Yvette Alex-Assensoh spoke with the Eugene City Club earlier this month about something she received as a child from her parents: The "Gift of Grace." The full text of her speech follows.
MY GIFT OF GRACE
By: Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh
University of Oregon
Good Afternoon Everyone.
I deem it a great honor to be invited to play a role in today's event and also to share with you my Gift of Grace.
Since my family and I moved here in August of 2012, we have been the recipients of various forms of amazing grace from our new community and many of its very generous residents. We are thankful for that grace and, in the spirit of recycling, I offer it to all of you for lifetime use and sharing. I offer this Gift of Grace to you in my capacity as a private citizen, not in relation to my job as a Professor or Vice President at the University of Oregon, as those are separate formalities I fulfill when I am on campus.
This Gift of Grace is one of the most important gifts that I received as a child from my parents, who simply assured me that Grace was free, unmerited and undeserved favor. Consequently, they demonstrated it in the daily acts of love, kindness and forgiveness that I certainly did not deserve when I was a helpless child and a know-it-all teenager. This Gift of Grace is often imparted to me in the actions of my husband and my two teenage sons, who extend it to me daily in my roles as wife and mother. They love me in spite of…. What a gift!
As many of you know, Grace is the power that people have to look beyond someone’s imperfections and see their special qualities and needs. Grace is also the resource that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, India's nonviolent advocate Gandhi and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used to demonstrate in the context of love and determination in the face of misunderstanding, scorn and hate. Therefore, all of us are recipients of grace.
As all of us know and also agree, banking as well as other financial institution and local or campus libraries very often give us grace periods. Furthermore, many of us have witnessed falls from grace and we have, as well, been wowed by the gracious performances of talented musicians, dancers and actresses. Also, we have heard teachers explain it and we have enjoyed various songs that proclaim as well as extol it.
Although Grace is free and either undeserved or unmerited, it is a difficult gift to give and sometimes to receive because the world, in which we live, gives us so many reasons to ignore genuine Grace as a gift or a response. An example is also in our current political environment, whereby Grace is glaringly absent in the political gridlock of our congressmen and women, coupled with the unkind words of our elected officials, in the divisiveness of our electorate and in the hostility of our political world, all of which are quickly becoming the new normal. It is also sometimes absent across the color line, when people judge people based on their own ignorance and not out of an understanding of the blessing that different cultures, races and ways of thinking bring. That, indeed, is why I am here to offer the Gift of Grace because it is a gift that has the potential to transform all of us and by doing just that, as we have the capacity to transform the world. Grace, therefore, has the power to shape us, to strengthen us as well as to soften us and to give us a new way of seeing the world and ourselves.
Indeed, Grace is the ingredient that encourages us to work across the isles of difference, whether it is political, personal or spiritual to find common ground. Grace is the ability to see the good in people, despite their heritage, nationality or cultural background. Grace, above all, is the resource of standing firm on our own moral codes, while we also reach out to understand those, who may be lost in a moral morass.
In today's society, the Gift of Grace should be the ability to see the hurt and pain in the lives of co-workers, family members, an erratic but disoriented driver, rude stranger as well as neighbors and to provide tender loving care in response.
Grace means being empathetic and, in the process, to accept other people’s gifts, even if imperfect.
Finally, the Gift of Grace should provide us the ability to see ourselves as the master pieces that we were made to be and to live every day in that perspective.
A this juncture, I will conclude my bestowing of the Gift of Grace in the words of the indomitable Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who reportedly wrote the following words on the wall of the orphanage in Calcutta India, where she lived, worked hard and eventually died:
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
"If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
"If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
"If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
"What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
"If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
"The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
"Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
"In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
[End of Mother Teresa's quoted words]