Through the Ears of a Child
Learning to trust God — without all the answers.
by Rebecca Willman Gernon
Organization and perfectionism ruled my life. Even my relationship with God was compartmentalized. He was in charge of my soul; I was in charge of my life — a very busy life, with no room for additional challenges.
But God had other plans.
At my daughter’s six-month checkup, our family doctor said, “Amy’s normal and healthy. Do you have any concerns?”
“She often twists her ears.” I paused, finding it hard to continue. “I’m afraid she’ll disfigure them.”
“That’s not possible,” he assured me.
A nameless anxiety kept me from mentioning that Amy silently moved her lips in response to my lullabies and chatter, and that on July Fourth, while her brother, John, screamed with delight as rockets screeched and exploded overhead, Amy slept soundly. My nagging fear was appeased — for the moment.
A missing ‘first’
On Amy’s first birthday, I pulled her baby book from the shelf to record her accomplishments. First Smile. First Tooth. First Steps. I stared blankly at the page: Baby’s First Words. I had nothing to write. A quick comparison to John’s baby book revealed he had spoken several words by age one.
As I pondered differences between my two children, stories my mother told me about visiting a school for the deaf sprang to mind. “Deaf people don’t talk because they don’t hear their language,” she told me. My nameless anxiety, riddled with subtle clues, crushed me like a tidal wave. My daughter must be deaf.
The next three months were a slow-motion nightmare. A visit to the family doctor was followed by one to an ear specialist, and then an audiologist. The audiologist was competent, but ruthless. “Your daughter doesn’t hear anything. She’ll probably never talk. Might be mentally retarded or autistic too. I’m not sure; she’s so young. She’ll have to go to a deaf school.”
As he delivered his impersonal diagnosis, my brain stoically absorbed the facts, but my heart broke. Questions filled the huge crack in my heart: Why did this happen? What did I do to cause this? Why me? Why Amy?
That night I nervously reached out to God in prayer. Though a lifelong Christian, I had failed to grasp the depth of God’s love and forgiveness. I viewed Him as a stern Father who punished people who did not obey Him.
I knew I had committed plenty of sins and deserved whatever hardship He gave me, but I longed for an explanation. “Why do You let terrible things happen to people, God? Why is Amy deaf? What am I supposed to do?” God was silent.
Family members responded to Amy’s deafness with disbelief, blame, and advice.
“No one in our family has ever been deaf.”
“You had the flu when you were pregnant. That’s why she’s deaf.”
“Amy’s slow to talk. Don’t worry.”
“Get a second opinion.”
A maelstrom of conflicting opinions, feelings, and broken dreams tormented me. Once again I begged God for answers, but rushed headlong into decision-making before He could respond.
At thirteen months, I strapped a special harness on Amy that held two powerful body hearing aids. A cord snaked from them to earpieces, transforming her into a novelty, a victim of stares and rude questions. I was determined that Amy would learn to speak.
My tenacity with the local school system resulted in her becoming their youngest language therapy student when she was just sixteen months old. After six months of professional therapy, reinforced by training at home, Amy said her first word. Three more months passed before she uttered her second. Reality gnawed at my hope that she would speak.
The next year, fierce determination fueled my existence. Outwardly I did it all, but inwardly I paid the price with headaches, a nervous stomach, and mounting frustration.
Daily I asked God for strength and patience and explanations why Amy was deaf. I received strength to endure, limited patience, but not an answer to “why?”
Then unexpected events upset my organized chaos.
First, Amy’s therapy program lost funding and was discontinued. The nearest speech therapist was one hundred miles away, so three times a week I loaded John and Amy into the car and drove the four-hour round trip so Amy could receive one hour of therapy. Despite two years of therapy, Amy couldn’t communicate her needs, which resulted in daily tears and tantrums — hers, my son’s, and mine.
Next, the hour of solace I savored Sunday morning disappeared. Due to poor leadership, our church was dying. I was at the end of my rope, facing a noose or letting go and letting God be in charge.
A few days later while vacuuming the house, I shouted to the heavens, “Where are You, God? I can’t find You.” Within a week, two evangelism teams appeared at our door from two different churches. I wanted answers; God gave me choices.
After careful consideration, our family became members of a loving, Spirit-filled church. When I started praying for God’s will instead of giving Him my “to do” list, He revealed His plan.
I was led to read a book about a world traveler. One sentence spoke to me: “Learning another person’s language, rather than expecting them to learn yours, is a sign of love.”
For two years I’d been forcing Amy to speak my language, with little success, so I bought an American Sign Language book. Together we learned to talk manually. As Amy’s ability to communicate increased, her tantrums gradually disappeared.
At Amy’s annual hearing test, the stern audiologist discovered we used sign language. “You’re making a big mistake,” he said. “Amy can’t survive in a hearing world if she doesn’t speak. She’ll never amount to anything.”
Why Amy? Why me? Why is she deaf? Guilt and fear returned, but this time, instead of manipulating my life, I sought counseling with our pastor. He assured me my sins were forgiven and that Amy’s deafness was not punishment. He encouraged me to see Amy as a blessing. I went home comforted but continued begging God for explanations.
Thankfulness came slowly. After reading about deaf children locked away by ashamed family members and routinely beaten because they could not talk, I thanked God for entrusting Amy to me.
I now had an answer to “Why me?” I concluded that God deemed me worthy to raise a special child. I was amazed that God considered me worthy to serve Him.
At age four, Amy became the youngest student at our state school for the deaf. Other trials in my life pale compared to the day I left her in the capable care of house parents and teachers one hundred fifty miles from home.
While Amy thrived at school, I struggled to adjust to seeing her only on weekends. I was learning to accept God’s will, yet I still nagged God for the cause of Amy’s deafness. Finally He responded.
One Friday as I waited for Amy’s class to be dismissed, I met Maggie, the mother of one of Amy’s classmates. Our conversation soon focused on why our children were deaf. “I don’t know why Amy’s deaf,” I said. “I wish I did.” Then Maggie told me her story.
“Thursday was my carpool day,” she said. “In the morning, my obstetrician confirmed I was eight-weeks pregnant. That afternoon when I dropped off Sara, one of the kids in the carpool, she said, ‘Come in the house. My mom wants to talk to you about the Girl Scout meeting.’ Sara’s younger sister greeted me at the door. She had the measles. I broke out with measles several days later. For the rest of my pregnancy, I wondered if the measles had made my baby blind, deaf, retarded, or worse.” Her voice was flat, devoid of emotion.
My God, I thought. She knows exactly why her daughter is deaf. If she had not gone into Sara’s house that day, she never would have gotten the measles. Her baby would have been born normal. If I were in her shoes, I’d never stop blaming myself.
My own prayers for this exact knowledge reverberated in my head. Dear God, I prayed. Thank You for not revealing to me why Amy is deaf. Your ways are not my ways, and Your ways are best. Amen.
This revelation of God’s wisdom came to me more than thirty years ago. I still have no medical explanation for Amy’s deafness, and I’m thankful I don’t. God answered my prayer — not as I expected, but His answer revealed His majesty, supreme knowledge, and the depth of His unique love for each of His children.