The clear blue California sky mocked me as I fumbled to close the doctor’s office door behind me. How could the sun shine cheerfully on such a day as this? How dare the people bustling past me smile and laugh? How cruel a joke that life goes on—for mine stopped with the doctor’s one word: deafness.
“Young lady, you are going deaf.”
He was wrong… had to be wrong! A 26 year-old mother does not go deaf. That is for wrinkled old men, not a vibrant young woman with a family and a future.
I hadn’t wanted to go to the doctor in the first place. There was nothing wrong with my ears. The problem was, people mumbled so much. Telephones weren’t as clear as they used to be. And with the noise level in a house with a preschooler and a toddler and a new baby… well, who could hear above all that?
I had almost talked myself out of going but forged ahead to please my husband and family who had been urging me to see a specialist for some time. Confident that the doctor would just give me a pill and make this all go away, I left my newborn nursing baby at home with her dad and kept my appointment. Several hours and countless tests later I drove numbly home, the doctor’s grim diagnosis ringing in my failing ears.
“Diane, you have a severe hearing loss in both ears. We’ll do some tests, but my guess is that it is a neural sensorial hearing loss, probably progressive. It will get worse. You need hearing aids now… deaf later.”
I was stunned. It had never entered my mind that I might be going deaf. Fluid in the ears maybe, perhaps a virus. I had had a mild case of pneumonia a few months before and thought a simple medication would clear up the subtle muffling. But deafness? I was utterly unprepared and absolutely terrified.
I went home, told my husband and family, held my children, and wept. Looking at them, knowing I would not be able to hear them as they grew up, I was engulfed in grief. How can a mother not hear?
Too soon, I dried my tears, stuffed the bewilderment deep down inside and plastered a smile on my face. The doctor had to be wrong.
Life was good. God had blessed me. Everything would be just fine.
And it was. My life was good. It always had been. I’d grown up in a wonderfully loving family, married the man of my dreams—a pastor, a spiritual giant. I had three healthy, happy children and countless friends in a great church. Yes, life was good and God was blessing me. After all, I followed the rules didn’t I? Wasn’t that the way life was supposed to work? I do my part by being very, very good and disciplined and as perfect-as-possible. Then God would do His part. All those promises about His blessing me and taking care of me. It was a done deal. Deafness was most certainly not a part of the package.
Yet despite all that goodness in my life, a nagging emptiness had started me longing for something more. I couldn’t put my finger on it, couldn’t articulate what was amiss, but all that goodness just didn’t seem to be enough. I had everything I’d ever dreamed of having, was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, yet faced each day with a sort of empty dread.
Try as I might, I couldn’t feel anything but weary from the work of it all.
Ever since I had given my life to Christ as a young teenager, I had tried to emulate certain wise and godly women. If I could just copy their lives, I thought, then someday I’d be a super Christian too. One of these women was Muriel Cook. She was beautiful in every way. Meeting with me every week for a year, she dished out wisdom on a silver platter. With her Bible open, she’d mix the Scriptures with real life while I scrambled to write it all down.
One afternoon she came to our meeting with tears streaking down her carefully made-up face. She had been weeping over her own sinfulness. I was shocked into silence. This woman seemed to me the epitome of perfection. If she was such a sinner, what did that say of me?
Another women stood next to me in the choir. She was a simple woman, not attractive by any means. Her grey streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail did nothing to soften the deep lines on her face. Yet whenever we sang a song about the Cross, or the Savior, or of His washing of our sins, her face transformed into a glowing beauty, the crevices flowing with streams of grateful tears.
Why? What was it that moved her heart while mine was left cold? I had always known that Jesus had died for me. Yet His death did not tear at my heart. Why could I not weep at the Cross?
I began, tentatively at first, to pray about this emptiness. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was praying for. I just knew that I wanted what these women had. I wanted to know God like that, to experience Him intimately. Over time my longing intensified. Whatever it was, whatever it took, I wanted it.
As the months passed after my initial diagnosis, the dullness of my hearing became more and more evident. Each time it reared its ugly head I pushed it down, plastered my smile in place and went on. Tests were ordered. MRI’s, CAT scans, blood tests, bone tests. I switched doctors. I tried harder. Yet all the facts led to one inevitable, inescapable conclusion. I was losing my hearing… and fast.
It is difficult to describe what it is like to lose one’s hearing.
At first it was the little things. I couldn’t hear the kitchen telephone ringing from down the hall and when I finally heard it, I couldn’t tell who was on the other line. All voices sounded about the same to me. I could not tell the difference between Lynn and Kim and the gym. Once I carried on a full fifteen minutes with Stacey only to discover I was talking to Lucy!
Being hearing impaired involves an enormous amount of frustration. I can hear, I just cannot always understand what I hear. It is frustrating to want to talk to someone, to want to get to know someone, but be afraid to enter into a conversation that I will not understand. Sometimes I work so hard to wring out every intelligible bit of sound from the roar that meets my ears that I go home completely wrung out from the effort.
It is frustrating to have a well-meaning person say, “But you do so well, nobody would ever know!” What they don’t realize is how much I miss, how often I bluff, how tense I get in a conversation when I hope I am nodding my head the right way. Or how stupid I feel when I see that dread look in their eyes that means I have just blundered badly.
But it was at home that the pain was the greatest.
When my baby cried in the night and I didn’t hear.
When my little girl wrapped her dimpled arms around my neck and whispered sweet secrets—that I couldn’t hear.
Or when my son told me all about his first stay away at camp, chattering excitedly on our way home about nicknames and new friends and fun games… and I knew I was missing all the but the main parts.
Oh the pain! I didn’t mind as much not hearing birds or crickets or alarm clocks or buzzers. Let the cookies burn in the oven for all I care! But those lovely, intimate, important words—I wanted to hear. I longed to hear. The thought of being cut off, isolated and alone in my silent world terrified me.
I began to sink into a deep depression. I had never experienced such sadness before. Me, the middle child, steady-eddie, never too high, never very low, just cheer up and everything will be fine. But not now. This was darkness. I couldn’t just cheer up. I was overwhelmed with fear, with anger, and most of all with self-pity. My God had turned His back on me. How could He? Why would He? I felt unloved, rejected, abandoned. I had absolutely no doubt that He was able to heal me. My faith in His ability never wavered. The fact that He did not heal me despite my desperate pleadings shook my faith in His goodness to its very foundations.
God was supposed to bless me for obeying Him, for following the rules.
Isn’t that how it works? I do the right thing. He does the right thing. I fulfill the condition. He fulfills the promise.
I was a proper pastor’s wife. I sacrificed so much for Him. How dare He do this to me?
My fear turned to anger. Deep within my heart I railed against God. I thought Him unfair, uncaring, cold—even mean.
I prayed and felt silence.
I read my Bible and saw only the Jesus of righteous wrath.
I went to church and wept.
My family reached out in tender love but I rejected every effort. My husband tried to help me in that exuberant way of his, saying all the wrong things as he watched me crumble within myself. At least it isn’t cancer. There isn’t pain. Ah, come on, its not so bad.
Every word grated against soul as I sank ever deeper.
I wrapped myself in a cloak of self-pity and firmly shut everyone out.
For the first time in my charmed life I faced something truly difficult and I failed miserably. My tidy world collapsed. I was reduced to a self-pitying, sniveling mess.
But does the Father ever turn His back on us? Does He ever throw up His mighty hands in disgust?
No sin is so bad, no thought so wicked, no person so vile as to turn Him away. This Savior who hung on the Cross for us did it not while we were flawlessly following the rules. He suffered there while we were sinners. Seeing the black bottom of our hearts He pursues us, relentlessly loving us with a love that will never let us go.
On a blustery Sunday evening in February, I reluctantly asked the elders of my church to pray for me. I was embarrassed by my need. Ashamed to say that God had not answered my pleadings for healing. Would He listen better to theirs? These men were friends, colleagues of my husband. Could I admit my simmering rage? Would they see the blackness that plagued my soul?
In a chilly room with cinderblock walls and windows obscured by ambered glass, I sat on a plastic chair surrounded by these elders. They were a motley assortment of men. One was a retired bank executive, another a construction worker. One man coached the high school wrestling team; another had risen to vice-president of a gas company. Each and every one of them loved God with passion and integrity.
Oh how these men prayed! These dignified, conservative men beseeched the Father on my behalf. They anointed my head with oil and prayed for healing. They laughed and they wept and they praised God together for over an hour as I soaked my blouse with my tears.
And as they prayed, the darkness began to lift. Like a darkened sky on a stormy day when the sun suddenly and unexpectedly breaks through with a stream of brilliant light, so my heart was flooded with light. The coldness of the room and of my soul warmed and filled until I abandoned myself to the beauty of that light. Everything else faded from my mind; the voices of the elders as they prayed, my own embarrassed fidgeting, my intense discomfort at the honesty of the moment—all were forgotten as I was enveloped by the warmth of what I knew was God.
And in that moment I heard His Voice.
“It’s okay, Diane. It’s okay.”
Over and over again like a song soothing my spirit I heard His words as clear as if He was speaking into my ear. “It’s okay”.
I knew exactly what He was saying to me in that suspended moment in time. He wasn’t going to heal me. My ears would fail. Deafness would define my future. And somehow, in some way I could never fathom, He had made it okay. Not just bearable, but really, honestly okay and right.
And suddenly it was! With my heart dancing and face glowing I wiped my tears and fled that room as fast as I could. What had happened in there? Dare I tell anyone? How in the world could I possibly describe what I had just seen and heard? And what did it mean?
Filled with wonder and a fair amount of fear, I went home, tucked my kids into bed and collapsed in exhaustion. The next morning found me wide awake before anyone else stirred. I had to sort this out. Needed to fit it in somewhere to my conservative theology that didn’t welcome supernatural experiences as a legitimate means to truth.
That’s when I heard that Voice again. Just as clear as the night before, but now with a hint of that firm tone I had infrequently heard as a girl with my dad.
“Alright Diane, this is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve listened to the best preachers, been to fabulous seminars, read great books. Will you entrust your deafness to Me?”
And in that early quiet, He turned me to Psalm 40, which has become the song of my heart,
“I waited patiently
and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay;
And he set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to God;
Many will see and fear,
And will trust in the LORD.”
I left that encounter with God a changed woman. For the first time in my life, I had heard from God. Actually heard! His no left me filled with more peace and joy than I had ever experienced in my life.
In those months that followed the doctor’s first mention of the “D-word”, I had struggled with the issue of faith. Well-meaning people exhorted me to “have faith”. God would surely heal me and put my life back to what I wanted it to be if I only had enough faith. I searched the Scriptures to see if it was true and came away seeing that God is a god who heals—sometimes. It took absolutely no stretch of faith for me to believe that God could heal. What shook me to the core was that He didn’t .
Paul asked God to heal him of his ailment three times? Like Paul, I begged, pleaded and demanded healing, but I pleaded hundreds of times. Somehow, it seemed, if I could just drum up enough of this emotion called faith, then God would be obligated to grant me healing.
I had no idea how wrong I was.
God is not a Father who demands pitiful begging. He cherishes His children. In fact, the Bible paints a picture of a Father who longs to heap good gifts on His kids.
Faith, real faith came for me the moment I believed that God is a good God who purposely allowed this affliction to be a part of my reality. His lovingkindness has actually allowed my hearing to fail. Like David, who exclaimed with wonder in his voice, that “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” (Psalm 119:71), I began to see this as His premium plan for my life—really. This is His plan for my joy. Faith began to grow when, confronted by His holiness, I fell on my face and surrendered my deepest dread to Him.
My own faith failed the test—completely. I fell flat on my spiritual face. The truth is that He picked me up out of the pit of destruction I was digging myself into, cleaned all the mud and muck off my heart, and placed me firmly back where I belonged—on the solid rock of His faithfulness.
And then, wonder of wonders, He put a new song in my mouth. This song is all about Him. My own goodness is not enough to weather the storms and turbulence of real life, but His is! And I will sing and speak and write about His faithfulness everyday for the rest of my life.
Now, more than two decades later, I am completely deaf. Only the faintest rumble of sound penetrates the wall of silence. Relationships are hard; social gatherings painful.
This journey towards deafness has been long and difficult. Isolation, loneliness, separation, and misunderstanding have been my constant companions.
It hurts not to hear.
Yet the Father continually heaps great spoonfuls of grace on my heart. He speaks and I listen as never before. His comfort is palatable. His peace beyond figuring out. I would not trade this precious intimacy He has offered me for the best hearing in the world. God is good, though the path to His heart is oft-times strewn with pain.
Everyday as I struggle and strain to hear through my deafness, I learn a little bit more about listening to Him.
In my silent world God speaks.
I hear Him now. His voice is beautiful, rich, powerful and kind.
His words convict me in a way that makes me feel clean again and sometimes His words bring me to my knees.
His words fill me with joy and hope, for I know that…
He speaks in the silence.
From my heart,
- November 13, 2011