Called to Serve

Our family has attended the Capitol Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the last 8 years since we moved to Maryland. It's our church family. In October 2017, my husband was called to serve as the Branch President of the ASL branch that meets in downtown DC. The Branch President serves as the main pastor for the congregation for a few years. It's a lay position - he keeps his job and ministers on evenings and weekends. This means a lot of things to our family:
  • Changing our church congregation, leaving behind our friends from one ward and going to church with other friends in the branch.It means leaving behind our responsibilities and service projects we were working on and accepting new ones. Basically, it's just like moving, but without having to pack our stuff :)
  • A call to sacrifice for the Lord. Serving as a Branch President is a weighty calling, and it requires time and emotional investment. Marriner accepted that responsibility, and the rest of us prepared to get used to not seeing Dad so much for the next few years.
  • An urgent need to learn a language that we're currently at about survival level in.
Any of these three things would be a big deal, but all three of them together have created a lot of emotions in all of us (except for maybe Baby Jane, whose only sacrifice will be missing her 1:00 nap on Sundays, since the branch meets in the afternoon.)

There have been so many faith-promoting experiences in the last few weeks, I've felt a need to record some of them, so this is my attempt. The older posts are some other spiritual experiences I've had in previous years.

I've moved!

posted Feb 26, 2018, 5:35 PM by Christine Merrill

Well, I wrote blog posts for 4 months. I finally decided to tell people about my posts. They complained that they couldn't comment. I decided to separate my posts from my webpage and start an actual blog. I moved all my posts over, and I'm writing there now. So if you actually want MORE - I'm amazed. But here's the link :)

Love, Christine

Getting into the scriptures

posted Feb 5, 2018, 10:40 AM by Christine Merrill

Yesterday at church was a rough day. Lugging my family and bags through the freezing rain, tired and grumpy kids (mine and the ones in Primary), a general feeling of panic that everything wasn't going to work out, ya know. But there was one great little part of the day I want to write about. 

For Sharing time, we were teaching about the creation of the world. The plan suggested to have the kids break into 6 groups, read the scripture of what happened on each of the days, then draw a picture of it on the black board. One of the things that bothers me with ASL is that you don't seem to get the same relationship with the scriptures as you do in English. Most of the time, it's too hard to show a video of a scripture, so people just translate it on the fly. But when you do that, you don't get that relationship of seeing the same scripture over and over again. It's that feeling of meeting a friend that you know and love well. But technology is advancing, and I've wanted to use the scriptures more in my lessons, so I pondered how to adapt this lesson for the branch.

I decided to use the ASL Bible and have the kids watch the scriptures, then see if they could figure out what was created each day. I think it's pretty similar to reading the scriptures in English - the language is deeper and more difficult to understand than normal conversation, so it takes some getting used to, at least for kids. I used the Jehovah's Witness's translation of the bible, which has links to each verse so you can look at the exact verse you want. That's lovely. In contrast, the Book of Mormon is only indexed by chapter, so you have to guess how far the verse you want is. Blech.

For Senior Primary, we did the whole thing in ASL. We "read" scriptures in ASL, discussed what they meant in ASL, and it was amazing. The kids did great! My tablet is a little small, so we had to turn off the lights, pull the curtains and crowd around the screen...but everyone could see, and I loved seeing even my tough nuts mostly engaged!

The funniest part of the day was when one of the boys drew what was created on Day 6: A dinosaur to represent the "beasts" and a person. The rest of the lesson, when we talked about Day 6, it was "Dinosaurs and People." And yeah, I totally knew the sign for dinosaur already, because I'm awesome :)

Pioneer children sang as they walked

posted Jan 30, 2018, 10:32 AM by Christine Merrill

While our previous ward's building was located in a somewhat industrial area of suburban Maryland, we now go to the Capitol Hill building, so named's in Eastern Market :) Which is right next to Capitol Hill. It's a GORGEOUS new building, built in the spot of an old church that had been put into a gutted Safeway. It's an adorable urban spot, with lots of people walking, high density housing, chic restaurants, etc. 

Alas, the parking isn't easy. There is a 20-spot parking garage below the church, but most of those spots are taken by people in the ward that meets before us. They're not being selfish, only people who can't walk park below. There's just not enough room for everyone. So we park on the street.

I'd like to say (very humbly) that I've always been good at parallel parking. (Well, not when I flunked my drivers test the first time, but you know....) So that part doesn't bug me. I do wish I wasn't driving a hulking minivan. Man, if I had my Mazda5 back, I'd park like a boss. 

The only really annoying part is that I'm always bringing about 20 tons of junk to church. This week, I had my diaper bag, my "quiet things to do during Sacrament meeting" bag, my bag of all my books and manuals and lesson plans, a poster showing how to play "I am a Child of God" on hand bells, the bag of hand bells, all the kids' scriptures and the baby. Everyone has 2 hands full of stuff. 

We were lucky this week, and got a spot only 2 blocks away. I think 4 is our maximum so far. I don't mind the walk, but oh, the stuff!

Maybe we should bring our wagon to church...

One point for Sister Merrill!

posted Jan 29, 2018, 10:48 AM by Christine Merrill

In the constant battle to get kids to pay attention, I scored!

And I don't even feel bad that it involved sugar.

It was only a little bit....

I made little meringues this week. If you've never had them, one of the kids descirbed it well - they're like icing baked into solid form. But I made them little Hershey kiss-size. I got up, we sang a song, and I rewarded everyone who was participating with a meringue. And suddenly everyone was interested in participating! 

And, as prophesied (to myself, if not to everyone else...) as soon as they were all participating, we had a lot of fun. We found out that everyone has the first verse of "I am a Child of God" memorized in both languages well. We celebrated by playing it on the hand bells my sister gave us for Christmas. Then we had time to learn the 2nd verse. And we got out the hand bells again just for fun. Everyone was happy and smiling, we were happy to be singing and snacking together, and it was a great time.

We'll see next week if they've decided I'm cool now or not...crossing fingers!!

New Beginnings

posted Jan 29, 2018, 10:36 AM by Christine Merrill

I have an 11-yr old daughter, which means that pretty soon, she'll graduate from Primary (or Junior Sunday School) and enter the youth program, known eloquently as "Young Women". Yesterday the YW had a start of the year program and did a big welcome for all the girls coming in during the year. That is, just Ellis. Hey, guys, we're a branch, of course there's only one girl! But being in a branch isn't always bad...because when there's only 1 new girl, you can welcome her in STYLE!

First they did a little spotlight on her and introduced her to everyone, then they gave her a fancy glittery box of truffles and a chocolate rose. Later they gave everyone a box of M&Ms and a Snapple that had the labels changed to match the theme for the year. Let's just say she was popular when she came home!

The other girls in the YW program opened their arms up wide and made Ellis feel like her birthday was the most looked-forward-to event of the year. If being in the branch will make my daughter like these other girls, then being here is one of the best blessings I could hope for!

Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water

posted Jan 25, 2018, 11:18 AM by Christine Merrill

We had Activity Days last night, which is an activity for 8-11 yr old kids. We're doing it once a month instead of the twice a month my kids are used to, just because of travel time. We did an activity to pass of a requirement in the Faith in God program. We read D&C 89, discussed the blessings of the Word of Wisdom, then planned an activity to teach about the WofW to the other kids in Primary. 

I think this would have been an awesomely successful activity in English. I'm really good at teaching older kids in English. When we got done with the activity last night, I sat in my car feeling a little drained. I realized that I'm not actually very good at teaching kids in ASL. I'm not even going to list the reasons why not, there are a lot of them. And talking to grown-ups is still stressful. 

I know, unrealistic expectations. What, I'm not amazing and perfectly fluent after 3 months?!?!?

But still, being realistic doesn't make it FUN to not be very good at your life yet.

I have to keep going. I can't hide or only talk to other English speakers or stay where I am. I have to make myself get better. 

Stake Conference

posted Jan 21, 2018, 5:20 PM by Christine Merrill

This week was Stake Conference, which meant two big things for me:
  1. I didn't have to prepare anything for Primary! Woohoo, week off!
  2. We got to see all of our old Capitol Ward friends!
Our stake broadcasts to every building, so most everyone just goes to church like normal. But there are some conveniences of having the ASL branch meet at the Stake Center, which is also the building where the Capitol Ward meets. It makes for a weird combination of going to church the old way and the new way, both at the same time :)

Confession: In some ways, I really loved the week off. It was nice to not have any lessons to prepare, and honestly, it was nice to have a relaxing week of listening and talking, and not thinking really hard to communicate.

Best part of the week: Talking to friends I haven't seen in 3 months. So fun to catch up with people. Some of our old friends got new calling, advanced in the priesthood, said prayers or gave testimonies, and it was wonderful to feel the glow of their faith. Seeing old friends is good for the mental health! Which is funny, because they weren't "old friends" a couple months ago :)

Hardest part of the week: I have Deaf friends and hearing friends. None of them know each other. I want them to all be friends. These are all people who have had a great influence on my life. I tell stories about things I learned from them all the time. I wish they could all get to know each other. But there is such a language wall, and I don't sign well enough to bridge the wall. It just becomes awkward, and I wish I knew more, and had more ability to make everything more inclusive. Not just language ability, but social skills, too. 

A pattern I've observed: When I run into a friend from the Capitol ward, they always say, "Hey! How are things going?" and then there's sort of a pause, a look that says, "No really, how are things going? Are you guys doing ok? Are you able to handle this really big request from the Lord?" I don't really have a great response, I usually say, "Yeah, we're doing great, having a lot of fun." I hope that is sufficient to let them know that the calling really wasn't a horrible thing to do to our family. Because the long answer is just way more than they have time for. I mean, I could write a whole blog about the experiences and adventures we're having...

Oh yeah, I am writing a whole blog about it :)

I know my numbers!

posted Jan 21, 2018, 4:53 PM by Christine Merrill

A friend asked me how many kids I have.

In ASL, you hold up your thumb and first two fingers for 3, and your middle three fingers is 6. So the sign for 6 is the way most English speakers would do 3.

So I hold up my middle 3 fingers, because I have 6 kids.

But you know, 6 is such a crazy number for me to hold up, and I'm pretty new at ASL, so my friend is sure I must have meant 3.

"NO, really, 6!"

"You mean 3?"

After about the 4th time, she finally believed me. Which is good, because I was afraid I'd have to call all my kids back from running down the hall and around the church to prove that I really have 6 kids :)

Teaching children

posted Jan 16, 2018, 9:54 AM by Christine Merrill

I decided to turn off my voice this week in Primary, except during singing time. I had a great conversation with another member of the Primary presidency last week and decided that it's harder, but it's important for the kids - both to learn ASL better and because their other teachers are deaf, so they need the consistency. 

It was harder. And discouraging.

I asked two kids to translate a sentence, and I was totally surprised, they couldn't do it very well! Like, asking me "how do you sign 'is'?" And finger spelling every. Single. Word. There were so many times when I just didn't think these kids understood anything. 

In senior Primary, I asked everyone to look at me so I could bear my testimony. I'd wave at one kid and tell him to look at me, then the next kid - and by the time I got that kid's attention, the other had wandered off again. In the end, I bore my testimony to 2 kids. I know nobody else paid attention because after I said, "If you can tell me what I just said about when I was in high school, you can help me choose the songs for singing time." Two kids raised their hands and the other 3 said, "What? When did you talk about high school? That's not fair!" 

The next night, we did a sign language Family Home Evening. It was the same. So hard to get people to look at the same time. So hard to keep people paying attention. Even to a topic you know they'd be interested in (in English). 

So here's the question: how do you teach someone in the language they'd rather not communicate in, when they know very well that you could switch if you wanted to? 

I've been thinking about how helping the learn and understand ASL in some formal ways could help - memorizing scriptures or reciting phrases. Marriner points out that being really interesting visually can help keep the attention. And finally, motivational incentives can build habits of paying attention. You know, rewards for answering questions and such. 

I'm thinking of making a sign to wear: "Sister Merrill is using ASL" on one side and "Sister Merrill can speak English" on the other to help differentiate between times when I can speak (singing time) and when it's voices off.

The long and short of it is that you can't make someone pay attention to you in ASL like you can when you're speaking. So you have to be more interesting. I think they'd think I'm interesting if they gave me a chance. Hopefully, I can convince them that I'm worth paying attention to!

My first sacrament meeting talk!

posted Jan 16, 2018, 7:52 AM by Christine Merrill

I spoke in sacrament meeting this week! Woohoo! I was asked to talk about things I remember about President Monson, who passed away last week. Man, there was so much you could say. I didn't realize until I started looking back just how much I learned from him. When he first became prophet, I felt like he just told stories and didn't ever teach anything. I'm smarter now - I realize how much I learned from him through his stories, as well as through his catchy quotes. Keeping with his style, I talked about 3 things.
  1. Never let a problem to be solve be more important than a person to be loved.
  2. Read the Book of Mormon every day.
  3. Go and find someone who is having a hard time and do something for them. - his birthday wish.
I didn't say much about each thing, it took a long time to figure out how to just explain each point and share a bit about why I chose it. My whole talk was 2 pages, large type. I was pretty worried about being really short and leaving the last speaker with gobs of time...but fortunately, the last speaker was someone who can pretty much do anything, so I knew things would be fine. Still, it's not so nice to leave the last person with half an hour to talk, right?

I didn't need to worry. I talk a lot more slowly in ASL, and I took 20 minutes. The branch president was about to kick me to get me to sit down. 

The stake president was visiting our branch - he called a new branch clerk - so we had translation again. It's so hard to just tune out and keep talking.I did better than last time, but there was one part that they just translated wrong, and I stopped and tried to figure out how to sign it better. I just couldn't figure it out. Finally, the translator got what I meant to say, and we moved on. 

I wasn't sure how to write my talk down, but I ended up writing it gloss-style, pretty much word-for-word. For example, "President Monson, he himself teach me lots."

The best part of the talk was when people laughed at the humorous part! I told about how I didn't understand much when we first came to the branch, but every week I would have a moment of clarity when I could understand and learn from Sacrament meeting, and what a blessing that was to me. And now it was their turn to experience that, because even if they can't understand everything I sigh, they can learn through the holy ghost, too! :)

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