Your weakness can become your greatest strength.
Seven-year-old Glenn Cunningham was responsible for starting the fire each morning to warm his schoolhouse in 1917. But unknown to Glenn, someone had accidently put gasoline instead of kerosene in the can he was to use to start the fire. The stove exploded and Glenn’s legs were badly burned to the point that the doctor recommended his legs be amputated. Glenn’s mother refused, but Glenn’s legs were badly deformed, destined to never let him walk again, so the doctor said.
Stop the story.
What would be the normal outcome of such a horrible accident?
- A child left in a wheelchair
- Dependent for the rest of his life
- Any kind of future dream turned to ashes
Not for Glenn Cunningham. Days upon days, he would drag himself over to the family’s split rail fence and force his legs to walk. He not only learned to walk but also to run. In fact, Glenn Cunningham became an Olympic silver medalist in 1936 and set a record for running the mile in 1938, clocked at 4:06 minutes.
I have a hunch that Glenn did not dream of Olympic stardom before that childhood accident. It was the determination to overcome his weakness that made him catch the dream to run to Olympic greatness.
I like overcomer stories.
Each Overcomer has a different reason for their success. It’s not always brute determination to overcome an injury, illness, or weakness. Sometimes, it just seems like the best option.
Scott Hamilton, the world-renowned figure skater, was born with a brain tumor. But he didn’t know that. At the time, the family thought he just had trouble with his pituitary gland, causing his stunted growth. For four years, Scott was in and out of hospitals. Finally, a doctor told the family to go home and let Scott live a normal life. Looking for something he could do, his parents took him to an ice skating rink. Scott found skating was something he could do. It was fun and for whatever reason, Scott began to grow again. In the meantime, he became good and better and best at what he did. The rest is in the record books. Scott Hamilton became one of the best-known skaters of all times, because he had a weakness that kept him from doing much else.
See Scott Hamilton’s testimony here.
I like the story of someone most of the world does not know. Bob Stacy was a well-known preacher to Restoration Movement churches in the 1970’s. Even as a teenager in the hinterlands of Southern Arizona, I’d heard of Bob Stacy. Most people didn’t know Bob had a speech issue. I only know that because my aunt, who went to Bible college with Bob, knew his story. Bob stuttered terribly. Yet he wanted to be a preacher. And preachers have to be able to speak.
Bob Stacy not only became a preacher; he founded and directed the organization, Christ in Youth, that held rallies and challenged young people for decades to commit their lives to Christian discipleship. I had the privilege of knowing Bob and his sweet wife, Nell, when I attended seminary. In small groups, Bob’s slow and deliberate speech is the only subtle sign that he has any kind of impediment. But get Bob behind a pulpit with a Bible in his hand and he becomes a powerful, dynamic speaker. There’s no way he should be able to do that. No way, but the power of God.
Overcomers are around us every day. I live with overcomers.
My husband was painfully introverted when I first met him. He wanted to be a seminary professor but knew, in order to get any kind of job, he needed to preach in a located ministry first. When an opportunity to preach came along, he got angry at me for even telling him about the call. His first sermon was, well, painful. And yet today, Jack is also a dynamic, well-articulated speaker. Okay, I’m prejudiced. No, I’m not! He really is a great speaker. He admitted to me that at heart, he is still an introvert, but he can manage the people time without the former anxiety. And no one ever knows there was any kind of struggle.
Even when we aren’t trying, God turns our weakness into strength.
I’ve spoken several times about my daughter who has the same visual limitation that I have. Christine also had a speech defect in her early elementary school years which required years of what I thought was useless speech therapy. Her problem was mostly resolved after dental braces. But those years of speech therapy? Christine went on to study at least four languages. She has her Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language. Today, she works at a public University and recently received a grant for her work in developing a website that provides help in pronunciation skills for non-native speakers. I think she must have as many international friends as domestic friends, and we often feel safer with her trips to Poland than her travels to big American city conferences.
Did you catch that? The woman with a former speech lisp is teaching pronunciation skills! Christine says that speech therapy made her aware of language and how it is put together. It sparked her interest in language and in teaching language. It still doesn’t account for her amazing ability with pronunciation. I feel like Sara in the Bible. I should have named Christine Isaac. Or Isaaca. God has filled our mouths with delighted laughter at the incredulity of it all.
I suppose I could call myself an overcomer too.
There’s no way I should be able to do all that I do. Despite visual fatigue from spastic eyes that vibrate faster than an outdated roller coaster, I spend long hours writing on my computer. When I was a child, I was banned from most sports. I couldn’t see my world beyond the end of my arm. My biggest blessing was strong bifocals that allowed me to read small print. And so, I read. I read and read. As an adult, I couldn’t drive so I couldn’t go get a job. What could I do at home? Be the best Mom I could and find work in what we called at the time, a cottage industry. I wrote Christian education curriculum and did out-of-house proofreading for a children’s magazine. That’s how I began to write. Because my restricted life had introduced me to the world of words.
I’m here to tell you though, it’s not only that my interests naturally turned in the direction of the written word. So many times in my writing journey, I’ve cried out to God for stamina, open doors, and the ability to see what I cannot see. He has led to me to do what I and frankly, many other people, have thought impossible for me to do. Several people told me when I was college bound that I should become a rehab teacher so I could stay with “your own kind.” Instead, God has lifted me up in the ranks of a normally sighted world to work and at times excel. Ultimately, God is the one who gives us the strength to scale what we see as an insurmountable weakness.
It’s often said, play to your strengths.
But I have another suggestion. Why not play to your weaknesses? What strengths are embedded within your weaknesses? Like Scott Hamilton discovered, limitations have a way of limiting our options so we discover what we do best.
After all, God does His best work in the midst of our weaknesses. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Instead of becoming discouraged at what you CAN’T do, look for what you CAN do within your limits. You might become an Olympic medalist or a nationally known speaker. Or you might become a champion parent or grandparent.
Be the best with what you have. With God’s amazing help, turn your weakness into strength.
Tell us your Overcomer story. Who do you know who has turned a weakness into a strength?