Remembering Who We Are

On November 29, 2023, the president of an organization my husband was affiliated with demanded I leave my service dog in a kennel and rent a wheelchair for the night of a public fundraising event on December 2nd. She refunded our tickets, denying me access to the Gala event because of my disability. I didn’t know how to respond.

Even with my light complexion, I’d faced prejudices, stereotypes, ignorance, and even hatred from a person who considered me less than because of racism. But being the victim of discrimination due to my invisible disability confused me. When this woman demeaned me in an email, copying my husband and his fellow board members, confusion gave way to anger, then grief . . . until I slipped into what I now recognize as depression.

I’d never even considered my disability a part of my identity before. For years, I felt guilty calling myself disabled. Even though pain and fatigue had been limiting my day-to-day functioning since my initial back injury in 1992, there was so much I could still do. However, a friend helped me realize that I was believing the same stereotypes I was fighting to tear down as an advocate for diversity and inclusion. In 2020, I posted a picture of me with my service dog, Callie, and my children’s book, Different Like Me. For the first time publicly, I wrote: I am disabled. This declaration didn’t come with the complete inward liberation I expected, though. Rather, like walking around with my professionally trained service dog, this newfound revelation also came with challenges that led to insecurities, inner turmoil, and an identity crisis I had to work out with Jesus. 

Are you training that service dog for someone else? That’s your service dog? You don’t even look disabled? The ongoing barrage of questions from strangers made me feel like I had to defend myself just to be disabled. The Holy Spirit helped me to pray for people and extend grace. Of course, some days were more challenging than others. Some people were harder to forgive. Some comments were more difficult to forget. Sometimes, I had to reach out to my accountability partners, who would let me vent, cry, and even plead for God to make a few wrongs right. But these good friends always pointed me back to Jesus, leading me to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, so I could forgive and move forward.

However, when I was denied access to a public event merely because a woman’s fellow board member was afraid of dogs and she felt a fancy event wouldn’t be appropriate for a dog Callie’s size, her actions felt like a personal hit. Being excluded led to feelings that I immediately attached to my identity and twisted into lies and labels. You are unwelcomed, unwanted, and unworthy. You do not belong. You are not acceptable. You are not good enough. You are unloved and unlovable. The list kept growing. Those lies slipped through a sliver of self-focused anxieties and took a stab at my core identity, because I’d placed a label—disabled—above being a child of God. Instead of processing my legitimate emotions after being hurt by the woman’s illegal actions, holding her accountable, and allowing Jesus to do His healing work, as I trusted Him with my heartache—all of which would have been totally valid and right—I accepted those lies as my truth.

For the entire month of December, I cried out to God about how unfairly I’d been treated. Obsessed with trying to convince the woman about her wrongdoing, I eventually called her. She said she wasn’t sorry and justified her actions. We agreed to disagree. After filing a complaint with the Department of Justice, I discovered they had too many violations and not enough resources to help everyone.

I asked God for my next step toward justice. Instead, He led me down a familiar road of remembrance. He affirmed who I was, who I always will be, and who I am in Christ. I couldn’t see any of these truths with my vision locked on the mirror, blurred by my pain, or distorted by the details of my affliction.

As I blinked away tears, the Holy Spirit led me to Psalm 16: “Keep me safe, my God, for in you, I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, apart from you; I have no good thing’” (vv. 1-2, NIV). Declaring sanctuary in God’s presence as Lord, David also identified himself as God’s servant, willing to fully rely on his King. This act of submission required great depths of trust on David’s behalf. He saw nothing worth striving for, nothing worth clinging to, and nothing worth living for . . . apart from God.

 David sang with jubilance, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (vv. 5-6). David’s confidence reflected the level of intimacy he had with his Lord, whose boundary lines were loving gestures, not limitations. Secured by the assurance of God’s presence and his identity as God’s servant, David declared: “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (vv. 7-8). Having his eyes “on the Lord” means David committed to remain focused on what God said in the Scriptures. When David said he wouldn’t be “shaken,” he didn’t mean he wouldn’t face affliction or struggle. In Scripture, we see he suffered and wrestled with God as he processed emotions. But David always turned back and trusted and praised God. Empowered by the Spirit of God, David submitted because God was his everything . . . his LORD.

Content with his identity as a servant of the Most High God, David wrote: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (vv. 9-11). Consumed with the joy of the Lord, David embodied a peace that resulted in rest and even transcended fear of death.

Unlike David, and like Peter (Acts 2:25-28) and Paul (Acts 13:34-39), believers in Jesus have the pleasure and privilege of reading Psalm 16 in light of Christ’s resurrection. We know our identity as followers of Jesus, not just servants but God’s heirs (Galatians 4:1-7). We’re valued by what Christ did, not what we do, by who He was and is and always will be, not by who we are or think we need to be. No label and no opinion of us, not even our inner critic, overrides what God says of us.

Our beautiful God-designed diversity, even my physical disability, is valued and purposed by God for His Kingdom work. Still, no one characteristic should be placed as the core of our identity as God’s image-bearers. This truth is so critical that God declares our identity multiple times in Scripture.

The apostle Paul proclaims: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:14-17, NIV). Like David, Paul speaks of an intimate relationship with God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who anointed David, Paul declares a oneness in suffering and glory. With jubilation, because of the presence of God, Paul embraces the joy of serving God . . . just like David.

John, the “disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23), reiterated this profound truth, stating that all who received Jesus, “to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). Jesus invites us into a oneness that comes with inheritance. There is refuge in being called His own.

Indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we who love because we are first loved (1 John 4:19) can remember who we are at the very core of our God-given identities. 

When any lie threatens to make us spin into an identity crisis, Holy Spirit, empower us to sing: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

—Written by Xochitl Dixon. Used by permission from the author.