“What a blessing it would be if we could open and shut our ears… as easily as we open and shut our eyes.”
-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Imagine simple sounds, a refrigerator humming, birds chirping or water running. The petty noises of everyday are silent, unheard. At three, my ears were shut to the world. I lost most of my hearing to a profound level. Doctors advised to enroll me in a deaf school and to teach me to sign.
However, my parents placed me in the hearing world and a mainstream school. They hired a speech therapist to ensure I was successful. I learned how to properly talk by observing the positioning of my mouth in a mirror, and by placing my hands in front of the teacher’s mouth to feel the vibrations produced by certain sounds. My speech is the result of 10 years of therapy. My articulation has a distinct sound; many ask if I am foreign? It’s a different accent they just can’t place.
Lip reading is my main source of communication. My brain is in overdrive trying to understand what was said or why we’re laughing. I’m a great pretender. There are many sounds I don’t hear – P, H, G, K, F and S are just a few. My aids are digitally programmed to fill in the sounds I miss. In large group settings, the speaker wears an FM system, an assistive hearing device, which transfers directly into my aids. However, technology is man-made and cannot substitute for the God-given sense I just don’t have.
Later, these differences were magnified. I became self-conscious of how I sounded, and with the physical appearance of deafness… the ugly blocks sitting behind my ears. When you’re a child, you don’t realize people are different and you accept them. As you get older, imperfections stand out.
To find answers and attempt healing, I started to search God’s Word for why He had allowed this. Instead of finding the answers I wanted, I started to see what God intended. I discovered Psalm 46:1, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This shows God has a greater purpose for our hardships in this world, way beyond our human reasoning.
Another major turning point was in James, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” My life is a constant struggle, but I wouldn’t be the person I am without these hardships.
A few years ago, something was said that forever changed my life, “God closed your ears to the world, so that you may hear His voice.” Now I hear, not through longing and desire, but through acceptance. God allows me to hear what He’s called me to hear. The world is full darkness, yet God has protected my heart through this filter of deafness, so I would long for the light that leads me from the world. I know I can endure for a crown of life awaits me, and this is just a blink and a breath compared to the glory yet to come.
God performed an incredible rescue operation on my life, and changed my way of living forever. God gives us the power to change our hardships into our greatest blessings.
In my background, I had been raised to love God and went to a Christian school, and I had become the great pretender of being “OK.” I could pretend to hear sometimes and try to be a part of conversations, but I was in my own little world without anyone knowing of the hurt I was experiencing. I went into a darkness and great anger toward God. I couldn’t understand that if God was supposed to love me, why couldn’t He make me normal? That if He was the big God of miracles in the Bible, why couldn’t He heal me? I wanted so desperately to be normal and to fit in. I became angry, depressed, horribly insecure and so lonely I could hardly stand it.
I knew I needed to change for this life of sadness was not worth living. As a young teenage girl, I signed myself up for a local Christian camp and learned about my Father and His great love for me. Something clicked at camp and a transformation began to happen.
Since that day, many years ago, I became alive and I was new. I started looking at my hearing loss as a part of me and as the most beautiful thing about me. One of the first things I did after this massive shift within was to wear my hair up! Before, I would keep my hair straight by my face so no one could see my hearing aids. What the world thought of me no longer mattered anymore and my insecurities are slowly vanishing.
My deafness has shaped and molded me into being fully me. Joy can never escape me. I encountered a new way of living and an entirely new outlook on what was seemingly broken. What the world thought was broken, my ears, is what has made me fully myself. I know that applies to everyone, whatever people say is beyond repair can actually be redeemed and restored. Whatever stories are seemingly broken, can be transformed into good. Our disabilities, whatever holds us back, can be transformed into our greatest ability.
The beginning stages of my life felt like the most tragic thing that would ever happen to me. Looking back, I now see the big picture and that my deafness is not tragic but the greatest blessing that has ever happened to me. Having profound hearing loss has made me who I am, but it does not define me. My label is not the “deaf girl” or someone with a “disability,” but I am wonderfully made Emma.
Young Life, a group dedicated to help the youth find Jesus, has impacted me the most out of any service I’ve ever done. It taught me that I am not alone in my personal struggles but that everyone has a battle to fight. It changed the way I look at people. I started viewing life through the lens of Jesus and His love that changes everything.
Being mindful of my future, in 2010 I began to intensely study piano and music theory. For pleasure, I started guitar, ukulele, singing lessons and actively performing in my community. In 2015, I added the kick drum to the list of instruments. This was in preparation to compete in the pageant circuit to establish a national platform for the hard-of-hearing and deaf. In February 2015, I won the title of Miss San Antonio and am proud to have been the very first Miss San Antonio who is deaf. In the 2015 Miss San Antonio pageant, I was honored to receive individual awards for Overall Talent, Overall Interview and Miss Congeniality. In July 2015, I competed in the Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant 2015 where I placed Top 10 as well as received the Inspiration Award, Quality of Life Award, Academic Interview Award and Spirit of Texas (Congeniality). I was crowned again Miss San Antonio 2017 – being the first to hold this title twice since the first titleholder in 1923. I was also honored to have received Overall Interview, Overall Evening Gown, Community Service, Photogenic and Spirit of Texas. In July 2017, I placed 4th runner up in the Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant 2017 and was so thrilled to receive both the Community Service and Quality of Life awards for the work we are doing through Aid the Silent.
In January of 2015, I started my own nonprofit, Aid the Silent. It has been a to be able to give back to the community, but most especially the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Growing up I had access to many resources in order to succeed and not be held back by what was seen as a disability. The vision for the organization was spurred after stumbling upon statistics about the deaf. The numbers are shocking and unreal. From a number of sources, studies from the last 10 years have surfaced about hearing loss and the connection between the education level of those who fall into the deaf and hard-of-hearing realm. In addition, deaf individuals face severe underemployment. But something that completely touched my soul were the statistics that of those surveyed, 98% of the deaf community have no contact with the church or do not truly know and accept Jesus—making them the third largest unreached group with the Gospel.
I want others to know you are not alone. Everyone is fighting a battle so be loving and kind always, and everyone has a story so listen. I believe we are given the power to change whatever it is that holds us back into our greatest purpose. There is a quote I love but it has an unknown author, it goes, “God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling.”
To learn more about Aid The Silent please visit aidthesilent.com
To learn more about Deaf Young Life please visit: aidthesilent.com/DeafYoungLife/
In addition to running the nonprofit, I visit dozens of companies, schools, organizations and events every month to speak to children, teens and adults about overcoming obstacles and working through adversities to follow your dreams despite your boundaries. I am also a Young Life staff member for Deaf Young Life in San Antonio, an organization that helps bring teenagers to the feet of Jesus.
– Emma Faye Rudkin