The day of my birth arrived not with joy but with hand wringing. The umbilical cord had wrapped around my neck, turning my head blue.

When my parents brought me home from the hospital, it wasn’t long before I was known for more than just colic.

A constant runny nose, ear infections, a cough that sounded like a bark and a persistent fever plagued me, so I was in and out of doctors’ offices and emergency rooms throughout my first year.

Illness was just the beginning of my problems. I took a long time to roll over and crawl. When I did crawl, I couldn’t coordinate all four limbs, so I dragged myself using my elbows.

When I finally stood up, the real trouble began. At first, people just thought I was clumsy – I would fall up and down the stairs. When I was three, I hit a post and said, "Excuse me!"

My parents finally stopped thinking I was just uncoordinated and took me to an eye specialist. They found I was nearly blind in one eye and missing significant vision in the other.

I spoke with a lisp and sometimes stuttered. I wore my shoes often on the wrong feet because they looked better that way (my mom’s first clue that I might be dyslexic). I was hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive.

Learning disabilities

My parents’ biggest concern was not my lack of coordination or my speech impediments; they wondered if I would ever be able to learn. My first school experiences pretty much secured the answer. No, I was not going to learn – at least, not on a time-table that made sense to frustrated educators and concerned relatives.

As my sister learned French and how to play the violin, my mom searched for ways to praise me. She knew she had a small window in which to make me believe I was important, a person with a purpose.

Making the bed, doing it correctly and receiving praise for it convinced me that anything is possible. Though a slow process, once I got it, I was unstoppable. When someone got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would make her bed.

Caring Christians

Outside our home, there was little room for a kid who spoke a mile a minute and ran into poles. One of the few places I found acceptance was in Sunday school. When I raised my hand wildly and proclaimed loudly for the fourth time in two weeks that it was my birthday, volunteers refused to get irritated.

One day after a nap (one of many I didn’t take), I told my mom that I had been saved.

"Yep," I said with a big grin, "I just lifted up my undershirt, and Jesus came right in."

The experience felt so good that I would be saved many times after that. Thankfully, no one ever stopped me. Asking Jesus into my heart reconnected me with hope.

Anyone daring enough?

Unintentionally, I chased away every caregiver who entered our home. When my mom realized that a run-of-the-mill babysitter was no match for her needy child, she prayed for someone special. In walked a beautiful woman with grey hair and a quiet way. She committed to pray for me and continually gave edifying projections about my future: "I believe Shari will be something someday."

At a time when no laws governed the placement of a child with special needs, my mom determined to be my advocate. My parents were told I had severe learning disabilities and should be taken out of the public school because I would never go beyond grade five. But a warm-hearted teacher listened to my mom’s desperate pleas and agreed to keep me for grade two. When I didn’t learn how to read that year, this same caring woman became a grade three teacher and kept me for another year.

Unlikely success

The child who could have easily perfected the art of slumping in a chair at the back of the room was loved and nurtured out of complacency. Teachers took away my excuses for failure.

With care and polite demands, my teachers gave me techniques and strategies to circumvent the parts of my brain that didn’t work so well. They taught me that failure doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Trying and failing is part of getting to success.

The child who wasn’t supposed to go beyond grade five eventually became a 4.0 student. With the help of educators, para-professionals and a lot of extra credit, I found success in the most unlikely places.

I went from unmotivated to inspired – committed to asking for help, accepting help and using alternative ways of learning. I was inspired by the many caring individuals who loved and nurtured me.

I earned a degree in psychology, a master’s degree in at-risk students and multicultural issues and an endorsement in special education from the University of Washington. Did I mention I can also make beds?

My IQ is still below average (don’t tell anyone), but I am not the sum of my disabilities. Married since 1988, I am a mother of four active children. I am a special education teacher who sometimes writes backward but has a history that proves every child can succeed.

Your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews are more than an evaluation or assessment. Like me, they can go far beyond a diagnosis or a standardized test. If they are nurtured by those around them, they can rise far above their limitations.

Shari Rusch Furnstahl is the author of From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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