Have you read the phrase “the gift of tongues” in the Bible and wondered what it meant? Well, in the LDS faith we understand it to be not babbling in language that no one understands, but in part, to be able to communicate in a language that others DO understand that is not native to oneself. I had a special experience with it today. It’s my Things my mommy told me post today. Only it will be things I got from my mommy.
My mommy was very animated and expressive and I got that from her. Here’s the story.
Paul and I missed our regular church meetings at 8 am because of an overnight business conference. Sir Calculus overslept without us home and missed it too. So Paul and I got home at 1, picked him up and decided to go to a different ward close to our home at 2 pm.
On the program were about 6 teenagers who had just returned from youth camp experiences and 2 leaders as well. The man conducting announced that one of the boys who had been asked to speak would have his talk read by another young man. I wondered if it was because the speaker was deaf.
Sure enough, 2 young men approach the microphone and one reads while the deaf young man stood and watched him voice. When finished they returned to their places seated on the stand facing the congregation. The boy had no interpreter in front of him. I scanned the audience. I watched this boy fiddle with his paper and smile at those next to him and the congregation. I thought to myself, “How difficult to be a young teen who can’t hear and yet has to sit for an hour doing nothing in front of a couple hundred people. How painfully hard and boring that must be.”
I would hate it. I knew this wasn’t what any of the adults wanted for him. I didn’t know the situation or the people, but I know that in the church often it takes a volunteer to learn ASL and be willing to sacrifice their time and interpret for their fellow ward members. I remembered stories from my deaf companions in the missionary training center. You see, I was called to serve a full time LDS mission and learn ASL. I spent 3 months learning ASL, then 10 months in the English program (regular hearing proselyting) then 3 months working with the deaf and the remainder of my mission back in English in Phoenix in the early 1990’s.
ASL is a use it or lose it language. You can’t read books to keep it up. You can’t watch tv shows of it. You sign with others or lose it. I rarely sign anymore so most of it is gone. I haven’t interpreted a meeting in years, like…more than 10 for sure and it always scared me to have to interpret meetings. I’m not a great signer and I’m a HORRIBLE finger speller and just as horrible fingerspelling reader. You sit in front and all those curious hearing people staring at you and it’s weird at first. But in this moment I was more worried about that young man having to sit there in silence for an hour trying to just sit and….? wonder what was going on for an hour? It’s hard enough for a teen to focus on a meeting they can understand the language of!
I prayed silently, “Heavenly Father, I’m going to to try to help him. Help me. I need you to give me the gift of tongues and I need it immediately. Please bring it back to me. Pour it into me and help me be calm.” I excused myself from my family and sat on the front pew where he could see me. I waved and got his attention. “Do you want me to interpret for you?” I signed. “Yes” he replied. And so it began.
To interpret, I try to relax, clear my mind, listen, think about what the speaker means and portray that meaning in signs and expressions. Sign English is word for word but American Sign Language is different. Gradually, I calmed. When I was stuck, I described in the vocabulary I could remember as best I could. But here is where my mom’s example kicked in. I just expressed what I felt the speaker was feeling. I could see my mother’s own facial expressions in my mind as I felt them on my own face. Her animations, my animations, until I worked my way out of the forgotten vocabulary like a reverent game of charades.
Eventually, my hands were moving in ways I hadn’t seen in years. My fingerspelling was slow, yet surprisingly clear. It wasn’t perfect, but I’d say I performed at about 85% accuracy.
And that, my friends, is how the “gift of tongues” was bestowed upon me today, just for 45 minutes. The boy was able to participate. I felt relieved, and a very grateful new stepmother of the boy embraced me afterwards. His father doesn’t really sign. She is trying to learn ASL. She’s new to it all.
I felt compelled to share in honor of my very expressive mommy, and in honor of the Lord, who is merciful, who uses us to help each other, who will magnify what abilities we have to meet His purposes. It didn’t matter that I was so rusty. It didn’t matter that I’m a terrible finger speller. It didn’t matter that I was terrified. I KNEW that of everybody else in the room, I had more knowledge that God could work with and make something out of if I would open up and lay out the ingredients for Him to work with.
I’ll be back there next Sunday. I started recruiting some volunteers to help me. I found a teen girl with 1 year of ASL under her belt to train. This week I will be studying my scriptures in ASL, meaning I will sign as I read. I’ll also be making a trip to the garage to find my book of ASL religious signs.
I know the Lord will magnify my abilities as I put in my effort to restore them. And I iced my right wrist this evening.
Thank you, Mommy!