Since I’m out West with my Arizona sister on a road trip in her RV – our annual “sisterly adventure,” I’m scheduling one of my longer testimonies in three parts. Today, Part 1:
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
The doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, the thought that a simple surgery could solve multiple minor physical nuisances was appealing; on the other hand, the site of the surgery was uncomfortably close to the voice box, and frankly I had grown kind of attached to my voice.
I had formed my identity largely based on my voice. Yes, I was a writer, but lately my business cards had been redesigned to include other things I did:
“Author/Speaker/Singer/Songwriter/Musician.” (Right after the cards were printed, I heard a sermon with the message: “Your identity is not found in what you do.” Oops.)
I loved serving the LORD with my voice. My personal devotions included singing to Him while playing my guitar or harp. I took my instruments to the local hospital to sing to the patients, and I had occasional speaking engagements to deliver messages to women, youth, or church congregations. And my two favorite things to do with my children, and now my grandchildren, were singing to them and reading to them. Always loving an excuse to reread The Chronicles of Narnia and other childhood favorites, I would tap into my theatrical training and play the part of each character, using different voices an dialects. In my interactions with people – those I knew as well as strangers – I seized every opportunity to tell about my latest answer to prayer … or for that matter, detailed stories of God’s grace in my life that I had repeated often over the years. (An instructor at a speaker’s conference once told me I was a born storyteller.)
Of course, I prayed that my voice would be OK through this surgery, and I trusted that if God wanted to use my voice, He’d certainly protect it. But I had also walked with Him long enough to know that His thoughts are not my thoughts; His plan for me might not line up with my own plans and preferences. While I personally enjoyed worshiping the Lord and glorifying Him with my voice, if He had other, better plans for me to serve Him, I certainly wanted to be open to them, and I told Him so. Inwardly, though, I did fervently hope that His plan would not include taking away the gift He had allowed me to use and enjoy for so long. So, I had to remind myself repeatedly that God knew best, and that I refused to give in to fear.
My doctor assured me there was little chance that I would lose my voice. She had even searched out a surgeon that used the latest cutting-edge equipment to protect the vocal cords; this surgeon had done the same operation on a backup singer for a big-name rock star. Still, there was no guarantee, and I didn’t want to be presumptuous. So I prayed, yielded my will to the Lord, and explored various other ways I could glorify Him without a voice. Of course, I could continue to write, I just wouldn’t be able to speak at any book signings, church services, or other gatherings. I supposed I could continue to play my instruments, but most of my music was purely to accompany my singing, so I considered going back to earlier interests in art, crafts, even gourmet cooking. These were pleasant thoughts, but deep down was a nagging, gnawing feeling of dread at the thought that I might be left with these only, voiceless.
The nagging imaginations of life as a mute were based on my experience of being unable to speak years ago in college. Persistent throat infections had taken their toll, and I’d been told by a specialist that I may or may not have permanently damaged my voice. He had told me that it was best for me not to speak for a month and not to sing for a year. As a theater major, this had been a major thing! I’d been forced to drop out of the singing groups I was in, and for my final performance in acting class, I’d done a mime, even though we had received no instruction in mime. (Please don’t ask how that went.) Probably the worst part of this ordeal had been living in the midst of other college students, who were having discussions of every topic under the sun, having so much to say, and having to write it all down. People had been patient and tolerant for a while, but eventually I’d begun to feel it was an imposition to expect people to wait for me to write everything down and try to decipher my handwriting, which had become steadily worse with my attempts to write at lightning speed with ever-growing writer’s cramp. Finally I would retreat to my room and do most of my talking to God, as the tears rolled down my face, accompanied by Simon and Garfunkle singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on my record player. (Record player? … Yes, that was a while ago.)
As I anticipated the possibility of being voiceless again, maybe permanently, the memory of the loneliness enveloped me in a cold darkness, and I couldn’t quite worship with the complete abandon that I wanted to.
… To be continued …
Prayer: LORD, my life is in Your hands. Whether I have everything I want, or things aren’t the way I’d like, or I’m anticipating losing something precious to me, I am utterly dependent on You every minute of every day. But I trust You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.