Stuttered Leadership

“Your stutter disappears when you sing. It’s like Moses – so cool!”

To be quite honest, the very first thought upon hearing my acquaintance’s thoughts weren’t very nice. I handle being observed a lot better 1-on-1 than I do in a Church crowd. I wanted nothing more to deny I had a stutter at all. It only made me stutter more. 

Though I somehow got through the totally unexpected comment, I walked away with only one question on my mind:

Why? 

The man was right. When I sing, you would never know I struggle with English. When I sing, no one has time to ask questions about my authority in being on stage. I always wanted to be a singer. Up until I was 19, there was nothing I wanted more.

Why couldn’t God agree to re-writing my story so my life and career could be something I’m comfortable doing like singing?

As it stands, I’m pursuing a career in writing and secondly in ministry – two things I’m highly uncomfortable doing but have been firmly called to do. (We would include the whole bit about what God has called me to in relationship here, but that’s just not gonna happen) Every time I step into ministry, I’m nervous. Every time I write, I can hear myself questioning what the heck I’m doing. 

I feel incredibily inadequate in the shoes God has commanded me to fill. The sweet congregant’s comment about my “stutter” just made me realize it in a different light.

I started pitying Moses. I mean, he was probably a blastedly good shepherd. Exodus shares that he was a shepherd for 40 years. I betcha a million dollars that man ruled the whole sheep-thing. He was probably really comfortable with his dumb animals in the desert.

But regardless of his comfort level, God, in His infinite wisdom, put the stuttering shepherd in front of the Egyptian King and in charge of an entire nation. Poor, poor Moses. The guy just wanted to be comfortable. But… You can’t challenge a king and a nation without talking, stutter and all.

Moses really wanted God to pay attention to the fact that he stuttered. God paid attention to it and made him the leader of exiled Israel anyway. Again… Poor Moses.

Again… WHY?!

I struggled the rest of the day (okay, I’m still struggling) with the fact that, according to one man, my inadequacies are out in the open but God still has me up front in a leadership role. I would love to now leap into a long, divine monologue God gave me late at night answering every deeply seeded need in my heart. But I can’t, cuz hallelujah, He didn’t give one. I was only reminded of one very hard, incredibly gorgeous truth:

When I am seen as inadequate, people are led to look at Christ who is more than adequate. 

Unworthy to be Touched

Jesus actually touched the leper. In a world where lepers were better off dead and treated on the same level as the demon possessed; Jesus did the unthinkable. As a Rabbi (Religious teacher), Jewish law said He had more of a responsibility to present Himself as clean. Leprosy was the complete opposite of clean.

I can only imagine the scene. The leper walking on the outskirts of the city shouting, “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” every so often. Mid-mantra the ostrocized and forgotten man spots the Rabbi of all Rabbis. It had been said this Rabbi did miracles; restoring lives and healing the sick… What if? What if this Man could restore the years the disease had stolen?

Mark 1:40-41 says the leper “…came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him…” What had to be going through the mind of this poor man as he humbled himself even further to ask a question he didn’t know the answer to? Would Jesus be afraid of him? Would Jesus be repulsed by him? Did Jesus even care? 

Was Jesus just another teacher that had the authority to reject him?

I’m fairly certain the leper didn’t have even the slightest inkling this well-known, powerful, God-filled Man would touch him. That’d be too risky, right? But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He touched the man first and dealt with the disease second.

Too often as Christians, in this world of instant gratification, we forget that we are called to touch those who aren’t as clean as we would like them to be. Whether the person needs healing, rehabilitation, a home or just simply a bath… we’ve gotten really good at expecting God to work through us but not require us to do anything. 

Healing? Well, um God, it’s AIDS. The woman needs a hug, she needs hope; but… it’s AIDS. I’ll just pray instead.

Rehabilitation? Well, Lord… it’s too dangerous, how could you use me, anyway? I can’t reach him. I’ll just hope he hits rock bottom before its too late.

The homeless? … They probably did it to themselves, Lord. Giving them anything would be enabling them, right?

…. It takes wisdom. Love takes Action.

*Inspired by Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire 

Evolution of Faith

As a kid, I struggled with worth. Left to my own devices, I was the one that encouraged chats about my disorders and disabilities because, in my mind as a child, we only needed to face one fact:

There was nothing interesting about me outside of my disabilities.

As a kid that felt she was expected to keep the conversation going (I have no idea where I got that expectation, by the way), if there was a pause in conversation; the automatic fix to the dilemma was to talk about my disabilities. Believe it or not, the last thought in my mind was that I was being narcissistic. It just made sure no one had to deal with silence. It was probably the most annoying thing about me.

If you talk about something enough, it consumes you. After it consumes you, it becomes your identity. I had no confidence in my wit, humor or personality; I certainly had no confidence in the God that created me. I was Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. Nice to meet you, too.

I had the random thought today that some people may think nothing has changed. Most of my jokes are around my awkward right hand, my half-a-brain existence and just my overarching quirkiness as a disabled adult. The only thing that has changed is probably also the most powerful.

I completely believe my disabilities prove God’s existence (and I’ve learned how to laugh).

The secondary subject of my life hasn’t changed, but my perspective has. My disabilities are no longer surrounded by the definition of me.

They’re surrounded by the fact that God created me like this for a purpose and my identity is in Him.

Unneeded & Confusing

“Hi, I noticed you have some limitations. What’s your name?”

It’s been at least 10 years since someone has said that about me based on my limp or clenched right hand. Although that wasn’t exactly what the stranger said, it might as well have been. He saw me using ASL and asked me if I was “Hearing Impaired”.

I can’t lie, no.. I’m not. Instead of letting the silence say what I wanted it to ( Is “Go away” too strong a silent message?) He asked more questions. The second he understood the very vague answer meant I had a disability, he plopped his overly-nice butt down in the vacant chair and said the following (literally, this time… unfortunately):

“I’m the pastor at (Town and Denomination shall stay nameless) and I was just thinking I needed to spend more time around your kind. Have you ever had a charismatic experience in which you could be healed?”

Miracle #1: I did not choke on my coffee.

Miracle #2: I somehow kept the cynicism out of my voice.

Miracle #3: I did not turn to sarcasm in order to ask him what kind he was.

Today, I spent almost 90 minutes with this man trying desperately to show him that withholding healing from me was not God’s way of showing me He hated me. It was His way of living up to His promise that through Weakness, his Strength is revealed.

I’m not sure if he understood, but I left the coffee shop amused and blessed because I was reminded of one thing.

I’m an imperfect individual society thinks should fall between the cracks, yet my God gives me purpose… despite those imperfections.

That makes me laugh… but oh, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Leary of Heaven

The idea that epilepsy, cerebral palsy or even my Tzeitze Disorder won’t be in my body when I get to Heaven breaks my joy. Seriously. Though I understand disabilities are perceived as “imperfect” so therefore, they won’t be in Heaven, I still want mine.

All I want out of Heaven is Jesus… and I met my Jesus because of my shambled body. Looking Jesus in the eye with a perfect body in my possession terrifies me.

To be fair, I often times forget this desire. When a 15 minute seizure wracks my body at 1am, the thought, “I get this blessing forever!” is the last thing on my mind.

First thing on my mind? “Dear God, please help me remember my name if this episode gets much worse.”

Second thought? “Lord, are you taking me home?” Though that possibility is so slim doctors rarely talk about it, most nights are met with some kind of test for my peace of mind that I have no idea how long God will allow me to love on this side of Heaven. When my body is in that much pain, the desire to be in that type of pain forever is a huge turn off. I’m still human.

But still, I met the Jesus of my Childhood face to face because of these disorders. I have countless stories of moments when loved ones remember me going crazy and all I remember is kissing the face of Jesus. Or days when I couldn’t remember my name but I was too busy literally hearing Jesus sing over me that He “knows my name”.

What most people see as a “disability” or an “inconvenience” I see as my first and final moment where someone muttered, “Meet the Lover of your Soul.” That doesn’t mean my life is impeccably perfect, but anyone who is in love with another human being will tell you- even the heart-wrenching moments are endearing and precious if they’re shared with the person that holds your heart.

Because of that, when people tell me the suffering will be over “soon” (Lord willing in another… oh…. 70 years?) I cringe. Not because I can’t wait, but because I can.

I met my Jesus because of the aches most people would call a curse.
I gladly gave God the right to the deepest, most intimate parts of my heart because of the pain that often leads me to consider the “joy” of going Home.

People often misunderstand me when I say I can’t wait to go “Home to Heaven”. They’ll pat me on the back and say something like, “I know, a painless eternity must be your greatest anticipation.” The reality is, that’s not what equates joy in my mind.

What makes me smile is the fact that some day, I’ll get to heaven and Jesus’ nail-pierced hands and scorn-pierced heart (which I’m ashamed I added to) will carry the words, “This is what pain looks like. You were so worth it.” My own pain will remind me of the value of those words.

I never want to give that reminder up.

The Secret Death of Joy

“Fear of not understanding everything about Me cripples his heart. He’s more disabled than you are with your own limitations, Cass.”

There’s a gentleman I used to rub shoulders with who was constantly being scrutinized for the way he presented Truth. Most days, the Biblical stance that spewed from his mouth was most assuredly sound. He knew his “stuff”. But still, there was just something that made people more angry than accepting of what should have been his greatest impact on those around him.

What most people didn’t see (and what I’m still trying to understand) is this man believed in God and spent every waking moment striving to understand God. It was beautifully precious to watch. But he strove so hard to know everthing of the heart of God that he forgot to enjoy God. It crippled him.

Those of us that knew him well respected him and treasured him. But we knew what many people didn’t seem to understand. He was scared. Scared of what, no one knew. But that fear made him bitter. It crippled him.

Those years spent begging my loved ones to enjoy a man who let knowledge define him taught me something I’ll never forget.

It is incredibly possible to be crippled with bitterness- that bitterness can often times be seen as intimidating… and your life changes.

I learned through that experience that my greatest disability wasn’t epilepsy, tzeitze syndrome, or even Cerebral Palsy. Those three things that people see as limitations actually benefit me. It’s easier for me to relate to the broken, love the unlovable, and it gives me an audacious yearning to feel the heartbeat of God. They aren’t what define me, but they have made me slow down so I can see God.

What crippled me most was my bitterness towards the unknown. That one thing broke me of the ability to love well — I struggled the most with putting aside my bitterness to love anyone with any diversity. As a disabled person, that meant everyone; even other disabled people.

When that same gentleman came to mind this past week, God took the time to remind me that at times, bitterness is seen as a private issue when in fact, it cripples you more than any doctor’s note can.

Choose joy before you choose understanding and knowledge… watch God free you.

Is Jesus Enough?

All I want to do is sleep till my world is normal again. I can’t sleep though, my brain is going a million miles an hour.

I’m stuck between overwhelmingly laughing at God’s grace and brokenly screaming at the depth of my depravity.

I had another hard episode today that started messing with my sight. I tell people these awkward episodes are starting to make me blind because there’s no other way to explain it. Technically, I can still see out of what limited peripheral I have. But though my eyes can see, my brain can’t process what I’m seeing, so I feel as if I’m looking at nothing. During these episodes, I rely almost entirely on memory and sounds.

It’s the worst feeling in the world to not know what you’re looking at. It’s even worse when you force yourself to keep a conversation going simply to make your brain track something, but you have no idea if what you’re saying is making sense. Whether it was all an epileptic seizure or several things erupting in one body, it lasted for over two hours.

Nausea is a good thing in the world of epilepsy. I knew I was coming out of the seizure when sipping water and rubbing my aching head wasn’t enough anymore. But I just kept chanting a motto to mysef:

You only have half a brain, you can’t have a grand maul.
You only have half a brain, you can’t have a grand maul.

When the episode ended, I quietly heard God sigh and whisper, You used to scream my name through the episodes that took away your control. ‘Jesus’ used to be the first word off your lips. What happened? Why was I merely an implied presence rather than actually called upon?

I trembled as I took Advil to end the pain. I knew God was right. I knew somehow I was more afraid of what God would take away rather than confident of how He could hold me through a storm and comfort my loved ones that had to watch me get worse.

I was more interested in threatening God with scientific “proof” than I was in reminding my heart that even blindness or death would be magnificent if it meant God’s testimony was magnified.

I was more interested in being comforted back into easiness than I was in being stretched into His likeness.

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus used to be the name my storm screamed. Somehow, I lost that reminder temporarily. Somehow, the science became stronger than the God that created and oversees that science. Somehow scientific logic became more important than holding His hand through my unknowns and smiling because He is always known.

Jesus. The Lord of my Epilepsy, the Yahweh of my transformation and the Father of Truth. Jesus.