Searching for Answers

Eight years as a person who stutters. Oh how many memories—happy memories, heartbreaking ones, and everything in between—those years hold! At roughly eleven years old, I said goodbye to my old voice. I said goodbye to mindless fluency and spontaneity in communication. No longer could I rapidly interject into a conversation. No longer could I casually ask someone a question without long, painful hesitations first. Little did I realize what a wild ride lay ahead of me. Looking back, I wish I could have reassured my distraught pre-teen self that everything would be okay. Sometimes I still have to repeat this gentle reminder to myself. If only I had known then what I know now…

One thing that remains the same, however, is my and my family’s bewilderment as to what could have happened in my body. Of course, God ultimately allowed this to happen, but human curiosity can’t help but yearn to know what physically changed. It’s certainly not normal to suddenly start stuttering after eleven years of perfect fluency. Although many people who stutter share a similar “sudden-onset” story, most people who stutter began stuttering as soon as they learned to talk. And those who did have a sudden onset of stuttering can usually point to a medical event such as head trauma or stroke as its cause. Yet, at eleven years old, I was as healthy as could be. As I perused the memories of my life, nothing seemed to justify such a drastic change. I had never been in an accident or sustained severe injuries. I had never suffered a medical emergency of any kind. How could my healthy body simply lose its ability to talk? Why is this happening to me?

In the following years, my family and I explored every resource possible, clinging to the hope that my stuttering would eventually vanish as mysteriously as it appeared. As time progressed though, I accepted that my stuttering would probably never disappear. After years of speech therapy and doctors’ appointments about my stuttering, I found myself seeking something more. While the speaking strategies I learned in speech therapy helped me temporarily, nothing I tried ever gave me long-term relief, unfortunately. Desperate to find answers, my family and I slowly began to discover articles unveiling new research about neurological causes for stuttering. We have always suspected neurology, but having that verified by experts offers us some hope that they may actually find the cause and cure someday. As this research continues to circulate, it really piques my interest and imagination. If my stuttering truly is neurological, then surely neurological treatment methods could be promising. Seeing more research dedicated to this condition has been encouraging, and I hope that it continues!

Earlier this month, with the advice of my parents, I finally decided to schedule an appointment with a neurologist. Never before had I consulted a specialist for my stuttering. Understanding how little-known stuttering still is even in the medical community, I was nervous about whether the neurologist would have enough familiarity with it to help me. To my surprise, he was extremely informed about stuttering. It was comforting to speak with a doctor who seemed to understand the condition inside and out. I am so grateful for his insights. I am also very thankful for all of the previous doctors who did everything they could to help. Everyone along this journey matters and is so deeply appreciated.

After listening to me speak for a few minutes, the neurologist was fairly confident that I have neurogenic stuttering. Other forms of stuttering do exist, called psychogenic and developmental stuttering. He explained that doctors can readily distinguish between neurogenic, developmental, and psychogenic just by listening to how someone stutters. He believes that a neurological disorder of some kind is causing me to stutter. One possibility he suggested is that my brain may be having mini seizures, either misfiring or sometimes completely cutting off signals to the speech-language area of my brain. Baffled by its sudden onset, the neurologist also asked me if I could remember any traumatic event prior to my stuttering. Considering the scope of my whole life, I remember one summer day when I was about nine or ten years old as one of the scariest days of my life. I nearly drowned in a river after getting stuck in a strong current. As a weak swimmer back then, I may have lost my life that day had it not been for an amazing lady on the shore who jumped in to save me. I truly believe that she was sent from God. Though I never completely sank, I slipped far enough below the surface several times to swallow huge amounts of water and to probably lose some oxygen. The neurologist was very intrigued by this event in my life in relation to my stuttering. He explained that since the speech-language area of the brain is so vulnerable and easily damaged, I quite possibly could have suffered some brain damage that day, not only because of the trauma of it all, but also because of even the slightest oxygen deprivation.

Thankfully I passed the preliminary neurological exam with no problems whatsoever, initially ruling out anything more serious. To explore more inside though, the neurologist ordered an MRI of my brain, which I had done last week. Now, I just patiently wait to receive the results. I am earnestly praying that the scan will reveal the cause of my stuttering, or that it will at least light the way to discovering more. While I have been battling some anxiety about the results, afraid that they will reveal something more serious, I am trying to find peace in the Lord and to trust Him. At the same time, I am eager to finally start investigating my stuttering more. After years of not understanding why I talk this way but learning to accept it as a gift from the Lord… there’s something so exciting about finding answers.

Well, I think that’s all for today, friends! Thank you for sticking with me through a longer post today. I wish you all the merriest Christmas of all, complete with loved family and friends, twinkling lights, and sweet remembrance of our Savior’s birth.

Love always, Makenzie

 

 

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Catching Up

Hello, friends! Now that it has been nearly three months since my last post, I was so excited when I realized I finally had some time to write. Oh my… where to begin though?  To capture everything that has happened over the past couple of months would take several blog posts. However, I am hoping to give you at least a glimpse of what the Lord has been doing.

This first semester of college has tested me more than anything else I have ever experienced, but I truly love it! College life is quite difficult to navigate at first, but I think I am finally starting to adjust. As always, the Lord has been so gracious and kind. He has blessed me with wonderful friends and professors. In just several short weeks, my first semester of college will become a memory. It baffles my mind to consider how quickly the time has gone. As the end of the semester approaches, I must not forget how much these past few months have helped me grow.

My speech class, in particular, is my weekly hurdle to mount. Every Tuesday and Thursday, as I walk into my class, I feel my heart flutter inside my chest. Speech class is a source of considerable stress and anxiety… yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Sounds a little contradictory, right? Well, as it turns out, the Lord sometimes transforms our greatest fears into training grounds to bring us into a state of utter and complete dependence on Him. To show you exactly how this winding journey has unfolded, I need to tell you a story.

Last week, I had a group presentation. The primary objective of the speech was to advocate for non-English-speaking Americans by giving examples of discrimination and offering solutions. After spending hours in preparation, my partners and I walked into the room excited to present what we had found and to finally finish the assignment. My portion of the presentation was right in the middle. As I listened to the first speaker give his portion of the speech, I felt anxiety slowly rising in my body because I could already tell that I would struggle on my part. It is absolutely fascinating how I can physically feel whether I will stutter. “Oh no, I thought to myself, “what if I can’t communicate my information clearly?” When my partner eventually introduced my portion of the speech, it is almost as though my whole body froze. Nothing—not even the simplest conjunctions or prepositions—would pass through my lips without a fight.

Grasping desperately for every word, I looked out at my audience, trying to hold it together. By the grace of God, I somehow got through all of my information. But inside, my heart sank as I walked back to my seat. I cannot find the words to explain how it feels to stand in front of a class, literally speechless. It made me feel so helpless and vulnerable and small. My heart ached inside me, longing to release all of its captive words. Unfortunately, my emotions had already been spiraling out of control before this presentation, as I had become increasingly overwhelmed by my pressures to communicate. Sometimes, my humanity takes over… and stuttering just hurts. 

When class dismissed, I walked to my car… confused, embarrassed, and heartbroken. For twenty minutes, I sat in my car and wept. As rain steadily poured down, so did my tears.  I didn’t try to stop them. In fact, letting my emotions out had a powerful healing effect on my heart that day. After several minutes alone, I dialed one of my dearest friend’s numbers. I call her Mom. As I tearfully explained to her what had happened, she asked me if I wanted to come to her office. Of course, I immediately said yes. More than anything, I needed one of her hugs. Driving to her office, I prayed to God that He would help me praise Him, because even when I am desperate to speak, He is still worthy to be praised.

This story is not meant to dwell on the heartache that inevitably follows stuttering sometimes. Among all the other things I am learning, I have learned that it is okay to struggle and even collapse to the ground… as long as you get back up and keep fighting. Someone recently reminded me that my stuttering does not define me. It merely describes me. Oh, how I need to remember this every day! What defines us often controls us. I know that the Lord never intended for my stuttering to control my life. I believe that He gave me this voice for a bigger purpose—to draw me closer to His side and to help me love others more.

Something amazing has happened in college. One of my childhood fears did not come true. My stuttering has not prevented me from forming new relationships. As a young teenager, I often irrationally believed that people wouldn’t like me or would be uncomfortable around me because of my stuttering. Maybe some people do feel this way… but my perspective has been so wrong. Sadly, this is such a self-centered philosophy. Instead of waiting for people to accept me, I need to love and accept them first. Life is not about me; it’s about others. One of my professors said yesterday that we need to focus on loving others, not on being loved. 

Stuttering is probably one of the most difficult things I will ever do in my life. Since starting college, it has become harder. But yet, through all the tears and frustration, the ways in which it has changed my life for the better make it all worth it.

Even when it takes me several seconds to answer someone who asks me if I’m in line for coffee, even when it takes me forever to introduce myself or to ask my friend a question, even when the phone line goes silent as I try to get the words out… it has all been worth it.  

Love,
Makenzie

Finding a Voice Again

On Friday, my stamina for speaking was nearly stretched to the limit. It was Getting Started Weekend at my new college, an event I had been anticipating with a range of mixed emotions. As I walked into the enormous registration building, my eyes grew wide. Hundreds upon hundreds of incoming students were awaiting their turns at the registration booths, while shouts of excitement from the welcoming groups ricocheted off the towering ceilings. On every side, kind people were greeting us, asking us about our majors, and making us feel so welcome to campus. Loud environments like this tend to be the places I struggle most, although I couldn’t tell you why exactly. Many people who stutter share this same sentiment, and the only reason for this that I can surmise is that the noise makes those moments of stuttering even more stressful because people often can’t hear you well enough to notice something going on. Consequently, they might start interrupting you, repeating their questions, or even talking over you, thinking (understandably) that you didn’t hear them. I have to somehow project my voice above the noise while also trying to manage my stuttering.  This can prove to be quite a difficult task. The scene before me definitely struck some anxiety into my heart at first, but the day turned out to be absolutely wonderful… because I have a wonderful God. 

Over and over again during registration and many times afterwards during the day, I had to say my name, advocate for myself about things that I needed, and answer lots of questions. Most times I stuttered pretty significantly, but it did not crush me like it used to when I was a preteen. Years ago, I never could have imagined a day like Friday happening. My fear would have been so extreme that I would have nearly collapsed under the pressure and anxiety. I am so thankful and completely overwhelmed for how far the Lord has brought me through His amazing love and grace. It almost brings me to tears. From saying my name at least six times, to meeting many new people, to smaller things like ordering coffee (and saying my name again for the person taking my order to put on the cup), to carrying on great conversations with complete strangers, and to speaking out in one of the sessions, God helped me find a voice that I feel had been lost for so long to my fear of stuttering.

Oh, I can’t even begin to explain the sense of freedom, the absolutely indescribable feeling of joy when you slowly start finding yourself and your voice again after years of silence.

All of the things I had always feared most never happened. Even when I did get stuck, everyone was so patient and so kind. For too long, I have run from situations like these, even though I desperately craved them. With God’s help, I hope to try new things and stretch myself much more often, because sometimes that’s when you’ll see His working in your life in the most beautiful ways. He is just so wonderful…

My freshman year of college starts in three short days. Although I’m pretty nervous and scared, my excitement is also soaring. What a comfort it is to know that the Lord has already carried me through the days leading up to college, and that He will carry me through the next four years if I will only forget myself and put all my trust in Him. It can rest there safely forever.

Love, Makenzie

This is Stuttering: An Original Poem

Although my words may not always come out, my heart feels so full it could almost shout. 

Inside this heart tumble thousands of words, some of which may never be heard.

They resolve to break free from the tension and strain, fighting as long as strength remains. 

Each day I rejoice when some break away, and treasure up the rest for another day.

Though I sometimes yearn to speak and be free, I praise my great God for how He teaches me. 

This unique voice of mine is not a curse or mistake, even if it falters and shakes. 

It has taught me to listen and let others be heard…to love them in deed, not only in word. 

This battle to speak may always persist, but without the fight, ohwhat blessings would be missed? 

And how amazing to think…

All these unsaid words still reserved in my heart, my God knows in full, not merely in part. 

~Makenzie~

Overwhelmed by His Goodness

As I reflect on this week, I truly feel like jumping for joy. The milestones that God has helped me reach the past several days used to seem impossible. They are all things that used to make me restless at night, filling my mind with a flurry of fear…things that used to make me dread growing up. If growing up meant that I would have to start advocating for myself more and communicating independently, I was intensely afraid of it. Recently though, God has been using some new experiences to completely change my perspective. Growing up can also be bright with hope and abounding with new joys. A few days ago as I was driving to a doctor’s appointment, alone with my thoughts and gazing at the open road before me, all I could think about was how drastically—and how beautifully—my life is suddenly changing. (For one thing, I still can’t get over how strange it feels to drive myself places. Since I’ve only had my license since March, the feeling is still extremely new to me. Sometimes I still feel uncomfortable driving around all by myself! 🙂 ) However, there are several other things I experienced for the first time this week in particular that reminded me how exciting entering a new chapter of life can really be. New opportunities, new friendships, and new growth lie just over the horizon.

Last Monday, I walked into my room, closed the door, and took several deep breaths as I quietly asked God to please give me courage. Finally, I reached for my phone, inhaled deeply once more, and dialed a number. For the first time in my life, I was scheduling my own appointment over the phone. Now, at eighteen years old, I know that I am a little behind in taking this step. Most teenagers have probably already done this by sixteen; but living with a stutter often transforms simple, ordinary tasks into huge milestones to reach. One of the best ways for me to cope is taking things one day at a time and being okay with moving forward in life a little slower, as long as I keep moving. The phone has struck terror into me for as far back as I can remember, much less using the phone to call total strangers. When I did stutter slightly, the lady I spoke to was so kind and patient that it was as if nothing even happened. As soon as we hung up, a huge smile crept across my face as my heart sang in celebration. I did it! I finally did it! And it’s all because of you, Lord. 

Although it has become a cliche to say that few things are ever as scary or even as impossible as we imagine them to be in our minds, this statement is remarkably accurate. Talking on the phone was certainly unsettling, but not nearly as much as I had envisioned. Something about it actually made me incredibly happy, and I really enjoyed speaking with the individual on the other side. Conquering that fear filled my heart with such sweet peace afterwards and kindled a new hope in me for the future. Taking the leap is scary…but as someone once said, “If you don’t leap, you’ll never know what it’s like to fly.” To be honest, I think I felt like flying after that phone call!

Two days later, I went to my appointment on my own…another milestone. When I pulled into the parking lot, I again felt so much gratitude to God for how far He has brought me. I could have never conjured up enough courage in myself to face the world on my own. There are no words to quantify how frightening it can be for someone who stutters to ponder the prospect of communicating in the real world, away from the support of your family and friends. As much as I wish they could all be with me every day, sadly, life does not allow us to always be surrounded by our loved ones. But as I spoke with the sweet receptionist at the desk, it was hard to keep myself from smiling from ear to ear. In that moment, I realized how much I had been longing for this kind of interaction with others. In the past (and I still do sometimes), I had run from any interactions that might reveal my stuttering, because I just didn’t know how strangers would react. Now that I had finally taken this step, I could have spent hours talking to everyone in that office.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a very difficult emotional breakdown about my stuttering. Tears streamed down my face as I cried out to God to give me strength to accept His will. Times like that will probably continue to happen, but that does not mean that I am not still unbelievably thankful for this journey ahead of me. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever been so excited about life. God is proving Himself good and faithful over and over again, and every day is a beautiful mystery filled with new gifts.

Overwhelming is the only way to describe God’s goodness in helping me through every step of my life. He is the Creator of the universe, yet He sets His heart upon sinful man and cares about our afflictions, whether physical or spiritual. Isn’t this amazing?

I hope these precious verses will encourage you in whatever you may be facing this week, as you remember the overwhelming goodness of our Heavenly Father:

“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” ~Psalm 34:17-19

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” ~Psalm 8:3-4

Love, Makenzie

 

 

 

 

Confronting College with Courage

“Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”  ~Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I fighter pilot~

Recently, I made an unexpected decision to begin college this year, instead of waiting until fall of 2019. My heart nearly exploded with joy when I received an offer of admission from the university I love, and my heart is still so happy at this very moment as I think about it. For the next four years, I hope to study Professional Writing, finally pursuing this insatiable passion that God has given me. Underneath all that excitement and happiness though lies some fear and uncertainty about what the next four years of my life as a college student might bring, especially as a student who speaks very differently. In about three months, my life will drastically change. I’ll face unique communication pressures that I have never had to handle up to this point. In the simplest words possible…I’m afraid.

Just as in every other situation, I am really not sure how people might react when they hear me speak for the first time. Will they laugh? Will they nervously avert their eyes (which I truly can understand) or become impatient with me? Will they treat me the same as everyone else? After all, stuttering sadly carries so many false stigmas and stereotypes with it. All of these things could happen, and it becomes very unsettling to dwell on these worries for too long. But, with God’s help, I am determined not to think this way. I believe in always expecting the best from people…in always giving them a chance to prove that kindness still abounds in this world. Sometimes, when we expect the worst from people, it starts to seem like the worst is all we ever see. What you see is often, not always, what you’re looking for.

However, if they do laugh…if they do grow impatient…if they do treat me differently, I also believe in grace. How can I expect people to fully understand, when stuttering is still such a little-known condition? How will they know unless someone takes the time to explain it to them? For me to be upset with people who genuinely do not understand would be completely unfair to them. Most of the people who have said hurtful things to me have said them without understanding, and I believe that with every fiber of my being. I can’t―I won’t―hold resentment in my heart. Always be slow to bitterness, and quick to show grace.

Thinking about giving speeches and other oral presentations to college classes scares me beyond belief; but in a strange sort of way, the challenge excites me. Up until now, I have rarely been pushed more than a few inches outside my comfort zone. Now, as I consider this new adventure ahead of me, I realize that I will have to leave my comfort zone completely behind. I will have to draw new courage from the Lord every day, for every class. All of us experience moments of fear, and probably all of us just want to run the other way when we are afraid. But we will never know what we are truly capable of accomplishing for the cause of Christ or even for the good of others as long as we flee from fear. In the end, all that will really matter is what we did for Christ and what we did for others. Both of these things often require courage in moments of fear.

On my first day of classes, I know I will have fear; but I know that God can help me confront that fear with courage. Without courage, I may miss out on some wonderful opportunities. I am far too thankful for this new chapter to let fear stop me from making the most of those four short years, whether that’s by simply raising my hand in class or reaching out to someone and making a new friend, even when I am afraid.

Someone once said, “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” 

Love, Makenzie

A Typical Day in the Stuttering Journey, and Why I Would Not Change a Thing

Your alarm clock awakes you early in the morning out of a deep sleep, as the sun slowly rises in the red sky outside your window and peeks through your curtains. You sleepily walk down the stairs into the kitchen to get some breakfast to start off the brand new day. You are not sure what kinds of challenges and new experiences this day will bring. You are not sure whether speaking will come easily today or whether you will have to fight for every word. You determine to faithfully use some of your speaking strategies today, but in the hustle and bustle of the day, they seem to always slip your mind. Your heart is full of anxious anticipation, yet full of this unexplainable hope.  A hope that maybe God can use your stuttering to help someone else today…a hope that maybe this heartbreaking, yet beautiful journey called stuttering is actually a gift from God. Whatever comes, you resolve to praise God. In spite of all the struggles and heartache, you are endlessly thankful for your stuttering. 

Imagine knowing exactly what you want to say, but struggling to express it. Imagine rehearsing sentences in your mind to look for potentially troublesome words. Imagine reading something off a page and suddenly blocking on a word. The word is right there in front of you, so close within your grasp. Like trying to grab something on the top shelf, you stretch, and stretch, and stretch with all your might…but you just can’t seem to reach it. Maybe because you feel too tired to push through it, you frantically search for a synonym in your mind that will not significantly change the connotation. You might attempt two or three different words before you finally find the one that requires the least physical exertion. Imagine trying to remember all your speaking strategies and exactly how to use them every time you speak. The mind of someone who stutters probably repeats this sequence of mental gymnastics countless times a day. This is definitely true for me. Normally by the end of the day, especially if I have had more speaking opportunities than usual, I am mentally and physically exhausted.

Even though days are tiring, stuttering has this way of enriching each day in ways I never thought possible years ago. A typical day for me is full of so many important life lessons and reminders. When I struggle to express my thoughts, that intense battle reminds me how precious words are. When I worry whether I am reaching out enough to a loved one with my words, I am reminded of the biblical principle to love not only in word, but also in action. When someone says something hurtful to me because of the hesitations in my speech, the Lord uses that to help me more fully understand how much my own careless words can wound someone’s heart. When I become overwhelmed about meeting someone new, making a phone call, or giving a speech, I am reminded to find all my strength and courage in Christ.

I was just talking with a dear friend the other night about how amazing it is that God often uses the most difficult trials in our lives to mold us and change us to the point that we cannot imagine our lives without that difficulty. No, my life will certainly not be easy; but nobody’s life is easy. The glorious beauty is in learning from our difficulties and finding all of the hidden gems along the way.

For me, stuttering has been a hidden gem of incredible, unexpected joy…and I would not change a thing about this wonderful life. 

Love, Makenzie