Several years after my initial diagnosis, our family of six moved from California to Oregon. We’d lived there while Phil was going to grad school, and I looked forward to living in the Pacific Northwest again, with all its lush beauty. Phil had accepted a position as a worship pastor at a church on the west side of Portland, and our kids jumped right into new friends and new adventures.
It was harder for me. By then, I was wearing the biggest hearing aids available, cranked on high. If anyone tried to hug me, those giant amplifiers squealed in protest, startling whoever got that close. Explaining over and over that I wore hearing aids and telling people not to worry only resulted in more confusion. I’d tell my story and try to make everyone feel okay, but how do you insert into an awkwardly one-way conversation the caveat, “by-the-way-I’m-going-deaf-so-please-talk-louder”?
Phil, who pulled me close through every step of my convoluted journey, tried hard to include me in every conversation. The idea of leaving me out in order to make it easier on others never occurred to him.
Whenever I stepped back, distancing myself from another dialogue that would make no sense to me, Phil insisted on playing the role of play-by-play commentator. To my chagrin, he’d pause a conversation long enough to insist that I look in his face while he summarized what was being said in the distinct talking-to-a-deaf-person-dialect that he knew I’d be most likely to understand. If my eyes registered the blank incomprehension that marked so many of our conversations, he’d lean in closer, change the words, simplify what he was saying.
My body grew hot with embarrassment with all those eyes staring at the spectacle of a deafened woman craning to hear. I wanted to run and hide. But there stood my husband, unwilling to let me cower in a corner alone, his grin making the oddity of our performance in front of an abashed audience seem less like a circus and more like normal.
To my husband, this new normal was normal. He adapted himself to my hearing loss like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Still, other people’s embarrassment fueled my own. I wanted to talk about ordinary things like soccer practice and where to get my hair cut. What I didn’t want was to be branded as that woman who was different. That woman who was deaf.
Carpooling my son to the high school across town was exhausting. I couldn’t hear what anybody said from the backseat and didn’t dare ask questions when I knew I wouldn’t hear the answers. So I simply smiled and acted as if I hadn’t a care in the world, all the while wishing I could know my son’s friends, wishing the wall of silence separating me from everyday small talk could somehow be breached. I knew it embarrassed him, noticed how he didn’t look at me while we were driving, how he diverted the conversation to topics meant for just his buddies. When I asked him about it once, he just shrugged his shoulders in that accepting way kids have and said, “It’s okay, mom. You can’t help it.”
But it wasn’t okay; not with me.
When I had so little hearing left, the only way I could be sure to hear was if I found a quiet corner and concentrated intently on the words of the one I wanted to hear. My kids knew to beckon me to that place of silence in order to talk. Even my friends — those who were willing to do the hard work of being a friend to an introverted deaf woman — knew to meet me in a quiet place in order to be heard.
Phil had it down to a science.
I married an extreme extrovert. Phil thinks out loud, forming opinions and solidifying thoughts as his mouth moves. When he has a decision to make, he uses me as his sounding board, approaching the problem from all angles, discussing, asking for input, weighing options.
Ironically, his biggest need from me is to listen. To nod and affirm, to question and probe. He wants my opinion, my thoughts, my take on the matter at hand.
During my going-deaf years, he learned to lead me into a place far away from noise so we could talk. When we lived in Santa Cruz, we’d sit on the back deck. Something about the stillness of outside makes hearing much easier.
After we moved to Oregon and the rain chased us inside, he made sure to make space in our room for a quiet retreat. He’d build a fire, brew us some coffee, shoo the kids out the door, and talk to me. How much easier it would have been for him to just leave me alone, to forgo all that trouble and let me live in the disconnected world of the hard of hearing. But he wouldn’t. Instead, he persistently pursued time to talk with me.
It was my husband’s persistence that opened my heart to see that God does the same.
In fact, this aloneness with us is so important to Him that He tells us a story, part real life tragedy and part metaphor, in order to paint a picture of His longing to be close.
It’s the story of Hosea, and it starts with these words:
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea... — Hosea 1:1
Right away, it seems, He lets us know that He speaks. The story goes on to tell how God asks Hosea to marry Gomer, a “promiscuous woman,” a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). He wants their love to be a vivid picture of God’s relentless pursuit of His people.
They have a family together: two sons and a daughter, each named to indicate something significant about God’s care for His people (Hosea 1:3-9). But after a time, Gomer strays. She runs away from this one who loves her with fierce devotion, into the arms of others who bear gifts of fine clothes, “wool and linen,” and fancy dinners (Hosea 2:5).
How can God use a broken relationship to show the world the wholeness of His love? The same way He wants to use our hard-of-hearing tendencies to bring us close and to speak the words we need to hear.
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. — Hosea 2:14
Underlined and highlighted and starred in my Bible are these words:
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord… — Hosea 6:3
God’s love for us is so inured to our deaf ears, so relentlessly determined to win us, so intent on intimacy that He invites us in to hear the throbbing of His heart. I can hardly grasp that kind of love. In my early mornings tucked into the silence, He allures me through His Word. To paraphrase the Amplified Bible, “I will speak tenderly and to her heart.” (Hosea 2:14).
My heart opens wide as I sip tea and listen. I hear tender words of correction. I hear wise words about how to live well. I fill journals with what I know He is saying, direction about who needs what and what He wants from me.
More than anything else, I hear tenderness. That He likes me just as I am. That He loves me too much to leave me just as I have always been. I hear His wanting to be with me, alone and still. I hear quiet. I hear rest. I breathe Him in and listen.
Excerpted with permission from He Speaks in the Silence: Finding Intimacy with God by Learning to Listen by Diane Comer, copyright Zondervan.
* * *
Have you felt that alluring from the Lord? The kind that draws you out right in your place of pain, of difference, of shame, or maybe even of sin? How incredible is it that the God of the Universe woos us to Himself out of love and refuses to let us remain the same! Come join the conversation on our blog. We want to hear from you about intimacy with God! ~ Devotionals Daily