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Be Unstoppable: Ignoring the Voices

I hear voices.

And my guess is that you hear them too.

It’s okay. Relax. We’re not all taking a swan dive into the deep end of insanity. Voices are all around us, whispering, taunting, mocking, questioning, scolding.

They are the voices of doubt, of fear, of anxiety and worry and apprehension. They are the voices of concern, of timidity, of embarrassment and cowardliness.

They are the voices that hinder us and paralyze us, that keep us from being all that we were meant to be, that keep us from fulfilling our purpose and realizing our dreams.

These voices are weights around our neck, dragging us down, deeper and deeper into the murky waters, closer to the bottom where weeds entangle and drown us.

Do you hear them? The voices of those who doubt us, those who offer insincere apologies, those who feign support?

I hear the voices. They tell me I can’t, I’m not equipped, I don’t have the skills, I don’t have the connections, I don’t have the resolve. They tell me the mountain is too high, the river too wide and water too rough. They tell me my foe is too big, too strong, too skilled.

I used to listen to them (maybe you still do). I thought they spoke truth, reality. I thought they had my best interest in mind and were only there to protect me, to keep me from falling, from making a terrible mistake.

Until another voice showed up, stronger, gentler, deeper. It was the voice of the Creator, the one who made me, formed my inward and outward parts. Sculpted me in His image. His voice spoke real truth.

I made you with my own hands. You are so precious. You are mine. I created you for greatness.

I stutter. I used to stutter terribly, couldn’t string together five words to form a coherent sentence. The voices told me I would never amount to anything because I couldn’t talk. No one would respect me. No one would take a chance on me. No one would want to listen to me blabber on.

And I listened to them. Talk about low expectations. I allowed those twisted voices to penetrate my mind and weave their depressive web around my soul. And a fog overcame me, thick, dense,  oppressive.

But that other voice was there, too. You are mine. Reminding me that I was made for more. You are so precious. It led me to a career where I interact with people every day, to a calling where I can express myself like I never dreamed possible.

I still hear the voices, the negative ones, reminding me of the thorn in my flesh, reminding me of the pain and embarrassment that it brings. The voices still whisper, taunt, mock, they still feign concern and offer those insincere apologies. They tell me I can’t, that I’ll fail, I’ll make a fool of myself; they assure me that they’re only looking out for me, protecting me, warning me.

And you hear them too. I know you do.

But we can choose not to listen to them. We can choose to ignore those voices and focus on the only one that matters. The voice of our Creator, the one who formed us and placed every cell and molecule and atom and strand of DNA exactly where He wanted it. His voice tells us we can, that we were made for more, for a specific reason, for greatness. That through Him and in Him we can climb the mountain, cross the river, conquer the foe. We can stand before a crowd of hundreds, even thousands, and speak with confidence and conviction. We can write words that will move and stir and inspire. We can be all that He made us to be.

We can be unstoppable.

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American (Stuttering) Idol

American Idol logo 2008–2011

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My family enjoys watching American Idol. Have for years. There’s something about watching these average people get thrust into the limelight that has that rags-to-riches curiosity about it.

This year there’s one contestant in particular that we pull for: Lazaro Arbos. Lazaro has a pretty severe struggle with stuttering and whenever he speaks it’s very obvious. And very obvious that he’s uncomfortable, stressed, and very aware that millions are watching him.

As a stutterer myself who used to struggle as much as Lazaro my heart goes out to him and I applaud his courage. For a stutterer, what he is doing is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. With a hand tied behind your back. Blindfolded. Seriously. It’s not easy stuff to stand before a camera on a stage like he has and let the world see what you perceive as your biggest weakness.

This past Wednesday night Lazaro sung a very lackluster version of the Beatles’ “In My Life.” Afterward the judges were pretty vocal about their displeasure. Then Ryan Seacrest asked him to talk and Lazaro did all he could do to not lose it in front of millions of viewers.

To understand this you have to understand the psychological struggle of a stutterer. Stutterers live in a constant state of stress, not knowing when the next time is they’ll be asked to talk, to introduce themselves, to ask for directions, to even say thank you. Unfortunately, for most stutterers stress causes things to get worse. Then, put someone on a stage in front of millions and criticize him for a song performance he knows is well-below par, and on top of that–you know it’s coming–ask him to talk about it.

Trust me, the pressure is unbelievable. For a stutterer it’s not unlike being overweight and having your clothes stripped off in public so everyone can see what you’ve been trying to hide. It’s no wonder Lazaro nearly broke down. The stress this guy is under is unbelievable. His courage is inspiring.

Okay, that’s all for the American Idol stuff.

Wait, quick question: Are you watching American Idol? If so, who are you pulling for?

What it’s Like to Stutter

Actor Colin Firth - 66th Venice International ...

Image via Wikipedia

A few months ago I made a commitment that I wanted to do more to increase the awareness of and education about stuttering. The popular movie, “The King’s Speech,” has done much to bring stuttering out of the shadows and create more awareness and understanding of the affliction.

As a stutterer I’d like to share what it’s like to stutter, to want to say what’s on your mind but your tongue and mouth just don’t cooperate.

Stuttering can be summed up in two words: tension and anxiety. If you saw “The King’s Speech” Colin Firth did a fantastic job of capturing the tension behind stuttering. Tension in the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat. Everything just locks up as the word gets “stuck” and won’t free itself. Relaxing helps but often only momentarily for as soon as you try to say the word or sound again the tension is right there, hitting the brakes.

The anxiety comes from the anticipation of the tension and the blockage. I remember sitting in school (I’m talking high school and college) and awaiting my turn to do some kind of public speaking and literally sweating bullets. My heart raced, breathing quickened, hands began to shake. Writing about it now brings back all those familiar feelings and even now I can feel the tension building in me. It’s a terrible feeling, knowing you’re going to be embarrassed, knowing you’re going to be standing or sitting there in front of your peers, stuck on a word, your face reddening, and there’s not a thing you can do about it but struggle through it. As a child and teen, many tears were shed over my stuttering and frustration and humility that accompanied it.

As a result of all this, stutterers usually opt to just remain quiet in social settings, choosing to say nothing over suffering the humiliation of fumbling and bumbling through a comment or remark, of getting stuck and holding everything up while others wait for you to finish.

In recent years I’ve learned that fighting stuttering only makes it worse. Accepting it eases the anxiety and lessens the tension. I’ve also learned several techniques to move through a blockage. Now, I can hold whole conversations with few “episodes.” But even now, I get the sweats and racing heart when I’m in a group setting and someone says those awful, dreaded words, “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.”

A few other interesting notes:

For most stutterers, the hardest thing to say is their own name, first and last. For years I simply could not say my first name which made for many awkward first impressions and introductions. My own name became my enemy. Even today I get stuck on my name (both first and last) more times than I’d like to and often resort to explaining my hesitancy with “You’ll have to be patient with me, I have a speech impediment.”

Stuttering is not too uncommon among children, affecting 5% of the population. But only 1% remain stutterers into adulthood.

My question for you is twofold:

How many of you know someone (besides me) who stutters?

What are your questions about stuttering? Don’t be shy either. As you can see, I’m not embarrassed by talking about it. I think the more the misconceptions are challenged and questions are answered the better off we’ll all be.

Let’s Talk About Stuttering

A few months ago I posted about stuttering and the movie “The King’s Speech.” I stutter, have since I started talking. It was worse when I was a child (it could take me up to five minutes just to say one sentence) but has since lessened. I still stutter but have developed ways to manage and control it. Now, I can hold whole conversations and it’s barely noticeable.

But I said a few months ago that I wanted to write  more about stuttering. Over the years I’ve encountered many attitudes toward the affliction, many stemming from ignorance. There’s very little education done on what stuttering is and how to talk to someone who stutters. This often leads to embarrassment and awkwardness. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shed some light on it for you.

First, it should be understood that the cause for stuttering has not yet been discovered. It’s known to be genetic to a certain extent but often shows up in individuals with no family history of it. It’s developmental, meaning if you stutter, it will begin during the early stages of language learning. It’s also known to be behavorial, psychological, and neurological but how or why the three work together is also a mystery.

Second, it should also be understood that stuttering is not caused by emotional or psychological trauma early in life. It’s not caused by stress (though it can be made worse by stress). It’s not an indication of low IQ (in fact, on average stutterers have a higher IQ than the general population). It’s beyond the control of the stutterer. And more males stutter than females (no one knows why).

For a stutterer, stuttering impacts every part of his life, emotionally, psychologically, physically, vocationally, socially, you name it. In a future post I’ll share some personal experiences and how they affected not only my stuttering but my whole self.

Life as a S-s-stut-stutterer

H.M. King George VI of the United Kingdom.

Image via Wikipedia

The King’s Speech just released last week and is already gobbling up nominations for awards. It’s a movie about King George VI, England’s reluctant stuttering king. I have to see this movie, not because it stars one of my favorite actors, Colin Firth, as King George, but because it deals with the issue of stuttering.

I stutter. I always have. Less now than when I was younger but it still plagues me.

I don’t talk much about my stuttering, not because I’m ashamed of it or embarrassed by it (though there was a time when I was both) but because others just don’t ask about it. It’s one of those subjects that seems taboo to discuss.

The movie deals with King George’s fear of speaking, his struggle with stringing together a single fluent sentence, and the unorthodox lengths he went to to try and control his stuttering.

All of this is very familiar. I’m hoping the movie creates awareness of what stuttering is and what it isn’t.

For a child who stutters, each day is lived in dread. Dread that the teacher will call on you or you’ll be asked to read aloud in class, dread that someone will ask you what your name is, dread that you’ll have to answer the telephone.

Public speaking is like death for a stutterer. I remember well when it came time to give a book report or speech in class. My pulse raced, palms grew sweaty, breathing shallow. My chest would tighten and knees would knock. I used to pray for an earthquake or fire or anything to postpone the torture, the embarrassment, the stares.

Saying my own name was the worst. I couldn’t do it. And it seemed everyone wanted to know my name. I grew used to comments like “Did you forget your name?” or “Cat got your tongue?” Sometimes, if the meeting was unimportant, I’d lie and tell them my name was Steve because it was easier for me to say.

And talking on the phone was impossible. I used to run into the bathroom when the phone rang so I wouldn’t have to answer it. “Hello” just wouldn’t come out. I’d stand there with the phone to my ear, my throat frozen, while the person on the other end said “Hello? Hello?” over and over and eventually hung up. Then they’d call back and it would start all over again.

In groups I never spoke. I was quiet and withdrawn, kept my thoughts to myself. Every word was a chore. Talking was my enemy, a constant and persistent source of frustration and stress.

And all this lasted until I was in my mid-twenties!

Then two things changed everything. One, I decided (quite out of the blue) that I just didn’t care if I stuttered. I accepted it and determined not to fight it. This was how God made me and I would make the best of it.

And two, I started writing. I discovered that I could express what was on my heart and in my head with perfect fluency and people actually wanted to hear what I had to say. I fell in love with words.

My acceptance of myself and my acceptance of words led to a freedom I’d never known before.

I still stutter occasionally, still get stuck on words, still hate saying my own name (and now my wife’s name too), still get sweaty and nervous when speaking in group settings, but I’m much, much better than I was. I teach children at church; I teach writing at conferences; I talk on the phone; I hold whole conversations with nary a stutter.

I don’t think much about my childhood stuttering anymore but when I do I grieve for that boy who missed so much because he was hiding from himself, because he hated who he was.

I think I’m going to do more to help create a greater awareness and understanding of stuttering.

If you’re interestd, just for fun, here’s  a list of famous people who stuttered. Some of them may surprise you.

Question: Did or do any of you stutter? Do you know anyone who stutters?

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