Being an advocate for children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, at times there are many terms thrown around when discussing the issues they face. There have been times I wanted to scream listening to the continuing identification of people with disabilities as being different than other people. When someone looks at my Grace Anna I don't want them to see someone different I want to them to see someone that is just like anyone else with a mind to think, a heart to love, while living with hopes and dreams of her own.
Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
From the very beginning God chose to make us in His image, all of us, each with his or her own divine purpose. What an awesome reality that God chose us to be more like Him than any other of His creations. To me, each person He has formed has an awesome ability to make this world a better place by serving our Lord with all our heart. Grace Anna was no different. Her little body may not have been ideal for some, but when we looked at her, we saw God's hand at work.
Grace Anna has always had the ability to see past the outside shell of people and see into their souls, finding that piece of them that ached for acceptance and love. One moment in her young life, made me realize how important it is to see others with our hearts instead of noticing how he or she may be different than we are.
Grace Anna was scheduled to sing at the Military Veteran Project Gala in Topeka, Kansas. We were all honored for the opportunity for her to bless men and women that had served our country. One veteran we were excited to meet was Bobby Henline.
Bobby had been injured while serving our country in Iraq. He was the only survivor when his Humvee was blown up by an explosive device. Although he escaped with his life, his left hand had to be amputated and he sustained burns over 40% of his body including his face. The injuries completely changed his outward appearance. Some may have focused on this when they interacted with him, not our Grace Anna.
We were awaiting the start of the gala and were exchanging pleasantries with our dining company. Bobby was sitting right beside us. The entire time I was very aware of how I interacted with him, I didn't want to say anything to offend him in any way. I think the over analysis of how I was interacting caused me to become extremely nervous, I should have just relaxed and been myself. Grace Anna was the same little girl she always was.
"Can I take a photo with Grace Anna?" Bobby asked.
"Of course," I replied.
Thinking I would stand beside him holding her, I started to move over to put Grace Anna beside him. Grace Anna was having none of it. If she was going to be in a picture with Bobby, she wanted to be in the picture completely. The next thing I know, Grace Anna leaped forward into Bobby's arms, never noticing his scars, and holding his prosthetic hand.
She felt at complete ease being in his embrace. She smiled her megawatt smile and cradled her body into his chest. Bobby's face softened as she snuggled her tiny body even closer as I snapped the photo. She saw into his spirit and embraced who he was in his totality. His scars and prosthetic arm were beautiful to her, it made him who he was, a hero.
Grace Anna has continued her life being a little girl accomplishing great things. When she met new people, the first thing people gravitated to was her infectious personality, not that she was using a wheelchair or that her body was not what some might consider "normal". Very few ever noticed the difference in the lengths of her arms and legs, because they are so focused on the joy that pours from her soul. Our bodies do not define who we are, it is our spirit, and Grace Anna's spirt inspired people to see beyond stereotypes and connect her heart.
Galatians 3:28 states, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
We are all one. That's a powerful verse to help us realize we are not different from each other at all, no matter if we have an intellectual disability, developmental disability, or something that makes our appearance seem different to others.
Although our upbringing, culture, race, gender, or outward appearance may lean to the tendency for people to classify us by our differences, it is the oneness of God's love that joins all of us. We all have been chosen to be here by God. We all are united by the first moment of life breathed into Adam, it is an awesome reality that we are all connected all the way back to the beginning.
God chose Grace Anna as well as the rest of us to use our uniqueness to serve Him and fulfill His purpose, not to point out the differences to ostracize each other. We all are alike, in that we serve His purpose. When we focus on loving each other and serving each other, there are no differences, there is understanding and growth.
Showing respect for each through the loving spirt of our Lord, helps us see people with His eyes. We begin to see the heart of the person and the outward differences disappear and then we truly begin to grow. People with disabilities are not different, they are just like everyone else living today, doing the best they can do.
Grace Anna's life is an example of how someone that does not fit the mold of what society deems as an "average" person can prove that deep down, we are all the same searching for our place and purpose in this world, using our abilities and strengths to live the best life possible. Grace Anna's ability to help others realize God loves us and wants us to love each other helps us move toward being one gigantic family accepting each other no matter what some may say is different, because deep down, we are all the same.