This is Lizzie Velasquez:
You’ve probably seen her Ted Talk on YouTube. It has more than 5,000,000 views.
When she was a teenager, she discovered an online video including a picture of her, labeling her the ugliest woman in the world.
Since then she’s become a popular motivational speaker and an inspiration to people around the world.
This is Stephen Wiltshire:
Stephen is autistic. As a child he struggled to speak (He was mute until age five) and used drawing as a tool to help him communicate.
He drew the above picture of the Manhattan skyline to scale and from memory after a single 20 minute helicopter ride over the city.
This is Nick Vujicic:
Nick was born with no arms and no legs. His mother couldn’t even bring herself to hold him until he was four months old.
Today Nick is an internationally recognized evangelist, author, and motivational speaker. Millions of people, many who might never have listened to a conventional preacher, have heard him share the good news.
Conventional wisdom says Lizzie, Stephen, and Nick have overcome their “disabilities.” That despite the odds being stacked against them, they’ve found a way to succeed.
I don’t think that’s true at all.
I think their disabilities were the genesis of and driving force behind their successes.
The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians, writes about one of his own “disabilities.” He calls it a “thorn” in his flesh and although he prayed often for God to take it away, God never did.
Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He says in I Corinthians: “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Is it possible that what we perceive as disabilities, flaws or weaknesses might actually be strengths?
The Bible is full of weaklings and outcasts. Moses with the bum mouth. David, too young to fight, armor-less, throwing rocks. Gideon with his tiny army, horns and lamps. Jesus, poor and poorly connected, dying on a cross, shamed.
In his book David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell says, “To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate. You have to be so bad that you have no choice.”
And I think there’s something to that.
God likes the desperate, the people who have nowhere to go, no hope, no future, no friends, no answers… They make perfect candidates for grace.
People who are not conventionally strong see differently. They try harder. They hardly ever feel entitled. They expect to be mistreated and aren’t deterred when they are. To succeed they need and use every resource afforded them—including the wisdom and help of other people.They are more likely to turn to God in a posture of complete dependence.
But that’s not all.
People like Lizzie and Nick and Stephen have found success not by overcoming their disabilities (not exactly) but rather by, in a sense, embracing them.
For Stephen his art is made possible by his autism, granting him a seemingly superhuman ability to focus and remember.
For Nick and Lizzie, the very reason people want to hear them speak is their disability. While they’ve done much to push past the potentially disabling parts of their respective disorders, they find an audience for their message as a direct result of their being “flawed.”
If Nick had arms and legs (to the world) he’d be just another preacher.
I heard Rob Bell say once that when you get to Heaven God’s not going to say, “Why weren’t you more like Abraham?” He’s going to say, “Why weren’t you more like you?”
And that makes me nervous. Cause I have a sneaking suspicion he means all of me.
See, we like to define ourselves by our strengths and abilities and shiny spots. But we aren’t just our strengths. We may try to hide the parts of ourselves we don’t like, but they are our parts. We are our dis-abilites.
Over the years I’ve struggled with a few mental health issues. For one, I have a high level of social anxiety that makes it difficult for me to act naturally in casual conversation. I’m a big over-sharer, and I’m cripplingly self-critical. For another, I experience life in seasons of highs and lows determined not by my experiences but rather by my brain chemistry. I may have every reason to be happy and still feel sad. Sometimes I have reasons to feel sad but instead experience dramatic spikes in joy and energy.
I’m only now coming to terms with these parts of myself—not simply as problems to be solved but, to some degree, as opportunities for something extraordinary.
Here’s what I’ve noticed:
While I HATE over sharing, and while it’s done me plenty of personal harm, I’ve also seen God use it time and time again to connect with a person who needed the gift of my vulnerability. Sometimes, when I over share, God gathers my spilling words and uses them to feed His people.
While I HATE being so self-critical, and while it’s often shackled me and kept me from settling in God’s grace, I’ve also seen God use it to shape me and grow me. Because of who God made me, I am constantly assessing what I’m bad at and asking God to make me better.
While I HATE my cycles of emotional highs and lows, and while they sometimes work like barricades, separating me from the life I want, I am certain God is using them to make me a better teacher and writer. Because of my mental health, I experience reality in extremes. When I’m low, God shows me how busted this world is and how much we need rescue. When I’m high, He opens my eyes to light and love, His presence everywhere. The way I live, in dramatic emotional seasons, helps me embrace the complexities and apparent contradictions of life with God. And that’s, I think, the defining characteristic of my work.
God called Moses to lead the chosen people out of slavery. And Moses, so preoccupied with own weakness, asked God “Who am I?”
And then God, frustrated by Moses’ too-small perspective, asked him, “Who made your mouth?”
It would be one thing if God used Moses despite his mouth, but over the years, God used Moses’ mouth again and again to speak holy words to His chosen people. Yes, God gave him Aaron to begin, but only as a crutch until he was ready to fully embrace God’s calling, as he did later in life.
God liked Moses’ mouth just the way He made it.
In his book “Life Without Limits,” Nick Vujicic writes about wishing God would step in and miraculously give him limbs. He said we can pray that God would change us, help us, heal us. But he says sometimes we aren’t going to get a miracle. He writes, “If you can’t get a miracle, become one.”
Today I’m asking you to stop wishing for a miracle that may not come. Stop wishing you weren’t who you are. Let God’s power be made perfect in your weakness. Let God make you a miracle.