Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, God, Holiday, Hope, jesus, Joy, Marriage, Murder, Parenthood, Prison, Rwanda, Thanks, Uncategorized

What’s Your Panera? #giftsalreadyopened #littlesurpriseattheend

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.”  (James 1:17)

I walked into Panera this past Wednesday and there was a gift waiting for me.

I climbed 20 flights of stairs last January and another gift was waiting for me.

I went to my normal chiropractor appointment at the end of the summer and a third gift was waiting for me.

I went to church on a regular Sunday and a fourth gift was waiting for me.

All the talk right now is what do I want for Christmas.  What do you want?  What gifts are we going to get come nine days from now (yes, I know, it’s the final countdown…9…8…7)?  

Walking into Panera a few days ago stopped me in my tracks.  Right there on Route 22 in Watchung, NJ was a gift I had already been given in 2018:  my new friend Jackie!  Her bright eyes and cheerful smile greeted me before we even reached each other for a hug!  Our conversation unfolded in authenticity and grace.  We didn’t really want to leave at the end of two hours, but other things beckoned us to pack up our plates and give a quick hug goodbye.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, filled to the brim with joy over this wondrous gift of a budding friendship, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of all the gifts I have already opened in 2018, gifts strewn lovingly by God’s hand to my heart.

Maybe it’s just me (and somehow I would hazard a guess that it might not be), but with all the struggles that come from my average, every-day life, my mind tends to swirl around all the gifts I’m NOT getting on any given day.  They range from the minuscule (I forgot something at the store and now I have to go back and I just lost a half-hour of time) to the grandiose (some of the prayers I fasted for during Lent on my Hosanna List have not been answered yet).  I become discouraged and disheartened, wondering where God is in all of it and if He sees me and even cares.

Enter Panera.  My 2018 AHA moment.  “Take stock, Esther, of the gifts you’ve already received and opened and enjoyed this year,” a Voice inside my heart nudged, or more like prodded, “You don’t have to wait until December 25.”  So on this ordinary Sunday, December 16, 2018, I am doing just that…one for each month of the year!

  • The beauty of Allen’s apartment in the Strip district in Pittsburgh.  Yes, it’s 20 flights up (there is an elevator for the faint of heart), but the view of the river and the sheer “one-of-a-kindness” of it takes my breath away each time I turn my key and open the door.  And can I just say, Jared moving to this land of Allen’s birth is the icing on the cake!

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  • My solo visits to my friend Kim in prison.  Who knew prison could be a place of restoration and joy?  I didn’t.  Who knew a long-lost friendship could be rekindled in such an unlikely place?  I didn’t.  And now, my women’s group penned individual notes to her for Christmas!  I am undone with gratitude.
  • Fellow writers, editors and podcasters like Afton, Janis, Gail, Annie, Sarah, DebbieTracy and so many others who are encouraging me on this new-found and scary, but exciting journey of blogging, and book-writing.  (check out some of the links by clicking on their names…you won’t regret it).  AND YOU READERS who this would be useless without!!!  Huge thanks and shout out to those of you who read and share and encourage!  You have no idea how my heart leaps with each “like,” “share” and “comment.”  It means what I’m doing matters.  Thank you.
  • Authors who share their hearts with a waiting and skeptical world and the books that come out of them.   My two favorite this year and who I am determined to meet one day soon (one moved to NYC and one moved to Pittsburgh, so I have a good chance!!!  One knows a friend of mine and already emailed me back and I have a couple of friends who know the other personally…if you know them, hook me up!):  Shauna Niequist and Tish Harrison Warren!
  • Our cozy beach house that provides a place of respite and restoration for our family, my women’s group, our friends and even the renters who call it “our house” year after year.  Memories are forged, love is shared, the salt air heals and each one leaves better than when they came.  There aren’t enough words.

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  • Sharing at church about marriage mentoring and all the wonderful couples who came forward to be mentored and especially to mentor!  This makes my heart so happy.  Not only do we get to share about our own marriage journey (filled with struggles and strengths), but that others willingly come to receive and give themselves.  #yayformarriage #yayforvulnerability #yayforredemption
  • Budding friendships with those I didn’t even know existed a year ago.  Jackie isn’t the only one, even though she’s pretty AMAZING as I’ve already told you.  How about Susan, Stacey, and Tatiana, girls who jumped into my small groups and opened their hearts wide, sharing their very selves (BTW my small groups are unbelievable…don’t live without one)?!  WOW!   What about Liz, a young wife who loves Jesus and whose heart matches mine on this wholeness and healing journey (she’s the one who was waiting at the chiropractor, a very unlikely place)?  How about Natalie, my cohort in mischief and joy on my trip to Rwanda?  As a pastor’s kid,  she gets the “growing up in ministry” part of me very few understand.  Plus, she’s a great match for this Esthergizer Bunny.What other surprise people are in store for me?  I never want to say it’s enough.  As I’ve told Sarah so many times in her life, “the best friend you’ll ever make might be waiting just around the corner.”

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  • Our monthly couple’s massage.  Best birthday present ever given by my awesome husband.  Somehow, though, he benefits from this.  He’s a sneaky, but cute one.
  • An invitation into the redemption story of Rwanda!  To see this dream fulfilled after 10 years of our family’s “clean water obsession,” was absolutely incredible.  Not only to be a small part of it on the ground, but sharing with our team, meeting the people who do this day in and day out, and being completely invigorated by the ways God is bringing true restoration to a county so broken and devastated.  Even the Rwandan woman who prayed for me one day!  What a gift!  We cannot wait to go back with our family!
  • Long, deep and abiding friendships that are too many to count! (I can’t even begin the list because I so don’t want to miss anyone.  You know who you are!  Some of you are even my family members!)  Friendships that stand the test of time and love all the fabulous and flawed parts of me.  Friendships that remind me never to give up hope and speak grace over me when I’m hurting.  Friendships that keep me on course as we “limp our way together to redemption” (Tish Harrison Warren).
  • The latest Podcast I listen to and online book club I am carefully venturing  into with the Bible for Normal People.   This is the place I get all my mental feels and my brain gets stretched and I can discuss and argue and be free to express all my doubts and questions about God and the Bible.  For this girl who grew up thinking she (and a few other chosen ones) had all the answers to the big questions nailed down, it’s a huge, precarious step into the largeness of God!  On a very silly note:  I even got to record my voice giving a shout-out in one of their upcoming podcasts!  #90secondsoffame
  • Allen, Sarah, Cody, Broden, Jared, Lady, Josh, Daniella, and Rachel.  Heart of my very own heart!  Can you even believe that I have permission from them to share about them?!  Can you believe a husband and a bunch of mostly Millennials let their stories be known?  Who has that?  Believe me!  I don’t take it lightly!  This gift of them and from them allows my voice to be heard and there is nothing I treasure more!  They are even willing to go further!  How about that??  Here’s the LITTLE SURPRISE: you will begin to hear more from them and from me in the New Year on my new podcast called “The Dolly Mama and the Millennials.”   So excited!!

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So what’s your Panera today?  What gifts have you already opened this year?  Take stock, my friend!  And please please share at least one!  Or two, or twelve!  You can comment here, but even better out on social media!  Or BOTH!

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Family, God, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Thanks

Happy Birthday Broden Bear! #easytobethankful

When I see you, my eyes turn into little hearts! (The Internet)

Dearest Broden Bear,

Today you turn One!  I just can’t believe it’s been a year since I held you in my arms at Hershey Medical Center and had that unexplainable BIG feeling that your arrival would change me forever, in all the very best ways.

Mommy and Daddy have kept you alive for 12 whole months, 52 weeks, 365 days!  This is no easy undertaking now that your adventurous, free-spirited, “I-want-what-I-want”, curious and mobile self has taken over!  Just less than 72 hours ago, your determination to climb the steps all by yourself led to a not-so-little tumble, complete with a bloody nose and a call to the doctor.  Thankfully, you were back to your happy self very soon and went right back to the steps, not a care in the world.

I knew way back on November 18, 2017 that you would be cute.  I knew you would be super special.  But I didn’t know how easily and quickly my heart would be captivated by everything Broden:

  • Your big blue eyes filled with wonder at anything new.
  • Your six-toothed smile.
  • The pleasure you expressed when eating pizza with us on Friday.
  • The way you scrunch up your face.
  • Your strong-willed cry when you don’t want me to leave the room.
  • Bubbles of laughter during peek-a-boo!
  • Your love of music already.
  • The “look” of wariness when you are unsure of something.
  • The way you snuggle into my neck.
  • Your strong determination to get where and what you want.
  • Your look of recognition and then happiness when you see me.
  • Watching you giggle when you were playing with your new birthday toy last night!

One year ago, I found myself asking the questions, “What will you be like?  What adventures will life bring you and you, in turn, bring to life?”  You’ve already had so many adventures:

  • rides in your Daddy’s 1985 Bronco
  • staying up til midnight on New Year’s Eve (that might not happen again for a bunch of years)
  • meeting your great-grandparents
  • reading Press Here over and over and over (parents of young ones, buy this book…it’s genious)
  • going to your first wedding
  • eating a banana popsicle
  • dressing up like a pirate with Mommy and Daddy
  • putting your toes in the sand in LBI
  • kissing your first fish
  • loving the swing at the park
  • eating Chik-Fila (if Daddy has anything to say about it, this will be a staple in your diet)
  • dressing like twinsies with Daddy
  • swimming in the pool at Allenberry Resort
  • riding in your special bike seat behind Mommy and Daddy
  • meeting a goat at Paulus Orchard
  • having your first lollipop as Charlie Brown

And it’s not over . There are many many more to come!  They have and will continue to range from hazardous to great, terrible to sweet, quiet to joyous, sad to wonderful, hard to exciting.  One thing for sure: all of your adventures will be unique, because you, Broden, are one of a kind!  But one thing I didn’t realize then was all the adventures you would bring to me!  It’s been quite a ride already!  Can’t wait for more!

Regardless of the kind of adventure you take, never forget above all that that you are extremely loved.  The God who formed you has absolute and unconditional love for you.  Nothing you can ever do will make Him love you less or love you more.  He loves you just because you are you.

Your creative, smart, kind, hard-working, compassionate mommy and your free-spirited, adventurous, wise, level-headed, willing-to-grow daddy are absolutely head-over-heels in love with you.  They will love you no matter what and nothing you can do will ever change that.

You also have grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who have loved you from the first moment of hearing about you.  You will never find yourself in a place that you won’t be loved.

All of our eyes do turn into little hearts when we see you!  It’s impossible for it to be otherwise!

Your inner soul anchored in this place of unconditional love will be of immense value for living your outer adventure to the fullest.  Never forget that you have that safe place deep down inside that no one can take from you.  Live in and from that place!

This year, on the day you turn one, I want to remind you again of the “bunch of verses” that God gave to me right when you were born.  They are from God’s heart to mine and mine to yours:

From the day I heard about you, I have not stopped praying and making special requests for you. 

I pray that…

you will be filled with a deep and clear understanding of His will for you, that you will have insight into the ways and purposes of God. 

you would live how God designed you to live, from a fully-known and fully-loved place and that you would have complete trust in Him.  This brings Him the most pleasure.

your life would bear much fruit from all your hard work. 

you would have a full, deep and clear knowledge of God. 

you will be invigorated and strengthened with all power from God so that you will have much patience and joy.

I thank God because He has made you fit to share in all that is His.  He has brought you into His Kingdom, one that is filled with love.

(Colossians 1:9-14 – EJGV – “Esther Joy Goetz Version”)

Broden, how fun that you are ONE!  I am so glad that you were born right before Thanksgiving.  It’s perfect timing!  Having you in my life gives me countless reasons to be thankful!  Next November, you will be TWO and we will do this all over again!  For now, I am off to your birthday celebration!  Happy Birthday to you!!!

With all the love I have in my heart,

(Not sure what you will name me…maybe we will know by this time next year)

P.S.  We took a picture of you every day for your first year.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH YOUR SLIDE SHOW!

 

Posted in Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Grief, Hope, Joy, Love, Marriage, Parenthood

My House Empty but My Heart Full (to my fellow ordinary moms)

“Yes, please get a new cup every time you get a drink of water.”  (No Mom Ever)

I lie alone in my bed on a very normal Wednesday night at 11 pm here in the sleepy little town of Long Hill Township, NJ.  Allen, my husband, the heart of my heart, is at his apartment in Pittsburgh, where he works three days a week.  Sarah, our oldest, is hopefully sleeping soundly snug next to her husband with her baby boy a few short steps away in his crib (praying he is not sleeping like a baby, but more like a teenager) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Jared, our blond hair, blue-eyed first-born son, is probably nodding off in his own apartment in Western PA after a really long day working outside.  Joshua, my college senior and future pod-cast cohort, might just be tackling a paper he has procrastinated writing in Long Branch, NJ, about 50 miles away.  Rachel, my baby 19 year old curly-headed musician, is the farthest away, probably jamming away with friends on guitars, keyboards and microphones, all the way in Winter Park, Florida.  My house is empty and my heart is scattered all over the East Coast.

Only eight short years ago, life was completely different.  On those Wednesday nights, after showers were taken, toilets were flushed, teeth were brushed, homework was done, video-game playing came to a close, hugs were given, “I love yous” were said, all five of these people who my soul loves lay their heads on pillows within 20 feet of my own.  My house was full and my heart was in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.

Yet tonight, as I lie in my very empty house, and although my heart is scattered, it is not empty.  My heart is FULL.  Full because today, this very ordinary Wednesday, I have been loved by all the incredible people I shared the better part of my life with in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.

“Thanks, Mom, for all you did for us today.”  (phone call from Sarah as she was finishing up dinner with her new family after I had spent time caring for her baby and doing their laundry)

“Mom, don’t forget to check for my dress pants in my closet for my job fair next week tonight.”  (phone call from Josh on his way home from his internship)

“See you this weekend, Mom.” (reminder from Josh about Friday night)

“Shalom to you too, beautiful wife.” (text from Allen as he heads to dreamland after our discussion about what peace really means)

“Love you too, Mom.” (text from Jared in response to our discussion about us getting him a puppy for his birthday)

Just as I cuddled up under my covers and was about to turn off the light, I received one last “ding” on my laptop.  It was the last of the bunch, our Rachie Bug, as she is known in these parts.  And it was for no reason at all.

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Lest you get some crazy notion from all this loveliness that this is how it’s always been or always is even now, let me set the record straight.  Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, we had our moments.  Fights over the huge and minuscule (there was even one earlier this week and it was a doozy).  Broken rules and boundaries.  Critical spirits and hurt feelings.   Addictions and mental illness.  Slammed doors and silent treatments.  Sickness and sadness.  Harsh words and ignorance.  All the things that make up normal FULL family life.

But as today reminded me, this is NOT all there was or is now.  Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, there were also “I’m sorrys” and “I forgive yous.”  Respect and authenticity.  Forgiveness and encouragement.  Freedom and healing.  Open hearts and honest conversations.  Health and joy.  Kind words and understanding.  All the things that make up normal FULL family life.

So, Fellow Ordinary Moms and Wives who are…

STILL UNDER ONE ROOF:

I see you.  I was you.  It’s hard.  Look up, Sweet Mama.  Keep up the good work.  Hang in there.  You are amazing.  The days are long, but the years are short.  You’ve got this.  Your family is normal.  These people you love, but are ready to kill at any given moment, are worth every ounce of love you can muster and are pouring out and into them.  They will make it.  You will make it.   You will never regret it.  It may seem like there’s no end in sight, and your stuff feels huge (AND IT IS), but it will (AND THEY WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful.  Never forget this one truth:  LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!

ALONE IN YOUR BED:

I see you.  I am you.  It’s hard.  Look up, Sweet Mama.  Our hearts are scattered, yet they reach more places.  Our love that we gave and are continuing to pour out is multiplied beyond measure.  Hang in there.  It will feel sad some days.  It does for me too.  I miss those times under one roof at one table in one place.  But it will (AND WE WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful.   Even though the end is in plain view (and possibly in the rear view), we must keep loving and giving ourselves to our people.  Even though our houses are empty, our hearts can be full.  Never forget this one truth:  LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!

(One heart-wrenching note: for those of you who have lost children, I can’t even imagine.  Your heart has been shattered beyond belief.  It’s hard for me to speak to you because I don’t understand.  I really don’t.  But I do know that the love you showed them while they were here is not wasted.  It’s continuing to multiply over and over again because love is like that.  You loved them with your whole heart.  In turn, they loved others with theirs.  That’s what this world needs and you have given it freely and sacrificially.  Thank you for taking that risk we all are taking as we love our children with our fierce mom love.  I’m so sorry, Sweet Mama.   My heart is with you and all us moms collectively salute you and hug you with our hearts.)


When our daughter became pregnant (CLICK HERE) with our precious grandson (CLICK HERE), I was giddy.  Not because she was going to produce a grandchild to me, even though that’s a lot of fun, but because she was going to join the massive, never-ending “Mom’s Club” that I am a part of.  There’s nothing like it.  We understand parts of each other that no one else does.  We take a gigantic risk loving this human being, but we can’t help ourselves.  We give each other that look (maybe of desperation or joy) across the room and the other mom sees our hearts behind our eyes.  There’s nothing like it.   We turn to each other in times of great heartache and are comforted.   When we can’t speak with our mouths because the joy or the pain is too deep, we receive unspoken affirmation through hugs from each other.   There’s nothing like it.

So Sweet Mama, thank you for loving.  Thank you for sharing your heart with another.  Thank you for making your little world a much more beautiful and safe place.   You’ve got this!  And together, we’ve got this in spades!

**PLEASE LIKE THIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND SHARE WITH ALL THE MOMS YOU KNOW**

 

Posted in Celebration, Charity, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, jesus, Joy, Missionary, Rwanda, Sacred, Third Culture Kid, Travel

From the Fantastic to the Ordinary (#iwanttobuildashrine #rwanda)

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained.  We must always return to the ordinary.” (Richard Rohr)

I am still trying to wrap my head and my heart around the fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly” experience I had in Rwanda.  There really are no words in our English language able to capture it in its fullness.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve had these times as well where it feels like it’s too almost too sacred to share.

I go from energy to exhaustion within the same moment.  I am energized because a new village has clean water to drink.  I can see and hear the girls jumping rope with their new gift from America and dancing as water pours out from the brand new pump.  However, I am exhausted because people are still wearing their same dirty clothes day after day and school girls don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, much less a private place at school when it’s their “time of the month.”  They have to stay home for the week, thwarting their learning and the prospect of a better life.

My heart wants to go back and stay here all at once.  Here in New Jersey, I have people I love, conveniences (like wifi that actually works consistently), and a bed that welcomes me (without a mosquito net).  But in Rwanda, there are new friends that I love and already miss, the simplicities of a slower pace without the constant dinging of cell phones, and a night sky filled with unhindered stars shining brightly.

I miss the excitement of my team and our trip yet I am happy for the silence of my kitchen in this moment.   There couldn’t have been a better group of people to travel with.  Our persons varied widely:  silly and serious, introverts and extroverts (#meandnatalie), newbies to world travel and those who have lived all over the globe, young parents to grandparents, singles and married.  We laughed at ourselves in all our Americanness and shed tears for and with each other, sharing how our hearts had been changed forever because of this precious time spent.  We danced in the afternoon and sat bleary-eyed at the early breakfast table,   We played soccer and sang praise songs, gave hygiene lessons and carried pipes.  We did our best to be utterly flexible while our “used-to-being-in-control” selves took a much-needed break.  Yet, now, I am happy for the normal, everyday life where I can take stock of these moments and process how I have been shaken on the inside, never to be the same.  It’s just my computer and me in my kitchen in my home, all activity quieted for the moment.

I met some of the brightest and kindest people serving their local community with Living Water International.  Graciously, they allowed us the opportunity to actually hold the drill rig in our own non-calloused hands.  I  danced with local church leaders who care day-in and day-out for the poorest members of their villages.   I stood in awed silence as one woman prayed for me as she squeezed my hand intermittently during the time given to the task.  I spoke with a government sanitation minister about her efforts to have working toilets in the schools (the funny thing being that the toilet in her government building actually over-flowed after I used it).  Tears flowed as I left them behind, yet hope sprang because they continue to do the work after I am gone.  We are connected not in body anymore, but still in vision and heart.

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I want to do something more, not waste my experience, make it count.  I don’t want to go back to my ordinary life of sending emails, brushing my teeth and getting my car fixed.   I want to buy a cow for three people that I met.  I want to write blog posts that the world will read.  I want to make a slide show, a scrapbook, something so that I won’t forget, and neither will others.  I want to capture it and hold on tightly.

But when it comes down to it, I am probably not buying a cow for anyone.  It might be not the wisest thing to do.  I also have had a really hard time writing down exactly what I experienced even though I have tried many moments.  Even looking at my pics and videos (and I know some of them are here in this post), they just don’t do the trip justice.  I’ve tried to share them, but they don’t really capture the beauty of the rolling hills or the sheer joy of the people met.  You know.  You get it.  You’ve had these experiences too.

Processing some of it out (at least for now), I realized that I just want to build a shrine out of this mountaintop experience like the three disciples did when they saw Jesus being transfigured during their literal mountaintop experience (READ IT HERE) . After all, they had just encountered something fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly.”  I’m with Peter.  Why not build at least some tents, something more permanent, so everyone could live there?  Why not have at least a blog post, a video documentary, something concrete to hold on to so that no one would ever forget?

But Jesus surprisingly and gently says to them, “Don’t talk about it right now.”  As Richard Rohr reminded me this week (Check out his whole article HERE), “Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious.”

Obviously, I have not been completely silent (I am Esther Goetz after all).  Here you are, reading this blog post that I have written.  It’s my third one (here are ONE and TWO).   However, I have found myself fumbling for thoughts, words and images to share here and with family and friends.  And no matter what I’ve tried, I sense that I’m holding back and not really wanting to speak about it very much.  Now I have a small glimpse as to why.  Richard Rohr is wise.  Jesus is even wiser.  He has invited me on a sacred journey meant just for me FOR NOW.   He has lovingly thwarted me from “building a shrine” and living there in the extra-ordinary, mountaintop place.  He has reminded me that yes, the fantastic has its purpose.  It shakes us to the core.  It shouts loudly to our souls.  It changes us forever.  Thank God for the fantastic.

However, we can’t stay there.  Nor should we.  Even though this week, I have really wanted to.  Coming back off the mountaintop back down into the ordinary is just as crucial for us, for me.  It must be.  Most of our time is spent here.  Our hushed, behind-the-scenes, gentle, seemingly dull moments are not wasted.  They are essential.  For it’s in those very ordinary moments that turn into days that form weeks and months and years, that a lifetime of long-lasting redemption takes place.  We are truly changed forever.


Thank you again, Rwanda,  your people and your land are beautiful.  Your redemption story is almost unfathomable.   Because of the light you shine, our world and my heart are much brighter!!  Again, I say, Murakoze Rwanda!!!

**THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TODAY…WOULD BE THRILLED IF YOU LIKED THE POST HERE OR OUT ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  I WOULD ALSO LOVE AND WELCOME ANY COMMENTS*

Posted in Celebration, Charity, Childhood, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, jesus, Joy, Love, Missionary, Peace, Rwanda, Sacred, Thanks, Third Culture Kid, Travel

Dear President Kagame of Rwanda,

“In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.”  (Pastor Rick Warren)

Dear Mr. Kagame,

I visited your country this past week.  It was the first time I had ever been to Rwanda.  When I was growing up and then a young mother, your country was constantly in the news, and not for good reasons.  There was strife among your people groups and the politics that surrounded them and then ultimately horrific genocide in the spring of 1994.  Even I, an American child growing up in war-torn Ethiopia during the 1970s, would have been terrified to visit.

That was not the case about a year ago when I was invited to go on a clean water trip to your “Land of a Thousand Hills,” something I learned this past week was more true than I imagined.  I was elated at the idea and said a hearty “yes.”   About three years ago, having heard the basic story of the healing journey your people have embarked on for the past 20+ years, I became intrigued with your country and felt a pull to experience it personally and in detail.   Yes, I wanted to bring clean water, but more so, I longed to learn and know your people and their stories of utter heartache and unexplainable hope.

Your country that is now known for its clean streets and touristy treks to encounter mountain gorillas descended into the dark hole of savagery in 1994, only 24 short years ago.  Your nation was shattered beyond recognition.  Your people turned on their neighbors, their friends, their own families.  They murdered innocent men, women and children, leaving behind a completely decimated economy and environment, destroying themselves from the inside out.    This genocide lasted 100 days and over 1,000,000 (roughly one out of every seven) of your beautiful Rwandans lost their lives.

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When it was all over, there was a crucial decision that had to be made.  What do you do with a nation where 70% of your children personally witnessed the killing or injuring of a family member, 80% lost somebody in their household and 90% were afraid they were the next to die?  What do you do with a country where so many were perpetrators and even more were victims?  What do you do when all the light goes out and darkness appears to have definitively prevailed?

Only the most ludicrous option remained for your countrymen:  the excruciating, very personal and communal passage towards repentance, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.   Under your humble and wise leadership, your brave people began their continuing journey towards hope and healing.  This incredible and very rare approach to this cruel tragedy provided the essential environment where each man, woman and child who remained could experience life and love again, in all their fullness.  Children could go to school.  Parents could raise their crops and their families.   Rwandan’s businesses could thrive.  Your country could move from tragedy to triumph.

You have come a long way in just these 24 years.  Your country is beautiful, the rolling hills once stained with blood, now dotted with crops and livestock.  Your streets are exceptionally clean, unlike anything I’ve seen.  Your people, adults and children alike, are filled with joy.  Your neighborhoods are safe.  Your unity and respect for each other, from the highest nobleman to the lowest pauper, abounds.  Your visible equality among men and women in places of authority and leadership is highly telling of the mutual, inner esteem you have for each other.  Your desire to become the first African nation where 100% of your people have access to clean water reveals the spirit of hope and excitement that I witnessed in spades.  From your bustling capital of Kigali to the poorest, remote village where we dug our well, positivity and hope-filled energy permeated each person we met.

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We were welcomed with bright smiles, waves and shouts of “Muzungu” (look that up on Google, you readers) as we rode past adults and children performing their daily tasks of fetching clean water, transacting business in the marketplace and taxiing their neighbors on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes.  Never for a moment did I feel as if I was not wanted there.  As I very sadly pondered your blood-stained streets only a few short years ago, I witnessed first-hand the miracle of this very “other-worldly” and one-of-a-kind route you and your people have taken.

Instead of revenge, you have given each other forgiveness.  Instead of continuing hatred, you have learned to “love your  neighbor as yourself.”  Instead of war, you have an authentic peace that surpasses all human understanding.  Instead of continuous destruction, there is marked restoration.  I do not say this lightly.  It’s palpable.

It’s as close as my eyes that saw church and political leaders working together, diligently creating plans to help the least of their countrymen.  It’s as close as my ears that heard joyful singing of villagers as we watched together the water spurt out of the dry ground.  It’s as close as my mouth that tasted the delicious fruits of your harvest, from bananas to coffee, sweet potatoes to cassava.  It’s as close as my nose that relished the unique smells of the bustling city of Kigali to the rural countryside of the Ruhango District.   It’s as close as my arms that received hugs and high-fives from soccer players and church goers, government workers and school children, the wise elders and the curious children.  More completely, it’s as close as my deeply-transformed soul that I carry with me out of your beloved land.

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From the bottom of my heart, I salute you and your people.  You have courage beyond my comprehension.  You have chosen great love in the face of extreme difficulty.  Each one of you shines like a bright beacon in our dark world.  Thank you.  My heart has captured your dream to bring clean water to every Rwandan father, mother and child and wish to make your vision a reality:  “hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary and love for a broken heart.”  Godspeed, Mr. Kagame!

Esther Goetz

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR OTHER THOUGHTS ON MY TRIP TO RWANDA!

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Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Sacred, Word of the Year

A Blessing for My Fellow Moms (#refreshmentforyoursoul)

There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas
Creation’s most unique and precious pearl
And heaven help us always to remember
That the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Glen Campbell

To my Fellow Sweet Moms,

Each of our souls need blessing, someone willing something very good for us and asking God to grant it.   As moms, we are constantly blessing those we love and live with.  We give many times more than we receive.  As your kids (whether they’re three or 43) enter another new “school” year, I long to speak this blessing straight into the core of your mom soul.  I pray that God would fill your life and your heart with all the good things that God can give.  One of my favorite words is “HOPE” (It was my WOTY in 2015) . True, authentic, God-breathed hope is the confident expectation of good in your life.  This is my “HOPE” and blessing for you this year:

As you rise each morning, may you awaken refreshed with peace and hope for the new day that has been given to you (in your body, your mind and your spirit).

As you are getting ready, may your heart be excited about what gifts have been prepared by God’s hand, especially designed for you.  May your time be expanded so that you are not hurried and that you are filled with joyful expectation.

If you have a little one, may they have slept peacefully through the night and be waking with a brilliant smile and a warm hug for you.  May they respond with enthusiasm as you help them to dress, eat and be ready for their day ahead.

If you have school-aged children, may God speak words of encouragement to you during the morning flurry.  May peaceful and cooperative spirits reign over the rush.

If your child is now a budding or grown adult, may God fill your heart with peace as you trust Him with their journeys and what they may be experiencing apart from you.  May God comfort you as you wipe away the tears that come from missing them and may you experience joy as thoughts of them flood your mind.

As you walk through your day, may others speak words of kindness to you.  May you also have wisdom to know exactly what God has for you as you pursue the things you love, whether for work or pleasure.  May your labor bring much reward to you no matter what you endeavor. 

May you and those you love have safety throughout the day.  May each of you be protected from disease and harm. May you find yourself in a constant place of contentment and peace, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

May you be filled with laughter and joy as you unpack the special gifts God has designed just for you.  May you have times of seriousness and depth as well that speak to your inner being.  May your friendships blossom, your body flourish, your mind be sharpened and your heart be filled with love.

May your pre-dinner time be filled with peace and joy, kindness and motivation.  May those you live with work diligently to fulfill their responsibilities and be a help to you the best way they can.  May there be times of play and refreshment as well that nourish and strengthen your soul.  

Depending on what your evening’s activities bring you (family, a good meal, continued work, exercise, quiet, or friendship), may those who come in contact with you give you only words of comfort, understanding and support.  May the mouths of others be shut if their words are critical and unkind.  May your exercise (whether physical, emotional, relational or spiritual) be fruitful and bring life to you.  May your loved ones bring you blessing and life.

When you have a break from the daily grind of work (weekends, vacation, Sabbath, etc.), may your time be filled with restoration  of your mind, your spirit and your body.  May you have understanding of what to fill your time with and when to rest, when to be with others and when to be alone.

As you wrap up your day, may your mind turn to thoughts of thanksgiving for the gifts that were so freely given to you that day by God’s hand.  May all thoughts of despair and discouragement be banished from your mind, heart and soul and may they be turned to Christ, who has sustained and provided for you during this past day.

May your night be filled with dreams that bring you joy, recreation, laughter, hope, love, peace, kindness, encouragement, restfulness and even creativity.  May God grant you the full and daily restoration that your body, mind, heart and soul needs during this time.  May your whole being respond with healing and wholeness.  May God richly bless you as you sleep!

Throughout all of your days, may you be able to see, feel and receive the love and grace that God has for you in abundance.  And finally, “May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

Sweet Fellow Mom, we are on this journey together, one that is filled with the beautiful and messy, the light-hearted and complicated, the bitter and sweet!  We will keep trusting and moving ahead on this journey together!

From my heart to yours,

Esther #fourkidsisfun