Writing this is going to hurt, but I want to share it with you because it’s a big part of my life story.
Maybe you’ve noticed, the title for my blog comes from a verse in Isaiah.
The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus
(Isaiah 35:1 NASB)
I want to tell you about an area of my life that has been a wilderness for me.
I was born deaf. Due to the tenacity and hard work of my parents, I learned to speak and listen with a hearing aid in one ear. The other ear was so profoundly deaf that I couldn’t hear a thing with even the best hearing aids.
Growing up, I often felt the pain of having a handicap. Because of my need to lip-read, I couldn’t participate well in activities that other kids especially enjoy, things like talking around a campfire and talking on the bus while traveling home late from a field trip. Sometimes people mocked me. My family is very musical, and I could not be part of that even though I longed to. Overall though, I could function fairly well with what I had.
Two days after I turned 16, I took out my hearing aid to shower before going to church. When I put my hearing aid back in after my shower, the rest of my hearing was gone. Poof.
The next six months was the darkest time of my life. It was a whirlwind of doctors, medications, diets, people trying to figure out where my hearing had gone and trying in vain to retrieve it. And I was at the golden age of 16, just when a youth is so pleased to get his driver’s license and start escaping to youth group parties. Instead, I was spiraling downward into a terrible tunnel of loneliness and despair.
Here is a paragraph I wrote in my youth about how things were for me during that time after the sudden hearing loss (with minor edits):
The conversation is flowing around the room. Rigidly I sit on my chair, pretending to join the frequent bursts of laughter. The group starts singing, but music brings me no pleasure. I notice the ease with which my peers relate to each other, and I think of all the times I have struggled to communicate, the times I felt backward because I could not express myself. I am deaf. As Helen Keller once said, “Ours is not the silence that soothes the weary senses, it is the inhuman silence which severs and estranges…a silence which isolates.”
Finally, since nothing was working to bring back my hearing, I had a cochlear implant surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The next year or so, I worked hard to re-learn to hear. The sound from an implant was different from what I got from my hearing aid, and I needed some therapy to be able to use my implant.
At first, I heard very well with my implant. But due to some complications, I had to be reimplanted two years later, and since then I’ve never been able to hear as well as I did at first.
My life is normal on the surface. I started a girl’s club for community girls when I was 20. I completed nursing school at 23. I married an amazing man a few months before graduating, and had four spunky kiddos over the next ten years.
But my hearing loss still feels like a desert to me. I’m not sure that it’s even God’s will. (Is a broken world His will?) I feel like I’ve always been trapped within this set of limitations, and never been allowed to fully flower into who I could be.
For instance, my need to lip-read makes it hard for me to engage in impromptu conversation. Someone says something behind me while in line at the grocery store, I probably won’t get what they said. A clerk talks to me while I am writing out a check, but I can’t look at the checkbook and at her at the same time. Someone whispers confidentially in my ear–oh dear! That’s no good. As a result, I am much more reticent in social situations than I would naturally be.
How can I show love to a hurting world, without being able to communicate easily? This is what wrenches my heart out, because I do very deeply care about people.
I watch people walk down the street past my house and I want to cry. I see broken people sitting in church, and I want to cry. I notice the Dollar General cashier looks frazzled, and I want to cry. It’s not that I absolutely can’t talk to them–I can. But it’s just more difficult for me. The way I have to communicate can feel too confrontational. I can’t just call out to someone from a distance, or sidle along someone and comment on something we are both looking at. I have to talk to people face-to-face.
God, why did you give me this love for people if I can never show it?
If I can’t communicate well, what do I have to offer the world? I have so little.
Many things that I like to do involve hearing or relating with people. Gardening and reading are two exceptions–I feel completely at rest with my hands in the forgiving soil, or with my mind pondering a book. Most of my other passions I can only pursue with help from other people. Some things I just can’t do at all.
I have largely been able to accept my handicap, about as well as anyone can accept a knife between the ribs that never leaves. Life brings me much joy; I have a thousand gifts from God to delight in. But every once in a while, the knife twists, reminding me of its presence.
Recently, I was sitting in a Sunday school class at a church here in Medicine Lodge. They’re using the Lifetree series, and this story was about a deaf singer, Mandy Harvey. All too soon, both the story and questions were striking deep, and before I knew it, I was weeping.
So, I don’t have a glowing testimony about getting through a terrible trial, and being restored. I’m not convinced my hearing loss has really made me a better person. Certainly not a more effective person.
But God has often shown me love, and people have shown me love. The Sunday school class I just mentioned stopped the Mandy Harvey story and clustered around me to pray for me while I cried.
When I think of the story of Job, I think about what God gave Job in the end. Sure, Job got a bunch of family and possessions back, but anyone knows a new family is no substitute for a much-loved family that was lost! Job’s most priceless gift that sprang from his experience was getting to know God. The kind of knowing that rested deep within his spirit.
In this scorched land, this is the hope I am reaching for: to know God, and to know that He is love.
And in His time, this fallen world will be put to rights, and new life will spring out of the barrenness. Even the Arabah will break out in rejoicing.
And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads.They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10 NASB)