Homiletics class at Bible Institute — the required and dreaded course which cruelly exposed one’s speaking flaws and then (hopefully) honed one’s preaching skills — was barreling toward me like a raging bull, and my fear of public speaking was the ill-fated red flag.
Still haunted by the demons that bit me during high school play practice the year before, the last thing I wanted to do was showcase my ineffectiveness. Even though I deeply aspired to find my voice and express my inner thoughts, I greatly feared the required risk.
On my way to class, I stopped at my mailbox and found an unexpected letter:
“Kary M. Oberbrunner, please come to the address listed below in order to pick up your file. Failure to do so before 30 days from now will result in your file being promptly destroyed.”
Immediately confounded, all during class I obsessed about this mysterious file and its contents. As soon as my schedule opened up, I hopped onto my new bicycle and rode across town to the given address. Upon producing my perplexing letter to the receptionist, I was handed a rather thick manila folder with a red tab across the top that read: “Speech — Oberbrunner, Kary (m) 76.”
This folder contained the full story of my time in and out of speech therapy, beginning when I was just six years old. In spite of forgetting this chapter of my life, even if I had remembered, reading the detailed account from the speech therapist’s point of view added some much-needed color to the distant, gray memory.
On the first page I read:
Referral date: 8-20-83
Kary has a learning disability. The disability is a handicap.
The type: Speech/Language
The session notes stunned me. I had no idea my speech problem was so severe.
Kary has difficulty talking with adults and peers in situations. He seems to accept his speech difficulty, but is embarrassed by it. Mrs. Oberbrunner has noticed the problem since Kary was two years old. He is beginning to hit his leg as a way to get his speech going.
He appears to be bothered by his lack of fluency of speech. He has stated that he is afraid he won’t be liked because of it. A disability in learning appears to exist at this time with the probability of a much greater disability. The analysis of functioning indicates that Kary has a functioning condition as per Wis. Stats 115.76.
A language sample was transcribed and analyzed to illustrate the severity of the impediment.
One hundred percent of the utterances contained interjections of “um” with at least one repetition. For example:
“Then um then um then the um um um then um then the hippopotamus um um um um is walking by a fruit stand um then um then she took the bottom then then crashed then um then um and then she said, ‘oops.’ ”
Toward the end of the session, Kary appeared to give up after a couple of difficult utterances. His voice trailed off in mid-sentence.
Serving as an uninvited truth teller, this manila folder reflected my past with fresh eyes, mirroring my present struggles with entirely new hues. After all, I still had homiletics class to contend with, and soon enough I’d have to stand before my peers and deliver another speech.
As I read my folder, one childhood detail emerged with brand new clarity. I remembered my mom sitting by my bedside at night reading me a prophecy from the book of Isaiah:
The stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. — Isaiah 32:4
Whenever I was in tears, swept up in emotional overload, Mom stayed optimistic — firmly convinced that God would heal my tongue and use me in a mighty manner. Still believing that promise — now a young man caught up in the throes of bleak circumstances — my mother’s belief in prophecy was the only thing that kept me going long after logic had left the building.
She couldn’t help it; whenever Rebekah looked at her son Jacob, she saw him through the eyes of the prophecy. She couldn’t help it; God gave Rebekah an unbelievable promise, months before her two boys even drew breath.
The Lord said to [Rebekah], “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. — Genesis 25:23
Most likely, Jacob mentally rehearsed this prophecy while wandering in the wilderness, headed toward a relative he’d never met, banished from family and friends. Soon enough, he stumbled upon a band of shepherds at a common watering hole. After some formal greetings, Jacob inquired if they knew his uncle Laban. Providentially, they did and, a split second later, Laban’s daughter, a shepherdess named Rachel, arrived to water her father’s sheep.
Not skipping a beat, Jacob sprang into action and watered all the sheep for her. Unable to control his emotions, he wept and kissed Rachel, informing her that he was a relative, at which point Rachel sprinted home to tell her father, Laban.
As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.” After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be. — Genesis 29:13-15
After a month of working for Laban, his uncle finally caught the hint. Rather than settling on a specified salary, Jacob desired something much more valuable. More properly put, someone much more valuable. He knew he couldn’t pay the required bride price required for Rachel, so instead he negotiated seven years of service for her hand in marriage.
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. — Genesis 29:16-20
Time passed rather quickly, and the day came for Jacob and Rachel to marry and consummate their relationship. Unfortunately, a scandal of epic proportion loomed over the festivities, slipping past everyone — including Jacob.
When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her… When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” — Genesis 29:23, 25
With the deceiver now deceived, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly inviting. But rather than apologizing, Laban offered excuses and then — in exchange for seven more years of service — another daughter.
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. — Genesis 29:26-28
Only a short time before, Jacob, the younger sibling, followed his mother’s orders as a means of acquiring his older brother’s blessing. Now Leah, the older sibling, followed her father’s orders as a means of acquiring her younger sister’s husband. Now on the receiving end, forced to drink a little of his own medicine, Jacob didn’t enjoy the aftertaste.
Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.” But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.” — Genesis 30:25-28
Serving as an uninvited truth teller, Laban’s treachery reflected Jacob’s past with fresh eyes, mirroring his present struggles with entirely new hues. After all, he still had Esau to contend with and soon enough he’d have to stand before his brother and deliver another apology.
As an older man caught up in the throes of bleak circumstances, his mother’s belief in prophecy was now the only thing that kept him going long after logic had left the building.
I sat on the curb, flipping through the manila folder, feeling rather hopeless. Was I simply a product of my disorder? Would it control my adult life? Suddenly a few pages stapled together toward the end caught my eye.
Notice of the Multidisciplinary Team Findings Date: 2/18/85
Kary doesn’t have a disability or a handicap.
Poring over the session notes, I was stunned. I had no idea my speech problem was cured in such a dramatic — even miraculous — fashion. My mother’s prophecy was well on its way to coming true.
Kary has been enrolled in speech therapy since November 1983, when his parents were concerned with his stuttering in his expressive language. Kary has made remarkable progress to date. Parent, teacher, and clinician no longer see any evidence of stuttering behavior.
Analysis of current functioning suggests that Kary does not have a handicapping condition as identified as speech and language.
Recommendations: Dismiss from Speech Classes
That Given Name — STUTTERER — wouldn’t define my destiny after all. God had a different name in mind, and I no longer felt mastered by that disability — not that my preaching class would feel much easier as a result!
Progress was possible, and prophecy too. I reflected and rested again on the verse that meant so much to my mother: “The stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.”
While Jacob labored under Laban, the DECEIVER, his destiny unraveled at a lethargic pace. Working for a boss without integrity offered its fair share of emotional abuse. Unfortunately, back then no labor union rushed to his defense. But Jacob had a Divine Advocate watching his back.
God made good on his original prophecy to Rebekah concerning her son Jacob (“One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” [Genesis 25:23]), and as the days piled high, so did Jacob’s economic worth.
The weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way [Jacob] grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys. — Genesis 30:42-43
Although blessed by God, Jacob still lived in light of his Given Name — SCHEMER. His shady operational overtones, manifested through a manipulative breeding strategy of his flocks, demonstrated that he was still in desperate need of a new identity.
Jacob’s quest was far from over; his Secret Name was still, for the moment, a secret.
Yet he was beginning to sink his teeth into a future that looked entirely different. Mirrors reflect a shade of reality, but in the end they have their limitations too. Turns out, mirrors might only tell half-truths after all.
Excerpted with permission from Your Secret Name: Discovering Who God Created You To Be by Kary Oberbrunner, copyright Zondervan.
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Do you have a name or label on you, maybe from your youth, or about your weaknesses or an issue of shame? When you look in the mirror is that what you still see? Matthew Henry says about the promise of a new name in Revelation 2:17: “The new name is the name of adoption; when the Holy Spirit shows His own work in the believer’s soul, this new name and its real import are understood by Him.” You are not that label anymore. Pause for a moment and give that hurtful burden to the Lord. Let Him cast it off of you and trust in His promise to give you a new and perfect name! Join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear from you!