How to Overcome a Cognitive Disability

I couldn't be more excited to share with you the story of one man's journey to overcome a cognitive disability. The person in this story happens to be a very dear friend and my pastor, Mike Minter.

Mike has been the pastor of Reston Bible Church for the past forty-four years! You heard that right – forty-four years.

I met Mike around ten years ago when we began attending Reston Bible. After visiting for several weeks and going to one of the weekdays men's groups, I decided it was time to meet my new pastor. We met for coffee at his favorite place (at that time anyway), Einstein Bagels.

After our initial conversation and getting acquainted time, I told him Cathy and I loved the church and his teaching; that we wanted to join. I asked him if we need to transfer our membership from our old church (a Presbyterian church) to his. He looked at me with a kind of confused look and said, “well we don't do that here.” Naturally, I asked what process they used. Again, the confused look appeared, and he said, “well here we figure if you come to church regularly you're a member.”

It was both refreshing and a little disconcerting. For those of you who grew up in a mainline denomination, you know there is a process for membership. So, when Mike told me how they did it, I'm sure the puzzled look went from his face to mine.

That meeting started a long and growing friendship that I cherish to this day.

With that background, let me introduce you to my friend and pastor, Mike Minter.

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Mike Minter, and I have been pastoring the same church for the last 44 years. It has been more than a privilege. I am married to my wife Kay of 45 years, and we have three grown children and six grandchildren. I love to hike when I get the chance.

Ok, it's Fred here.

This is typical Mike Minter. He doesn't like to talk about himself much. So let me fill in some blanks. Before starting Reston Bible Church, Mike was a life insurance salesman in Florida. After he accepted Christ, he felt called to the ministry. He enrolled in Florida Bible college shortly after. He further felt the call to leave Florida and come to Northern Virginia. We know that was a call from God because no one in their right mind would move from Florida and come to this area.

Once here, he started holding Bible studies in someone's home. They soon outgrew the house and moved to a local country club. To make ends meet, Mike shined shoes at the country club. That was around forty-six years ago in the mid-1970s.

They eventually moved into a church where they stayed until 2010. At that time, Reston Bible moved from their original building to a brand new facility with a separate building for the junior and senior high ministries.

Since we don't officially have a membership, we don't have a role that we can count. We do know that over 2,500 people attend the services every Sunday morning. Over 700 kids are in the Quest Children's ministry Sunday morning.

So, that's how God has used this humble servant.  

You recently talked to your congregation about your challenges in school growing up. Can you share a little about that?

I have learned over the years that everyone struggles in life just in different areas. It was very early during my formative years that I knew I was not like the other kids. There were no physical defects or strange outbursts of behavior. But once I entered first grade, I was very much aware that I had trouble understanding what everyone else caught onto rapidly.

I couldn’t focus or grasp the simplest of academics. This followed me through life but not just in the academic world. I had trouble with any directions or reading a map or assembling the simplest toy.

My dad, who retired as a three-star Admiral, loved me dearly but was so troubled by my inability to get through school and navigate life. He eventually had my IQ tested to see what was wrong. All it revealed was that I could not relate spatially, and I was advised to stay away from tools.

I have to this day heeded that warning.

How did you finally discover this was a disability?

 About four or five years ago I began to rehearse all the times I had missed turns on the road, or read the instructions wrong when opening a box, or assembling a toy. I started taking inventory of my life and realized this had been very costly in time and money. Things would break that I tried to fix, missed turns meant a loss of time.

Mangled cereal boxes with no way to close them up properly so as not to get stale, was more normal than not. I soon began to realize I had been living with a low level of constant frustration all my life. I didn’t know it.

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You told a story about a speech class at the Naval Academy that was a turning point. Tell us about that.

Here is a story that illustrates this point. After failing the ninth grade and eventually getting into college by the skin of my teeth, I had the hair-brain idea of applying for the Naval Academy where my dad was the Superintendent. He told me I was wasting my time applying as the Academy only takes the best students with high academic credentials. He said that even if I got in, I wouldn’t survive the academic rigors. Next thing I know is that I have an acceptance letter from USNA. No doubt someone in DC saw that I was Admiral Charlie Minter’s son and waved me through.

It was a nightmare academically from day one. I felt like I had arrived at the Daytona 500 on a tricycle. I eventually had to repeat my freshman year, and that was a struggle. However, I took an upper-class English course, and after a few weeks, the professor told us that we would all need to give a ten-minute speech on a tradition at the Academy. I didn’t have time to worry about speeches as I was drowning in quadratic equations.

After a few weeks, I began to realize that he may call on me as he was going alphabetically, and the M’s would be coming up soon. So, on the way to class, I thought of a tradition that I might be able to keep people’s interest for ten minutes. Sure enough, he calls on me. I sauntered up to the podium with no notes and began to speak. The upperclassmen knew I wasn’t too bright but to go without notes was proof of my stupidity.

When I finished, the Prof came up and said: “Gentleman, that’s how you give a speech.”

How did your life change once you discovered your gift?

That was a turning point as I began to realize that there was something I was good at. It ultimately launched me into the ministry. God is good.

Coming to the Lord for salvation doesn’t change your IQ. I still daily struggle with the simplest things. I'll get lost at least once a week. Or I buy the wrong item at the store because I misread the label. This is costly and time-consuming. But I have learned to compensate and accept it.

When you revealed this initially, you also said it’s something you still deal with every day. What’s that like?

Here is an example that few people will ever experience. When I pull into a parking garage and that there is no attendant I will look elsewhere. Here’s why.

A few years ago I had to venture into the city and had nowhere to park. So, I pulled into a parking garage. As soon as I saw there was no attendant, I panicked.

Here is what went through my mind. “Mike, you have to use a credit card and your parking ticket to get out of here. You are not good at this. Suppose you hold up a line of busy people who want to get on with their day? What are you going to do?”

After my meeting fear and panic escorted me to my car. I pulled up to the gate and inserted my ticket, but an unsympathetic red light reminded me of my disability.

Why?

I had put the ticket in the wrong way. I tried, again and again, got denied. Finally, I got it in correctly and breathed a sigh of relief. But now I had to negotiate the dreaded credit card.

There were a couple of cars behind me which only added strength to my fear. I tried several ways but to no avail. So I did what I always do, I stuck my head out the window and yelled at the guy behind me for help. He got out of his car and inserted my card, which obeyed his every command. Up went the gate, and another day in the life of Mike Minter took its toll.

Another way to look at my incompetence from a positive point of view is that no one will ever ask for my help, which gives me lots of extra time. No one has ever said to me, “Hey Mike, do you know why my remote for the TV isn’t working, or could you give me a hand putting up this drywall?” That’s never going to happen.

You were very adamant in telling people not to feel sorry for you or change the way they interacted. Why is that important to you?

I have never wanted people to feel sorry for me or to treat me like I'm an invalid. I want people to feel comfortable with me as I do with them. That has given me compassion for others that deal with much more difficult issues in life.

Coming to know the Lord did not change my skill set, but over time it changed how I looked at life. I could see how God was using this to develop empathy in my life for people that had many other issues far worse than mine. I just had to accept the fact that I would battle with this daily. Unlike most men, I have no trouble asking for help regarding directions, finances or assembling a toy for my grandchildren that only requires one step.

As time moved on and at the age of 74, I have been able to more accurately assess what this has cost me in time, money and the toll it has taken over the years. You see everything for me is a struggle. Don’t get me wrong I love life and love who I am and am grateful to the Lord for redeeming my struggles and using them for His glory.

Many came up to me and still do regarding my sermon and the importance of walking with the community. We so desperately need each other. No matter what the struggle we need others in life to share the load.

What encouragement would you give to anyone dealing with a disability, cognitive or otherwise?

After I shared this with our congregation, I Had many people come up and tell me what an encouragement it was for them as they struggle with the same thing. I have never found anyone who struggles with what I have. They may share a page from my book, but the rest of the chapters are missing. This is not to elicit sympathy but to let you know I can relate on all levels of cognitive delay. People feel they are set free when they can connect with others with similar problems.

Once it became clear to me what the Lord had called me to, I had confidence that he was now responsible for seeing that calling come to fruition. It has been a great ride. Not easy, but great.

Here is  Mike's message to the congregation in which he revealed his disability.

Photo of Mike Minter

Final thoughts

As long as I've known Mike, I had no idea he dealt with this every day. I do know that he has a heart for people as much as anyone I know. He's a great teacher and pastor.

Mike is as transparent in the pulpit as he is one on one. He's a true WYSIWYG's (what you see is what you get) kind of a guy. I've never seen him put himself above any person, publicly or privately. I know he'd give you the shirt off his back if it would help someone.

He shared this story with the congregation and here to encourage anyone dealing with something they feel they may not be able to overcome. I can't imagine what it must be like to be fearful every time you leave a parking lot; or when Kaye sends him to the store to pick up something for her. The simple act of identifying what that item is can be overwhelming to Mike.

The fact that no one ever knew this about him is nothing short of amazing to me. That he can operate at such a high level with this kind of challenge every day is a testament to his perseverance. He will tell you it's a gift from God. I agree. However, some of us don't use those gifts. Pastor Mike has.

A want to say a special thank you to Mike for sharing his story here. I know it will help a lot of people.

Now it's your turn. Do you face challenges you feel you can't overcome? Does it overwhelm at times, like you may not get through it? Can you find encouragement in Mike's and the other stories told here? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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