I couldn’t read until the summer before sixth grade. I’m serious. When I say this, people raise their eyebrows in disbelief. I mean just what I said. I. Could. Not. Read. For years after the average child can pick up a book and sound out the words, I could not.
This portion of me formed a major part of my identity from my earliest memories. I grew up in a home without many books that were geared to my age and ability level, and I don’t have many memories of adults reading with me. When I started school, my lack of exposure to the written word meant that I immediately sank to the bottom of reading group placements. I would sit in these groups of my peers, stare at the pages, and try to sound out the words. It seemed impossible and trying made me anxious. I tried hard, but my effort didn’t result in improvement.
My first years of school went by and I was continually passed ahead without reaching minimum proficiency in reading. I lived in dread of “round-robin reading”, when teachers would have students read in turn down the rows. I’d usually try to excuse myself to the restroom a few students ahead, and if not given permission to leave I’d start crying when it came to my turn. I inevitably learned to avoid being “called on”.
Daily, sometimes twice a day, tutoring starting in second grade and I repeated third grade. Even in middle school, I struggled to finish books in English class, made mediocre grades, and didn’t learn much from textbooks. What I did learn, is a huge toolbox of coping skills that I used to help get me by. My penmanship was perfect; I figured that teachers may overlook the structural problems of what I was writing if the words looked pretty on a page. My workspaces at home and school were impeccably organized down to the last detail. I kept a color-coded calendar that was a joy to behold; in it, I visually organized my life in a way that made sense to me without using many words. I learned there were a few things I could control and controlling began to pay dividends.
In high school and college, I learned how to succeed despite my challenges. I ordered audio textbooks, took advantage of writing labs, and met with professors during office hours. It wasn’t until after graduate school and years of working that I truly learned to enjoy reading. Today, I’m one of the most voracious readers I know. I read around 50 books a year, all non-fiction in areas of interest to me as a small business owner. And supernaturally, I just wrote my first book.
I always believed that my “thorn” limited my ability to serve God. Have you ever despised your weaknesses? Oh, how I’ve learned to them. God has used me greatly because of my limitations. My weaknesses make me usable.
I can still remember God calling me into ministry. It felt like the teacher calling me to read- to take on a task I knew I couldn’t accomplish. I responded to God’s bid with my list of excuses: “I’m not enough, I’m a horrible writer. I can’t speak in public.” God replied by promising me His power. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He led me to spend hours in the Bible, reading the stories of people He used to do His amazing work. Patterns started to emerge. God didn’t just use people with limitations, He used them in exactly the areas they felt least empowered and most inadequate. He used normal people whose "thorns" kept them depending on Him, and the amazing things that resulted were a direct reflection of His miraculous strength and intervention.
As I reflect on years in school not understanding how to read and dreading to be called on, I marvel at some of the hard things God has allowed me to overcome. Even now, every big win in my life seems more a reflection of who He is than who I am. It has become clear that His calling is inextricably interwoven with my “thorns”.
Let me encourage you to stop viewing your weaknesses as hindrances. The pure fact that you feel inadequate may be the one reason God has chosen you. God is not limited by our weakness. Take your eyes off yourself and look at the one who gives the assignments. And if you must boast, "boast of the things that show your weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30).