For about as long as I can remember, I have been a writer. Not that I have any books on the New York Times bestseller list or anything like that. But rather, this is true about me because it describes what I have always done. I began journaling at around age 7, establishing the nightly ritual of grading my day – you know, like a teacher grades a paper. “A+. Today we churned butter in Mr. Johnson’s class, and his wife made homemade bread for us to try. Then mom made spugetti for dinner. It was a perfect day.” Or, “D+. It was an ok day until Patrick chased me on his bike yelling that he was going to kiss me. Gross!!!!” Around that same time, I began writing poems. My mother took my Christmas poem and had it printed into Christmas cards one year. I guess that was the first time I was ever published, and I remember feeling proud and self-conscious at the same time. But mostly I felt loved because she thought my words were worth sharing with all her friends.
In the third grade something happened that changed my life. I’m not sure why, but I began to stutter. My teacher noticed, but I was unaware. I remember the speech therapist pulling me out of class and leading me to a small room off of the library. She turned on her tape recorder and began asking me questions, asking me to describe my house. When our meeting was over, she told me I stuttered. I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn’t know what that meant, so when I got home I looked the word up in the dictionary. At 8 years old, I read in a book what was wrong with me. And over the years, as the stuttering grew worse, those words took on a life of their own, morphing into a debilitating life message. I was not normal. I was not ok.
Somewhere along my journey, stuttering ceased to be something I did and began to define who I was. I was a stutterer. The words I loved– from spelling cards and books – the words I formed into rhymes and used to write stories– they became a source of frustration. I began thinking ahead, switching out words that I anticipated would be obstacles in my speech, replacing them with synonyms, or near-synonyms. Only it didn’t always work. I remember once telling a friend that my cat had died, but I was afraid I would stutter on the word died, so I switched it to, “my cat was killed.” It didn’t carry quite the same meaning but it definitely conveyed the message that my beloved cat was no longer living. Sadly, as the stuttering got worse with each year, speaking in class or with anyone for that matter became something I avoided altogether. I retreated into a shell, only to have grown-ups observe, “You are such a shy girl.” This killed me, because I knew that my true self was not shy. I loved to share my ideas and longed to talk fluently.
But I did write. I wrote stories. Poems. Letters to people, prayers to God. I wrote in my journals - about my experiences, my hopes and dreams. I took writing courses in high school, avoiding speech class and teachers that required oral reports. In college I merged the two subjects where I could express myself most freely – writing and music – and took up songwriting. Since my mother was the only person who believed I had the talent to become the next Amy Grant, this period of my life was short-lived. Although my kids love to tell their friends that my songwriting professor was Mr. Kevin Jonas Sr., as in the father of the wildly famous Jonas Brothers. (This realization made me the coolest mom last year for about two days.)
As I entered my early adult years, I continued to stammer and stumble over words when speaking, but when I wrote I could use exactly the words I wanted, saying entirely what I meant to say – no switching out words. In recent years I have written for personal reasons – for myself or for others. For me, a worthwhile experience is not complete until I put a pen to paper and write about it. Especially those experiences that mark me, shape me. Something transformational happens inside me as I process life through words on a page.
A little over a year ago I was asked to write some articles for a publication about marriage. I said, “yes”. An editor from the Daily Herald saw one of the articles I wrote and asked if she could run it in a new parenting section. I said, “YES!!” That article led to a regular column, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for these opportunities. Wherever this journey takes me from here, I know this: God, in his goodness, knowing who I am and where I have come from, has given me a gift beyond what I could have asked for or imagined. (Don’t be afraid to say “YES!” when your true passions get stirred.)
I don’t stutter very often anymore, partly because I’m rarely in situations where I am pressed to talk if I don’t want to, and because at some point in my mid-twenties I let go of the shame I had carried for most of my life. I came to believe the truth about myself, that what I had to say was valuable, and if the delivery wasn’t perfect, so what? I stopped thinking of myself as defective or stupid, and accepted the stuttering for what it is – an imperfection of minor significance.
Whatever may have brought you to this blog, thank you for lingering. Thank you for allowing me to share my story – we all have one to tell- and hopefully I’ve inspired you to share yours. Somebody might be waiting to hear/read it.