Don’t Use Your Pain for an Inspirational Sales Pitch

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I don’t tell many people, but English was not my first language. About 99 percent of the time, you wouldn’t be able to tell; but sometimes it slips, and my insecurity spills out sideways.

I’ve had stage fright since sixth grade. To this day, I still get light-headed when I speak in public. I also had a lisp and a stutter, both which occasionally seep out too. For two years of my childhood, I breathed through a machine for an hour each day in order to open up my undeveloped lungs.

I had asthma and chronic bronchitis. I’m legally blind. I’ve had hemorrhoids since I was nine. I permanently damaged my lower left back when I was 15. I’ve struggled with depression, including a suicide attempt in 2004.

I’m allergic to a lot of stuff: dairy, pollen, bugs, dust and every single fruit (so I can’t eat pineapple pizza or most ice creams). I have scars from all my hive break-outs over the years. I have flat feet. I’ve never ran over a mile in my life, because I physically cannot. And I know there are millions of others who are afflicted with so much worse.

I was able to get my black belt by 11 years old but only because my dad pushed me so hard (it also helped that he’s a ninth-degree black belt and owned several dojos). I can max 275 lbs. on the benchpress and part of my job as a pastor is to speak in public several times per week. But all of that was an uphill battle, and still is. None of this comes natural or easy or inherent to my stature.

Yet I tell you this NOT because I’m some kind of victorious story and not to brag or to say, “You can do it too!” My disability is not a motivation for some grand story of redemption. It’s not a cute romantic made-for-TV montage. Because, in fact, life is way harder than that. There are many times I wanted to give up because of my physical limitations, or I let that be an excuse to stay home and wallow in self-victimizing pity.

I could be the positive blogger who says “No matter what!” but really that would be a lie. Knowing that I will never be fully healthy is psychologically taxing, and some days I grit my teeth and barely get through the day.

Would it be easier if God had made me differently? Of course. I have no illusions about “God held me back for a reason,” because much of our brokenness points to the reality that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and nothing is in its true form. I can’t sugarcoat that with a pep-talk that denies the difficulty of our circumstances. I don’t want to be a cheap grinning poster boy for a pseudo-inspirational sales pitch.

The one thing I know is that either way, whether we sit down or move forward, life is pain.

If I choose to stay home, it will hurt.

If I choose to chase my hopes, it will hurt.

If I choose to feel sorry for myself, it will hurt.

If I choose to stand, clench my fists, grit my teeth and grab my dreams: It will hurt.

My physical disability is only half the story: because we’re all saddled with the same anxiety, second-guessing, existential panic and self-doubt. Our brokenness runs deep, and we all work from pain. And it’ll hurt anyway.

So I can’t sit down for long. I do what I can. I am not merely the sum of my abilities nor accomplishments nor weaknesses. I am wherever I’m available, to pursue the passions set before me, now. God help me, God willing, I’m here, to climb this mountain.

— J.S.

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