Posted in college, Emotions, Family, God, joy, love, Parenthood

JOY Unspeakable

“Weeping may endure for the night, but JOY comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

9/29/99 was an ordinary Wednesday for most people.  But for me, it was a “line-in-the-sand” kind of day, a day that marked a change in my life that brought unconditional love in the form of a 9 pound 5 ounce baby girl.  Rachel JOY Goetz, our fourth child, was born that morning, at 1:09 am, to be exact.  And now, in just two short days, she is off to embark on her next adventure, taking the “Rachel-only” piece of my heart with her!

Two years ago, at the age of 16, I gave her a gold-dipped white rose for her birthday.  The thoughts I penned for her that day ring truer in my heart tonight as I sit at my computer.  My initial impulse is to weep (and I’m sure it will come in buckets soon enough), but in the wee hours of a Friday, I am reminded that JOY does come in the morning.  So for now, I celebrate.

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Dearest Rachel,

I love giving you this rose.  It symbolizes so much that I want you to know about yourself and why you have changed my life and the lives of all who meet you.

First of all, the rose is WHITE.  White is a symbol of innocence or purity, but not perfection.  I see in you a pure heart, one that longs to love others with good intentions, treat others kindly with much grace and little judgment and do your personal best without getting caught up in “perfectionism.” Your pure heart is beautiful!

Secondly, the flower is a ROSE.   Roses are heart-stoppingly beautiful to the eye and their smell is equally show-stopping. When I think of you, your outward beauty is heart-stopping for me. Many times, as you know, you take my breath away! You are simply gorgeous on the outside! I can’t get around it. But again, more importantly, your “aroma” is show-stopping. Your infectious smile, caring heart, and love for the “haves” and the “have-nots” is truly incredible.  

ROSES demonstrate the following things and I see them in you:

LOVE – You love unconditionally. We have said this about you from when you were a baby. When others are with you, they can’t help but feel loved and accepted. What a gift that is!

FAITH – You are a trusting soul. You believe the best about others. You easily trust God’s heart toward you.

BEAUTY – Rachel, you are truly beautiful, inside and out.

BALANCE – You understand the delicate balance of life: work, play, others and yourself. I love watching this in you. You are a good teacher to me.

PASSION – What can I say? Your passion for what really matters to you is crazy cool to watch!   Those five things…God, love of family and friends, music, puzzles and the beach!

TIMELESSNESS – I think of you as a timeless person. You enjoy people aged 2 to 102. You love where you are and who you are with. Time seems to slow down when I am around you!

WISDOM – Dad and I used to say that “you got it” even when you were a teeny one. You see so much of the world through wise eyes and a wise heart. You are the best counselor to your friends and you see things that others just can’t see.   My favorite wise saying that you have ever said was, “It is better to be kind than right.”   You were only 10 years old when you spoke that deep truth to my heart (and to our basketball team).  Yes! You just “get it.”

INTRIGUE – No one can say that they have explored the depths of what makes you Rachel. You have a mysteriousness about you that is very interesting and causes me to want to know you more. There is so much to you and it has been fun seeing a beautiful young woman begin to unfold!

DEVOTION – You are one of the most loyal people I know.   You stick by your friends, your beliefs, your love for Jesus, your family and yourself!

SENSUALITY – You love all things…what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch! You enjoy life to the full. You see all the gifts God has for you in nature, in others, in music, in so many simple things, in all of life!

Lastly, the rose is dipped in GOLD. To me, gold symbolizes long-lasting value. Every time you look at the rose on your bookshelf, I want you to be reminded of how incredibly valuable you are, to God, to us, to yourself and to your future. You have infinite value, much more than any GOLD in the world.  The whole person that makes up Rachel JOY Goetz is so undeniably precious and I pray that you would continue to hold onto that understanding for the rest of your life!

I want to end with the second verse that God gave me when you were born! It has really come true for me! And for anyone who has spent a minute with you!

“My God shall do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I love you precious daughter!

Mom

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PS  If you aren’t tired of Rachel yet, click HERE to watch my gut-wrenching slide show of her amazing life!

PPS  And if you want to read what it was like to be her sister, check out Sarah’s blog post from May of 2011 about the unconditional love that was 11 year-old Rachel.

 

Posted in Emotions, God, sacred, thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #04)

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”  (Melody Beattie)

Which one of us, given the question, “Do you want more healing in your life?” would answer, “Actually, I want more destruction.”  My son, Josh, broke his hand a few years ago.  He was given a super teeny cast (the “Michael Jackson one-glove look”).   The doctor, as usual, (like I hadn’t heard this at least a thousand times before…after all, I raised four children) said, “follow my instructions and it will heal.”

We all know what it’s like to receive, from our wonderful and smart health care providers, that long sheet of paper spelling out all the instructions to make sure healing happens (and some of us… I won’t say who… do a better job than others at following them).  I knew this at the time.  I wanted Josh’s hand to heal throughly and quickly.  (After all, now he would have an excuse not to empty the dishwasher.)

Being the cynical person that I am, I wondered about the point of this miniature cast.  After all, look at it.  It’s ridiculously small and I’m not even sure it’s doing much of anything.  Did it even matter?  Could he get healing without the cast?

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However, being the rule-follower and anxiety-ridden person that I am, we followed the instructions to a tee.  We certainly did not want more destruction of the hand.  We both wanted healing.  And we both trusted that this wee cast would provide the right environment for it.

The right environment.  Hmm.  Now there’s a thought.  This bitty cast doesn’t heal his hand.  All it does, even super teeny, is provide the right environment for the healing to occur.  The cast doesn’t get in there and cause the bones to be “remodeled” (I know this term from watching 12 years of Bones episodes).  That comes because our bodies, given the right environment and care, have been designed by God to heal themselves.

More thoughts.  Can this apply to more areas than the physical?  Has God given our souls, minds and hearts the ability to heal if they are in the right environment?  I believe an emphatic YES.  Do they have to be huge?  I believe an emphatic NO.

This cast gave the room for healing.  What environments, even if they are not grandiose, but small, can I give to myself to make room for healing?

My whole blog is dedicated to hope and healing.  I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you that this morning, I need some of that myself.  It’s been a long, emotional week (as some of you who have read my blog know… and for those of you who don’t, check out anxiety post and murder post) and I am quite exhausted from it all.  I said to my husband this morning, “I just feel out of sorts and out of control.”  I sat down to write.  Process.   And guess what?  Next up (and I would imagine this isn’t a coincidence), Thankful Thursday.

I looked at my thankful app (that awful red notification circle was glaring on my phone).  I realized I hadn’t written one last night.  And to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to play catch up.  I didn’t really have anything.  Yesterday had been difficult.  But of course, God is wise and super loving.

The thought came out of nowhere.  Is thankfulness one of the environments that brings healing?  I began to look it up.  It is true.  There are about a million (okay, just a slight exaggeration) actual scientific studies to back this up (don’t want to bore you, but check this article out).

God reminded me that it might just be what I need this morning, even though super small, to bring some healing today.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  So here goes.  Join with me.

  • My oldest brother turned 60 (and don’t get any ideas of how old I am…he’s the first born and I am the baby… like the super baby).  We got to surprise him and share Ethiopian food.  I was able to watch him become overwhelmed with the love of his family and friends.  He might have even shed a tear. Highlight of the summer.
  • A long lunch and talk with a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for 30+ years that I thought might not go so well.  After all, she had her act together even then (in a kind of straight-laced, smart, preppy, godly way) and I certainly didn’t (in a bouncy, talk-too-much, all-over-the-place, boy-crazy way).  It was wonderful and beautiful.  Our hearts connected as we shared our similar journeys of brokenness and redemption.  A true gift for me.
  • Rachel’s wisdom tooth surgery and healing went off without a hitch (and this is no small feat in her never-ending saga of tooth infections and emergency extractions).  It’s the small things sometimes.  The not-end-up-in-the-emergency-room things.
  • Celebrating the wedding of our friends’ son.  Watching young love blossom.  Their commitments to God and each other.  The roasts (I mean toasts).  Shoe games.  Gorgeous weather for an August Saturday.  Reminders of our own love and commitment.  Continued thankfulness for Allen and our 26+ years.
  • A rainy Monday provided for the day I woke up with a sore throat.  Cozy rest.  A nap when I needed it.  Rain makes me feel safe inside.  Long story.  Thankful.

Here’s to asking God to do only what He can do.  I can’t bring healing to myself.  Only He can.  That’s his job.  And my job?  To follow the instructions of the Great Physician.  Listen to His heart for me.  Place myself in environments so that He can do His job.  It’s not a formula.  It’s not magic.  I’m not even sure how it all works.  But I do know this, celebrating and speaking out and reminding myself of all that I am thankful for is GOOD.  And I will take it today.

 

 

 

 

Posted in freedom, God, murder, prison, sacred

Kim (A Prisoner on the Outside, but not on the Inside)

“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  (Jesus)

My college roommate and best friend at the time murdered her husband on Valentine’s Day, 1998.  Even though it was a famous and well-publicized murder, I never knew until recently that she was serving a life sentence in a Maryland correctional facility.  We had spoken just a couple of years prior to the murder, but we lost touch, mostly because we had both moved and it was before social media (snail mail just didn’t cut it in those days).

Fast-forward to this past January when I spoke at a women’s group telling the story of my  continuing redemption and restoration.  I hadn’t thought of this friend for several years, but some things that we shared (not such good things) were a huge part of my redemption story and I shared them with this group.  Just FIVE days later,  I commented on a friend’s Facebook post and received a quick response, “Are you the Esther Maret that roomed with Kim Aungst in college?”  I recognized her as Kim’s high school friend, Rachelle.  Quickly, I private messaged her and said yes.  I couldn’t believe Kim’s name was coming up again.  I asked if she was still in touch and how I could reach her.

Her next message: “As for Kim, we are still friends but it is a long, sad, crazy story. She was convicted in 1999 of killing her husband. If you Google Kimberly Hricko, you can see part of the story. (I know some of you are clicking… don’t forget that you are reading what the media wants you to know and don’t forget to come back!!!) At first I wasn’t sure if she did it but she has since admitted she did. I am pretty much the only friend from that period of her life that stood by her. I just felt that regardless of what she did, she needed someone. She has since turned herself to Jesus and is helping others in prison. She has a daughter who I kept in touch with. She was like a niece to me. She is married and has a daughter.”

A few more messages were exchanged.  My body started to tingle all over.  I was overwhelmed at the heart of Rachelle who had unconditionally loved Kim, but my mind went to how this could have happened.  Two young girls sharing a dorm room at a Christian college.  Best friends.  The transfer after freshman year to separate schools.  One goes on to marry, raise a family and do normal things (that would be me).  The other kills her husband and is in jail for life.  I spent the better part of a week sorting through my feelings and decided to write her a letter, convinced that God had brought her back into my life.  Would she respond?

Mustering the courage to tell Kim that my heart was broken for her and that I wanted to see her, I penned a short letter, enclosing a picture of our family, telling her bits about myself, promising not to judge her, explaining that I just wanted to be hear her story and be her friend again.

It took weeks to get a reply (snail mail in jail is extremely snailish).  She wanted to see me.  Relief washed over me.  I met with Rachelle for breakfast and spent the better half of the morning getting reaquainted, sharing the stories of our lives and making a plan to go see Kim together.

That happened this past Thursday.  A four-hour trip to Jessup, Maryland (Rachelle almost not getting in because of  bra hooks that set off the metal detector), a one-hour visit with smiles, stories, and quick hugs, and a four-hour trip home.

Early Thursday morning, I  prayed that I would bring healing and restoration to Kim and that I would (wait for it…okay, it’s hard for me) listen, listen, listen.  But, of course, God had something else up his sleeve.

The moment I saw her sitting in the visiting room at the sterile table, my heart leapt for joy.  As we spoke, she was the same Kim, kind, funny, smart, interesting and my friend.  The three of us spoke for the hour, reminiscing, sharing stories of ourselves, our thoughts, our families, and she shared about life in prison.  It was fascinating, to say the least.   Here are little glimpses of her life:

  • She works and makes $3.45 a day as a layout engineer using CAD software.  She designs office space for municipalities and has even done some dorm layouts for the University of Maryland.
  • She has to buy all her own toiletries.  Tide Pods are $6.99 for a small box.
  • She lives in the most privileged section of the prison because of good behavior.  She has a TV (with an old antenna) and a DVD player.  She has seen reruns of the TV shows where she is featured countless times.
  • She has a pet cat named Lynn.  The local shelter has partnered with the prison to allow inmates to care for a dog or a cat which goes with them to freedom if and when they get out.  (litter box right in the cell)
  • She started a book club (that has now spread to three or four other prisons) where college professors come and teach.  Her favorite book is Life of Pi.
  • She speaks to victims’ families and allows them to ask her any question.  This is designed to bring understanding and the potential for forgiveness and healing.

The story of her heart was even more fascinating.  She has come to the place where she has taken ownership, admitted guilt, and sought ways to contact her husband’s family to ask for forgiveness.  She has hope that (and it would truly be a miracle) one day there might be some kind of healing between them.

I was confused and amazed as to how she had gotten to this place.  How had she worked through all the shame and guilt.  I mean this is big stuff.  Like huge stuff.  Way out of my league stuff.  Why is she okay?  And not just okay.  She actually used the word “blessed.”  I received a little peak at part of the answer.

We spoke about how God’s heart is NOT for retribution, but for restoration.  His desire is not to punish her, but to redeem her (or any of us for that matter).  She knows this life-changing truth at the core of her soul.  He loves her no matter what she has done.  He is restoring her.  Not to freedom on the outside (both literally and figuratively), but to freedom on the inside (both literally and figuratively).  WOW!  Just WOW!

It all hit me like a tons of bricks:  this is why Jesus came.  Freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).  Not the outside kind, but the inside kind.  And no circumstance or failure (even premeditated murder) or brokenness is too much for Him.  He doesn’t discard anyone.  He never sees anyone as beyond hope.  He can free anyone, even normal me.  This is His main business.

I prayed very differently on Thursday night.  This time it was not that I would bring healing to Kim, but thanksgiving that she had brought a little more healing, freedom and restoration that day to little old me!  Surprise!

(By the way, I received her permission to share all of this.)