Today marks the my first full day of vocal rest. It is the first of three to four weeks of rest that I’ve been instructed to take. What lessons will I learn through this? Will I recover? Can I (an extrovert) survive the silence? These questions are some of the reasons I wanted to write. Writing in my journal or in my blog has always out of my own need to express and think. Writing gets me to slow down enough to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. Right now, typing might be the only way I can get things out of my mind and into the world where I and others can make some sense of it. As I process through writing I hope it benefits you in some way as well.
I guess it would help to start with some back story.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had lost my vocal range and control. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t feel like I had pushed myself too hard and I didn’t have any pain in my throat. At first, I thought it was a fluke but when I tried to sing the next day I was even worse. Considering the fact that I am a worship pastor, this sent my mind in several different directions. First, what am I going to do Sunday? Second, what happens if this is a long term issue? What does this mean for my job, my family? Isn’t it interesting how my first thoughts were the worst case scenario? The following day I took one full day of vocal rest, which means I didn’t speak or whisper for 24 hours. This still didn’t help or at least not noticeably. It was during that day that I discovered another fear about the condition. What if I can’t sing again? I had no idea how often I sing and how deeply I love to sing. That day was maddening.
I’ll speed up the story a bit. I saw my primary care doctor because I suspected that I had some allergies and that maybe that was causing my issues. After a week of treatment and two visits with him, we determined that I did indeed have allergies but that the treatment was not as effective as it should have been. I was given the name of a vocal specialist to see. I decided that I wanted to rule out vocal cord damage. If I had damaged my voice, I couldn’t afford to postpone the treatment.
I saw the specialist and he said I had a litany of different issues affecting my voice. First, I had severe allergies. All these years I just thought it was normal that I had never really breathed through my nose. Second, I had a deviated septum that limited air flow through the nose. Third, I had acid reflux that was affecting my throat and vocal cords. Fourth, I had a nasal infection. Fifth, I had yeast build up in my throat. Finally, there were some signs of vocal strain. The doctor didn’t think my vocal cords were in too bad of shape at first glance. He said he often sees patients with only one of these ailments. I was given quite a few medications and I left the office quite encouraged that there was nothing major wrong with my voice.
Over the next few days, I spoke normally and began the treatment that I thought would have me singing in a few days. Then I got a call mid-morning two days after my visit from the doctor. He said that he had reviewed the footage of my voice further and thought that I had a hemorrhage on one of my vocal folds. Hemorrhage sounded really bad. It is essentially a bruised vocal cord. He reassured me that I would probably be fine but that I needed to take 3-4 weeks of vocal rest, no more than six sentences an hour. After a few moments of panic, I settled down and went silent. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to handle this silence business.
I know my situation is not unique. In fact, now that I am suffering from a vocal issue, I have read many stories of singers who have suffered from similar situations. My goal is not to offer some new insight into a diagnosis like this. My goal is simple, I need a place to put down my thoughts so that I don’t forget the lessons I believe God wants to teach me through this. I don’t know how often I’ll write but I hope to continue jotting down the lessons I’m learning so that I don’t forget. And come on, I need to speak somehow and this is my way of doing that.
My Initial Thoughts
I’ll bare the dirty part of my heart first. I hate this situation. Everything in my flesh wants to through a fit and make sure that I get as much special treatment as I can get. I want to complain. In fact, all of last week that is much of what I did before I was placed on compete vocal rest. I see so many tendencies in me to make these next three to four weeks a living hell for my family. I bet I could even milk this far beyond my treatment and complain about it months or years after I go through it. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging too.
In addition to the fears that crept up in me, these feelings all invited my mind almost instantly after I got off the phone with the doctor. Then I remembered my good friend Rob who was diagnosed with cancer not long ago. How differently he demonstrated his foundation on the gospel then I was wanting to. Rob seemed to see cancer as a press designed to squeeze drops of grace, wisdom, and gospel proclamation out of him. So quickly, God’s spirit in me picked me up out of the mud puddle and asked me to walk through this small trial differently then the last paragraph described. So here his my prayer through this: I pray that I would walk through this with grace and the strength that Christ provides. I’ve already stumbled in that desire but I intend to obey God’s leading through this by his strength.
The Lessons I’m learning
First of all, I do think this is God’s way of slowing me down. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been living a healthier pace of life lately. Not long ago I was pushing myself far too hard and not giving myself rest or sufficient soul food in God’s word and In prayer. Those things have been improving lately. In fact, I think that they were improving to the point that I might have been getting too self-confident again. You see, about six months ago, I told myself that I would take a silent retreat to seek God and find rest. I never did that. Instead, I found some ways to gain the balance of myself without that retreat. Guess what, I think God wanted me on that silent retreat and God is pretty good at getting what he wants. I also believe He is my loving father and what he wants is what is best for me. So here I am, not on a three-day silent retreat but a three to four week one. Touché God touché. LESSON: listen the first time? I can’t say this wouldn’t have happened if I had taken the retreat earlier but what I can say is God wanted me to stop speaking for a while.
I believe I struggle with a verbal form of gluttony and pride. Interestingly, over the past 2 years or so, I’ve noticed that I tend to speak too much and too hastily. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Pro 29:20) “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Pro. 10:19) “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Pro 17:28) I could go on an on listing texts of scripture like this. So yeah, the bible doesn’t advise that you speak too quickly or too much. Again, I had heard God nudging me about this and I had not taken any significant steps to obey his lead. I pray that now I will learn a bit about silence.
This is related to the last point. The doctor told me I could only speak six sentences an hour. Imagine that you were given that doctors order. What words are worth speaking if you only get six sentences an hour? It didn’t take long for me to realize that the words worth speaking are those that comfort or care for people. I felt the strongest urges to speak when I was greeted or when I wanted to express gratitude. I didn’t want someone to feel put off when they greeted me or when a “thank you” was justified. The other words that seem important are words of love. The words that I made absolutely sure I spoke today were the words “I love you” to my girls. I made sure they were looking at me in the eye when I said it too. I didn’t want those words to go wasted. What would you say if you could only say a few things in a day?
Just so I don’t sound holier than I am, the other words I spoke today were used to portray my frustration about something. I bet we can all agree that was not as good a use of my limited word quotient.
I have many other thoughts brewing in my soul. I’ll let those thoughts grow more in me before I share. I’ll leave this post with this challenge from Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)