Sunday, June 13, 2010
So Long Ol' Chums
My life has been full of people who have helped shape my life into the glorious chaos it is today. But this blog is dedicated to a family that has impacted my life so greatly that I put them right up there with my parents. While my parents are responsible for the clay of my life; the content of my character, the substance of my person, both physically and metaphorically speaking, the Chumley family is responsible for what I became, the mold God chose to shape me.
I met David first. He was our church's new Jr. High pastor and I was 15 when we sat next to each other at summer camp and he saw me signing a song to myself during worship. I had always liked signing songs when I was little, Jesus Loves Me, God Is So Good, whatever my Sunday school teachers taught me. But it had been a long time since I had signed anything. That summer though, I had seen a woman signing a musical performance and when I saw a sign language book at a friend's house I picked it up and taught myself a new worship song we were doing in youth group. I can't remember what the song was and it probably wasn't anywhere near conceptually accurate, but I loved signing it. It was like my special secret language with God. When worship was done he asked where I learned to sign. I shrugged and said I just taught myself. I had no idea how fateful that small interaction would be and it wasn't until his wife, Lucinda, spoke in our High School group later that year and said both of their daughters were deaf that I realized the meaning behind his question.
I didn't have much more contact with David until the following spring when he headed up a youth missions team to Romania. The moment I heard about the team I was chomping at the bit to go. And go we did. After months of team building and drama practice we were ready to head out that August. It was an adventure to say the least. He kept his cool and made us laugh for hours when our non-English speaking bus driver abandoned us on the side of the road in the Romanian countryside to go syphon gas from a tractor. He didn't freak out too bad when I forgot to tell him my hotel room number and he couldn't find me and my roommate when we overslept the first day there. On the trip he and his best friend nick-named me zug-zug, from some bizarre Ringo Star movie called Caveman (which I still haven't seen, nor do I care to), and introduced me to my first real boyfriend. Today I still have an email account using my nick name, Scott and I are good friends, I can still recite The Champion and do my best kung-fu demon impression, although I don't have the long hair to swing around anymore. That trip was the first of 6 missions trips I would go on with Chumley. In fact I haven't been on one without him! Romania, Mexico, Mexico, Australia, Mexico, Albania. It would be weird to go without him and I would miss his silly self-portraits showing up in my pictures. I can't count the number of us who suffered that penalty for leaving our cameras out!
After that first trip Chumley asked if I would consider babysitting his girls on Sunday nights while he and Lucinda ran the college group. I was eager to learn more signs and what 16 year-old girl couldn't use a little cash and a chance to talk on the phone with her new, long-distance boyfriend without her parents hanging around (after the girls were asleep of course)! Lucinda started teaching me more signs, practical things like "Time for Bed", "Brush your teeth" and "Stop fighting". After all, "Hallelujah" and "Amen" were only going to get me so far with the two chatter boxes. Tali was 7 and Taylor was 5 when I began watching them. They would often get frustrated when I didn't understand what their furiously flying hands were trying to tell me, but we always found a way to communicate. Soon I found myself falling in love with this family. I loved it when David teased me about Scott. I loved chatting with Lu when they came home at night. I loved watching Tali swing to her heart's content, her blond curls trying to keep up. I loved lying with Taylor on her bed until she fell asleep. It didn't take me long to realize I wanted to become a sign language interpreter. Since then, I can't tell you how many times people have asked me what made me choose this career and every time I get to share the story of this amazing family. Every interpreting job I have ever taken, conversation I have had with a deaf person, or worship song I have signed has had their fingerprints all over it.
Lucinda was the one who really encouraged me to pursue interpreting and over the next several years Lucinda and I became fast friends. She was there for some of the highest highs and lowest lows in my life. One night they came home to find me crying on the couch after I had broken up with Scott. She hugged me and cried too. Lucinda also encouraged my husband to consider dating a younger girl, hinting I was interested (Thanks Lu! I don't know that he would have ever gotten around to asking me out). I'll never forget the night at camp when Lu, the original "dirty horse", was making her rounds as the girls dean and came to hang out in my room. The four of us high school girls and her made such a ruckus that the cabin counselors had to come tell us to be quiet and go to bed. Lucinda had to hide behind the door, hand over her mouth, to keep from getting caught. She also had the unfortunate job of telling me one of my best friends was killed in a car accident. I still remember the sound of my forehead hitting her collar bone and crumpling like a rag doll in her arms. She prayed with me when my grandpa was diagnosed with brain cancer. She snuck into the brides room on my wedding day to pray with me and my bridesmaids.
Jeff worked with the the Chums for 8 years and we served as a couple for four of them. And when the time came that God called us to another church we cried with them and they blessed and released us. Even after we left we kept in touch. David faithfully visited Jeff in the hospital when he was sick and Lucinda brought us grape juice and crackers to share communion before he was discharged. I had the great joy of interpreting for Tali her freshman year of high school and the even greater joy of naming our son Levi David later that year. When the Chumleys planted a church it seemed like we should be one of the first families there but we felt like God had already called us to a church and we needed to stay where we were. But I helped out and interpreted at a women's retreat for Grace Place. While there, God gave me a word for our next child. Hope. I didn't know what it meant at the time but God gave it and I received it. It seemed only fitting I receive it while with Lucinda, after all, her life embodied having hope. Especially when Sarah Hope (their surprise, post-vasectomy baby) showed up. As the months went on though, it became apparent that our next baby was not going to come the traditional way, but we were OK with that. Knowing that David was adopted always inspired us. And we did the same, almost 2 years later we brought home our daughter, Mila Hope.
Earlier this year we were so excited to hear that the Chums were possibly moving closer to us and we definitely were not shy about voicing how we felt about this, telling them of every house for sale in our vicinity and relishing the thought of being able to see them more often. But God obviously had different plans. God has called the Chumleys out of Fresno. As heartbreaking as it is for us. We have learned by their example that God's will is always the best place to be. So, what can I say to a family that has obviously changed my life in innumerable ways? (Cue Ray Boltz's Thank You) Thanks. Thanks for teaching me a new language. Thanks for challenging me to grow and give of myself. Thanks for being part of my life and allowing me to be a part of yours. Thank you for my husband. Thank you for being shoulders to cry and stand on. Thanks for letting me interpret Taylor's high school graduation and bring my interpreting days for your family full circle. And most importantly thanks for being obedient to God's call in your life, to come to Fresno and, now, to move on. (Cue Michael W. Smith's Friends) I know that our friendship will live on through Facebook and email long after you have left town and for the rest of my life you will have a special place in my heart. I am forever grateful and count myself blessed for having been in the wake of your impact. David, Lu, Tali, Taylor, Sarah and Tom (the only cat I've ever liked) I love you all. So long ol' Chums.