Have you ever been around people who are constantly crowing about their abilities, accomplishments, and accolades? Maybe they really do have reasons to be proud, but all that self-promotion feels, well . . . a little bit icky.
Then there are people who are truly astounding on multiple levels–brilliant, talented, fun, generous, and insightful–but you won’t catch them seeking affirmation and praise, because whatever gain they had, they’ve honestly and completely counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Does this mean they walk around in sackcloth and ashes, moaning about their martyrly existence? Heavens no. (That would just be another form of pride, after all.) On the contrary, they’re so down to earth, engaging, and brimming with life, you wish you could be around them all the time.
If you don’t know any people like that, you’re about to meet one. It’s my extreme pleasure to introduce to you wife, mom, missionary, athlete, photographer, blogger, friend, and all-around-epic superwoman: Catherine Burns.
I’ve known (or, at least, known of) and admired Catherine for sixteen years now. After e-mailing her yesterday to clarify some facts and dates for this post, I learned even more about her than I knew before. (Like I said, these people don’t brag about their epic-ness. You have to ask.)
In 1992, before her husband Dan had finished seminary, they packed up their two-year-old daughter, Jackie, and eight-month-old son, Daniel, for a six-week vision trip to Kazakhstan. In her words, “It was the worst summer of our lives, but we returned to the US, sure God had called us there.” (Awesome. I’m exhausted already.) So, that meant Dan got to go on one of those super-fun-never-awkward-ask-strangers-for-money-church-hopping tours that eventually brought him to our church in February, 1993. That first time we heard him speak, George and I were both impressed and sensed God’s hand on this man. Apparently Jacob did, too. Eleven at the time, afterward he made a beeline for the yellow legal pad Dan had placed in the back to sign up for their newsletter. To this day, The Kazakh Connection still comes to our home addressed to Jacob Damoff. I love that.
I’m pleased to report that our church, among others, gave them the thumbs up. Support raised, they packed their bags and went. Sure, like most missionaries, they faced challenges. Learning Russian, dealing with cultural and political frustrations, planting a church, building community, and raising (eventually) four children under sometimes volatile or uncertain conditions. But you never got the impression the challenges defined who they were. We always looked forward to their newsletters, because there was an underlying thread of joy as they shared about family, friendships, little victories, funny stories. These people were normal (in an epic sort of way). Likable. Fun.
Fast forward to March, 2008. I traveled to Croatia as a photographer and worship leader with Women of the Harvest, a fabulous organization that provides retreats for missionary women all over the world, and Catherine was one of a hundred missionaries who attended. After fifteen years of reading about and praying for her, I finally met her face to face. Oh. My. Goodness. Did we ever have a blast. Photography excursions. Long, heart-deep conversations. Laughter. Tears. And all that admiration that had been growing in my mind? Multiplied by eleventy-gillion.
When they returned to the states on furlough we enjoyed a couple more fun opportunities to hang out. But I still didn’t uncover the extent of her awesomeness. (I guess I didn’t ask.) Consider: graduated magna-cum-laude with a degree in English Literature from Rice University. (You have to have an IQ of 597 just to GET ACCEPTED to Rice University.) In her spare time she was an All American track and cross-country runner. (Eh, no biggie. I, uh, jogged when I was in college.) The year after graduation, she married Dan, who also graduated from Rice, but crafted his own degree. As Catherine put it (after I asked, of course), “He entered Rice as an engineer, felt the call to ministry half-way through, created his own area major through the classics department (NT Greek) and Biblical studies department (absolute heresy). Dan has stated that, if he ever teaches anything he learned at Rice, we should burn him at the stake. But, he minimized his pain and graduated in three years (always on the fast track), so he could start doing what he really wanted to do.”
Come on, Dan. Three whole years? Where’s your motivation, man? Oh, and speaking of “the fast track,” Dan runs marathons and competes in iron man competitions. Ho hum. These two nerdy, missionary slackers also managed to raise four of the most fun, creative, selfless, smart (big surprise there), Jesus-loving kids on the planet. Honestly, I think the whole family belongs in a museum somewhere.
If you love fascinating stories, beautiful photography, and feeling like you’re the laziest blob of do-nothingness alive (my favorite!), you should definitely bookmark Catherine’s blog, My Daily Photo Fix. She puts her amazing photographic eye and magna-cum-laudified English major to good use sharing the epic adventures of one of the most epic families I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
Catherine has been posting daily photos since November 2007. She recently put together two year-in-review videos and uploaded them to YouTube. These are well worth seventeen minutes your time. Oh, and in Part 2, when you get to the hiking-up-a-frozen-mountain-and-camping-in-tents-on-the-ice series of photos, be assured that, yes, they really do this sort of thing. Regularly. And enjoy it. No matter that their cheerful smiles make Frodo, Sam, et al. look like a bunch of wimpy weenies for their chapped faces and slippity sliding around under similar conditions. Fell voice on the wind? Psssh. Whatevs, Legolas. Check out my friend Catherine, and get your epic on, elf boy.
Twelve Days of Community is the brainchild of L.L. Barkat at High Calling Blogs. It’s all about promoting others, and boy is it ever fun! Come and play, or read the entries submitted by other participants. If you haven’t already, you can read my previous posts here: Day One: Billy Coffey and Day Two: Katdish.