The surgeries that saved her life also changed the way she speaks, eats, and looks. Discover how business consultant and faith writer Michele Cushatt is navigating a career, motherhood, and her faith life following the physical changes of cancer treatment in Part 2 of her interview with AllMomDoes host Julie Lyles Carr.
Purposely your life, God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
Julie [00:00:15] Today on the All Mom Does podcast, I’m Julie Lyles Carr, I’m your host, and we are part of the Purposely Podcast Network. I have part two today of an interview with Michele Cushatt. And if you haven’t had a chance to listen to part one yet, be sure and go back and listen. She is a powerhouse on so many fronts. My intention was that we were going to do just the one usual interview and the further we got in the conversation, wow, I just had to keep going. I wanted to hear more. I wanted to get more of her wisdom, more of her insight. And so today is part two. Be sure and take a listen. I know that you’re going to be so encouraged and so blessed as Michele talks about not only her corporate and faith journey, but also her experiences following these significant cancer surgeries that she had, the effect that it had on her speech, on her ability to swallow different things like that, and what she has learned along the way about what it really means to have a faith that will not fail. And so I welcome back to the podcast for part two. Michele Cushatt.
Julie [00:01:18] I think sometimes in our spiritual practices, again, because we so quickly want to tie things up with a bow, as you said, we don’t allow for that grief process. Unpack for me how you came to be able to live in a place that can honor what was lost. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. My dad went through a significant series of illnesses. He was something of a medical mystery, and he ultimately ended up in a wheelchair which he, Michele, he hated it so much. To him, what he really wanted was to be restored back to the man he had been in his early forties. And if he couldn’t play basketball with his boys, then that was the goal to get back to that. Now, on the one hand, I loved that he had such strong goals for himself. On the other hand, I watched him psychologically sort of set himself up for failure over and over because that didn’t look like it was going to be a physical possibility. I even felt like the level of mobility he had was miraculous. He did not see it that way. How have you learned to live between those two worlds? The tension of those two things pushing yourself, but at the same time embracing and loving yourself for exactly the warrior that you are for coming through what you’ve been through. How do you live in that tandem?
Michele [00:02:38] Yeah, part of it is understanding that they aren’t asynchronous experiences, they’re simultaneous. That grief and gratitude actually go hand in hand like they are not mutually exclusive, they’re complementary. And that’s allowing myself to to be fully present to what I’m experiencing and feeling. I was talking to a friends not long ago who listened to an old clip of me. There’s so many videos and ideas of me before I lost my tongue in my speech. And so you can go online and hear what my voice sounded like before everything changed. And so she was wanting to…I had heard an old clip and have reminded me of how much I had lost. So I felt that grief. And her response to me was, “Oh my gosh, this sounds so great. You can’t even tell. It’s no big deal. Nobody can even tell that anything since.” And I was livid. I was so angry in that moment, and she didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t angry with her, but she was invalidating the reality of what I was lamenting. And it’s kind of what we talked about of, you know, we get so uncomfortable with somebody else’s pain that we don’t allow them the space to feel it. And the key of being in this tension is, is you and I, we have to not only allow ourselves to hold grief and gratitude simultaneously, but we ask that we have to allow others to do the same. You know, for your dad at some point in time, he, I’m sure, has to make peace with his reality. But it’s also 100% valid for him to be really ticked off about the fact that he’s in the chair, because that’s not the way it was supposed to be. We are living in this very fallen world and we end up with really unfortunate outcomes. And it’s okay for me to have days where I am just ticked off that I have to live with this body that does not work, that causes me stomach pain and separation and suffering ongoing. And I marry that with a gratitude for the fact that it’s a miracle I’m even alive. I marry it with a gratitude. The fact that someday I’m going to be in heaven. And let me tell you, the moment that I’m with Jesus, the Bible tells me that He is making all things new. All things new. I believe that when I see Jesus, all of this will be made new. The pain will be gone in an instant. I’ll be able to swallow my own saliva without choking. I mean, all of those things. It will be made new. So even the pain of now is helping me to anticipate the perfection that’s coming. But I have to hold them both in each of my two hands. I don’t ignore my grief and I don’t ignore the reality of God’s redemption. I hold them both. And that means I allow myself to weep and even get angry. But I also allow myself to have joy and anticipate with hope what’s going to be ultimately made whole in me.
Julie [00:05:48] How do we learn to embrace? Because I know this is such a heartbeat for you that people are able to show up in this holistic way.
Michele [00:05:56] Yeah.
Julie [00:05:57] And yet I think oftentimes in both business and faith settings, we want those who focus on the next goal, the next positive thing. We repackage things to say, Well, this is the lesson of it and this is the beauty of it. And how do we allow for lament to be part of the whole in a way that allows us to keep moving forward? Because I think sometimes we can get really stuck and we can get in this place where it gets tough to know how to get to the next. What are the things that you’ve learned to be, if you will, as a runner? Your GU Gels, you know, the things that you know.
Michele [00:06:39] Exactly.
Julie [00:06:39] Well, we got a so many miles to go, and I’m going to have to do it with a really bad knee. How do I get from here to there with joy and still finding ways to enjoy the journey?
Michele [00:06:53] Yeah, I want to preface what I’m going to say here for the person right now who’s in that season of lament. If you are just overwhelmed with grief right now, I don’t want you to feel like you need to swallow that down and immediately find something to be joyful about. That is not what we’re doing here. Whatever it is you’re grieving, it is valid and it’s worth brief. I mean, it’s worth grief. When I’m in those seasons, I like to play for myself, literally crawling up to the foot of the cross where Jesus is hung there. His blood is dripping down, He is suffering. And I’m like, There is space there for me to grieve. I don’t need to dance there. There is space there for me to grieve. And that’s true for the person who’s really suffering right now. One thing that I am doing and I talk about this in the book, the Practice of Perspective, which at first can sound right, but it’s really helping me. I don’t just try to look for the good of my life, like I still have so much to be thankful for. That doesn’t help me deal with the reality of the fact that I’m in pain and I can’t talk and swallow and eat very well. But I try to find is and I try to know this, I guess is what I should say is the ways that I am experiencing things not in spite of my losses, but as a direct result of them. For example, I have a daughter who has a speech and language processing disorder, and for years and years we had a speech pathologist that come to our house and work with her with her speech. Well, guess what? I have worked with a speech pathologist myself. And so she dealt with some identity issues of feeling like something was wrong with her because of her speech, because she needed help with her speech and language processing. Well, guess what? I understand feeling different. My loss was exactly what was needed to be able to empathize and connect with my daughter and let her know that she is just as valuable, that she is not less than because of her language, any more than I’m less than because of mine. I’m not. And what a unique…like this is not a good that came in spite of my loss. This is a good that came as a direct result of my loss. That gives me hope. Another example. One of my good friends was in Florida on I can’t remember doing some kind of went to see a special doctor in Florida. She was in the doctor’s waiting room. Radio was playing on the intercom like happens in the doctor’s waiting room. Right? You listen to some weird AM station, whatever, and all of a sudden she heard a familiar voice and she knew it was familiar because it sounded like nobody else’s voice. It was my voice. I have a very unique voice now because of my speech disability. But she heard it. And without the radio announcer saying who it was, she knew it was me. Because I have a very unique sound. And she immediately texted me like, “I made this doctor’s office and I hear you talking. I know it’s you because nobody sounds like you.” And all of a sudden, this thing that I thought was a liability actually became a great advantage. I thought my speech changes would make it so I would not be able to publicly deliver presentations anymore that people wouldn’t want me on their podcast. That I would sound too annoying for anybody who listen to me. And there are certainly people who think that. However, I’ve also noticed a vast majority of people hear the unique tenor of my voice, my unique tone and delivery, and they actually lean in because something is different about it and they pay more attention. And so this thing that is a reason for significant loss and grief has also become the very thing that gives me an advantage.
Julie [00:10:49] Isn’t that fascinating?
Michele [00:10:50] Yeah, that’s part of what God does. This is the beauty of God’s redemptive purposes. He doesn’t redeem us outside of our weaknesses and losses. He redeems us in them.
Julie [00:11:04] Right, right, right.
Michele [00:11:05] And so the very things that we think are going to destroy us become the things that actually develop us and brought us closer to Him and then enable us to fulfill these callings that we would have never had otherwise.
Julie [00:11:18] That is so powerful. And you’re right. You know, one of the things that you will often hear about, you know, I do audio books and things like that, and some of the things that I might not like as much about my voice or this weird compilation that I have of having been raised on both coasts. But by Mississippi parents. Those are things sometimes that someone will choose me for or you will hear someone who is technically an absolutely on tone singer, but it’s another vocalist who gets the job because their voice is distinctive and it’s distinctive enough that they know that it’ll cause someone to listen. Those are the things that sometimes I think we reject that it can be the very things that make us distinctive that we think we have to tone down, that we have to try to, you know, past or hide. And yet those are the very things often that give our message and our meaning all that more punch. Michele, do you find that your business clients, your corporate clients have an easier time with some of your communication differences than maybe those in the faith community? Do you find it to be equitable? Kind of both sides. Where have you found tremendous grace? Where have you been surprised you haven’t found as much grace. What has that been like?
Michele [00:12:28] Well, it’s easier to answer where I’ve not found this much grace. Isn’t that ironic? We could probably talk about that. Those that have the harder time with it are people that really have a very formulaic faith. So they struggle with a life that does not look perfect because they want to somehow back up that imperfection as something that I did to cause it.
Julie [00:12:53] Mm hmm. Boy do we love to talk about causality.
Michele [00:12:58] Yeah, we want there to be a reason. We either have to blame God or we have to blame the person. We can’t just accept the reality that on this side of heaven, life is going to be complex and imperfect. Right? We need to blame somebody. And, boy, we do a really good job of blaming people for their own pain. Right? I find that this is the story that came to mind as you were talking is now solidified, I think of the woman at the well with Jesus. She had been with five men and the man she currently with was not her husband. And she was basically outside of belonging in the community because of her lifestyle. And so in some ways, her choices made her differently abled, you could say, because she was outside of community, she was not belonging. But Jesus, It wasn’t about blame. He just came up and sat next to her and said, “I can see that you’re thirsty.”
Julie [00:13:51] Mm hmm.
Michele [00:13:52] Right?
Julie [00:13:54] Yeah.
Michele [00:13:55] That’s so important. And honestly, our faith communities, we would rather sit there and say, “Well, it’s their own fault. She made a bunch of decisions. She doesn’t deserve to be part of the community if she’s going to make bad decisions.” But that is not what the gospel is about. So do I find places without grace? Those would be the kind of environments where we want to blame somebody for their infirmity. And that’s not necessarily faith only. I think people in corporate world still that have that kind of formulaic approach to life. But I do see it a lot in more conservative, legalistic faith environments. What I have found in corporate environments when I talk about this is I can’t hide my imperfections. And one thing that I see in corporate relationships is there is a high need to project a strong, perfect, invincible front. And boy, I just punch holes in that right away.
Julie [00:14:50] Yeah. Executive presents.
Michele [00:14:52] Boom, boom, boom.
Michele [00:14:53] I’m like, Y”ou know what? I have no time for your nonsense. All right?” So where I kind of approach everything. I’m on borrowed time here. It’s a miracle I’m here. I’m not going to play games with you, so we’re going to tell the truth. All right. And so this is my reality. And it’s not going to define me or my conversation, but I’m not going to accept anything but your whole self. So if you’re going to show up and tell me the truth, we can get some good work done. But if you’re going to play games and put on a facade, I can’t help you. So what will it be?
Julie [00:15:23] I love that.
Michele [00:15:24] I put them on the spot. Honestly, it’s very disarming. And what I find is a lot of these corporate CEO executive people are longing for safe places where they can be themselves. And so in coaching relationships with me, they get to lay down their armor and then we can really do some great work and help them become the leaders that they want to be. That they are capable of being. By finally having a place where they can lay down, basically bring down the walls and tell the truth about themselves.
Julie [00:15:58] I think you bring this blend that is so unique to these spaces because you have so much expertise. You’ve got the CV, you’ve done the stuff both on the corporate and the faith side. And yet sometimes I think if we’re willing to see it this way, when someone is in front of us who does have visible differences, that hopefully there is this place where there can be greater honesty because we’re already breaking through that that fourth wall, right? We’re already like, this may be the art of this, but this is really what’s going on. And it goes on for for both of us. And so how do we maintain that honest endeavor? I love that you are able to bring both of those to that spot. I was thinking about when we were talking about our fixation on causality and that again, that can happen in secular environments, but I surely have seen it in faith environments as well because it makes our world more tidy. If we can really go well, A+B=C. That’s what happened. And I think about the disciples asking Jesus about a man that Jesus encountered who was differently able and saying, “Whose fault was it? Was it his mom and dad? Was it his?” And Jesus said, “This is for the glory of God.” …You talk about a paradigm shift for the way that the disciples needed to look at that situation. This is so radically different than what they probably anticipated that he was going to say, How can we do a better job moving forward in terms of making things more inclusive across the board? And I know that sometimes that word inclusion makes people feel really nervous. And yet when I look at the rabbi that I follow, He was really about busting down those walls and opening those doors.
Michele [00:17:39] Yeah. He was all about inclusivity and belonging and love and acceptance. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t hard on calling out injustices and poor behavior, all of that kind of stuff. But boy, He started with love. I mean, 1 John, “Real love cast out fear.” We should be living with love, not waiting with fear. That is where we should be. I mean, we need to focus on becoming really good at that first before we do anything else. But this whole, you know, I think behind even our struggle against this inclusivity and belonging is our need to have really clean lines and neat edges around everything. And that’s just not how life works. Part of our spiritual maturity, maturity, emotional maturity of relational maturity is allowing things to be complex. To have a measure of mystery and to be beyond our control.
Julie [00:18:44] Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah, Unfortunately.
Michele [00:18:51] I’m feeling that on my big toes being stepped down right now. You know, allowing ourselves to accept what is. Right? To sit there and say, But this is our reality. We still have our eyes on the fact that the promised Land is coming, Heaven is coming, redemption is coming. But this is today. So if I can sit there and let what is be, and just love the people in front of me in this reality without them needing to get their act together in order to be worthy of my kindness and love. That kind of embracing brings a new level of strength and maturity and grace. I mean, that’s the gospel embodied, I think, of the whole gospel summed up in, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t require us to get our act together in order to save us like it was a mess and He entered into the mess. So why wouldn’t we do the same?
Julie [00:19:48] Right, Right.
Michele [00:19:49] And that’s part of inclusivity, is learning to embrace differences, learning to embrace discomfort, learning to allow mystery around it, how God acts or doesn’t act or thinks or doesn’t think or behaves or doesn’t. And just to be as as present as we possibly can to the truth about ourselves, the truth about our reality, and the truth of the fact that regardless of how messy it is now that Jesus is coming back and He’s going to make all things new.
Julie [00:20:20] Yes. You know, in this book, in your newest book, you’ve done such powerful work in your previous books. In the book. ‘I am’ and ‘Undone.’ and in this one, what I think is really profound is taking a look at the places where we have crafted faith, what we call faith, into something that is scaffolded on a lot of contingencies. And when those contingencies like a game of Jenga get shoved out, then we see peoples in entire structures of how they’ve looked at faith collapsed to the ground. I think one that we’re seeing right now that’s very profound is when bad players or even well-intentioned, but, you know, maybe not as well informed as they should have been players, take a church environment and it becomes toxic. We’ve seen things like being very, very specific and wanting to really button down exactly what we think happened when it comes to the way that God created this world, When He created this system, when He created the laws by which we live and we see people get their faith completely bedrock on that. And then something happens and here goes the Jenga tower again. In our current environment, which feels like we have a lot of people who’ve been trying to carry around Jenga platters and they’re getting rocked. What were the elements that you were looking for? The things that you could say, okay, in all of the crazy in my life, all of the crazy in people’s lives I see out there…These are the elements that I know are not going to change. How were you able to to define those in a way that helped you understand that this is what a faith has to be predicated on?
Michele [00:22:08] There’s a quote that I read in Timothy Keller’s book, ‘The Reason for God’ where he says…Here, let me pull it up so I can say exactly right. “It is not the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”
Julie [00:22:23] Oh. Read it again. Read it again.
Michele [00:22:26] “It is not the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith that actually saved.”
Julie [00:22:32] My friend that algebra equation when it comes to our faith lives. We have it inverted so often. I have it inverted all the time. If I can just believe big enough, strong enough, I can make this whole Jenga things out together.
Michele [00:22:43] And that’s why we pray prayers like, “God. if you will just heal me, I will believe in you.” But what we’re doing is we’re putting our faith in an outcome when we should be putting our faith in a person. Okay? At some point in life. Okay. This is so hard for us but we have to wrestle with this. At some point in life, our prayer for healing is not going to be answered the way we wanted to. Even as He answers every other prayer for healing. At some point in time, our prayer for healing will not be answered the way we want it to. That is a fact. Okay? So if our prayers in an outcome, we will be disappointed. Outcomes are like building your home on toothpicks. Okay? Building your faith on toothpicks, but it doesn’t work. Instead, we need to get grounded into the truths that don’t change. Jesus is the one who was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That doesn’t change. Everything else will change. Romans 8 says, “For what will separate you from the love of God, trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or danger. Nakedness or danger or sword, No. In all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” And then it goes on to say, “For I am convinced that neither height nor depth, neither angels and demons, neither life or death or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” The love of God in Jesus is the object of our faith. That’s it. That’s the footings that your faith is built on. Anything else…If your faith is built on an outcome, on a relationship, on the diagnosis, on healing, on your physical body, if your outcome is if your faith is built on any of the other things. It’s a crapshoot. It is not guaranteed. If your faith, if the object of your faith is a person. Jesus himself. Who has already given His whole life for you and said He said in John 14, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come for you.” If that is the foundation of your faith, then it cannot fail.
Julie [00:24:58] I love that. And for so long I think that we have tried to create structures around what we want to be true and what would make life easier into those places that we simply have no control. I think that’s one of the things that still continues to be really difficult. I think it’s something we see that is the reminder in the differently abled community, like somebody lost control somewhere. This would not have been the outcome.
Michele [00:25:23] Yeah, I see. You know, it’s the people who have children born with disabilities or, you know, different abilities or diseases or whatever. Like, “what did I eat during pregnancy that caused this to be my fault? I mean, we can go on and on. I’ve had people let me know that I too many Reese’s peanut butter cups, and that’s why I got cancer. I’ve heard all of it, you know, I’ve heard all of it. Yes, I mean, we still might want to have a finger to point at the thing to blame. But remember, Jesus was crucified. And we can point the finger at who’s to blame for that, too. But the reality is His death and resurrection was the best thing that ever happened to us. The blame is the irrelevant.
Julie [00:26:08] Blame doesn’t get us anywhere. And when I think about Christ resurrection, what has always stood out to me, I say always, when I finally really paid attention, is that when He comes back for the disciples to be able to recognize Him, he still bears the scars, which even in that is really interesting to think about when we think about this idea that He’s going to come back and make all things new. And in making all things new, there are going to be elements of our story that He counts as precious. We call his scars, He thinks as an accessory pack. I don’t really know how that’s all going to work, Michele, but He could have had the ultimate cosmetic surgery on His hands and He chose not to do it and on His side, and He didn’t do it. And so what does that teach me about the beauty of the things that happen in life? Not in a Pollyanna way, not in a way where I’m trying to recast it as sunshine and daisies, but that which is truly beautiful in the eyes of God. What if we have a different way of looking at what He finds beautiful? What do you now hope forward? Because you’ve got these beautiful books you’ve written, you have this incredible coaching you’ve done, you’ve got this legacy of work that you’ve got out there. What are you looking toward in your next? And, you know, as someone who’s had to stand and face your own mortality and to have doctors say, “We’ll see what happens.” What do you carry now forward that hopefully doesn’t feel frantic or frenetic but feels like on mission for you? What does that look like today?
Michele [00:27:40] I kind of sum it up actually at the end of the book, I quote a story a few years back I went through it was probably six, seven years ago. I heard Jill Briscoe speak at a conference. And at the end of her message, she gave us a send off and I actually wrote her words on the inside of my Bible, and I’ve thought of it many times, and I’m going to leave them with you today. But she simply said, “You go where you sent, you stay where you put and you give it what you’ve got until you’re done all the way.” You go where you’re sent, you stay where you’re put. You give it what you’ve got until you’re done all the way home. And that’s really my mission. It sounds so simple, but I think of this quite often. “God, this is where I am right now. Help me to work this out in faith. Help me to do exactly what You would have me do in this square piece of real estate. I have no idea if I’ll have it tomorrow, but I have this square piece of real estate. Help me to do what I can right here to give it everything I’ve got, until so I’m done all the way home.
Julie [00:28:54] Wow, that is such a profound definition of what it really means to be present and to be resting in God. Such an incredible line. Michele, I can’t thank you enough. You let me keep you double the time. This is going to end up being a two parter. I can only feel it. We’re going to we’re just going to have you on for two weeks in a row.
Michele [00:29:10] Why not?
Julie [00:29:11] I love that. So, Michele, where can listeners find you? Find all the amazing things you’re up to, find the new book, All the stuff.
Michele [00:29:18] Yeah. Hopefully the easiest place to find me is at my website. So it’s Michele Cushatt.com that’s Michele with one L and Cushatt with two T’s. If you add a forward slash faith, you can get everything about the book of Faith That Will Not Fail, including free downloads and resources and memes and graphics and screensavers and all the things. But you can get all of that there. And then if you want to connect with me on social, all my social links to Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, those are the places where I spend most of my time. You can connect with me there. I would love to hear from you.
Julie [00:29:51] Awesome. We’ll get all those links into the show notes so that the listener can find you. What an incredible and important conversation. Michele, I can’t thank you enough for being on today.
Michele [00:30:01] My pleasure, Julie. Thank you.
Julie [00:30:03] And listener, I really hope that you’ve enjoyed this series. Make sure that you go back and listen to some of the previous guests and I will be bringing some more thoughts as we wrap this up. And I want to connect with you too, on all the socials, Julie Lyles Carr all the places that’s L-Y-L-E-S, C-A-R-R, and then you know Julie. Be sure and check out Allmomdoes.com and All Mom Does on the socials because you’re going to find a great community of women who are in the same stages and seasons of life that you are raising kids launching kids, building your love and your life following God, building a career, all the stuff. You will find all kinds of inspiration and encouragement. I’ll see you next time on the AllMomDoes podcast.