Hearing In Pieces

Andy Mineo is a Christian rap artist that has an older sister who is deaf. Growing up, he chose not to attempt to understand his sister because he didn’t understand her disability. He released a song called “Hear My Heart” in 2015, in which he shares about his selfishness and apologizes for never learning to sign in order to communicate with her. I got to see him perform live in November of last year and this song moved me. He began the song by signing about his sister and I realized: this is for people like me. His lyrics throughout the song are so humble and his desire is for the listener to feel the sounds and to understand his heart. Here are the lyrics from the second verse:

I remember your son’s graduation
That’s when I met your friends
And they was all havin’ conversations
But they was sayin’ stuff that I couldn’t understand
Then all of a sudden it felt like, I understood something I missed my whole life
For the first time I was wearin’ your shoes
For the first time I was hearin’ your views
I never knew how complicated life is when you feel so isolated
And I know we don’t speak much
Cause when talking got hard all I ever did was throw the peace up
My big sister Grace, I’m sorry I never learned to sign
And even though you were born deaf
I pray you forgive me for the years I lived blind

Not all people with hearing loss experience things the same way because there are so many different backgrounds and levels of hearing loss. Deaf actress Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God, Switched At Birth) says this about different experiences: “In the deaf community, there are different types of people who have different philosophies. Some believe that they should only sign. Some believe they should only speak. Some people say you should use cued speech. Some say you should use cochlear implants. Some say you shouldn’t sign. Some people say you should sign” (NPR, 2010). I’m not even technically deaf in a cultural sense (legally, I totally am). For those of you unfamiliar with the deaf world, I’m technically hard of hearing, and this is my experience with that.

I was born with hearing loss. Due to several ear infections in my early years, my parents didn’t realize that I should be checked for it until I was three. They had taken me to a speech therapist who recommended I get tested. This was when my parents had to make a big decision in how to raise me: hearing or deaf. Since I was already communicating verbally (thank you, speech therapist!), they made the decision to raise me verbally. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I became interested in learning about the deaf culture. I started to teach myself sign language and took classes in community college. If you want to carry on a basic conversation in sign language without any specialized knowledge, I’ve got you. I’ve learned a lot since opening myself up to people like me, but I still have a long way to go.

One thing that is wonderful about the generation we live in is that accommodations are available to me most anywhere. This was something that was actually hard for me to accept, because I’m stubborn and hated that I needed help. If I could, I would’ve figured out how to do everything on my own, but that’s not the easiest thing when one of your major senses is lacking. I also felt like I was trying to take advantage of the system. Sometime in college, I realized that people are more understanding than I thought. I still get stubborn about doing excessive things, but I know what I need. If we’re watching a movie together, you bet I’m going to ask you to put subtitles on. I would rather not let my hearing loss prevent me from enjoying myself.

IMG_4922.jpg

With my sister in Disney World. The only recent picture I have that shows my hearing aids.

A big part of my experience with hearing loss has been lip reading. Since I didn’t get my first pair of hearing aids until I was 3-years-old, I developmentally relied significantly on lip reading. Even though it’s something that’s been so engrained in my identity and my experience with hearing loss, it isn’t easy. After all, if a normally hearing person is able to understand 30% of what you said from lip reading alone, they’re considered an outlier (Altieri, Nicholas A., David B. Pisoni, and James T. Townsend; 2011). Another research project looked at the difference between the lip reading accuracy of a person with early-onset hearing loss and a hearing person. This one concluded “[t]he speechreading accuracy of the participants with early-onset hearing loss (M=43.55% words correct; SD=17.48) significantly exceeded that of the participants with normal hearing (M=18.57% words correct; SD=13.18)” (Auer, E. T. & Bernstein, L. E.; 2007). Basically no matter how good you are at it, you still miss a ton. It is pretty hard to get by on just lip reading, and I definitely can’t. That being said, I struggle getting by without it. Communication with people on a daily basis is kind of like putting together a puzzle, piece by piece. I take all of the information I gather from even just a sentence during an interaction and put them all together and hope I completed the whole thing. I take the sounds I’m hearing and match them with the movements your mouth is making. I add this to the information I’ve accumulated from reading your body language and eyes to understand the emotion behind what you’re saying. Every little piece changes how the overall picture looks. Most people are able to put together all these clues subconsciously very quickly, though I’m sure many of you couldn’t do it as well consciously. For me, I have to consciously put together these pieces, which can be exhausting. My brain doesn’t do it automatically because I can’t translate sounds into words the second I hear it. One thing that I have gained from consistently doing this is the ability to be particularly intuitive. Reading your body language and eyes lets me understand people’s unspoken emotions more clearly. I love it because I can tell when something is bothering one of my friends pretty quickly.

With all this puzzle piecing, there are some things that are particularly hard. Crowds are hard. Loud noises and multiple conversations make it hard for me to pick up specific sound cues. Accents are hard. It takes me a little while to get used to a specific person’s lip movement. The lip movements of those with accents are so foreign to me, I have trouble familiarizing myself with the words they are shaping. Mumbling is hard. When your lips aren’t distinctly moving, I cannot decipher what you’re saying. This does not mean I want you to over enunciate. PLEASE don’t do that. It really doesn’t make it any easier. Phones are hard. Relying only on the sounds, no matter how loud my phone is, is just not something I’m good at. Can you blame me? Really, being deaf is hard.

tumblr_lw9ljz8q721r4r8l4o1_1280.jpg

Being hard of hearing takes a lot of strength to get through the day-by-day life in a hearing world. I’m only human, there’s no way I can do it on my own. My strength to fight to be a functioning member of my community every day comes directly from God. Isaiah 40:31 says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Boy is that true. Every time I try to glorify my own strength and not give my struggles to Him, I get rundown REAL fast. God is my strength. It is through Him I have the ability to walk and not be faint. He gives me strength in my weakness and grace for every day (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). My only hope is that He is glorified through my experience with hearing loss.

Rosie Malezer says, “Your hearing status doesn’t make you a better person. Your humanity does” (How to Be Deaf, 2016). I don’t want you to feel pity for me or that you are superior. This one time, I had a stranger say, “You wear hearing aids? I’m sorry you have to go through that.” I’m not. Yes, it is difficult, but it’s part of who I am. It’s an aspect of what makes me – well – me.

Why Good Fences Don’t Make Good Neighbors

I listen to music from my high school years on a regular basis. I’m hard of hearing, so it’s difficult for me to figure out the words to new songs, and who doesn’t like jamming and singing along with their music as they’re driving down the road? Plus, if the lyrics are good or brimming with truth, why not listen to that junk over and over? Which brings me to the other day when I was jamming to some old school Krystal Meyers and the lyrics stayed with me for a particularly long time. The song is called “Together” (2006) and goes like so:

We all long to belong
We all need to be needed
Loneliness is our disease
Still we bite the hand that feeds
Where did we go wrong?
Insecure and self-sufficient
Building up walls instead of bridges

Let our lonely hearts collide
We’re made to live this life
Together, together
Reach across this great divide
Cuz standing side by side is better
Together

All the pride we defend
Teaches us to pretend
Like we can make it on our own
But we were never made to walk alone

Let the lines between us disappear
It starts now it starts here

It’s about living life together, right? God didn’t make us to walk alone. That’s why he gave us our families, our friends, our community.

IMG_6940.JPG

Taken in Panama City Beach, Florida

I had a ton of those surface-level friendships growing up. I didn’t know what they were at the time, but in middle school and high school, you become friends with someone because you both like the same band, or in my case, you both liked doing theatre. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but my friendships didn’t really go beyond that much. I could probably tell you a lot of facts about all the people I called my best friends (which was basically anyone who spent an extended amount of time with me), but did I really know them? Probably not – most of them at least. Knowing facts about someone and knowing them are different things. The second requires them opening their life to you and you doing the same. Why would you want to do that when we can get what we need from socialization with the surface-level friendship? But that kind of life is lonely. The song talks about belonging and being needed. You don’t get that kind of outcome from a relationship that stays above the surface. I was blind to this. I was temporarily satisfied by the surface, but then I went to college and whoa. My eyes were opened—by people who were bad at the friend thing and people who were good at it. I realized that I was running low on the small talk meter and I was thirsty for something more meaningful in my relationships.

“Loneliness is our disease / Still we bite the hand that feeds / Where did we go wrong?” What causes us to fight against the very thing that will help our loneliness? Self-sufficiency and pride are probably the two most common things. We hate showing any sign of weakness by asking for help or opening up our lives. Krystal Meyers talks more about this in the second verse: “All the pride we defend / Teaches us to pretend / Like we can make it on our own.” Our pride is dumb. Dude, when has it ever helped anything? It’s a flat out sin and it’s making us think wrongly about how we are supposed to do life! We can’t make it on our own. That’s why God had to send His son to die for us, because our attempts at making it on our own are just hurting others and ourselves: it’s pushing us deeper into the clutches of sin and calling us to be in denial about how limited and small we are. Jesus came to take away that power of sin, stop going back to it. He’s offering a more joyful, satisfying way of life, and one way He chooses to do this is through community.

At the end of the first verse, Meyers says that we are “building up walls instead of bridges.” It’s a protection thing. We got hurt by something or are afraid of being hurt by something and we build up those walls. I used to have a wall I built up around my heart that made me afraid to say, “I love you.” I felt like I had said it when I didn’t mean it and because of that, I felt like I didn’t know what it meant. The thing about walls is that they keep the bad stuff out, or at least they try to, but they don’t let people see you. I wasn’t able to show my heart for a while until God started knocking that wall down. We’re not called to have a wall separating ourselves, we’re called into love: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14-15). It’s not going to be easy, of course. People won’t respond the same way you are trying to. Some people have their own walls or will try to attack your lack of one, but that person has their own struggles and the way they respond shouldn’t give you cause to treat them poorly. I love quotes, and this one sticks out to me when thinking about loving people: “Just remember that sometimes the way you think about a person isn’t the way they actually are” (Paper Towns, John Green). That’s why surface-level friendships don’t work when you are living in community and loving each other. Some people don’t want to open up their lives to you because of their protective walls, but I think the more we love them and open up our lives to them, the better we are able to show how to live in a community.

Robert Frost wrote a poem about the walls we build called “Mending Wall” (1914). The narrator and his neighbor have to mend the stone wall between their property once a year because of the wear and tear, or he jokes that it could be elves. The narrator keeps asking his neighbor why they have to have a wall to divide them and the neighbor always replies: “Good fences make good neighbors.” The whole poem is about the narrator’s internal struggle with this. He says, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” because it seems to fall down every year, due to the changing weather or perhaps the hunters. Yet he looks forward to this event every year because that means that he finally gets to interact with his neighbor, whom he only sees during this event. The narrator’s longing to know his neighbor is normal.

We’re all sinners. Life is messy and sometimes we don’t want to share the mess with others or step into their messes, but God calls us to community. Sometimes I want to be selfish and only relate with people I think are cool, but that’s not what God calls me to. He calls me to community. He calls me to real life lived with others, without all the makeup covering our less lovely spots, because how are we supposed to encourage each other and build each other up if we only know the facts about people, not their life? Hebrews 10:24-25 shows us what community looks like: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” There is joy and encouragement in community!

One thing that I struggled with in the beginning of my college years is feeling like it was unfair. I felt like I didn’t have any friends trying to know me on a deeper level or invest in me, so why should I do that for others? That’s selfishness. T.M. Moore says, “To love with the love of Jesus is to seek others, and not simply to wait around for them to find their way to us” (2016, “The Disciplined Life: Getting in shape to seek the Kingdom of God”). Jesus didn’t wait until He felt like He fit in before He reached out to others. He was mocked. He was despised. Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hid their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Did that stop Him from loving people? Heck no, techno! He sought to know people and love people to the point that He died for their salvation. You may ask how you’re supposed to be a friend and reach out to people when you don’t have an example of someone doing it to you. You do. That’s one of the reasons Jesus came: to be that example for you. He even encourages us by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He can use you in areas you feel the weakest. After all, Moses told God “I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). But did that stop God from using Him? You guessed it.

There’s a verse that I read the other day that I want to share in closing. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 and 12 say, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! …And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The writer of Ecclesiastes talks throughout the whole book about how our actions are vanity, futile, like striving after the wind. They’ll never reap the reward we desire, which is why we must fear the Lord and strive to live in community. These are things that will bring blessing and satisfaction. So, kick down those walls, stuff your pride, and follow Jesus’ example in loving people.

 

And It Happened In a Coffee Shop

I often have people asking to read stuff I write when I tell them my dreams to work with and write books. I thought I would let you take a peek at something I’ve been working on for a while. I love criticism and feedback on my work. You have a voice: use it.

I have another post coming up soon with more of my thoughts. If you haven’t yet, take a look at my previous post about my sister and our experience with her mental health. Hopefully I will be posting a healthy mix of posts featuring my thoughts and my creative writing. Anyways, here we go…


Tuesday:

The bell on the door rang as she walked into the coffee shop. Charlie smoothed her blue skirt and walked up to the counter to order a hot chocolate. The barista handed her the foam cup. She looked around for a seat, but the shop seemed to be having a busy day. A tall boy with caramel skin was doing homework at a table towards the back. Charlie walked over to him.
“I see you at school, you know. I know you.”
“Yeah?”
“I think we are in AP English together.”
He gave a short nod and then returned to his homework. Charlie pulled out the chair across from him and sat down.
“Yeah, that’s right. You sit a couple rows back from me.”
He didn’t respond.
“My name is Charlie. Well, it’s Charlotte. I’m known as Charlie.”
“Rodney,” he responded, not even looking up.
“Cool. Well, I typically come here after school. Not much happenin’ at home and all. And this is one of my favorite places to do homework.”
Silence. Charlie tapped her fingers on her cup. She gave up on waiting for a response that would never come.
“So, anyways. Do you mind if I share this table with you?”
“No,” he responded, still looking at his book.
“Thanks. I’ll shut up now.”

Wednesday:

Charlie struggled to open the coffee shop door against the wind. Once inside, she adjusted her t-shirt and pushed her hair out of her face. She bought a bottle of water.
Rodney was at the same table again. She walked over, dropped her backpack on the ground and sat down across from him. She grabbed the book Something Wicked This Way Comes out of her bag and flipped through until she found her spot. Rodney looked up to see who had disturbed his peace, rolled his eyes and looked back down at his homework.
“’Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?’”
Rodney looked up once again. “What?”
“It’s a quote. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I feel like it’s fitting with this storm coming in and all.”
“Hmm.”
“I heard that there’s going to be some real bad rain, but it should blow right through.”
Rodney put down his pencil and sighed. “Are we really going to do the cliché weather small talk?”
“Hey, I did it in a much more creative and imaginative way. I think I should get some credit for that.” She smiled and pushed her hair out of her face.
He looked back at his homework.
“My uncle read this book in college. He had a friend recommend it. He loved it. Says that it is magical to read. That Bradbury had a talent with words. He came to visit around my tenth birthday. Gave me the book and the movie for my birthday. He wouldn’t let me watch the movie, though. Not until I had read the book. He wanted me to appreciate the writing. He would read it aloud to me before I went to bed every night…” She trailed off. Rodney noticed that her smile was gone. She was staring at her drink with a blank look.
“Are you alright?”
“This book makes me sad.”
“Then why are you reading it?”
Charlie was still staring, as if she was merely talking to herself. “I’m dealing with some conflicting emotions. I was hoping that it would help me sort them out a bit, but now I feel that it’s a mistake.” She shook herself back into the present and began to pack her stuff up. “I’m sorry I bothered you. I will stop distracting you in the future. I need to go home before this storm gets too bad.”
She slung her backpack on her shoulder and left.

Thursday + Friday:

It rained for two days. The roads became flooded almost instantly. The sky was dark even during the day. School was canceled.

Monday:

The bell jingled. Rodney walked in and noticed Charlie sitting on the other side of the shop, engrossed in a book they had to read for AP English. He walked over.
“I don’t mind, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t mind you talking to me. You’re not bothering me.”
She looked down, embarrassed.
“I mean it.”
“Okay.”
He sat down across from her and they worked on homework in silence. The corner of her mouth had turned up, as if she were hiding a smile. It stayed that way for the rest of the day.

The Year I Realized My Childhood Was Behind Me

306080_557271600953655_1647340843_nFor most girls, your sister is your built-in best friend. Mine is no exception. My sister and I shared a room growing up – my mom’s attempt to make us become close. I have so many memories of us staying up late, just sitting on each other’s beds and catching up on our day. We would spend our days making our Barbies go to fairy school, writing secret spy notes in our notebooks, turning our swing set into a spaceship, and writing a story about two sisters who had to save the world from evil teddy bears. We definitely had moments that weren’t happiness and sunshine; we fought. My sister has always been loud and opinionated. She taught me that silence was my greatest weapon. Oh, she would get red in the face when I didn’t react to her taunting words. But most of my memories of my sister were good. Most of my nightmares from childhood were of losing her. We stood up for each other. We shared each other’s clothes (mostly she mine). We would dance on our kitchen chairs to “You Belong With Me” by baby Taylor Swift on full volume. She wore the short skirts and I wore the t-shirts. My sister, though younger than me, always treated me like she was the oldest and she knew best. This probably didn’t hurt much because I was a soft spoken child who wasn’t the most up-to-speed on what was going on outside my little world. My sister was my world.

But then, suddenly, we aren’t kids anymore. Suddenly I’m waking up in the middle of the night to a text from my sister that she has self-harmed. Suddenly I’m crying in a work meeting because I’m afraid to lose her and I feel helpless. Suddenly I’m faced with the reality that my sister struggles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. What happened to my childhood? That was kissed goodbye when my sister let me into her head a year ago.

I have learned a lot since this journey began. I’ve learned to listen, how to ask questions, and to pray. I’ve learned to love my sister even more for the individual, unique person God made her. I’ve learned how to love her to show her that she’s more than her mental instability. Mental illnesses are hard to navigate because there is a lot of stigma attached to it in our society. No two people are the same, so their experiences with mental health aren’t cut and dry. This makes people who struggle in this way hard to relate to and understand, often making the person feel alone. That being said, there are some real, tangible ways you can love and care for a friend or family member who struggles with their mental health.

  1. Ask questions about how you can help and what they’re going through. Be still and listen to what they have to say. My sister always appreciates someone trying to understand and care for her in a way that meets her specific needs. Sometimes what she needs doesn’t always line up with what we think would be helpful.
  2. Understand that they are going to be selfish about their own space. My sister doesn’t always want to talk right after something happens because she needs to be able to process things without a panic attack taking up all her brain space. We have to also understand that sometimes they have to cancel on plans because the stimulation wouldn’t be good for their health.
  3. Do make plans with them. They don’t need to be treated with gloves in this area. Yes, they will cancel when they need to, but they also need the motivation and encouragement to get out of bed and do something.
  4. Be conscious of personal space. It may comfort you to have someone hold your hand or give you a hug, but that might not always be helpful for someone who is going through a panic attack. Ask before touching every time. Different people react differently to touch in different situations.
  5. Don’t say “calm down.” Just don’t do it. When my sister is having a panic attack, it takes over her mind. If she could calm down, she would.
  6. Since you can’t really empathize, don’t try. None of that “I understand, this thing kind of similar happened to me…” They just want to hear, “That must suck. I’m sorry you have to go through that.”
  7. When someone who struggles with their mental health is having suicidal thoughts, their brain is overwhelmed with confusion, frenzy and hurt. This is often a symptom of depression. The person feels like it’s the only way to make it all stop. Talk calmly to them. Ask what they’re trying to escape from and why they feel like they have no choice. Ask calm, probing questions that make them realize they have a choice.
  8. Finally, if the person you’re loving on is a Christian, send them encouragement they need from Scripture. Take the time to think through what would encourage them. For my sister, verses about trust don’t comfort her, but ones about love and support do. These verses pull her out of her lonely thoughts.

When someone you love has a harder time doing daily life, it can be challenging. But I have learned how to love my sister through it. My sister is spunky and opinionated. She has a beautiful singing voice. She is creative. She expresses herself through her hair. She stands up for herself. She loves the beach. She is gorgeous inside and out. She has an anxiety disorder, bipolar depression, and is a recovering bulimic. She is still my best friend.