It should have been a simple task, but approaching strangers has never been my strong point. So when I finally made the effort, and she turned in my direction, all intelligent thought abandoned ship.

Now, such thought often abandons my ship at the most inconvenient times. In my experience, cogent cognizance can seldom be reserved ahead of time. And this time I had no such reservation.

It was in fact a work assignment, and I was rapidly mucking it up. In my first career out of college as a public relations assistant for Glendale Adventist Medical Center, I often scouted for photo and story opportunities. On this particular day I was at our affiliate hospital. With a relatively low patient count, it was nirvana for any Hollywood producer who wished to build a movie set without disrupting IVs or endangering patients. The scheduled shoot for the day included several well-known celebrities in hospital scenes for the movie Nine to Five. This was indeed a very long time ago.

My mission was to take photographs of the action without creating a disturbance in the force, the director, the actors or hospital staff. I decided to approach one of the famous folk to introduce myself and purpose for being on the set. So it was that I approached the person I deemed to be the friendliest, most outgoing member of the cast — Dolly Parton. Yet as she turned toward me, the glib script I had mentally practiced vanished. Overcome by star power my mind went blank. She patiently listened to a few seconds of my verbal flailing until it was obvious my thoughts had little hope of arriving at a conclusion anytime soon. In her characteristic Southern cadence, she broke in and patted me maternally on the shoulder: “Well, you just go ahead and do whatever it is you do. I won’t bite.” I let my camera do the talking for the rest of the afternoon.

I have since learned I’m not alone in an inability to consistently have brilliant pearls dropping off the tongue. The vestiges of my early struggles with stuttering, when the effort to say “please pass the peas” at the table was uncomfortably akin to attempting a 100-yard dash in four feet of water, are still with me.

Decades later, my hesitancy to join a heated debate or one-up someone with a punch line stems from a lingering tendency to stumble out of the gate. By the time I’ve come up with the words, the opportune moment has passed. Perhaps I am in some small, insignificant way a compatriot of Moses, who resisted the very call of God due to his verbal insecurity.

But God sometimes works just as well or, strangely enough, even better with our insecurities and weaknesses than in our areas of self-assured competency. The Bible assures us that “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.” And even in our most intimate moments with God, in prayer, the “Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).

Speechless in Seattle? Brain-dead in Bozeman or Boise? Pointless in Portland? Anxious in Anchorage? You’re right where God can use you today.

Featured in: October 2013


Steve Vistaunet

North Pacific Union assistant to the president for communication and Gleaner editor, 1996–2019

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