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My childhood was very pleasant up to the time I entered grade school. Our family was loving and I felt like I was a pretty normal kid, managing life well and getting along fine with others.
1st grade began and life became problematic. When it came to academics I discovered I wasn’t quite normal. I was the kid that just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the alphabet or numbers. They didn’t make sense to me. I began to see I was not like the other kids.
I was last in first grade learning my ABC’s and my 123’s. I remember missing recess as I tried to write my numbers in order copying the shapes from the blackboard. I remember being held back from recess in the second grade doing the same. Why was it so easy for the other kids? I felt frustrated. I felt stupid. Stupid and shameful became my identity. When it came to academics I was the kid whose lightbulb was dim.
I remember trying to become invisible so the teacher wouldn’t see me and call on me with a question. I didn’t want to be embarrassed again, and again. I was the last in class in every subject. I remember getting knots in my stomach at the end of the school year wondering whether I would be advanced to the next grade. I don’t know why but they passed this “D” and occasional “C” grade student to the next level yearly.
In the Fourth grade I saw I was going to be dead last in learning my multiplication tables. The title for “last” would go to a girl in the class or myself. I put out a great effort practicing diligently with the flash cards, and broke a barrier. I came in second from last! What a relief not to be dead last again. Math was my strong suit!
In the sixth grade the unthinkable happened. I got an A on a ten-word spelling test. I don’t remember ever getting a B, let alone an A before. My parents had been out of town for a few days. I was staying with an Aunt and a cousin. Over three days with perhaps up to six hours of repetition they worked with me on the ten spelling words. I remember being totally amazed when I discovered I had spelled every one correctly!
I squeaked through the seventh grade but did so with a break-though. I realized I could copy two or three letters at a time from the chalkboard onto my paper rather than one letter at a time. At times I could copy whole words. It broke a speed barrier!
My father was a physician and was studying a learning disability called dyslexia. I apparently had it. P’s and d’s, b’s and q’s looked the same to me. Even today I confuse them when writing, along with other letters like Z and S. Phonetics helped a little but I could never trust them because I was always stumbling on the exception to the rule and creating my own ‘fonedik’ spellings.
By blessed fortune my parents were able to hire private tutors and finally send me away to a private boarding school in the eighth grade. There were small classes, intense tutoring and four hours of study hall a day. This was where I first prayed. “Dear God, my Dad and Mom want me to do well in school. Help me do well so they will be pleased.” I prayed this frequently, sometimes many times a day.
It is a testimony to the all-wise God, my loving parents, caring teachers and the power of determined effort. At the end of the school year I was a straight A student. The earth shook with wonder! I was learning that by depending on God and using all my effort I could succeed. That was the year by providence I accidentally picked up number four pencils rather than the standard number two pencils. I realized I had to give greater effort to make a clear mark with the number four pencils. The greater physical effort of pressure on the pencil while writing math questions drove the sense of mathematics deeper in my mind!
I’ve had many “moments,” and those moments still visit daily. In the eight grade I could not remember how to spell my middle name. “Craig,” after all is a challenging name to spell. You’ll be glad to know I practiced and learned how.
The mighty grace of God took me through college and on to graduate school. I was able to keep a B average though school, which I think is an accomplishment. There was a moment in grad school where I was writing a paper and needed to write the world “of,” but could not remember how to spell it. I tried “uv” and “ov” but it just didn’t look right. I was embarrassed to ask a fellow student how to spell “of” so started looking for it in the dictionary. After 20 minutes trying to figure it out I realized if I read a book, in time, I would come upon the word “of.” It worked!
I found when studying Greek that if I worked two or three times longer than fellow students I could do as well, or nearly as well, as others. The willingness to work twice as hard as others became a key for achieving.
I am so grateful for the good fruit which has come to me because of this little handicap!
By the grace of God, I have been able to shake off the title “stupid” and the feeling of shame.
I have compassion for others who struggle with mental handicaps. They are my peers.
I’ve gained creative techniques for learning and have come to realize reading, re-reading and then reading again will help me understand a sentence or paragraph.
Even though many speak faster and come up with amazingly quick quips I’ve learned I don’t have to compare myself to them. I realize that in my own way I’m quite smart, even if I sometimes speak slower looking for words.
I savor accomplishments which require hard work more than naturally gifted people do.
I am able to be patient with others because I realize thinking can take a lot of time and effort.
There are still times when I cut a board at 69 inches rather than 96 but most of the time I’ve get it right and have successfully applied math in many practical situations.
Every time I write a page I have to look up spellings because my spellcheck has no idea what I’m trying to say. Still, my third-grade teacher would be amazed. I’ve written lots: Sermons, Bible study lessons, newsletters, a couple books and hundreds of blogs.
I keep learning to lean on God in my weakness, and ask His help.
Do you have a handicap which you have overcome?
What fruit have you been able to grain because of it?
Steven C Johnson