Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eye-Opening Memoir

When I began reviewing books and blogging over five years ago, I never expected that reading and writing would open my eyes in the ways that it has. Many of the books I've read seem to blend together in my memory, but there are many that stand out. Recently, I read one that I know will have a lasting impact on me.

The book is Deception by Deb Myers. A good friend of mine is an interpreter for the deaf. She suggested
the book to me, because she knows that I enjoy learning about other people's lives and opening my eyes to worlds I haven't known about before. She's right. I do. Learning about other people's lives helps me make sense of my own and often better understand the people that the Lord brings into my life. And that has already been the case with this book.

Ms. Myers wrote Deception to help her process the past and hopefully help others. Ms. Myers grew up deaf and attended a residential deaf school. After an on again-off again relationship with her high school boyfriend, she entered an affair when she was 17 with one of her teachers, who was married and had a family of his own. This affair lasted several years and it hung around like a monkey on Ms. Myer's shoulders for many years after it ended.

There is some background that I'd like to share before this review. The word “deaf” refers to someone who cannot hear. The word “Deaf” refers to someone who identifies with deaf culture. Not being able to hear drastically changes one's life. We live in a hearing world. In the United States, most deaf people learn ASL (American Sign Language). This is different than the sign language of other countries. Can you imagine the impact of that? 

There are two methods by which children learn to read. The first is phonics and the second is whole language, aka see and say it, aka sight word reading. It has been a common belief among educators that deaf children could not learn to read by phonics since they can't hear sounds in their heads. Recently, there is a new movement to teach deaf children to read using a method of visual phonics. But, because of the differences between English and ASL (which include very different grammar), deaf people often communicate differently than hearing English speakers in their writing. 

I noticed this right away as I began to read Deb Myers' book. Whereas “The Long Awakening” was a very flowery memoir, “Deception” is a straight to the point memoir. You can tell as soon as you begin reading that Ms. Myers has a succinct writing style. The chapters are compact, yet they give the reader a full picture. Sometimes as the reader, I found myself wondering about certain details that I wished were included. But, this was a good wondering for me. Let me explain.

This story is a very sensitive one. It is personal and filled with vulnerability on the author's part. In our culture, the press pushes and believes in the public's “right to know” the truth. As a society, we do not respect the privacy of others and their right to share what they are comfortable with and not share what they don't want to. I was very convicted of the importance of what Ms. Myers chose to share in her story. It is not my place as the reader to presume that I have the right to know other details. Yes, there were some I would have liked to know... like “how did her hearing husband end up signing?” and “are her children hearing or deaf?” These are not necessarily invasive questions, but I can imagine many readers having more invasive questions as they read this book. So, I would encourage any reader to reflect on how they would feel themselves if they were to share a very personal story of their own. I think we all know that there are times when there are details other people don't need to know. Those details may not be respectful of others or of the privacy of others. Those details may not be ours to share.

Then, skip the forward of the book and start with the first chapter. Come back and read the forward after you've finished the book. The forward sets a certain tone that's more in keeping with the ending than the beginning. I think the interview does a better job of setting the tone and helping the reader understand why Ms. Myers wrote this book. The book flows pretty well, but does make a jump in the last two chapters. I would encourage readers realize that sometimes that is the way God works in our own lives. Sometimes ideas just “click”. God teaches us a lesson very suddenly and everything clicks in—the pieces fit in a way that they didn't before. Sometimes there isn't a series of events that gradually lead up to fitting that last piece into the rest of the puzzle so that you can see what the picture really looks like. That is the way the ending of this book fits in. After I read the end, I had to step back and then reflect on the rest of the book. I needed to process what I'd read in light of the ending and make sense of it for myself. As Leland Ryken says in his book Realms of Gold, we read books to help us grapple with the realities of life and the struggles we or others we know face.

For me, reading this book was eye opening. I had never considered that many deaf children leave their families all week and stay at residential deaf schools during the week, only to return on the weekends and holidays. I had never pondered the impact on a deaf family of having both deaf and hearing children. I had never considered how I, as a Christian, could love deaf believers and people who were deaf that the Lord brought into my path. It would be extremely helpful if I could learn some basic signs.

But, there's another more central issue that this book brings up and that is the line that Ms. Myer's teacher crossed. In the book, Ms. Myer takes responsibility for the affair and blames it on herself for much of the book. In reality, she was the victim. Her teacher crossed a line that he was responsible for not crossing. The book is one-sided since it is only Ms. Myer's telling. If you are aware of how the cycle of violence and how people manipulate, you can see the manipulation of the teacher and how he encouraged their relationship in reading her book. You can also get glimpses of how he hid the relationship from others. What the teacher did was wrong. I have learned in my own life that when I feel I need to hide something, there is something wrong that I need to address. You will see that in Ms. Myer's recollections of her own feelings. Yes, she did approach the teacher and had a part in what happened, but is that what the reader should dwell on?

I don't think so. Instead, I think we need to dwell on the need for solid relationships with our children as they enter their teen years. I think we need to care about the young high school and college age women in our churches. They need solid, biblical input. They need to know they are loved for who they are. They need to know that God loves them. Young women will search for love in other relationships if they don't have it. The love and approval of one's father is something daughters deeply desire. I know that I have sought this out myself. I have tried to fill a hole with the approval of others. And if you know someone who has been in such a relationship, show them grace and love. Realize that they are living with pain from their pasts. Comfort and do not judge. God does call us all to repentance and He forgives us. But, any relationship takes two people, when someone shares a story with you, remember there was another person involved and that person had a part in it. Love and show grace. This is what God has laid on my heart to do.

I remember a few years ago when I read the book Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild. I highly recommend this book to young women in their late teens and twenties. For younger girls in middle school, I'd recommend Beth Moore's book So Long, Insecurity (teen edition). Both books can help young women learn what wise boundaries are when it comes to boys and young men.

What did I take from this book?
  1. A greater understanding of what it means to live as a Deaf person in a hearing world.
  2. The need for me to learn some signs.
  3. Encouragement to love and reach out to the young women in my church and who God brings into my life.
  4. A stretching of my heart.
  5. An opening of my eyes to the life of another believer.

God has already used this book in my life. Because of my questions and learning more about the Deaf culture, I was able to have an encouraging conversation with a mom at a church yard sale last weekend about her son. I noticed her signing with him and commented on how wonderful that is. I had always assumed that deaf people should simply learn to read lips. But, I learned just two weeks ago after reading this book that reading lips is only 20-30% effective. Signing is much more effective in communicating thoughts to someone who can't hear. We had a neat conversation about all of this and about where her son goes to school and her hopes for him long term. She and her husband are hearing.

Reading this book has enriched my life and I'm thankful that the Lord brought it across my path...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Life Sentence Publishing.

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