The Gift of Presence: Reflections on “Including Isaac”

Including Isaac titlepageCLC Network recently teamed up with Kala Project to share the story of Isaac, a student at Byron Center Christian, and the way inclusive education has impacted his life and the life of the school. Watch the film at this link.

When you look at a person, what do you see? My first encounter with Isaac was through an article I read about a group of Calvin College engineering students who recently built a new mobility cart for Isaac. My reactions were as follows:

1. Wow, this boy has some pretty severe disabilities.

2. Wow, that mobility cart is amazing. How did they come up with that?

3. Wow, what a cool thing, that this boy is able to be mobile and active in his school.

This was the extent of my observations. I saw Isaac as a boy with special needs and didn’t give it a second thought.

James Kessel filming Isaac at school

Recently, I was given the opportunity to tell Isaac’s story through the Kala Project. If you aren’t familiar with Kala Project, we exist to share stories through film that would otherwise go untold. Before going into production of “Including Isaac”, the only thing planned was to interview family, friends, teachers, and of course Isaac himself. Our goal was to simply listen and let Isaac’s story and the impact of inclusive education come to life through many voices.

During the editing process, something about what these people were saying struck me. I was familiar with the idea of inclusive education, but when it comes down to it, inclusive education is a radical thing. In our society, we often are given value by how much we have to offer and how well we perform. But with inclusive education and in the case of Isaac, we are to live by a different set of values. We are to see people with Kingdom eyes. These are the eyes of inclusivity, eyes that see beneath the surface.

Isaac with friends

The story of Isaac challenged me to meet him at a place deeper than the “special needs” label. I was able to see Isaac for the precious person that he really is. Although he does have many gifts to offer, Isaac’s value (as well as our own) is not ultimately found there. Our value is found in our very being.

To me, that is the beauty of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (good or bad) or what we have to offer. What matters is the wild idea that God loves us for who we are and delights in our very existence. Isaac’s greatest gift is deeper than what he teaches others or contributes to his community: his greatest gift is simply the gift of his presence. For in the deepest part of a human being we see the image of God, where the presence of Christ dwells. In Isaac, in you, in me. When we look at a person, is that what we see?

Isaac and his friend

Learning from the story of Isaac, let us look beyond labels and see people with new eyes, recognizing the inherent worth of their presence. May the inclusivity of not only our schools but also our hearts match the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom. And may we never look past the simple yet profound reality of God’s presence among and within us, experienced in the presence of each other.

James Kessel James Kessel is a 2011 graduate of Calvin College with a degree in psychology (he also attended Byron Center Christian, where Isaac attends). He is currently the post-production manager at Bradley Productions, a video production team in Grand Rapids, and often collaborates with Kala Project.

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