News Story

Faith Precedes Miracles for Mormon Teen

This is the first story of a series on the value of faith

Three years ago, a devastating diagnosis for an effervescent 11-year-old who loves music, singing and dancing could have had dire consequences, but life took a very different turn for Shanae Demers, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has great faith.

When Shanae learned she had lost 80 per cent of her hearing due to irreversible side effects of an illness, leaving her clinically deaf, the diagnosis was devastating. “I felt like Dumbo in the Disney movie, afraid to fly without his feather,” she said. She wondered, “Why has God done this to me?”

A pivotal point in the acceptance of her condition was when her mother, Terri, suggested she learn sign language. By age 13, it had become Shanae’s passion.

With support and encouragement from family, friends and the community, Shanae turned to God for help to change the world for deaf people. “I know better now that God gives us trials only to strengthen us,” she says. “Prayer helps me have courage to do things even though they are hard. It’s prayer that brought [me] comfort from Heavenly Father. God can and will help us if we are humble enough to ask. We underestimate our own abilities and we underestimate Heavenly Father. With God, nothing is impossible [see Matthew 19:26].”

One day while watching David Archuleta’s music video “Glorious” and reading the words of the song, the lyrics spoke to her. Shanae’s sister, Kitana Demers Isfeld, said her sister knew at that moment her hearing loss was part of who she was and that it was “glorious” because she felt it was part of God’s plan for her. That began a path of self-acceptance and personal growth and changed her trial into a gift. Shanae was the only Canadian chosen to be part of David’s fan video, and as she signed the lyrics, it was her personal debut as a deaf person to her friends and community.

Working with local Church leaders, the Demers family was able to make their ward (congregation) a designated American Sign Language (ASL) ward, whereby those with hearing disabilities anywhere in the stake (similar to a diocese) could attend meetings in which lessons are signed. Most of the ward’s members have some proficiency with ASL.

All the ward young women (ages 12 to 18) can sign their Young Women theme, thanks to Shanae, who also teaches many one-on-one lessons, including lessons to a 3-year-old. Additionally, she waited an extra four months before advancing to the next Young Women class so a new friend would not be the only deaf person in class.

“[Shanae] has a powerful spirit to influence people in a humble and sincere way. Her testimony shines no matter in what language she bears it,” says Terri. “I am blessed to be her mom.”

At 14, Shanae is raising a community of sign language enthusiasts in her school, church and town. She teaches two free community ASL classes and is a member of her high school dance team and cheerleading squad — her team members have even learned ASL for her. She also sings with her hands and voice while she plays the piano, loving the vibrations she feels.

“I’ll never forget the evening she [had us] use ear plugs and headphones to help us understand, firsthand, how deaf and hard-of-hearing people experience the world of sound,” said Heather Burton, one of Shanae’s high school teachers. “Between frustration and painful empathy, several of us were in tears. Shanae’s determination to bridge communication barriers is honestly inspiring … and contagious.”

Shanae says she now knows that “like Dumbo the flying elephant, you don’t need a feather to fly. You just need to believe.”

For Shanae Demers, every day the impossible becomes possible.

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