I like to think of myself as someone fairly considerate of people with disabilities. Growing up with my mom taught me that. I was a Good Person. Tiffany Chu: Fearless Advocate of Disabled People. Or so I thought.
But on the last day of our retreat in Shanghai, our team proceeded to quickly scramble out the door of our towering apartment complex; we had an appointment to make, you see. The subway station was an offensive two blocks away, and we had to get there. As our physically handicapped friends tottered behind, we physically capable beings stormed ahead, heedless of their struggles to keep up. I stole glances behind me, even as the distance grew between us—a painful reminder of the differences we had worked so hard to close over the past few days. But what did that matter when we had a subway to catch, an appointment to keep? I was torn between the desire to also keep up with the rest of the group, and the nagging thought that we should slow down and wait for them. I thought to myself, “It’s ok, they’ll catch up when we get there.” Then continued on my way.
We arrived. They did not.
Later, one of the girls texted me. “Sorry that I couldn’t keep up so I left early and couldn’t say goodbye.” I responded saying that we were in the wrong, that we should have waited for her.
“No, it’s not your fault; I just walk too slow.”
Just one sentence: a crushing reminder of how much we still have to learn about what it really means to be inclusive.
In many other ways, our weekend retreat was a great success. We held a Christmas program, complete with giving of gifts, dressing the girls up in beautiful clothes, serving our friends like the queens and kings they deserve to be. A nameless bystander in the café we rented for our program accepted Christ after observing and hearing us. Friends, old and new, thanked us for loving on them, listening to their stories, and sharing life together for that short span of time.
But in the end, when the demands of schedules and efficiency and work drowned out the voices of the lost; when real life got in the way and we left our little insulated bubble where it was safe to be sacrificial, we forgot the things we learned. I forgot, and because of my thoughtlessness, they were left behind again, reminded of their deficiencies again.
Yet even as I sit here writing this, reflecting once more on my own inadequacy and negligence, I think of the ways I have experienced grace from these precious individuals. They did not blame me. They did not condemn me. Instead, they responded with love and friendship, and I learned what it meant for love to cover a multitude of sins. Because the reality is, I have much still to learn and grow in, as do they. And together, through the messiness of this thing we call “relationship,” we grapple and pull and stretch in our mutual struggle toward understanding and acceptance. We rise. We fall. We rise again—together as equals.