Monday, December 30, 2013

2.7 Minutes of Bouncy

“Hang on a moment.”

I was cruising down 35W earlier this month, listening to Amy Grant croon out Christmas music, when suddenly I sat bolt upright.

“Hey!” I shouted to the car in the next lane. “Hey, I’m BOUNCY!!!!!”

Bouncy! Bouncy as in, if I had a snowball in my hand, the nearest person (friend or foe) would have a wet splotch on their back. Bouncy as in calling up friends for spontaneous midnight story walks through the woods when I tell about ghosts and pirates or committing daring capture-the-flag exploits or skipping down a sidewalk just for the heck of it or inviting 25 people over to my house for a full, homemade dinner or masterminding fantastic pranks or climbing the giant elm near my house or jousting on my horse or learning a new skill like racecar driving or fencing (take that, you blackguard!) or maybe even the bongos. I’ve always wanted to play the bongos.

“Hahahaha! I’m BOUNCY!” I boinged up and down in my car seat and turned the radio up and shrieked out IN EXCEEEELSIIIIS DEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOO at the top of my lungs.

And then it ended. 

But for 2.7 minutes, yours truly finally was alive again.

It’s been a long process of healing. I am, of course, referring to my Great Gluten Months of Doom. As you might recall, when I came to the US in August, I was struck by debilitating fatigue, among other things, and generally was barely qualified as one of the living. In mid-October, I was finally diagnosed with gluten-intolerance and removed the nasty protein from my diet. Within 5 days, I saw dramatic changes that gave me hope, and I even started tentatively plunking at the piano with all the grace of a beginner learning Chopsticks.

But, healing from this sort of thing takes months and months, if not years, and so while being at 50% capacity was a lot nicer than 5 or 10%, I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d get anywhere near interesting anytime soon, much less in 8 weeks. But, since the first part of December, I’m delighted to announce another huge jump forward.

Yay for decorating!
Not only have I pulled out my flute and penny whistle and began learning new, complicated works on the piano (yay for Chopin and Beethoven and Debussy and Bach and Manneheim Steamroller!!), BUT I even did crazy things, including lots of GF baking and completely redecorating my mom’s house for Christmas in two days like a possessed woman. I started writing contemplative thoughts (soon to be marshalled into blog posts for you) and silly thoughts (let’s just say a horror story featuring snowflakes was in my Christmas cards this year) and even began wondering if I have some poetry buried deep inside. I started seeking out horseback riding/training options, began happily hiking through our snowy woods with the dogs (and not collapsing from weakness after 100 feet), and actually voluntarily joined friends for fun activities like caroling and Handel’s Messiah and parties!

But, perhaps the biggest sign of this next stage is that I actually pulled out my pastels and sat down at the easel and painted.

"In Mama's Dress"--Dedua; soft pastel on suedeboard, 2013
Before I ever embarked on my journey with missions and Bible translation, the Lord gave me a great desire to capture His world through art. By 7 years old, I had won my first major art contest, and by 12 I was running my own business. I thought I would pursue it professionally until God called me elsewhere (you can read more about my story here and Hannah comments on it here. You can also visit my art website here). I never intended to walk away from it, but with the busyness of college and the upheaval of my move to Papua New Guinea, I let it slip to the wayside, and except for the rare occasion, I stopped painting or creating art on a regular basis for the past 6 years.

But about two weeks ago, I finally tried again, in a different style and with a different subject matter than I’ve ever done before. It was truly terrifying, I will admit. I think I sat in front of the easel for a full 10 minutes before I dared make that first stroke.

"Amamas na Paitim Han!"--Adzera; soft pastel on suedeboard, 2013
But I did. Twice, in fact.

And for 2.7 minutes, I was bouncy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Moses Comes to Church

Oh no. I dug around in my purse. Despite three trips back and forth to my car through the snowy parking lot, carrying boxes and bags and banners and tablecloths and computer case for my presentation in church that morning, I had forgotten my Bible. Again.

“Here comes the Wycliffe Bible-less translator” I muttered to myself and tugged at my shirt. It still wouldn’t fit right.  No Bible and now a wardrobe malfunction. Great.

But I pasted on a smile, readjusted my nametag which enjoyed stabbing me in the clavicle, took a deep breath, and trotted up the aisle to the pastor’s waiting side. “And now, I would like to introduce you to one of my heroes of the faith!”

I stared at him in shock. Did he just really say that? In front of them??! Into the microphone!!?

Oh no. Oh dear God, oh no. 

But it was too late.

As I clicked through my powerpoint slides and with a growing desperation, shared story after story of the work God is doing in Papua New Guinea and how He continues to proclaim His Gospel and truth and of my gratefulness in the church’s faithful partnership in this ministry, standing by me even in my weakness, and how others can be involved in missions... I watched my words bounce off the congregation’s admiring faces.

After all, it’s not many days that a true Hero comes and speaks. Why, it’s practically like having Hudson Taylor or Billy Graham or Moses sharing this morning!

“Oh, Lord! And let us be like Catherine, the missionary...” another pastor prays fervently, his hands lifted toward the ceiling, while I shrink in my seat, tucking my feet under the pew (bare since I kicked off my shoes). And I wonder if there’s anything else I can do, short of throwing myself off this horrific pedestal in a giant flaming ball of proclamation while waving a sign screaming “GOD USES SINNERS, HALLELUJAH!”

Or maybe I could just go smoke a cigarette in the parking lot.

Because, I know that once again, as I wait by my table after the service, greeting the fluffy white haired ladies and braver children, I will watch the traditional American suburban family, skirt around the edge of the foyer, slipping on their coats, glancing at me out of the corner of their eye.

Missions was for heroes. Missions was for those other people who memorized 700 verses in two days and whose children never wipe their snotty noses on their coat sleeves. Missions was for people who never got crabby, never faked a smile, always dressed beautifully, and never forgot their Bibles when they went to church.

Like that girl.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bread, Comas, and Lord of the Rings


I had never really given the sticky molecules much thought before. I mean, who would purposely fill their mind with queries about a protein composite that allows dough to become stretchy, when there are so many other interesting things in the world?

Alas, such days of ignorance are now behind me.

When I first entered the US back in mid-August, health wasn’t my biggest concern, though it was definitely Question #1 as I visited with churches and connected with old friends (“did you ever get...<gasp> malaria??  Or cholera???” ).  I mean, I was the girl who thinks hiking mountains for hours is fun, who looks nostalgically on those summers when I regularly threw 24,000 lbs of haybales, and who would decide if my horseback riding lessons were effective based on the level of pain afterward.

But then I came back to the US and things changed. Suddenly was tired. And this wasn’t just a few-hours-low-on-sleep tired, but the kind of tired that makes a month-long coma look like an afternoon nap. I became so weak and exhausted that sitting up in bed was too much work, and I would drag myself from horizontal to horizontal all day...trying to salvage enough energy to go complete a speaking engagement once or twice that week. My thinking became so foggy that I couldn’t put sentences together after 5 pm, driving became dangerous, and my neck and shoulders would seize up in excruciating pain in my attempt to focus. And then, my hair started falling out in quantities like a chemo patient.

Essentially, I looked and felt like the guy on the right:

(That scary guy on the left? You might think his name is Grima but it’s actually Gluten!)
And so it continued for two and a half months, because no one could figure out what was wrong.

“God, why?”  I would cry into a sopping wet pillow, too tired to stumble into the bathroom to find a Kleenex, watching my precious time in the United States slip away as I lay curled up on my bed, unable to interact with my family. All the things I had hoped for and planned to do during my home assignment were now being carved off my list, as I struggled to complete only my bare minimum responsibilities of meeting with churches that I had scheduled months in advance. I felt like an infant—completely helpless and just as frustrated.

Finally, in mid-October, I found a doctor who suggested I eliminate gluten from my diet. Within five days, my transformation was as dramatic as King Theoden from Lord of the Rings (except, I ended up more like Eowyn...because turning into a guy, even a healthy one, is kind of creepy).

Suddenly, I didn’t have to lean against the doorframe in order to let the dogs out onto the porch or put my finger under words when reading like a preschooler to make myself focus. I could talk to my family and sit up for hours at a time. Or...<gasp> I could even walk to the end of my driveway without stopping for a rest!

Gluten, for the uninitiated, is a protein found in many grains, like wheat, barley, and rye (and, thus, its found in tons of food...from soy sauce to taco seasoning to instant hot chocolate mix to some chapsticks). Unfortunately, some people have an extremely difficult time processing these proteins (those who have Celiac disease can’t process them at all, and it can result in significant damage of the digestive system). It’s often a hereditary condition, and symptoms can vary widely—from digestive upset to exhaustion to no initial symptoms at all (like my mom). Because I don’t eat much gluten when I’m in Papua New Guinea (and the wheat is different over there compared to US wheat), my body spent several years going without...and then when I returned earlier this year and encountered the wheat in the US, my latent sensitivity flared up with a vengeance.

What does this mean? Well, I don’t eat gluten for starters—and if I do, even if it’s just a crumb, within two days, I return to my decrepit state (to quote my dad, “Gluten is like sin. Only a little bit is enough to send you into hell...”). Living gluten-free won’t be quite as difficult as you might think in living overseas since I make everything from scratch anyway, and while it’s a rather large learning curve, I’m blessed to be starting here, in the US, where there are great resources and so many supportive people walking down the same path.

Am I at 100% recovered? Not quite yet (we’re sorting out a few other health challenges as well), though the last 6 weeks have seen dramatic improvements for me, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you later.

Although I’ve found it rather ironic that my health took a nose-dive after I left my third world country, such forced rest was not all for naught. Because, while I couldn’t move, I could read. And as I paged through the red-letter adventures of a Hebrew teacher, I began to learn more deeply about another of His names.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

Over 2,000 years ago, a baby nestled in the straw, and he was to be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

and Adonai Roph'ekha, the Lord who heals you.

Monday, December 2, 2013


It certainly hasn’t been what I had expected.

Before I left Papua New Guinea for the United States, I made lists of the foods I wanted to eat (blueberries! bacon!) and the activities I wanted to do (go to an apple orchard, go ice skating). I thought of all the people I wanted to see and the churches I wanted to visit. I listed out the various skills that I wanted to learn and the items I wanted to buy. I planned vacations with my family and dreamed of seeing fall leaves and Christmas concerts.

It wasn’t all rose-colored glasses—I knew home assignment was going to be chock full of its own set of challenges and uncertainty, but I hugged my fellow missionary friends, planned in margin, asked for prayer, and vowed with my family that we would be open about our needs.

All in all, my plans were overflowing with excitement and anticipation and eager expectation of what could be ahead.

And then, it actually happened.

Friends + Giant Bookstores = Lots of Happiness
In some ways, my expectations were surpassed like an Olympic high-jump. Who knew that I would meet so many people who would clasp my hands and tell me, “we pray for you every night” or discover that my friends from years ago would welcome me back with such hospitality and warmth that we could pick up with nary a stutter? I had forgotten the joy in so many little things of my home culture, of community in my church, of beauty in my home, of Christmas lights strung through the neighborhood, of the cold nose of my dog. Home assignment has indeed been beautiful and treasured.

But then, there’s been the other side—the side that has led to an unexpected silence on this blog. The side that speaks of sickness and anxiety and trauma and exhaustion which meant the first three months of home assignment were essentially a tired marathon swimmer splashing about in an attempt to tread water. And, as a result, it meant that I’ve had to let go of many of those exciting plans and expectations originally scribbled on my list, and at times, even consider how I need to change expectations of my future. It’s been hard and frustrating, and I’ve spent more than one occasion sobbing into my pillow, wondering why I even came back at all, if this is what it was going to be like.

No, not like I expected at all.

But, I imagine Mary didn’t expect to be divinely impregnated. Or Israel expect their king to prefer a shaggy donkey as a mount. Or John expect his beloved rabbi would be executed as a traitor.

Or the world expect that He would rise again after three days in the grave.

There are few things that we actually can expect with assurance of fulfillment—but I am thankful that those things are the ones that truly matter. As Charles Wesley puts it:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

If you would like to read more about expectations and see photos from the last three months, check out my November 2013 Newsletter on the Newsletter’s tab. If you would like to be on my newsletter mailing list, please email me.