When I was growing up, I had some friends who stuttered. I could tell their stuttering frustrated them, but I couldn’t begin to understand their struggle. Later in life, I understood their struggle all too well. You see, one of the side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning is stuttering.
Before I learned that I was being poisoned by my faulty furnace, I worked in an office. I had lots of responsibilities, and almost all of them required me to speak clearly. Every night when I went home, I got another dose of carbon monoxide from my furnace, and every morning when I went to work, it became harder to do my job. I am a very precise person. I like feeling competent and on top of things. But the more carbon monoxide I unknowingly inhaled, the less in control I became. Eventually, as time passed, I staggered when I walked, I fainted when I stood, and worst of all—I stuttered when I talked.
Stuttering was EXTREMELY frustrating. I would know exactly what I wanted to say, but it was as if something was broken in my brain. I couldn’t get my tongue to form the words. And when I forced my tongue to move, my speech was slow and halting. Many times, I couldn’t get my tongue to move at all, and I would stand in mute dismay, visualizing exactly what I wanted to say but unable to speak the words. It was as if I’d been bound and gagged.
As the months passed, my condition worsened. I had to clutch a wall for support when I walked, and I could barely hold a conversation. Soon it was time for my yearly employee evaluation. The year before, my boss told me that I’d been given one of the best employee evaluations and one of the highest raises. I knew this year would be different, and I was petrified. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew it was hindering my job performance. My boss asked me to keep track of my hours and duties to see if I was being given too many tasks. Determined to keep my stuttering at a minimum and to make the meeting easier, I began fashioning meticulous charts. Each evening, I spent hours putting together a packet that detailed exactly what I did each day. In my way of thinking, the charts would help me explain what my stumbling tongue could not say. Even if I couldn’t verbally express a point I wanted to make, I could direct my boss to a certain page in the packet and ask my boss to view a certain chart. In my way of thinking, creating the packet was the best way for me to prepare for the meeting. It would help me compensate for my new handicap.
The day of my evaluation, I was a nervous wreck. I was told that I wouldn’t just be meeting with my boss but also with members of the board. I made extra packets and said a prayer. When I went into the meeting, I was directed to a chair. Before I sat down, I carefully handed each person in the room one of my packets. After the meeting began, my boss looked at the packet and said ten horrible words, “I don’t think we need this. We can just talk.” With that, my boss tossed my carefully prepared packet onto the table. The board members did the same.
I can still remember the horrible sound of those packets hitting the table. In truth, it is the only thing I can remember clearly about that meeting. Every time I was asked a question, my mind would freeze. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get the words out. When I was finally able to force my tongue to move, I stumbled over each word. Sometimes, I would get stuck on a certain letter, and I would keep repeating an “s,” “t,” or “d” sound. That meeting was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. Luckily, carbon monoxide poisoning also causes amnesia and short term memory problems, so I don’t remember much of what took place—and I don’t want to remember. It’s one of those events that I’m happy to let the gray haze of amnesia obscure.
I’m sure that the people in the meeting tried their best to be kind—they were all kind people. But regardless of what they said, I knew my job was coming to an end. It wasn’t suggested that I leave, but inwardly, I knew the writing was on the wall. That writing became even clearer when my condition worsened and I couldn’t make it through the day without vomiting or fainting. I hated quitting my job, but I knew I couldn’t continue.
Later, when the root cause of my illness was uncovered and the carbon monoxide leak in the furnace was discovered, I began to slowly recover. Even when the vomiting and fainting stopped, the stuttering continued. I would avoid talking on the phone because my halting speech sounded so terrible. Deep inside my heart, I felt extremely frustrated and angry. I had always taken pride in my ability to communicate clearly. I couldn’t believe how much damage the carbon monoxide had done. I knew that I easily could have died, but living was proving to be a challenge. It was so frustrating to feel unable to express my thoughts. I can remember having people ask me simple questions, and I would stare at them in desperation—unable to form the words.
As time passed, and the years slowly rolled by, my stuttering began to clear. Today, I have very little trouble conveying my ideas through spoken speech, and I only stutter on occasion. But even though the stuttering has stopped, it left a scar. That scar is both a blessing and a curse. Stuttering taught me to slow down and weigh each word. It also taught me the value of clear communication.
Spiritually, my stuttering experience gave me new insight into Moses. Moses stuttered. In fact, he stuttered so much that he begged God to choose someone else to deliver the Israelite nation. He was afraid that no one would listen to his stuttering speech. He was also probably afraid that he would sound like a fool.
We are all called to be God’s ambassadors to world. We are called to tell the world about Christ’s love. Talking to people can be intimidating. It can make us feel tongue-tied. But God didn’t let Moses off the hook, and even though Moses stuttered, he was able to lead the Israelites out of slavery and to the promise land.
I used to be very confident about my ability to communicate. When I stuttered, that confidence was shattered. But now that I can speak clearly again, I’ve learned that my confidence shouldn’t come from my own abilities, but from God speaking through me. The Bible is full of ordinary people who felt they had nothing to offer. It was those same ordinary people who ended up doing marvelous things for God. Their very lack of ability qualified them to be used by the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says that God chooses to use people who are weak because it makes it obvious that He is at work. There’s something beautiful and freeing about that. I really like knowing that I don’t have to measure up—I just have to show up. Lots of times I feel weak, flawed, and extremely weird—but that’s okay. God likes using imperfect people to further His kingdom. Stuttering made me slow down and realize that isn’t my abilities that can impact the kingdom of God—it’s God reaching down and using me for His glory.
-2 Corinthians 12:9a