When we sisters were little, we liked to pretend–anything from making “houses” out of oversized cardboard boxes to playing in make-shift tents out of blankets between our beds or chairs from the kitchen. We also loved to play “spy” in which we would draw maps of our house and set out a course to spy on people in various rooms…which usually was just my Mom in the kitchen who would pretend not to see us. Yes, countless hours of sister fun (and the bickering that seems inevitable in the equation.)
One thing we did occasionally was pretend to sign when entering the grocery store. We would decide before-hand as we exited the car who would be “deaf.” Coming from a small farm town in which everyone knows everyone, this probably seemed like comedy to the onlookers at the store, because everyone knew we were a hearing family..but being a kid that thought never crossed my mind.
My experience with knowing about sign language came at an early age. In the second grade, there was a girl who was Deaf in the classroom next to ours. We often joined classes together for games, crafts, or different lessons so I first saw an interpreter at that time. Not knowing any signs, I would at least try to communicate to the girl at recess by making up motions and pointing to the merry-go-round to see if she wanted to play. If yes, then a smile and the sign for “yes” or a nod of the head and if no, then she would sign to me then just point where she wanted to play. She left after that year to attend the School for the Blind and Deaf. But it was the beginning of sign language for me.
I leaned how to sign “The Pledge of Allegiance” in elementary school, but signing otherwise did not take great interest in me until my oldest sister came back from her junior high church camp and taught me how to sign “Shout to the Lord.” The first summer church camp I attended as a “going into the 7th grade” camper had different afternoon sessions you could choose for activities. I am not entirely sure (ok, NOT SURE AT ALL) where I thought the idea of playing dodge ball would be a great opportunity for fun…because as it turned out, I was the only girl (go figure). I could have done the sign language session–what a poor decision on my part–however, I did have a tiny bit of fun at dodgeball. I just made it a point to get hit, then did nothing until the next game started. Great strategy! And this did not stop me from learning the sign language song either–since all my friends had taken that session and practiced the entire way home, I picked up on it really fast. That was the year I learned Mercy Me’s hit, “I Can Only Imagine.”
It was my freshman year of high school that I desired to learn more sign language. Switching church camps meant there was no longer any formal instruction for learning songs, so I set out to do it on my own. One of the leaders for our youth group was majoring in ASL, so she helped me get a used textbook from the college bookstore. Best $20 ever spent. The dictionary is massive…I still own it. I did acquire another book later in high school and refer to that book most often. (And just for the record–library book sales can be a source of hidden treasures. Yep, believe it–but I just attained my final sign language dictionary for 50 cents!!!)
My signing story is most likely familiar from this point on in life–high school enabled me to be part of leading worship at church whether in the praise band playing bass guitar or signing songs. I took a community ASL class with my Dad and in college I took an ASL 1 course the summer before I started using interpreters full-time at school.
One part of my past history with signing that always brought me great joy was leading the “Sing and Play” at Vacation Bible School. This beginning part of the kids time at VBS was where we sang songs, introduce the Bible buddy/point of the day and perform a little skit. (My sister and I did an epic skit of a horse stampede in which she ran on stage to save me, using that “save a person action” like the movies or commercials…where you run in at full speed and push the person over to safety at the same time you are holding them. We had the kids on the edge of their seats. 🙂 Favorite VBS memory!)
I knew it would be my last year leading this part of VBS, because (1) the next summer I had plans that I would move to Denver with roommates to work and finish school and (2) I could no longer follow words with songs. I have not helped with a VBS since then until this year, although I did volunteer with a kids ministry in Downtown Denver until the move to OH. In early May, when my church announced this year’s VBS dates, I signed up to help serve in the kitchen. I figured this was easiest to help. I knew I would not be a crew leader, due to the fact I can’t hear and my physical body is not in the best condition. In the few days before, plans changed and I was all set to help in the pre-school as a helper for a crew leader. I was told I would just be an extra set of eyes. Seemed reasonable and something I could do.
My group learned a few valuable lessons the first day which has made the past two days since then flow more smoothly:
Mel does not sit on the floor as she can’t stand up without assistance or somewhat falling over; I now am entitled to a chair. 🙂
Mel is not good at holding onto her snacks–if they fall on the cement then it is not edible (today it was my whole bowl of trail mix).
Mel’s crew leader used to be an interpreter and signs everything…which meant the first day, all the five groups in our specific pre-school animal category were exposed to sign language/interpreter action. For my own group, lots of questions were asked…being a kid, they are curious, but the moment they know the answer to “Why?”, life goes on. Sweet days of innocence.
As for me, I got home and wondered what I was thinking when I said yes to helping in pre-school!?! I felt out-of-place, as well as a huge distraction, because I needed extra help and attention. I finally came to the conclusion that I am not a distraction but an opportunity for these kids to see that we are all made different and that we can help each other. VBS week is nearing an end and I know this is the last of my days working with children, but I cherish them because the eyes of a five-year old don’t see a helper with physical problems–they see Mel. And it leaves me with a longing to be like a kid again…
Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to Me; do not get in their way. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to children like these.”