless to say we were overwhelmed with the emotions of the moment. The night before surgery, around two in the morning, I drove to our house to pick up some essentials, knowing that we would be staying in the hospital for some time. As I drove home, I was overwhelmed, not with despair, but with Grace. I got off the freeway and allowed myself to cry. At that moment, I did not ask God that Summer have improved speech, behavior, or cognitive faculties. Rather, I thanked God for the gift of Summer’s presence in my life and I prayed for one more opportunity to choose the one essential thing. I prayed for just one more day to sit at her side and enjoy her presence.

Often, in an effort to create “feelings of belonging” there is a tendency for those of us who live or work alongside people with disabilities, to create and program those opportunities. In short, we fuss about many things: liability, safety, fun, activities, volunteers, and more. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong in those things, I wonder if there is a tendency in those times to become Martha and miss the one thing that is needed because we are too busy in the kitchen.

Choosing Grace often means simply choosing to be present and accept the presence of those around us. Presence is something that each of us can offer on a fairly equitable scale, regardless of perceived strengths or weaknesses. Too often, in our fussing over the many things, we are denying ourselves the gift of presence. The Church has been fussing in the kitchen and missing out on the essential presence of Christ in the room. For me it took the possibility of losing that presence to understand the essential nature and importance of presence as a gift of Grace.

Now, six healthy years removed from that night, I come home from work different than I did before. I still eagerly desire to know what was learned, what progress was made, where struggles and stumbles occurred. Yet now, when I come home and sit on the couch, Summer comes and sits next to me and leans her head on my shoulder as I wrap my arms around her. We sit in silence for as long we can. Our mutual gift of presence, our willingness to choose Grace, provides a respite from the expectations that are still necessary, though not always essential.

Life together is choosing presence over business. Grace recognizes that friendship is made in mutual presence, not mutual accomplishments. I pray for the organized church to take a break from the kitchen chores and sit in shared presence with fellow image bearers of Christ. This too is Grace.

 
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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