Jeff Steinberg: Why Having No Arms Doesn’t Stop Me From Living Life
Jeff Steinberg humorously shares the lessons learned after he was born with no arms and 'gimpy legs.' God taught him he is a masterpiece in progress.
Jeff Steinberg: Why Having No Arms Doesn't Stop Me From Living Life
Jeff Steinberg Bio
Jeff Steinberg calls himself a masterpiece in progress, yet to see him, he looks anything but a masterpiece. You see, he was born with no arms and badly deformed legs and he grew up mostly in hospitals and homes for the disabled.
His Professional Career
He began performing professionally in 1972. He is a speaker, singer, humorist, author, and has spent his days motivating and inspiring others all over the world for more than 45 years. Jeff has spoken at high schools and universities like Notre Dame, hospitals, and churches. He has spoken to US military troops. Jeff has shared the stage with the likes of Zig Ziglar, Pat Boone, Christopher Salem, Justin Dart, Art Linkletter, Daniel Miller, and even Senator Bob Dole.
The true highlight of Jeff's career was a memorable appearance on stage where he sang for Mother Teresa of Calcutta during her 1989 United States visit. He is the 13th inductee into the Good Shepherd Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities, located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for his achievements in the field of music and his advocacy for the physically challenged. Jeff also won the 2015 and 2019 Heritage Award for Comedian of the Year from the Artists Music Guild. Jeff and his wife Ellen have a blended family of four children and he has nine grandchildren.
His Humorous Current Job
One of Jeff's current jobs is as an Uber driver where he meets many different people and gets all sorts of questions from "Were you born like that?" One kid called him "Captain Hook" due to the hook he wears as one of his hands.
Jeff was born in 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was born with what doctors call phocomelia. Phocomelia is a congenital birth defect that usually manifests in deformed arms and legs. Jeff has a little stump that's about five inches long for his upper arm on his right side. He has no left arm. He also has malformed legs. When Jeff was born, his father made the decision not to tell Jeff's mother about his disability. His father was afraid his mother was not in a good place emotionally or mentally to deal with the news. So his mother did not find out about Jeff's condition until he was 17 months old. His mother blamed herself for his condition because she had been prescribed a medication to help her with the pregnancy that we now know is linked to phocomelia.
Care at Shriners
Jeff was placed into the care of Shriners hospital when he was two and a half years old. They decided to perform surgery to see what they could do for Jeff's legs. They cut open his right knee and discovered there was no joint, just two bones that had fused together. So the doctors broke the bones and refused them so that his legs would be straight. They did not know that the growth tissue was damaged in the process. His legs did not grow after that procedure. Jeff is 4 feet, 6 inches tall.
Jeff then learned to do a lot of things with his feet. He learned to feed himself, as well as write and sign his name. At four years old he was fitted with his first leg brace and arm prosthesis. The prosthesis was a stump socket with a spoon attached. Jeff also went to school at the hospital. A teacher would come in every day, just like regular school. He would go home on some weekends.
When Jeff was nine years old, his parents decided that they could no longer take care of him as well as his three sisters, so Jeff was placed in a foster home. He was there for about eight weeks and was then moved to Good Shepherd Home for children with disabilities. He remembers his parents telling them that he was going to excel here and that he would make a difference one day. But all he could think was why were his parents leaving him here?
The People Who Changed His Life
While living at the Good Shepherd Home, Jeff met Art and Betty Snyder. He was into ventriloquism when he met them, and they asked him to perform at their daughter's graduation party. It was the beginning of an important friendship for Jeff. He spent the weekend at their home and went to church with them. They became his surrogate parents.
A Choice of Faith
Because of the Snyder's influence, Jeff made a commitment to faith. He learned that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, like it states in Psalm 139:14.
"I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
Sharing His Gifts with Others
Jeff ended up speaking and singing with the Snyders. They were artists who traveled to different churches speaking and singing. And they invited Jeff to go with them to some of their engagements and sing with them. Jeff learned to sing harmonies with them. He decided he enjoyed being on stage because he was always a bit of a class clown.
Jeff explained, "We all have a story to tell. We can use our story to make people laugh, to inspire people, to encourage people. And that's what I chose to do."
And so over the course of the next few years, the Snyder's gave Jeff more opportunities to be on stage so they could retire and he became more well-known.
Jeff concedes, "I have been blessed. I've stood on stages where there were 10,000 people in the auditorium and I've stood in board rooms where there were ten. But it doesn't really matter because what really matters is what are you going to do with this masterpiece that God has made out of your life. Each of us is becoming a masterpiece one color at time."
Jeff's Bits of Wisdom
1. You are a Masterpiece in Progress
Jeff simply states, "God makes no mistakes, and God makes no junk." "God has a design that's bigger and better and that we have value that goes beyond appearances"
2. Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Dream
How many of us have given up on accomplishing something simply because somebody convinced us we could or we shouldn't or we would. Each of us is a masterpiece. Don't waste it. Don't listen to what others think is wrong with your life, or the way you look, or the way you talk, or do things. You can do anything you put your mind to doing.
3. Stop Complaining to God
"Stop looking in the mirror telling God what's wrong."
Jeff could say there is plenty wrong, but he chooses to focus on what is right. He got married and has a blended family of 5 children and 9 grandchildren. His life is good.
4. Keep an Eternal Perspective
Jeff shares, "The mission isn't to get as many people to heaven. The truth is we're in earthly training for a heavenly position." Jeff says that sometimes we as believers get so caught up on getting people to heaven that we sometimes forget to look around and meet people where they are. In our earthly training we should help others. Everyone has a need, and we should try and bless the lives of people while we are here. Sometimes looking toward heaven is more of an excuse to avoid looking around here on earth to see who we can bless, inspire, or help along the way.
5. God Can Work Miracles With Each of Us
Jeff has a saying he likes to use, "God uses the least likely person to accomplish the most extraordinary things in the most unusual ways." He continues with a great analogy, "If you've ever worn a pair of gloves for any reason, you know there's no magic in the glove. There's no magic in the fabric, the vinyl or leather. It doesn't become magic. It doesn't come alive until somebody slips his hand inside. And that's what God wants to do in our life, He wants to put His hand into our lives so that we can be the glove to touch others--to show them how much He loves them."
6. Choose Better not Bitter
Jeff knows it would be easy to be angry about the fact that this happened to him. But he isn't. He says that everyone has a story to tell, and most of us actually don't like our story. We look at our circumstance and we make excuses and dwell on what happened to us. Jeff explained, "I'm identified as the guy who has no arms, has gimpy legs, but he sings. But that doesn't define me. But given the opportunity, my circumstance or my story can refine me. It can make me better, not bitter."
The 4 Questions Everyone Should Consider
Question #1 Who Are You--Really?
God can teach you that you are a masterpiece. Once Jeff made a commitment to God, he says, "I began to really start to realize that being fearfully and wonderfully made is not just some verse we quote, but that it actually is about real life." Jeff continues, I look in the mirror and I don't see a kid was no arms and malformed legs and disabilities. I see a man with opportunities and with a question, 'What are you going to do with all that God gave you?'"
A Masterpiece Song
After Jeff wrote his book, Masterpiece in Progress, a friend of his wrote the lyrics for a song that Jeff ended up recording called Masterpiece in Progress. Here are the lyrics:
When an artist starts painting on a blank piece of canvas, it doesn't always look very good.
You're wondering what it's going to be like when it's done, if it's ever going to look like it should.
When the colors start blending and the shapes me informing, you begin to see the master design.
When the last stroke is painted and the brushes laid down, it's exactly what He had in mind.
I'm a masterpiece in progress. He is still working on me.
I'm a masterpiece in progress. I am becoming all he wants me to be.
I'm a masterpiece in progress and it won't be too long till I'm done.
A few more strokes of the brush and the master's touch and I'll be in the image of the Son.
Jeff says, "That's the message. There is no mistake. Being fearfully and wonderfully made means that we have everything we need to be to be the masterpiece that He designed.
Question #2 What drives you? What are your abilities in your limitations?
"We've been programmed to think of our identity as inseparable from our behavior." Jeff continues, "If you define yourself by your appearance, having no arms or whatever, again, you're defining yourself all wrong and you're missing the opportunity to see who you really can be. We all have a story--wrong side of the tracks, bad breaks, poverty. But your story provides the foundation for who you become and it establishes for you and others that masterpiece."
Don't Stay Broken
Jeff has a friend Rod Freeman who says, "Everyone is breakable, but not everyone is aware that it is a choice to stay broken." When you face death or difficulty, when you face hardships and hard times, you have to understand that you have the choice to grow or stay broken. "We can ride our circumstance to success or we can blame our circumstance for our failures." Zig Ziglar said, "It's not what happens to you that determines how far you go in life. It's how you handle what happens to you.
One of the things Jeff loves telling his audiences is that "Life begins by knowing ourselves, rising above our perceived limitations and accepting the challenge to positively impact our world. Our talents and our abilities matter. And so do our disabilities and our limitations."
Jeff explains, "We want to be normal. Everybody wants to be like everybody else. But the truth is I don't want to be normal." Jeff loves being his unique self. Jeff explains that our growth occurs in our very struggles--the very things which we would just rather skip past.
Question #3 Why are You Here?
In 2005, Jeff was on his first trip to the UK and he was booked to sing and speak at a maximum security men's penitentiary. Jeff has a song on his CD which he sang to them. And it goes like this, "You've got to fight a little harder. You got to push a little more, you got to give it everything. You've got to get you through the door."
The Prisoner's Change
As Jeff was singing he came down into the audience and there's this huge guy on the fourth row on the aisle. He looked at Jeff with his arms folded and gave Jeff the look that said, "Don't even think about it."
Jeff continues, "So I didn't, I did it without thinking. I come up to him singing, 'You got to fight a little harder. You got to push a little more.' And I started shoving against him and everybody around me gasps. And for an instant I thought my life was over. All of a sudden, the widest grin came across his face. And a voice in my head said, 'gotcha.'"
Jeff went back and finished the service and then opened it up for questions. The big guy asked him, "Why are you here?" After Jeff started to give him the standard answer, the guy interrupted him and asked, "Why are you in this prison? In my prison?"
"So Jeff pointed over his left shoulder and asked, do you see that window in the back?"
"Do you see the razor wire wrapped around the barbwire fence on the other side of the window with the bars?"
"In about an hour I'm going to be on the other side of that fence and you're still going to be in here in a 12 by 12 cell living the life of a convict. I'm here to tell you, you can go back to the mirror above the sink next to the metal toilet in your 12 by 12 cell and you never have to see the convict again. You can see redemption. You can see a masterpiece that God loves, that God cares about, that God wants to make matter. But you've got to want it bad enough not to care what everybody thinks."
Jeff continues, "The two most important days in a person's life is first the day he's born and the day he finds out why he's born."
Question #4. What Kind of a Mark will I Leave Behind?
Jeff explained, "Everyone has a moment in their lives when they exceed their own limits and achieve what seems to be impossible." This usually happens when we realize, "We all make a difference and we all have an impact in somebody's life."
The Prisoner's Story Concluded
Five years after Jeff visited that maximum security prison, he went back. While he was there he asked the chaplain whatever happened to that prisoner.
She said, "You don't know, do you?"
"After you left. All he talked about was this little man with no arms that got up in his face. He went downstairs to the common room that day and with a couple of the other guys that were at the concert, and he made a commitment to faith--because of the little man with no arms that got up in his face and changed his life."
Jeff explains, "No, I didn't do it. I was the catalyst. I was the guy who made him think about what he could be."
The chaplain continued, "He had eight weeks left on his sentence and the entire eight weeks, all he talked about was this little man with no arms that changed his life and his new found faith. Eight weeks later when he left his prison, he went back to Nigeria. And I just learned he's now a pastor."
Every single one of us makes a difference one way or another for good or for bad. Choose good and you will eventually see the masterpiece.
Jeff is also on Facebook as Jeff Steinberg. He is on Instagram as @thejeffsteinberg (although he doesn't do much with it), and he is on Twitter @tgiant1.
Resources and Recommendations
Lift Disability Network: They have a whole organization that ministers to families of people with disabilities and to those with disabilities. They provide a camp and retreat for a week where people with disabilities can come and have fun in an environment that works for them. And they have volunteers who come and assist these kids so that their families can get a week's break.
Available on Kindle. It's also available on audible. (He narrated the entire 18 hours book and did all the editing. You can also buy the book on Amazon. You can also go to tinygiant.com or Jeffsteinberg.net and there is a product purchase page and you can purchase it directly from us.
Jeff's final thoughts are to remember remember, "You're a masterpiece in progress, and He wants to put us on the gallery wall and showcase us to the ages. Let God change your life because sometimes you and I are the only picture of God others get to see."