Catherine was born in the sweltering heat of an El Paso, Texas summer in June of 1958, the year International House of Pancakes opened in Toluca Lake, California, and Jim Henson decided a frog puppet had the potential to become a big deal.
Less than two years later, her father would move the family to Oklahoma City and open his dental practice. She would leave her parent’s home just after her 15th birthday.
“I made things pretty difficult for my family,” Catherine said. “I was hyper and talkative and wildly curious and always pushing the limits. I wasn’t an easy child to raise, an easy sister to have or an easy student to teach. I was agitated in my own skin and always felt like I disappointed the people around me. As a result, the older I got, the more rebellious and defiant I became.”
By junior high, Catherine was chronically truant and running away from home in a feeble attempt at creating her own Jack Kerouac/Holden Caufield adventure. The angst and defiance were there in abundance, but almost from the beginning, the story wasn’t making for very good reading.
“After Kindergarten I never really saw the point of school,” she laughs. “In my ninth and tenth grade years of high school I got high almost every day and rarely went to class. But,” she adds with a sly grin, “I can shoot a mean game of pool!”
Instead of math and biology, Catherine was acing all her classes on joint rolling and grand theft auto. She had created so much chaos within her family that her parents finally made the difficult decision to sever their parental rights. She became a ward of the state and was taken to live in a facility for juvenile offenders in downtown Oklahoma City.
“It was called The Sunbeam Home, and it was an ironic name for a place if ever there was one. It was a dreary, horrible institution. Think Oliver Twist in a skirt. The end result was I became an even better juvenile delinquent.”
In yet another desperate attempt at self-defined freedom, she hit the road again with the idea of escaping to a life in Florida. She never made it. Hitchhiking got her as far as Monroe, Louisiana and a cheeseburger brought her home. A country preacher in a brown Maverick offered her a ride and a Dairy Queen hamburger. While she ate, he asked her if she was a Christian.
“I said, ‘Well yeah, I’m an American,’” she recalls with a laugh. “I’d been raised in church but had never really heard or understood the Gospel message.
I truly thought my nationality defined my ‘religious’ affiliation. Looking back it seems ridiculous and a bit embarrassing, but at the time it was all I associated with what it meant to be a Christian.”
Sitting together on the naugahide bench seat of his beat up vehicle, the preacher opened his Bible and began to read and explain the classic salvation scriptures: Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He ended with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that who ever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and an appeal to acknowledge both her need and Christ’s answer.
Amen and amen. “It might take some convincing to help a ‘good’ person to see they are a sinner, but it doesn’t take much to convince a sinner they are a sinner. I was a sinner and I knew it. It was an unbelievable relief to know there was a solution to a problem I had no hope of solving. When he explained the verses as he read them to me, everything seemed suddenly clear. A light went on. For the first time in my life, I had hope. My guilt and sin were the problem, but Jesus was offering a solution.” As her brain was churning with startling new thoughts, the preacher dropped her off back at the highway.
“In retrospect, that single moment was kind of a metaphor for my life. I was heading one direction but God intervened and turned me around so I went in the opposite direction. But at the time, I simply stuck my thumb out, watched his car bounce out of sight, and said to myself, ‘God, if you’re like that man says you are, I hope I get caught tonight,’” Catherine recalls. “There is no way I could have realized it at the moment, but that was the very first prayer in a lifetime of prayers. And God answered it. I was caught that same night in spectacular fashion!”
That week, locked in the Monroe juvenile detention center, Catherine gave her life to the Lord.
Back in the custody of the state of Oklahoma, she was facing an eight-year prison term for grand theft auto, truancy, drugs, and a host of companion charges, which would be served first in the juvenile and then the adult system. It was at that point of hopelessness where Catherine again encountered the sovereign grace of God.
“I always say I’ve had two salvations. The first was when I accepted the Lord, the second was when my aunt and uncle came and rescued me and took me half way across the country to live with them in Wilmington, Delaware.” Miraculously, all the charges were dropped six months later and a lifetime of growing in grace had begun.
After frantically making up lost credits, she managed to graduate from Alexis I. du Pont high school in 1976 and immediately joined Youth with a Mission. She went through both their Discipleship Training School and School of Evangelism programs at the YWAM base in Hammonton, New Jersey.
“I found my niche, my calling. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much I worked on staff for two years after going through the school. As far as I was concerned, I was exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be a missionary, marry a missionary and have little missionary babies.”
Her ultimate goal was to attend the highly selective Slavic Training School in Austria to prepare for the danger of missionary work behind the Iron Curtain. “Things were progressing in that direction,” she recalls, “but they didn’t work out like I thought they should so I found myself getting a little irritated with God. At that point I was questioning my call.”
Around that same time Catherine’s father suggested she return to Oklahoma and give college a shot. Confused and floundering, she accepted the offer. “It turned out to be a colossal waste of my time and his money, but that’s where I met my husband.” She and Jay have been married for twenty-seven years.
They had three children in quick succession and kept the family tradition of giving them J.T.Z. initials. Naming her children was the easy part. Having her first-born son diagnosed with life threatening heart problems was the hard part.
Just before his third birthday, Jordan underwent the first of several heart catheterizations and two surgeries. Shortly afterward Jay and Catherine were told he would not live to graduate from high school. Fortunately, by the time he was 17, heart/lung transplants had become a viable option. Jordan was admitted into the transplant program at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri and received his transplant on January 25th, 2000.
That miracle of modern medical science allowed him another five years. He finally realized every Christian’s hope when he saw Jesus face-to-face on Oct. 10, 2004.
"There were times when the grief was so overwhelming, I truly thought my heart might stop beating. Unless you have experienced it, you just can’t imagine how crushing and relentless the pain is."
"Telling Jordan’s story became cathartic and I began speaking to women’s groups. I shared loss and hope with all the heartache and humor I’d lived and told the women how God met me in the middle of suffering and loss,” Catherine relates. “While Jordan was alive, I had convinced myself that if anything ever happened to him there was no way I’d never be able to truly laugh again. But God has proven that with Him, nothing is impossible. He has turned my ‘mourning into dancing’ as only He can do. It’s been a remarkable journey.”
From this difficult beginning, Catherine has inspired countless audiences with her messages of hope, help and the power of Biblical truth, creating an ever-increasing demand for her wit, wisdom, and wisecracking delivery.
“God has shown me that not only was laughter possible again, it’s incredibly healing. And it speeds up your metabolism.”
Her life is proof that God can take the most unlikely person and transform them by the “washing of the water of the Word” into a voice that shares His heart and exhilarates a room full of people. Her passion for the Word of God drives her goal for each and every person in the audience to leave with their minds revolutionized by truth and their hearts magnetized toward the Living God.