Greater Than Series: Emily Thuston Bennett
A note from Jen: I’m continuing to share inspiring stories from my friends in the Greater Than series. The idea behind the phrase “Greater > Than” is that we are all greater than the challenges life presents us, and we can get through them!
Today, meet a friend I’ve known since middle school. Between school and church, I’ve always enjoyed being around Emily. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious, her ability to encourage those around her is inspiring, and her strength can only be explained by her love for Jesus.
“Your daughter is profoundly deaf.” The proverbial 18-wheeler crashed into me with no mercy. I was 22, and a brand new first time mom. Why me? I was supposed to be picking out colors for hair bows… not hearing aids.
“I have small cell carcinoma lung cancer”… followed by, “Your mom may have less than 24 hours to live” just seventeen months later. I was 26. Too young to lose my mom. I had already lost so many years due to estrangement. I needed her.
“Mommy and Daddy are taking time apart.” The last words you ever want to say while the four pairs of blue eyes that you created together look back at you and fill with tears.
None of the above situations were ever in the plans I had for my life.
I didn’t think my baby would be bald, let alone have profound deafness. The innocence and wonder of navigating motherhood for the first time was rocked by constant ENT and Audiology appointments, MRIs and hours on the highway to and from UNC. I was supposed to be at home rocking my baby to sleep, not holding her head steady for new hearing aid molds every two weeks. I was supposed to have play dates on Wednesdays, not hour long sessions of Auditory-Verbal speech therapy.
When I first learned of her deafness, I cried out to God and angrily told Him that He chose the wrong mother to have a deaf baby. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t even know how to nurse, how was I supposed to figure out hearing loss? But I loved my daughter and I was going to fight for her and do everything to give her the best life possible- hearing or not.
My mom had smoked since she was 12. Packs a day. I knew lung cancer was a high probability at some point, but diagnosed at 59? I was 24 with two young children. My mom and I were finally putting the pieces back together after about seven years of estrangement following my parents’ divorce. I finally realized she wasn’t a bad mom or a bad person; she made her own decisions in her life. And I needed her. I watched her tackle chemotherapy and radiation, but the pain of knowing it was futile in the long run was a lot to bear. Nothing could have prepared me for the frantic phone call that she was declining, or the 12 days of hospice that followed before she went home to Heaven.
No bride ever puts on her wedding gown on her wedding day, looks in the mirror, and says to herself, “This will probably end in about ten years”.
I didn’t. I thought I was above statistics. I never imagined that a decade later I would walk into a counselor’s office, terrified of the stigma, and in a deep depression. My marriage was falling apart, broken beyond belief, and the pain engulfed me. I thought I was good at playing it off, channeling every ounce of extroverted memory I had to act fine… but I was a shell of a person and didn’t even recognize myself. I realized why Robin Williams took his own life. The seemingly happiest person on the planet, who made everyone else laugh, was dying inside. While I never had self-harm thoughts, the trenches of my depression were deep and dark and suffocating.
In each circumstance, I remember feeling my absolute weakest.
I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to look to others who had been through similar situations and had come out on the other side to remind myself that I would make it. I had to speak Truth to myself and remember that God was with me and would carry me even when I couldn’t feel Him or hear Him.
Now, I’m the one on the other side of these things. I can look back and remember the pain, but it doesn’t paralyze me anymore. I can pinpoint where I felt God had forgotten me in my despair, and see how in those moments His power was made perfect in my weakness. I am not the same person I was before having a deaf daughter, watching my mother die, or enduring a failed marriage. I’m stronger, less judgmental, and more trusting of God’s character.
Last year, I was getting ready for work and thoughts were running rampant in my mind.
I was dealing with circumstantial anxiety regarding my separation.
I was listening to the lies of the enemy telling me that if we separated, I would taint the Gospel and my ministry to others would be over. That God wouldn’t use me anymore.
I questioned how God would be able to make the Gospel known through my broken marriage.
While this ran over and over in my mind like a hamster on a wheel, I dropped my bronzer on the floor. Any girl reading this knows the dread of dropping any sort of pressed compact make up on the floor. I knew when I picked it up, the bronzer would be a shattered, broken mess. I picked it up, and sure enough, it was a disaster.
I sighed (read: cussed) and thought to myself, “Well, I don’t have time to get any on the way to work. And even though it’s broken, it can still be used for the same purpose. It just looks different.” I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at myself in the mirror with my mouth hanging open. The Lord used my stupid E.L.F. bronzer to minister to my heart and speak Truth to my soul.
While my life doesn’t look anything like I planned, and it’s a series of broken messes, God can still use me to serve the same purpose.
To love Him and love others. It just looks different now. And to think I had the power to taint the Gospel is insanely egotistical. I cannot add to or take away from the Gospel. The Gospel is Christ, and Christ crucified, and Christ risen. If I’m willing, He will use my mess to glorify Him and serve others in a way that can only be attributed to Him.
We all go through seasons of hurt- some longer than others. If I have learned anything through my trials, it is to steward pain well, knowing that God is faithful and will carry you through.
When you are at your weakest, know that in those moments His power is made perfect and you will look back on those times and not despise the pain. Rather, an unusual gratefulness will take root in your heart for the hard times. Without them, you wouldn’t be the strong and courageous person you have become.