Long ago on a dark and stormy night . . . just kidding. It was probably a rainy day in California when my mom and my aunt took their seats in their first American Sign Language class together. This was way before I was even a thought, especially since my mom had been told that she would never have kids. Fortunately, God had a plan that neither the doctors nor my mom knew about and, needless to say, I am here and I have siblings. The doctors told my mom that my oldest sibling never should have been born and promised her she would never have any more children. Ten years later, much to her surprise, but not God’s, she had me. I was born premature and had a lot of medical problems. I was on a heart monitor for a very long time and alarms and CPR were part of the daily routine. No one ever thought that I would live, but my mom continued to pray and she knew that God had a plan for my life since He had allowed me to be born and kept me alive.
My mom is a Christian who learned about Jesus from my great-grandmother. I am so looking forward to meeting her in Heaven. Growing up, my mom taught me about Jesus and how much He loved me and that He had a plan for my life. When I was about four, I prayed with my mom and accepted Jesus in my heart. I wanted to be Jesus’ friend because He was the love of my life and because He had given everything for me. When I was six, again, God worked out His plan, and my best friend was born. Though we were years apart, we were inseparable and I taught him everything I knew.
In third grade, my mom taught me my first official sign language class (I was homeschooled, thank You, Jesus!). In the class, I learned how to fingerspell and learned all of the signs that she knew. It wasn’t a lot, but it got me interested. Growing up, I helped out in the Children’s Ministry at my church, usually in whatever class my brother was in. I loved leading the songs that had motions and making up motions for the ones that didn’t.
I attended public school for sixth and seventh grade. I also began attending the youth group at my church. One night they showed a movie. It was a dramatic movie about the events that are described in the book of Revelation when God judges the earth in a last-ditch effort hoping they will turn to Him and seek forgiveness. After watching this movie, I considered how I had prayed and asked Jesus to come into my heart, but that I really felt more like my relationship was tied to my family’s. That night when my mom picked me up, I told her about the movie and how I wanted to know for sure that my relationship with God was right. We prayed together that night and I fully surrendered every part of my life to God and started my own relationship with God.
Now those who know me are shocked and in disbelief when I tell them this, but I was a horrible child. My mom often wondered how I would ever grow up to be someone anyone would want to be around. When I surrendered my life to Christ, He changed me. My mom describes it by saying “Courtney became sweet”. She said that everyone noticed a huge difference in me.
When I was fifteen, I took a sign language class taught by a woman whose husband is Deaf. I learned a lot of vocabulary during the class, but not how to hold a conversation. At the end of the class, she taught “Shout to the Lord” in sign language. After that, I started signing the words I knew during worship at church.
When I was sixteen, I graduated high school and began working full-time in the office at the family business. During that time, I became very active in my church’s youth group. I went on mission trips, served in most of the ministries, attended Bible studies, witnessing nights at the beach, and spent my time reading my Bible and growing closer to Jesus. Now, you have to realize that I wasn’t being forced to do this. I did this because God has done everything for me and I wanted to get to know Him and do whatever He called me to do.
After working full-time for two years, I began hearing about a Christian college. Literally every person I met or talked to was telling me about how great this college was. I had originally told my parents that I wanted to get married and have kids and that I would not ever be attending college. Much to their surprise, I came to them with how I felt that God was leading me to go to college. They were worried because we definitely didn’t have the money, but they had always taught me that “Where God guides, God provides”. I was officially accepted to my only college of choice and began my lengthy career as a college student.
My sophomore year of college, my family and I began attending a church pastored by one of my professors. I was thrilled to find out that they had a Deaf ministry! They had interpreting at the services, a class taught by one of the Deaf ladies in her home, and opportunities to talk to people. I soon learned that even with my large vocabulary, I had no idea how to hold a simple conversation. I began attending the class and making friends in the Deaf community and God miraculously allowed me to learn instantly everything I saw.
One Sunday morning, none of the interpreters showed up. When worship started, my mom told me that I should go up and interpret since I sign all the songs from my seat every week anyway. After a little fuss, because I was super nervous, I went up on stage and began signing the songs (one of my favorite things to sign). When the interpreter arrived, she told me that she would add me to the rotation and I began interpreting worship. One of the guys in the ministry was my age and I ended up doing some interpreting for him. He later attended my college and I began interpreting at the college for him as well as privately. In the meantime, the interpreter at our church had become injured and I took over interpreting for the service as well as the worship. It was really God empowering me to do it and opening up all the doors.
I decided on teaching as my major and eventually accepted a position as an aide at a local Deaf residential school while I was attending school. I think that is by far one of my favorite jobs that I have had. At that point, I was introduced to ASL for the first time. Up until then, I had signed PSE (Pidgin Signed English) which is ASL signs in an English word order. I didn’t know that ASL had its own structure and grammar and I for sure had no clue how to sign it. I learned a lot during that school year from my Pre-K through 5th grade students (all of which could sign better than me) as well as the other teachers that I worked with.
When I graduated college, I had planned to go straight into the credential program and then to a Deaf and Hard-of-hearing credential program. I then found out that my plans were not going to work out the way that I was thinking. My parents suggested that I attend Bible college where a lot of my friends had gone and where I had been dying to go when I was sixteen (but was too young). I prayed about it and eventually decided to go.
During that first semester, God really stretched me in my relationships with other people (6 girls in a little, tiny dorm room with two bathrooms . . . seriously what were they thinking???). My second semester, I had really, REALLY, wanted to go to an extension campus. I decided on Israel until they started having bombings and my parents said no. I then took a Biblical Counseling class with the director of the Colorado extension campus and decided that the outdoor experience was for me. I dyed my hair brown for my birthday and asked for snow boots and a cowboy hat. I was going to go camping, fishing, hiking, and have an all-around amazing time. I was all signed up to go when I began to have no peace about it. I decided not to go and that I would just stay at that campus. Though I made that decision, I was completely miserable and was dying to go (since I believed the lie that EVERY person I knew was going somewhere cool).
I was working in the Registrar’s Office over break and, while entering grades, saw the name of an old friend’s dad. He was teaching at a campus in Kauai, HI which I didn’t even know existed. My mom, though she didn’t want to see me go, encouraged me to look into going. I called up and found out that I could go indeed! While applying, my mom YouTubed the school and saw that they actually live in safari tents. She called me to see if her city girl was still okay with that. I told her that anything was fine and that I was willing to go with no expectations. Within a few days, I was on a plane with just two suitcases and a backpack! I was freaking out but so excited for whatever God had for me. I got my classes figured out and met my three amazing roommates and the other students and began getting involved in my new church family.
One of the ladies in the church told me how one of the girls had wanted to learn to sign and asked if I would be willing to teach. I told her I would and set it up to meet with this girl. Her mom later asked if her friend could come and I figured that would be even better since they would be able to practice together. On the day of our meeting, both girls and their siblings showed up and I had five sweet kids running around. After our first meeting, I got a call asking if their five neighbor kids could come. By the end of my semester, I had about twelve kids in my bi-weekly class who had learned to sign songs, colors, numbers, the alphabet, their names, and anything else that I could think to teach them. It was an amazing semester full of studying the Bible, great Christian fellowship with like-minded believers, and doing amazing outdoors-y things that I had been thinking would happen in Colorado, but that God knew would be even better in Hawaii (though I’d actually never considered going to Hawaii . . . ever). I loved teaching my Kauai Kid’s Sign Language class and I missed all of my kids so much!
When I got back, I decided I would make them tutorials of the things that I had taught them and other things that they wanted to learn and put them on YouTube. I finished three more semesters of Bible college, two of which I got to enjoy with my brother (who you will catch glimpses of when I have him help me with dialogues). No, we aren’t married, dating, or twins, but we are the best of friends. 🙂 Throughout my two and a half years in Bible college, I really learned that I must “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”. My mom has always taught me that you have to “Put everything in your backpack for God.”. That means that even if you don’t understand why you are learning something or doing something, if you do it with the willingness to glorify God, He can pull it out and use it whenever He wants.
When I graduated Bible college, I began attending another college that I heard had a really good interpreting program. I figured why not get better at signing, something I love and that God has gifted me in, since He hasn’t given me any huge word on what I was supposed to do next. Sometimes people refer to how God gives you something to do and you just totally know (like how I knew I should go to college) and other times, things just make sense and He opens all the doors (like starting the interpreting program). I attended there for a year before their program changed and I couldn’t get any of the classes I needed.
During the time since I graduated Bible college, I became active in my church’s Deaf ministry. I started interpreting at church on Sundays and Wednesdays and getting to know those involved. I was eventually asked to teach the sign language class to which I was thrilled to say yes. I decided that since many people were interested in my tutorials, I should record my classes and post those as well. You can see my class under the “American Sign Language 1 Class” link on my homepage. I randomly got a call from someone at my college saying that a friend had recommended me as an interpreter and, by the way, was I available in three hours to interpret. I accepted, even though I had the flu, and I was later asked to interpret for the Spring semester. I have to say that I never thought I would love interpreting as much as I do, but I LOVE interpreting!
April 1, 2013 I was home with the flu and Sign With Courtney was born. I was teaching a community ASL class at my church at the time and I decided that it would be easiest to post all of my class videos in order rather than trying to leave people to sort them out on YouTube. From teaching the classes there, I found out that I really REALLY LOVED teaching ASL. So now you know my main loves: Teaching, interpreting, and Jesus.
I love telling other people how much God loves them and how He proved it by dying for us on the cross. So many people think that they can get to Heaven by being good or going to church, but it’s not about that at all. The Bible says ” . . . all have sinned [broken one of the ten commandments, done something “bad” or “wrong”] and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). It also says that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Everyone has told a lie, disrespected their parents, hated someone (which God looks at like murder), or had a lustful thought (which God equates to having fornicated or committed adultery). We can always find someone who is worse than us, but that isn’t the way God works. The Bible tells us that ” . . . the wages of sin is death [eternal separation from God in Hell, spiritual death], but the gift of God is eternal life [life after we die that will last forever in Heaven where we will be with God as well as living the fullness of life that God created us to have here on earth now] in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).
Even though we look at one tiny little lie as though it is of no consequence, God sees all sin as equal. Whether you have killed a bunch of people or just told one little lie, to God it is the same because it separates you from Him. Think of it like a score you must have to get into something. If you don’t have a 100 say, you can’t get in. Now, whether you get a 99.5 or a 3, you still aren’t getting in. But the awesome part is that God knows that we can’t be perfect. He knew that Adam and Eve were going to commit the first sins and that we were all going to be separated from God.
God promised that He would send a Savior, and He did. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) That’s true love. But you can’t just look at what He did and say “Wow, He was a great guy.” or “That was nice.”. He doesn’t leave that option. He says that you’re either for Him or against Him. There is no middle ground, no fence-riding, no negotiations, or figuring it out when you die. Now is the time to make a decision. Not to get your free get-out-of-jail card, but to turn your life over to God. To promise to give Him your whole life and let Him use it however He desires. He doesn’t want to ruin your fun or make you into some religious nut who is required to attend church every time the doors are open. It’s about finally getting life right. Filling up that void that can’t be satisfied with a relationship, a substance, things, or even religion. It’s about surrendering and finding out that your life is found when you lose it.
The Bible tells us that to have this relationship with God, all you have to do is tell Him from your heart. “. . . if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” [calling Him Lord means that you are giving Him control of your life], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). You can close your eyes and tell God this out loud or in your heart or you can silently tell Him as you read these words. It’s not about a prayer, or magic words, but just meaning it and be willing to prove it with the way that you live from here on out. If you told God that, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven are rejoicing (ie- having a party!!!!)!!!! I’m so happy for you and you should totally let me know! 🙂
My life hasn’t been easy and asking Jesus to come inside my heart and change me and make me new from the inside out didn’t stop the problems (I think I actually experience more trials because I am doing what God wants lol), but it does mean that God will walk with me through the problems and that I can turn to Him any time. If you have started a relationship with God, the Bible says in Jeremiah 29:11, God has a plan for your life. In this verse, God was telling the prophet, Jeremiah, that He had a plan for him, but it also applies to all those who become followers of Jesus: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”.
If you have given your life over to God, start learning about how He wants you to live and about who He is and how much He loves you. A great place to start reading is the Gospel of John (the fourth book in the New Testament). It’s best to read each book of the Bible in order of the chapters rather than just opening up to a page and pointing to a verse. God can still talk to you this way through His Word (the Bible), but it’s best to read it like a story or letter, like how it was written.
Also, talk to God through prayer. You don’t have to be on your knees, with your hands folded, and your eyes closed. You can talk to God out loud or in your mind while you are focused only on Him or while you are doing other things. You can be walking, driving, sitting, standing, or jumping up and down for that matter. God just wants to hear from you.
Though you don’t have to be religious or go to church to have a right relationship with God, the Bible tells us that we should be in fellowship with other believers (hanging out with other Christians) and that we should also be learning from the Bible. Church is a great way to do both. Just make sure that the church actually uses the Bible only (any version, but no other books) and actually goes through it and teaches from it. Also, if there’s something that you hear, the Bible says that you are to be studying the Bible and testing everything that you hear against it. That way if someone says “The Bible says ____”, you can go through it and find out if it’s true.
If you have any questions, you are more than welcome to leave a comment and I would be happy to chat with you. 🙂 God bless you and thanks for reading my story! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Courtney is the creator of Sign With Courtney and hundreds of ASL content videos that can be found on her YouTube channel. She spends her days teaching ASL at various colleges and universities and working as a sign language interpreter in educational, video relay, and community settings. In the white spaces in her calendar (rare as they are) she can be found catching up on sleep, attending workshops to further her knowledge of the interpreting field, learning ProTactile (for DeafBlind), creating curriculum and videos for her classes, filling out the never ending paperwork required when you are a foster parent, and teaching the Sunday morning service at the juvenile hall.