In my early 20’s, the reality of my impending deafness sunk in. I became more dependent on reading lips because the hearing aids made everyone’s speech sound distorted. If I had to answer our home phone, I would just pick up the receiver and say “I’m sorry but there is no one here to take your call. Please call back after 6 pm.” That was long before everyone had answering machines and voice mail. My little girl had to make calls for me and relay what the other person wanted to tell me. This included medical consultation over the phone. She was 6 years old when she had to start helping me with phone calls. As a preschooler, my son would kick me under the dinner table to let me know the blessing for the meal was over, so I would know to open my eyes.
Hearing loss was with me day in and day out. I kept participating in activities and social interaction as long as I could. While leading a women’s bible study in my home, I asked my group to pray that I could find someone to teach me sign language. One of them introduced me to her deaf neighbor who taught me 3500 signs from a textbook in one year.
As I learned the language, I began to share it with others. Three 14-year-old girls whom I taught in Sunday School came to my home after school to learn signs from me. One of the girls said they ran into a favorite former teacher and told her they were learning to sign. The teacher got in touch with me and asked for lessons to refresh her sign language skills. She had taken a course in college and needed to brush up. I enjoyed helping her especially knowing that she had applied for a public school teaching position to utilize those skills. When she started her new job teaching hearing impaired children, she asked me to be her teaching assistant. We spent 7 years working side-by-side, and I loved the children and my work there.
Once I was comfortable communicating with sign language, I prayed that God would send me an interpreter for church services. I didn’t understand many words from the sermons, and I dropped out of the adult choir. I mentioned my prayer request to the bus driver who picked up our hearing impaired students daily at school. Her eyes got so big. She exclaimed that she had been praying for a church where she could interpret. A match made in heaven for sure! We got to know each other and teamed up to teach Sunday School for hearing impaired children. She personally picked up every child that needed a ride to our class on Sunday morning.
Many years later, the deaf lady who taught me sign language recommended I take the civil service exam, and I was able to work for the government for over 25 years until retirement. At lunch, I taught classes in the health clinic of our building for employees of other agencies. Some of my coworkers also learned some sentences from me. We had fun with sign language. For a brief time, I taught basic signing to hearing visitors at a deaf church, a public library and even used a beauty salon for evening classes.
Learning sign language opened many doors and led me to opportunities I’d never dreamed of before. Gradually losing my hearing meant giving up the things I had always enjoyed. Yet, in deafness I grew so much. To me, those were puzzle pieces in my life by the hand of God.