Defeating Defeat

What’s one thing that challenges you every day? Now think about that one thing for a moment. Are you letting it defeat you, or are you giving it to the Lord and letting Him use it in ways you never imagined possible?

For me, I can sincerely say from my heart that the one thing that challenges me every day is speaking. Something so simple, but so difficult sometimes. Over the past few days, I’ve had conference calls with the online schooling program that I use. And do you know what I have to tell them every morning? That’s right…MY NAME. The two words that seem to freeze on my lips every single time…the two words that make my heart pound when I just think about having to say them.

The past two mornings, I have hit that “call” button with shaky hands, praying and hoping with my whole heart that I will be able to tell them my name smoothly. But both times, I have gotten pretty stuck. For several seconds, the line went totally silent, as I tried and tried and tried, until my name finally tumbled out.

The first time it happened, I expected the usual flood of emotions to take over me; but something unexpected happened. God just filled my heart with peace, that kind of peace that can’t ever be explained by words. Sure, I felt really nervous and pretty exhausted; but at the same time, I felt completely surrounded by God’s peace.
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Every morning, my stutter is waiting for me. Every morning, whatever challenge you have is waiting for you. Determine that with God’s strength, you will not be defeated. Challenges will always come, but defeat is always a choice.
Let yourself be challenged, but never-ever-defeated.
Much love, Makenzie

To the Teacher Who Gave Me Confidence to Stutter

For my sophomore year of high school, I started attending a private Christian school after using a distance learning program from home for about seven years. Although I decided to finish my last two years using this distance learning program, my short time at the school impacted my life tremendously. Not only did I make great friends, but I was also blessed with a wonderful teacher. This particular teacher’s kindness, gentle pushes to challenge myself, and constant encouragement gave me confidence to speak without fear.

After being out of traditional school for so long, I was extremely nervous about going back. How will people react to my stutter? How will I possibly make it through mandatory oral presentations? Will my teacher understand? The first day of school was an emotional rollercoaster. My heart was bursting with excitement, yet racing with anxiety. As I walked up to the entrance, a few tears trickled down my cheek, but I quickly pulled myself together. I determined that that day would be a beautiful start to a new journey, no matter how scared I felt.

A few hours in, I could finally breathe again. I realized that I didn’t have anything to worry about, because everyone was so nice. I know that my classmates had to have immediately noticed that I spoke differently, but nobody treated me differently or made me feel distant because of it. However, what put my heart at the most peace was my teacher’s response. My parents had let him know ahead of time about my stutter, but I still didn’t know how he would respond when I was actually standing there in front of him, fighting with all my heart to answer his simple question.

Time and time again throughout that school year, my teacher handled my stutter with so much grace, patience, and kindness. When I spoke to him, he never—ever—averted his eyes or even looked away for a second. He would always just smile and nod in a way that made me feel like there wasn’t even anything different about the way I spoke. He made me feel at ease with myself. He never pitied my stutter, but rather, gently pushed me to challenge myself in new ways. He always listened with so much intent, patience, and genuine concern, no matter how long it took me to ask for what I needed. Most of all, he didn’t exempt me from doing the things that I feared most; rather, he gave me the confidence to do the things I feared most.

I still had to give all of the oral presentations and all of the speeches, and I am so thankful for that. Without being made to do those things, I know that I never would have. I never would have learned and grown as much as I did from pushing myself so far out of my comfort zone. Before my speeches, he would always encourage me to take my time and to be confident in what I had to say.  And as I stood up there in front of the class, I could always count on the fact that he would be standing in the back of the room with a smile on his face.

To my sophomore year teacher, if you ever read this, thank you. Thank you for being so kind, and most of all, thank you for giving me the confidence to stutter.

Seeing Our Differences Differently

“We need to look past the outward and into the inward to see the person-the living human soul-standing in front of us.”~Mom

When we see someone who is different from us, what is our first thought? 

When we see someone in the grocery store with messy hair and ratty clothes, do we immediately think that they are lazy? Or do we think about someone who may have had a really tough morning, someone whose family member could have just died, someone who is so stressed out that getting dressed at all was the most they could do that day. . .

When we see someone who is overweight, do we silently judge them in our hearts as someone who does not have any self-control, someone who eats all day, someone who doesn’t care about their appearance at all? Could it be that they have a medical disorder that causes weight gain?  Could it be that they have no control over it?

When we hear someone with a speech impediment, do we stereotype them as slow, unintelligent, or so socially awkward that they can not even communicate? Or do we see someone who might have a neurological disorder like stuttering, someone who has suffered severe brain trauma? Do we listen to what they are saying, instead of analyzing how they are saying it?

When we meet someone suffering from a mental disability, are we embarrassed and afraid to talk to them? Or do we see past the outward into the heart, realizing that they are still people with emotions, with dreams, with feelings. 

When we see someone who just looks different than we do, acts differently than we do, walks differently than we do, or anything else you can possibly think of. . . do our hearts respond with compassion and acceptance, or do they respond with misguided perceptions about that person? Do we stare, or do we smile and let them know that they are beautiful and loved just the way they are?

Writing those words convicts my heart so deeply, because I find myself making faulty judgments about others all the time. I am talking to myself as I write this post. Sadly, everything in our world centers around outward appearance, but it doesn’t have to be that way, friends. I have heard that, on average, most people form an opinion of someone within the first minute of talking to them. But what is often our criteria for this? Outward, outward, outward. Isn’t this sad? We judge on how they present themselves, how they speak, how they walk, and how they look.

But who we are is never completely manifested on the outside. Inside is what truly matters.

My mom reminded me of something profound this afternoon. We do not set the standard for what is “normal” and what is different. God has lovingly fashioned every human being in His own image. There is no set standard for what people should be. People only need to be themselves, and that should always, always, always be enough.

On a personal note, I have been shocked by the kind words of others who have told me that they think my stutter is beautiful and endearing. People have told me that they feel comfortable around me because they feel like they can just be their imperfect selves. I did not mention that to exalt myself in any way, because honestly, I never imagined that someone could possibly see my stutter as endearing. I mentioned this because those words have radically changed my own view of being different. To the people who have told me these things, thank you. Thank you for showing me how to see differences differently. Thank you for setting the example for how I need to view the differences of others…as beautiful, precious parts of who they are.

Think about a box of crayons. Every crayon has its own signature color that makes it stand out in the box. It’s unmistakable from the others. Imagine receiving a box of crayons as a little kid, only to find that every crayon was the same color? What was it about a brand new box of crayons that excited you? It was probably that you could create absolutely anything you wanted with all of those different colors, right? You could let your imagination run wild. But even though every crayon was different, we still liked them all equally, right? That’s exactly how life is. We all have “a signature color.” Everyone is different, and because of those differences, we put our unique stamp on the world. We could not possibly be confused with someone else, because our differences make us unforgettable. . .in a wonderful way.
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What if we started celebrating differences as what makes everyone beautifully unique? What if we started celebrating our diversity and treasuring every human being for who they are, not for what we expect them to be? 

Will you join me in seeing differences differently than we ever have before?

Much love, Makenzie

Why I Write about My Stutter

Last year, when I finally found the courage to start talking about my stutter openly, I really worried that people would think I was seeking attention, asking for pity, or even somehow using my stutter as a source of pride. I know that might sound weird, but I tend to overthink everything. That is probably one of my greatest weaknesses. Sometimes, I become so paranoid about what others may think that I miss important opportunities that the Lord tries to give me. To this day, conflict clouds my heart every time I sit down to write a new blog post, because I do not want this to be about me. I want this to be about my amazing God and what He has done in my life!  God is the One Who gave me this passion for writing, and I desire to use it for Him. However, I also want to be relatable to my readers by writing about personal experiences. There is such a fine balance to maintain.

So…why?  Why did I spend several days building a blog? Why do I sometimes spend hours at a computer writing a new article or a new blog post? Why do I talk about my stutter so much? For years, I kept my voice under lock and key. Speaking out about my stutter just wasn’t an option. Nobody-absolutely nobody-could know that I was different, except for my closest family members. Instead of letting other people help me, I carried the weight on my own. Until one day, I realized that God doesn’t want us to go through this life alone. Consumed by my own insecurity, I was neglecting others. I was missing opportunities. I wasn’t being all that God made me to be.

I couldn’t see around the impenetrable walls I had built around my heart.

I write, and I write, and I write because it takes away all of the fear and anxiety that results from keeping everything locked up in my heart. It brings peace and acceptance. If I’m afraid of my stutter, other people will be afraid of it too and won’t know how to react. In addition, writing about my stutter has made me realize how I can use this struggle to help other people. I write because I want to encourage others to embrace who God has made them to be. I write because I don’t want people to be afraid of being different, because different is so special. Most of all, I write because I want the world to know that God is good and that He can help us overcome anything in this life.

Talking openly about my stutter has torn down the walls.  When the walls finally came down, I could start seeing the world again. I could start seeing others. A new light came pouring into my heart, showing me what a gift my stutter could be if I would just let it. Writing about my stutter has truly changed my life.

Is there an insecurity in your life that you are afraid to talk about? Start tearing down those walls with God’s strength, and let the light in.

Much love, Makenzie

 

When I Heard Someone Imitating Stuttering for the First Time

I debated about whether to write about this experience, because I DO NOT  want it to sound as if I am criticizing this person in any way. My only desire is for this post to raise greater stuttering awareness. Due to the circumstances, I know in my heart that this person did not understand what stuttering really is. He did not understand that stuttering is a real medical condition that thousands of people face each day. One of the greatest things that stuttering has taught me is to see the best in everyone…to always give them the benefit of the doubt. Perceptions can be so dangerous, if we don’t ever search further into what somebody really meant.

So, here’s what happened. . .

Quite a few months ago, when I was still attending a Christian school, I was sitting in speech class (a class taken by video) waiting for the next performance. If I remember correctly, this particular assignment had been to pick out a monologue and perform it in front of the class. Even though we followed a certain story line, we had free reign to create our own characters. As the next student walked to the front of the class and began speaking, something immediately caught my attention. There was something very different-and way too familiar-about the way his character spoke. Then, it hit me. . .really hard. He was pretending to stutter.

Unfortunately, this character wasn’t just someone who stuttered. He was also portrayed as very awkward and unintelligent. Sadly, many people seem to associate stuttering with these things. As I listened to his broken speech, I felt like sinking down into my chair and disappearing. The whole class on the video was laughing. I tried to smile and ignore the way this made me feel, but I just couldn’t. I tried to just focus on the performance, but the stuttering was all that I could hear at that moment. It’s not that I was bothered by the stuttering itself. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just sad that stuttering was being used as a joke.

I could sense the people next to me, who knew that I stutter, glancing nervously at me.  I tried to mask the shock and sadness on my face, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the performance ended. The teacher on the video walked to the front of the class and congratulated him on his excellent performance. What’s so difficult about this situation is that it really WAS a great performance over all. He did an amazing job staying in character and making the character believable. But then, the teacher’s last couple of comments stung deeply. “Great job on making your character stutter! I think that added a great aspect of humor to the performance.”  My heart sank.

At that moment, I realized that I had to do something.  I told myself over and over, “You can’t be upset at them. You just can’t. But you know what you can do? Raise awareness.” I think we’ve all probably seen the media portray stuttering in a humorous way. Especially for me as a stutterer, it is so difficult to not be deeply hurt by every stigma I hear about stuttering. But I have had to realize that most people do not have a full understanding of stuttering. It’s okay that they don’t understand. I can’t expect them to understand something that they have never experienced or never heard about. However, I can do my very best to keep raising awareness so that they do understand. That has become one of my life goals!

Will you join me in raising awareness for stuttering? Whenever we hear something negative about stuttering, we can take that opportunity to kindly and lovingly tell others more about stuttering so that they understand. Small things like that can make such a huge difference towards raising awareness.

Thank you so much for taking this amazing journey with me.

Much love, Makenzie

A Better Perspective

Last week, my mom helped me reach some pretty big goals. I am so thankful for her “gentle pushes” along the way. Without both of my parents’ guidance, I don’t know where I would be. They are simply amazing!

Recently in speech therapy, my therapist and I have been discussing how important it is that I become my own advocate, especially as I approach college and job interviews. Becoming my own advocate could be something as simple as making my own appointments or calling a store to ask about a certain product I need.  For my whole life, my mom has done all of these things for me. However, as I get closer to being a legal adult (ahhhh!), I am reaching a point in my life when my mom just can’t do these things for me anymore. In addition to the usual fear of growing up, I also sometimes fear whether I will be able to communicate what I need on my own. For the first time in my life, it will be just me and my voice. Wow. . .talk about scary!

But I know that I won’t be alone.  It might be incredibly scary at first, but I can trust God to give me all of the strength and courage that I need!

With all of this in mind, I determined to start taking mini steps towards advocacy, no matter how scary it felt at first. I started at the most basic level~picking things up for my mom at the store and returning clothes to Kohl’s. Pretty simple, right?  It sounds so easy, but for someone who stutters, simple tasks become mountains. But with my mom’s words of encouragement still on my heart, I walked slowly to the pharmacy counter to pick up a prescription for her.

I would have to tell the pharmacist the name of the medicine I needed, my mom’s full name, AND her date of birth. The pharmacist was very kind and patient, even when I really struggled to say Jennifer Cochran. It might have been a little rocky, but I still got what I needed, and most importantly, I had asked for it myself. That’s all that mattered to me in that moment. What amazed me most was how little my stuttering appeared to even faze the pharmacist. For the first time, I realized how different my perspective of my stutter is from everyone else’s.  An experience I feared would be so traumatizing and so embarrassing actually ended up going beautifully. My speech hadn’t been perfect, but that was okay.

In less than an  hour afterwards, I picked up some pictures from Meijer and returned a shirt to Kohl’s. At Meijer, I again struggled quite a bit to say my last name, even more than usual. But again, the lady I spoke to was so sweet and patient that it was like I never even stuttered. Her response filled my heart with so much hope. “Maybe I CAN do this. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.”  

My experience at Kohl’s went very well too. Nearly everything I needed to say came out surprisingly smoothly. Needless to say, I walked out of that store with a smile on my face and praise on my heart!

By the end of the day, I had learned such a valuable lesson. Sometimes, what we fear doing the most is only scary as long as we refuse to try. 

 

 

It’s Okay to Have a Hard Day

Today’s blog post is a little different because it’s deeply honest, but I really felt God leading me to share it. I hope it encourages you!

Yesterday, my words froze on my lips nearly every time I tried to speak. I would plan a whole sentence in my head, open my mouth to say it, and. . .silence.  I never even stuttered outwardly yesterday, because the tension literally trapped my voice inside. My tongue just felt as if it were in one big knot. Every once in a while, two or three words would tumble out fluently, but the tension was never far behind.

Sometimes, stuttering is relatively easy, meaning that it doesn’t create much tension in my body. Other times, it is literally so intense and so exhausting that even the best techniques don’t help. This was one of those times. I eventually got to the point where I really didn’t want to talk, because I knew what would happen. It’s not that I couldn’t speak. I could have kept fighting against the tension until I broke it, but it just wasn’t worth the exhaustion…

As I silently observed conversations happening around me, my mind recounted all the blessings of the past couple of months, and I became upset at myself. God has graciously allowed some of my writing about stuttering to be published for millions of people to see. He has allowed me to come so far on this journey, but yet, I’m reverting back into my shell today. I’m watching life happen in front of me, while I sit back and let my stutter silence me. How can I genuinely write about stuttering, when I’m having such a hard day myself?

I doubted my sincerity. I doubted whether God could really use me to advocate for other people who stutter.

We all have hard days when we feel like nothing goes right. All of us have experienced that feeling of suddenly falling from a mountaintop into a valley. Those feelings are okay, as long as we don’t dwell on them. Eventually, we have to pick ourselves up and reclaim God’s sweet promises.

The truth is that we are all human, and it’s okay to have a hard day. The hard days are usually the times that grow us the most! And here’s the amazing promise: God will always give us the strength to endure the hard days, grow from them, but then redirect our focus to all the blessings He’s given us.

Does my stutter bring really difficult, discouraging days? Yes. Sometimes, it frustrates me beyond belief. But is it still a blessing that I praise God for? YES.