Thursday, August 1, 2013

It is Enough

      Over a month and a half has passed since my GAP year ended. Or since it began, depending on how you want to look at it. I have found that endings and beginnings only differ in that one is filled with gratitude and the other with hope. I live each day in a limbo between the life that I once knew, the life that in ten months became so dear to me, and the life that I now know- the infiniteness of one moment stretching out to touch the fingertips of the past. I laugh, and see old friends, and speak, but find my words are ladened with the thousand goodbyes that still hang on my lips. The question "how was your year?" is enough to swirl the waters of my memory and bring to the surface sentiments that were just beginning to settle. And then I think back on Costa Rica; its familiar sounds and smells, its challenges and its joys, its people, and the final month that I was there.
         It turns out that this last month brought so many good things. Spanish, although forever a struggle, no longer became the foremost thought in my mind. Friendships began to solidify and deepen, services became not only an obligation but a joy, and prayer became less of a lifeline and more of a wellspring. In short, Costa Rica and the life of the GAP was becoming my home. But with all of this goodness came a myriad of questions. I finally came to the point where my year was not an endless, tangible line of sufferings and failures  but a daily exchange of blessings, but I also knew that it was time to end. Not another month in the GAP, not a summer of service, not a continuation in the Fall. My year was over. But I was serving, growing, and finally able to relate in a semi-normal way with the rest of society, and wasn't this the GAP year that I was meant to live for all ten months but had just planned poorly and hadn't been able to? So why shouldn't this continue? I had come all this way and in the end I still wasn't going to accomplish something great? Why was it all ending now that I finally wasn't ready to come home?
        Well, the answer that I found was the answer that had been taking root and growing for eight months longer than all my other doubts and questions. The answer was simply that despite my weaknesses, failures, and inabilities- and even through them- God accomplishes His work. In Ezekiel 22:30, God seeks for someone among the Israelites "who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so to that I would not have to destroy it"A Gapper is someone who answers the call to come to the aid of the people and stand in the gap (yeah, I didn't know this was the motto until halfway through the year either). There may be a great number of people that answer this call and actually do some heavy lifting. They might end their year with metaphorically calloused hands and spiritually toned muscles from the great amount of stones they've added to make the wall stronger, taller, more protected. And as much as I might have ached to be one of those people, I think all I did during my year was stand in the gap. Like, literally just stand there in the middle of the wall and defend it with ten months of my life. But through the realization of God's work through me I was able to find rest and to see ten separate months of service each with its blessings and its struggles rather than nine wasted months with a one-month mad dash to redeem it all.
                                                     <<<<<<<>>>>>
         So my year ended. And after a gut-wrenching week of good byes which, conversation by conversation and person by person, served to tear the community away from me and me from the community, all connection that remains between me and the GAP is a wretched, shallow, social networking website called Facebook. In the effort to not taint the gift of the past year with my personal opinions on modern day media, I will end by speaking to you, dear reader. If you have, in fact, taken time out of your life to read about my ventures or to skim through these pages which all-in-all so palely and poorly express the truth of this year, I thank you. If I know you by name, I would love to talk with you and hear how you have been. If I have yet to know you, all the better! I'm sure we would get along just splendidly. And with that being said, this blog has come to its final words. I only ask that when you think of me, pray for me.

"may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" -Philippians 4:7

Catherine

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

20,000 Leagues Away from a Hotdish

         
         This is not a blog post strictly about food. I wish I had the creativity, time, and aptitude to fill this page with delicious words that would leave your mouth watering. But there are only two things that come to my mind when I think about the foods of Costa Rica. Gallo Pinto and pejibaye (peh-hee-bye-yay). The first is my absolute favorite Costa Rican dish of all time. Gallo Pinto is a scrumptious breakfast dish made from a mix of white rice, black beans, and spices. Actually, there are have been few earthly delights greater than partaking of a meal of Gallo Pinto, fresh bread, white cheese, fresh fruit, and a cup of coffee accompanied by the warmth of the sun and singing birds.
         Now, pejibaye. It's a fruit, I think. But out of all of the weird fruits and vegetables I have tried during these past months (we're talking jocote, chayote, guanabana, granadilla, maracuya, tamarindo, mamon chino, guaba, guava, yuca, carambola... things that, as far as I know, don't have english names) the pejibaye is the only one that's disagreeable. I use the word disagreeable because there is no other way to describe it. Like Gallo Pinto gone horribly, disagreeably wrong. Obviously there is much more variety in Costa Rica cuisine than these two things. For one, I have never once eaten hotdish, meatloaf, or whole-cooked tomatoes. I have on the other hand eaten many many chalupas, quesadillas, and a lot of black beans and rice. In other words, if we all lived off of Costa Rican food, we'd probably be a little happier. 

                                                              <<<<<<>>>>>>

       Now, it seems like a strange moment to be thinking about this, but with only 6 weeks left, I can't help but have the feeling that whatever I was supposed to do here, I've done a pretty poor job of doing it. As if the jumble of coins I brought in my pocket and sacrificed upon the altar of the cash register to buy day-old bread for the man spending the night out in the rain could ever mean more than when he grabbed my hand and kissed it, blessing me in the name of God and calling me princess....
I will leave with a lesson though. We talk about 'finding Christ' in the face of the person of the street as if it were some great task, some impossible sacrifice requiring miraculous courage and a plethora of virtues. But we got that part wrong. We are told to find Christ in these people because that's where He dwells. And because we've been looking for Him in all the wrong places. We get so caught up in our comfort, and our shelter, and our bread that we go and leave our Christ out in the rain.  

Take all my words as a grain of salt. But then again, never underestimate the value of a grain of salt... or a piece of sand.... or a mustard seed. 

 So what has it been worth? what will it be worth? 10 months of service... 10 months maybe wasted because, well, it looks like nothing was changed.

Well, God never told me He was going to give me the road map. He just told me to follow Him and trust in the promise He had for all of us long before I arrived.

"Yo sé los planes que tengo para ustedes, planes para su bienestar y no para su mal, a fin de darles un futuro lleno de esperanza. Yo, el Señor, lo afirmo." -Jeremías 29:11


                                                                      This really had little to do with hotdish. 

In Trust,
Catherine

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Still Small Voice

As is no longer surprising...
Language has been the superficial struggle during the past seven months. It seems that mine is the fate of Tantalus: sentenced forever to stand in a pool of water which recedes every time you stoop to drink. But my pool is a sea of unknown words, and complicated word frases, and my drink a fog of uncertainty- second guessing every third word and biting down every other thought knowing I won't be able to formulate a coherent sentence...Living in the consistency of the 'any day now'. Any day I will do it, I will be fluent... any day now. But to speak or be spoken to in English, a language now useful to me only in a whispered prayer, is to have failed.  Is is the tell-tale marker that I have not succeeded in my goal, and not only failed, but put myself that much farther away from that goal for which I am constantly striving. Lord help me if this is bilinguality.

Yet above it all a still small voice.

A voice that shines through the fog of the language, proclaiming himself as the Word. A voice which levels the mountains of my weakness and crosses the ocean of my inabilities. A voice which isn't drowned out by the storm, because His is the voice that calms it. A voice which called me here a little less than a year ago and continues to call us, lead us.  There is no room for fear, and there is nothing to hold back. The ease of conversation and the liberty of word choice are long abandoned. But those only serve as reminders that God did not call me here to make an impact. He called me to be obedient. And in three months, when I am packing up my bags and saying goodbyes, maybe I will only be known as the little voice. A little voice that sang, but didn't talk much... and then I will be forgotten. And all that will be left is the echo of what was accomplished. But let the echo be that of the voice of the Lord of all Eternity.

"If I speak in the tongues of humans and even of the angels but have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."          -1 Corinthians 13:1-2


In Silence,
Catherine



Thursday, February 14, 2013

How to Take a City Bus

This blog post is dedicated to my oldest brother Peter... the one who, despite the business of the fantasy football season, always takes time to read my blog.

1.Arrival: The key to taking a bus is arriving one hour (give or take an hour) before the bus is scheduled to arrive. That way, you will, without fail, reach the bus stop just as the bus is pulling away and have another hour (give or take) to wait at the bus stop contemplating life's many mysteries.

2.Humiliation: When the bus is at last in sight, you must flag it down. There are a variety of waves you can use in order to signal to the bus that you wish to get on, ranging from the barnyard poultry (the rapid lifting and lowering of one or both arms in a chicken-like flap) to my personal favorite: the grim reaper (the slow, deliberate raising of the right arm, signaling to the bus with the pointer finger).

3.The Climb: As you are getting on the bus, there are several important things to remember. First of all, this is not the time to remember that the only available money you have is 300 colones in 5-colón pieces, and a few US dollars. This is, however, the time to make sure you got on the right bus, and that it is going in the correct direction (towards in lieu of away from your chosen destination), as well as time to choose a seat. If the bus is emptyish, which it will be unless you are riding any time between 5am and 9pm, you may can choose any of the seats except the handicapped ones and the sketchy ones in the back, and the ones that already have people sitting in them. If the bus is full, you may have to stand (more to be said later).

4. continued.: it is now time to sit down (who would've thought that this would be a process in and of itself, right?). As soon as you have scrounged around and found the correct change and given it to the driver, the bus will normally give a small lurch forward: similar, I'm sure, to the 'lurch'  the Titanic gave when it hit the ice burg. For you newcomers, you will probably be sprawled upon the narrow floor of the bus at this time, but don't worry, the seat backs and vertical metal poles lining the bus pathway are there to help you back up. Since the bus stops are always in the middle of a hill, in order to make it to your seat, your task (depending on the hill) will be to either scale the bus, pole by pole, upwards... or brace yourself from plummeting downwards.

5. Survival: Once and if you have managed to take a seat, it is time to relax. Your only task is simple: to avoid awkward situations and possible muggings, make yourself as unapproachable as possible. You can scowl, avoid eye contact, even emit a low growl or two to let people know that you by no means want anything to do with them. But remember that this is your free time so you can people watch, read, even sleep if you want to... although sleeping runs the dangerous risk of overshooting your destination. If the bus is full, hold on tight because your adventure is just beginning. You will spend the next half-hour to hour with your head precariously smashed below someone's armpit, and your arms in either a Swiss knot, or stretched in cruciform across three or more rows of seats. But enjoy! there is plenty of opportunity for people watching in whatever place you are fortunate enough to land.

6. Out of the Frying Pan..: After pressing the bell to signal that you wish to get off the bus, you have exactly 5 seconds to fit through the two rows of people filling the bus aisle and make it outside. This is actually the easiest part. As soon as you get past those four final steps and out into the free air, you realize that all the pain, all the trouble was worth it in the end because you have reached your destination alive, well, and without being put at knife-point! As the heat of the sun, or wetness of the rain beats upon your brow you will look out upon the world with new vision, a great fondness and appreciation for cars, and new motivation to conquer your next task......
                                                                                                          .......crossing the street. 


Miss you Pete,
Catherine

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Livin' on a Prayer

It has arrived. Today marks the half-way point of the GAP: the perfect opportunity for nostalgia and reflection. But first, a brief summary of the past month.
                                                                       <<<<>>>>
          I got to visit my beloved hometown Minnesota for Christmas. Twelve full days of once again sharing life with my family and friends. The longer I stayed, the more absurd it seemed to leave this haven of fireplaces, snow-forts, and close friendships.. but in the end I was pulled back by two important things: first, the realization that every person I talked to is fighting alongside me with their very own battlefields on their campuses, in their homes, or traveling the country. and second, that I had signed a 10-month contract and was obligated to return.
           So I came back.
And I spent a lovely New Year's with one of the families of the community high up in the mountains. The next day the entire Arbol de Vida youth group was off for an international youth conference in Honduras. Witnessing over 400 youth from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica gathered together to grown in faith was in and of itself incredible. But that was not all that I found there. One of the other gappers and I were put in charge of caring for a few girls whose leaders were in another part of the conference. And what on earth could I offer them? Four girls, whom I knew nothing about, whose language and culture I did not share. Incapability: the bane of my GAP year. But this time, it was through the realization that I had nothing great to offer them, that I could love them more freely. And it was through loving them despite my nothingness that I saw in a more clearly the kingdom of Heaven on earth; not because I did such an excellent job caring for them, but rather because it was so clear that I had so little to do with their encounters with Christ. I was merely a tool in His precious hands. Every difficulty that I had faced in the previous few months was rendered insignificant by the love freely given that I encountered in and through these girls.

                                                              <<<<>>>>

      Now, the first 5 months. I have heard that the first half of the GAP is the hardest, but then it gets better. I dearly hope so. To say I have cried more in this first half of the GAP than in my entire collective life including infancy would be an exaggeration. But not a large one. Yet in this I have been formed, and made stronger, and maybe even less melancholic. And I have also been greatly blessed, and my eyes have been and continue to be opened to the goodness and faithfulness of God. I have witnessed a hundred acts of chivalry on city buses, a thousand acts of charity within the community. I have been daily greeted, confronted, and cared for by youth, university students, and parents: to none of whom I have given any great thing. I have been guided and supported by the wisdom of my leaders. I have been gifted with the opportunity to wake up and come home every day to an amazing family. And above all, I have daily been confronted by the mercy of Christ not only in all of these things, but much more in the stillness... But what have I done? I have washed a lot of dishes, and learned to pray and walk at the same time. And I have tried to love those around me. And I have failed in doing so. I have learned to rejoice in silence. But have I blessed or changed this community? I don't think so. Have I converted thousands of souls? No. But if I can be an instrument through which one life is brought one step closer to Christ, I will be content. Thus I have reached this half-way bridge, and thus I hope to continue. I have no idea what these next few months will hold, but I am comforted by the realization that maybe the reason for my GAP year is not purely to suffer. As always, you are in my prayers. Please keep me in yours.

In Faith,
Catherine

"Peer through the heart of the people and you will discover the truth. The common sand you tread underfoot, let it be cast into the furnace to boil and melt and it will become a crystal as splendid as that through which Galileo and Newton discovered the stars" -Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two in One

(Due to the prolonged delay of this blog, I have decided to combine two themes into one post. I would recommend not reading them consecutively, but rather waiting at least 1 day between them... so as to not be overwhelmed by the multitude of new details concerning my life in the GAP.)

Santo Tomás, Chontales
     The writing of this post has by far been the hardest. How does one write when there are no words? 'Ah, but I thought you had a problem with Spanish, not with English' you say. Indeed, this is the case. But there are some matters which, in their greatness, transcend any one language, and the best we can do is render our words as mere footholds that lead us at least somewhat closer to them. In my case, I have been left speechless by a people. Let me explain. In the last week of October, The Gappers took a bus a mere 12 hours north-east of San Jose to a small town in Nicaragua, named Santo Tomás. Little did I know such a short distance could merit such drastic changes. 12 hours north, and the air around us grew sweeter, warmer, dustier, wilder, and  more filled with the busied gabble of human life: the now familiar Costa Rican accent exchanged for one nearly indiscernible to my still-adjusting ears. Streetvenders, money changers, customs police, and parrots were our first welcome party, but we were soon greeted by coordinator of the community of Cristo Resucitado, and two hours later, we had arrived at our home. Four Gappers, five days: a youth retreat, bible study, and evangelization night. Being so few in number, we all had more responsibilities: I lead the retreat games, a section of the Bible study, and gave my testimony in the evangelization night. These events were my first true test in Spanish; the first time in two months that I had been useful on account of my words. And before, during, and after every single event I was under the sweetly humbling realization that every word I uttered, correct or ill-used, was not my own... and that I was being formed, humbled, and used in these events solely for the glory of God. Yet when I think back on that trip, what lingers in my mind is not the words I spoke, nor the games I lead, but rather the great generosity of the people there.  
       From our very first moments in their town to our final night, we were given their best, their all. Every moment, every encounter, every meal was imbued with a disposition of selflessness and service. My immediate reaction was not one of gratitude, but one of confusion. Why this goodness towards me? I had done nothing for them. No good deed, no act of service had I offered them to render their actions justified. But it was through this generosity that I realized that every other act of goodness done towards me was not because I deserved it, but rather that everything I have been given is a gift.  And it was in their generosity, flowing not from their excess of material goods, but rather from the spring of a self-abandoned heart, that I encountered something tangible and life-changing. If one were to ask me how I would describe selflessness in action, I would point their eyes to the small town of Santo Tomás



Most Gladly Therefore...
      This second post-within-a-post is basically a summary of all of the other things I have been doing in my time as a GAP-er. I have indeed waited far too long to write this post, and I fear it will turn out more vague and confusing than enlightening, but we shall see. Recently we finished a 5-showing event of the movie October Baby in an effort to promote respect for human life, as well as raise funds to help pregnancy crisis centers. We are also doing a lot of preparations for a conference in Honduras in January with youth groups from Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. This Friday I will be leading an event called Cafe con Biblia with the university outreach section. Cafe con Biblia is basically a Bible study where we drink coffee and explore a specific passage or theme of the Bible. The theme will be Hope.  
       In other news, we have had a grand total of 6 retreats in my nearly 4 months in the GAP... three were for our benefit, and the other three we led. It truly has come full circle as our most recent retreat was at the same retreat site as my very first retreat. However, whereas in my first retreat I spent my time preparing refreshments and sitting underneath a eucalyptus tree praying for the retreatants and begging God to show me how I was going to make it through this year, this latter retreat I spent as the co-leader of logistics, and praying to God for the strength to make it through the day. Maybe you are not very impressed with that change, but that's alright; I am not asking you to be.   

        Actually, speaking as someone who thought it would take me two months to become fluent in a foreign language without any experience beforehand, I can understand the feeling of disappointment. I have now reached that lovely point in my Spanish in which I make a lot of mistakes. Before I would sit in silence and nod my head so that people would know I was still alive and understood the blurred idea of the conversation. Now when given the occasion, I open my mouth and make a fool of myself. To think that I will probably spend my entire GAP year struggling to be understood and speaking with words that are not truly my own is something that used to terrify me. But I have come to realize that my words were taken from me so that I could see that the gift of speech was never mine to begin with. And in this realization I could give back more fully what already belonged to God. Not to mention, most of us spend our entire lives being misunderstood.. I have just been given a 10-month-long license to be frustrated by that fact.
     To believe that I have nearly completed four months here is something I still have trouble getting my mind around. So much of me still feels like I have just arrived. More like time hasn't moved at all for the last few months. My hope is that I am serving well, and growing in faith. I am certainly learning how to fight well, to get back up when I have fallen. And above all, I am learning to find joy in my weakness

 In Peace, 
Catherine 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

as Spikenard upon His feet

The cards were laid and my task was simple: the GAPers were going to have an international dinner, and I was in charge of baking the apple pie. The completion of this task with absolute perfection was paramount, and my initial reluctance to sign on to the task developed into excitement. Perhaps I couldn't communicate, or give talks, or lead Bible studies, or even play guitar... but maybe I could bake an apple pie. And if I could make a pie, all would be justified and the whole world would know that I had, and could, accomplish something. I set about my task with utmost care: collecting, preparing, adding, and mixing each ingredient as though it were the crown piece of the recipe. And yet, somehow, things kept going wrong... perhaps it was because I was using a new recipe, or because I started a little too late at night, or because the oven kept changing temperatures, or because the much-too-liquidy batter caught fire in the stove. In any case, instead of falling asleep at an early hour to the smell of two perfectly baked pies, I found myself in a smokey kitchen at 2 in the morning, scrubbing charred pie-filling off of every surface, and staring vacantly at two pie tins filled with singed and soggy masses of apple.  The true tragedy occurred when I awoke the next morning, and discovered that my pies were not quite as bad as they appeared the night before, but were, in fact, "salvageable".....

     Salvageable is a great word to hear just after a shipwreck, or a house fire. But when the object in question is about baking, or a haircut, or homemade crafts, it is a death sentence. It means that you have neither succeeded, nor failed; simply completed. Like some wild beasts, mindlessly following instinct and the semblance of order, you have completed the task. But it is a task completed without the beauty and artistry which makes what we have done beautiful, praiseworthy, inspiring. The difference between artistry and completion is what separates Mozart's symphonies from the sounds made when a frightened guinea pig waddles across a keyboard... And I had simply completed. But I brought my guinea-pig-symphony-of-a-pie to the dinner, and everyone ate it with great grace, and loaded on heaps of vanilla ice-cream to disguise the smokey flavor, and I sat small-ly in my chair, and for the hundreth time experienced the dull sting of humiliation.
<<<<>>>>
           Now, I have many many other stories to tell from my adventures here. But I chose this one because it sums up much of what I have experienced here thus far. I came on my GAP year expecting to both grow and be humbled, but I suppose I expected a much more heroic humbling. Who doesn't desire brave deeds, preferably with a large audience to sit hushed in wonder at the conclusion? Instead, it is in the smallest things, in acts most often misunderstood or forgotten that I am truly growing and being humbled. And it is in the responsibilities where I am least capable --in leading music for a missionary's mass, or evangelizing on a college campus, or giving my testimony, or taking care of the logistics of a retreat-- that I feel I am truly serving. I think about if I had chosen a different path this year; what if I were serving in an english-speaking country,  or leading wilderness hikes for kids, or off at college doing something for the betterment of mankind? Yes, perhaps I would have a higher tally of 'feel good' moments, and I would probably have more friends, and I would probably accomplish more in a given day. And in those ways I would be more 'useful'. But I know I have been called here, and all I can do is be faithful to that call. And I know and have found that within this call there is more true service, beauty, and fulfillment than in any of the many other things I could be doing in this year. So daily I pour out this gift of time- precious and rare as it is- and trust that the Lord will use it for His glory.

In Christ,
Catherine