Posted in Celebration, Friendship, Love, Thanks

A Letter to My Friends #youhavenoidea

“Friendship is so weird.  You just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like, ‘Yup.  I like this one’ and you just do stuff with them.” (Google Search On Funny Friends Quote)

Dear Friends of Little Old Me,

Today marks the Dolly Mama “tell your friends how great they are” blog post.   I can’t believe I haven’t done it sooner.  I am a little embarrassed (and if you know me at all, that’s a load of hooey…I wouldn’t know embarrassment if it smacked me right in the behind).  Sorry.  Back to the letter.

Right off the bat, I have to just be super honest and tell you I am feeling a little snarky right now and you might just sense it when you read this.  Bear with me.  I’m planning to be serious and sappy and smooshy and sentimental as well by the time this letter is over.  Sorry.  Back to the letter.

It’s true.  You really are great!  Like wearing a superhero cape great!  Like standing behind a mic and getting an award great!  You get the point!  I think you are great!

Some of you are great because you don’t let me stay my “less than the true Esther Goetz” self.  You believe in me.  You motivate me.  You encourage me.  You kick me in that not-embarrassed behind when I need it.  You believe in the best version of me and you build me up one brick at a time.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are my cheerleader.  You sing your praises to my words-of-affirmation-is-my-happy-place heart.  You root for me and would have poms poms shouting “Esther Goetz is ‘da bomb'” if I would let you (don’t tempt me…I might have to make that happen in real life).  You make me feel like a champion even when I’m just an average New Jersey housewife.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

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Some of you are great because you love what I love.  We can take a walk or a hike and talk heady stuff like Christian doctrine.  We can take a bike ride on LBI and get our favorite kind of ice cream.  We can meet for lunch (on time may I add) and share silly stories of our week and our latest caper.  We can watch the Bachelor together (no judgment please) and laugh at the screen and ourselves in the process (“Do we seriously watch this show?”).  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are just “WITH ME.”  You sit with me in the dark times.  You laugh with me in the hilarious comedy that is my life.  You stick with me when I’m screwing up.  You talk me down off the ledge when I want to jump.  You calm my heart when the monster of anxiety rears her ugly head.  You have no judgment for me (take note, you who judged my Bachelor watching).  I tell you all my secrets.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you make me feel connected to you in all the best ways…emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical.  You wave at me across a crowded room, save a seat for me at an event, send me a card on my birthday, grab my hand when we are together, and remind me that we are “two peas in a pod.”   I belong to you and you belong to me.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are just fun!  You make me belly laugh.  You always have an adventure for us to go on!  You are super okay with my snarky nature and “give it back” to me when I’m dishing it out to you!  You light up when you see me!  You’re not afraid to say all that’s good about our lives and our days!  You give energy when this “Esthergizer Bunny” is about done.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

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Some of you are great because you open my mind and heart to new things.  You don’t let me get stuck.  You ask me great questions, challenging me to rethink the way I always have and help me to change “just a little bit” at a time (even though I might fight you in the moment).  You make my view of life (and many times GOD HIMSELF) bigger and enlarge my whole heart at the same time!  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are wise.  You keep me headed in the right direction.  You’re like the GPS of my life.  You help me navigate all the beautiful and messy parts of my journey with understanding, grace and kindness.  You straight-up give me advice (even when I’m being stubborn and a know-it-all).  My goals and dreams matter to you and you help me to keeping working toward them.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

ALL OF YOU ARE GREAT because you love me.  You really love me.  For who I am.  Plain and simple.  What more could I ever ask for or want from a friend?  Nothing!  Whether we text each other every day, talk to each other once every six months on the phone, are only able to connect on social media platforms, or see each other once in a blue moon at reunions, I count you forever as my friend, one that I will treasure in my heart until I take my last breath.

Somehow, my snarky voice has quieted and all is right in my very sappy world as I think of you and all that you mean to me!  I love you, my GREAT friend!

From my heart to yours,

Esther

P.S.  Please let me know three things – that you received this and maybe even read it (since I wrote it just for you), which kind of great friend you think you are and also what kind of friend you believe I’ve been for you (why I’m great…sorry, back to the snarky).  You can text me, call me, email me, snail mail me, comment on this blog or my current favorite, post it on social media.

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TODAY, I challenge you to maybe write a text or a letter or pick up the phone and tell one friend you love them and why they are great.  And then share this with them.  How amazing would it be if each one of us spoke our love with just one and then encouraged them to tell one.  The ripple effect would be wonderful!  January 20th, 2019, would be just a little more hopeful and beautiful!  TELL JUST ONE!

ALSO PLEASE FOLLOW ME VIA EMAIL!  JUST A QUICK CLICK AWAY!

 

 

 

 

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 Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, God, Grief, Love, Marriage, Parenthood, Thanks

Dear Mrs. Geiger (#goodgrief),

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  (Warren Buffett)

Dear Mrs. Geiger (otherwise known as Grandma to my kids),

This weekend, I was flipping through my beat-up recipe book trying to figure out what to eat with Allen.  I came across an old-fashioned casserole recipe that you had given me. Made with Rice-A-Roni®, cream of mushroom soup, diced chicken, corn and breadcrumbs.  Usually, I am fairly health-conscious, but it didn’t matter one bit.  I was determined to make it just to honor the fact that you gave it to me (and from what I remember, it was yummy).

From the first time I met you, I felt loved.  The year was 1990.  Me:  a twenty-something, red-headed, spicy girl in a new church in the middle of  a budding romance.  You: a sixty-ish, white-haired grandma, with a contagious laugh (I can even hear it now) and a servant’s heart.  You were pretty spicy yourself.  Little did I know what was in store for the next eight years.

Right from the very beginning, you began planting seeds of kindness and goodness into me.  You were unlike anyone I had ever met.  I wasn’t sure why I was chosen, but I was happy about it.  Within months of knowing me, you invited me (and my new love Allen) over for dinner.  As we pulled up to your Cape Cod on a quiet cul-de-sac in the darkness of winter, candles flickered in the window inviting us to the feast you would set before us and the warmth of your love (and Mr. G’s) inside.

As the months and our romance progressed and I struggled to convince Allen that I was the love of his life, you called me to your home once again and said, “Let’s get on our knees and ask God about this.”   Onto our knees we went beside your bed.   I’m not even sure I had a choice.   I found out we weren’t asking God about anything.  You were telling God that He needed to make Allen see what a gift I was and that he should ask me to marry him immediately.  It was crazy bold and I felt loved.  How good and kind you were to me.

It was sooner than later that your bold prayer was answered and Allen asked me to marry him.  You had us over for a celebration complete with an Italian dinner, those candles again flickering in the window inviting us into your home and more importantly, your heart.  That evening, we spoke of our discouragement in finding a reasonably-priced rental.  Immediately, you told us you would phone the widow who owned the empty home next door and ask if she would be willing to rent to us.  We were not only overjoyed at your kindness, but also because our frustrating home search might be over.  You called the next day.

Within a few months, just weeks before our wedding day, I moved in to 23 Edward Court, the little Cape Cod right next door to you and Mr. G, 27 Edward Court.  After our return from honeymooning in the Smokey Mountains, Allen moved in with me and we started our married lives together, happy to know that you were only about 30 feet away, filled with love, goodness, grace, kindness and wisdom.  What a treasure.  The next several years began to unfold.

You were one of the very first people I told when I found out I was pregnant with our first child.  You invited us over several evenings for dinner as I awaited my baby, juggling work, pregnancy and our new home.  You gave me recipes as a new wife that I made without the same ability and patience as you.  You prayed with and for me, listening to all my hopes and fears about these new chapters I was writing.

When Sarah arrived, you immediately called yourself “Grandma” and Mr. G “Poppy.”  You brought the Rice-A-Roni® casserole (the above one I made this weekend) the day I came home from the hospital, providing food and love once again in a time where I was exhausted and didn’t know my right hand from my left.  The seeds of kindness and goodness you sowed in my heart began to bud.

Time marched on and I had more babies.  You were the truest Grandma in every sense of the word, having Sarah over for tea parties and doll-house playing, beckoning Jared into your home to push the button to make the “choo choo train” whistle, poking Josh in the belly button, reminding him that it was his “tortellini” and causing bursts of laughter for all.  You viewed the dirty fingerprints covering your glass door from six little Goetz hands as marks of love.

You celebrated our birthdays, always making my favorite angel food cake in February and serving Allen a London broil on the grill in our backyards in August.  Our kids expected just the right gift from you on their big days and they had no idea you were anything other than their family.  The truth is you weren’t.

Our lives kept moving along in sync with each other, as we attended the same little church, lived on the same little street, and enjoyed the same little moments over and over and over.  Cups of tea, your love for Bermuda and our promise to go there on our 20th anniversary (which we did), visits for missing ingredients in the dishes I was making (too many times, I am embarrassed to say), stroller walks, laughter until our bellies hurt, tools borrowed, meals eaten together, wisdom shared (this was a one-way street), and hearts connected.  The seeds of your kindness and goodness bloomed in my soul.

The winter came when Allen and I felt we had outgrown our small home.  We began looking.  Knowing we would leave you gave us deep sadness.  When we mustered up the nerve to share this with you, you had your own news.  You were ready to move on to your next home as well, an adult community in beautiful Lancaster, PA.  We were relieved yet very sad.  As the months stretched ahead, we had garage sales and goodbye parties.  We shed mutual tears and shared excited hearts.  And as God would have it, our move dates were only days apart.  At the end of August, 1998, we both packed up all our belongings side-by-side and headed out into the next chapters of our lives.  We both said we couldn’t have done it any other way.

Of course, over the next many years, we visited you often and you came to our new home and we shared beautiful moments together.  One more time, you welcomed our last baby, Rachel, with open arms and hearts.  But the plain and simple truth is that it was never quite the same.  The true gift of those eight years living right next door, sharing our tables and our hearts, was once-in-a-lifetime, something I will treasure forever.  But as we know, kindness and goodness are the gifts that keep on giving.  Those seeds that you planted in my life are growing into a beautiful tree filled with abundant harvest and hopefully shade for others, that same shade you provided for me.

Today, I am a kinder and better woman, mom and wife because of you.  Allen is a kinder and better man, husband and father because of you.  My children are kinder and better human beings, budding adults, spouses, friends, sons and daughters because of you.   I don’t know why I was chosen for to receive this grand, beyond-my-imagination gift.  I am eternally grateful.

It’s been about six years since you passed away.  The last time Sarah and I sat with you in your apartment (only three weeks before you were gone), you shared your excitement about going to see Mr. G (Poppy to Sarah) and Jesus very soon.  You planted more seeds of kindness and goodness even that day.  You gave Sarah a special teacup from your collection, a wonderful reminder of all the tea parties you had with her when she was just a little girl.  You gave me, as I looked into your eyes and hugged you fiercely one final time, the greatest gift I could ever receive, the gift of yourself.

I miss you and Mr. G very much.   I can’t wait to eat that casserole today.

With All the Love and Thanks I Can Muster,

Esther

 

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!

*If you liked this, please go onto social media and give me a thumbs up or a like.  This one especially shares my heart and it would mean a lot to me.*

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Sacred, Thanks, Word of the Year

TW – Not TT (Season #01, Episode #07) Why It’s Not Just for Turkey Day

I’ve been fairly crabby this week.  And anxious.  Allen has also been anxious.  Lots going on in our home and family to merit this.  Definite and possible job changes.  Future home changes.  Friends with health and emotional challenges.  College kids coming home for the summer.  The normal stuff that makes up life, but tends to ramp up the crabbiness and the worry.

Last weekend, while meeting with our marriage mentoring couple, I was reminded once again about my strong passion for thankfulness.  Sitting at the table, surrounded by French croissants (brought by our amazing baker bride) and cups of tea, I spoke (okay, preached with passion…in other words, “went on a verbal rampage”) about the merits of thankfulness, spewing phrases like “it’s never a wrong decision,” “we actively see and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives,” “it brings healing,” “I am highly committed to it and it’s changed my life,” and on and on.  They listened to me with open hearts and wide eyes, jotting down notes in their manuals.

After they left, I sat down at my computer to give myself a good “pat on the back” and re-read all my thankful posts.  After all, I am highly committed to it and my blog will prove it to me once again.  Well, my “pat on the back” came to an abrupt halt when I opened my website and realized I hadn’t written a “Thankful Thursday” post since the end of November:  FIVE MONTHS.  Five long months.  I tried another avenue for the pat:  the daily thankful app on my phone.  Surely that would boost my ego and make me feel good about my dedication.   What I saw there was sporadic at best, certainly not daily, heart-felt reflections on how I have been blessed (those red notification circles on my phone are not doing their job – LOL).  So much for my tireless commitment.

Lest you worry about me plunging headlong into despair (that’s not my modus operandi), I forged ahead and re-read my thankful posts, looking for gentle reminders and the encouragement to pick up this best practice again.   Could there be a connection between my crabby and anxious heart and this drop off in thanksgiving?  The answer came to me:  I’m NOT sure.  Life isn’t having the right formula.  It just doesn’t work.  But as I re-read my posts, I AM sure the gratitude is really important.  Here’s why:

  1.  It gives words to the gifts that have been strewn to us by a generous hand and loving heart, treasures from a God who longs to speak His presence into our very souls.  We actively seek and remember those gifts.  We find out we are not alone on this journey and that there is someone who constantly loves and cares for us.  Read more HERE.
  2.  Sharing our thanks with someone opens the door for more relationship.  It provides connection in a world of disconnection.  It speaks love and kindness into someone’s world where these might be lacking.  It is always a good and right decision, something elusive in an ever-changing and complicated world.
  3. It shouts beauty to a world bombarded with the ugly.  It multiplies thanks in my own heart.  It is one of those sure-fire, good things in my life.  And it is simple, super simple (with all of the formulas out there for changing my crazy life for the better, this one doesn’t require a book to be written or a class to be taken).  Read more HERE.
  4. Thankfulness is one of the environments I can provide for myself that brings healing.  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.  Read more HERE.
  5. There are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  My life tends to be filled with negativity from all kinds of sources, things that consume me about what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Thankfulness combats that enemy of my soul and soothes it.  Read one of my all-time favorite posts HERE to find out more.
  6. It brings the voices of HOPE and RESTORATION instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  Many days, I am those voices of hope and restoration. But I also need those voices from others, the voices that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  7. It’s a gift from others to me.  When someone remembers to say thank you, my heart becomes a little less empty and a lot more full, a little less broken and a lot more healed.  It brings unity where there is division, joy in the midst of sorrow, and clarity instead of confusion.  Thanksgiving heals.  Read about this HERE.

This is what I know so far about my endless journey towards this practice of gratitude.  This is why this weekend (note the title TW which stands for Thankful Weekend…I know you were wondering), I am reflecting on my week and sharing these quick thoughts with you.  Speaking aloud again about what gifts God has given me:

  1.  A lunch with a friend who, after I made a snarky comment, said to me, “This is why we’re friends.  I wish I could live across the street from you.”  She validated why she loved me.  HUGE (especially for this “words of affirmation” girl).
  2. A phone call from a long-time friend about what one of my blog posts meant to him.  He encouraged me to continue to write.  STRAIGHT UP GIFT.
  3. Another friend called and asked me for my advice about her teenage son.  For those of you who have the battle scars of parenting, you get this.  All that work is not wasted.  Someone else can benefit from my successes and mistakes as a parent.  YAY!
  4. A sleep-over with one of my “brides” who we mentored several years ago.  A lazy dinner and a chat about boundaries and marriage and friendship and church and good books to read.  BALM TO MY SOUL.
  5. Sharing communion with my Beautiful Mess girls.  Reminding ourselves about the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the Reckless Love of God.  FAVORITE NEW SONGS!  Take a few minutes to listen.
  6. A heart-to-heart talk about struggles and decisions with another friend.  Her text to me afterwards reminding me she treasures our friendship.  OH MY GOODNESS.  LOVE IT.
  7. Date night with Allen sharing wine and worries over dinner and then taking the time to paint.  SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL FOR THIS PARTNER IN HOPE AND HEALING.

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As I sit here and take the time to reflect (which I am actually doing as I write this), my heart is gently reminded again why this matters.  People matter.  Loving them matters.  They are some of the greatest gifts I have.  God matters.  Loving Him matters.  Seeing His provision and gifts in my life matters.  He actually is THE greatest gift.

Maybe I have just “TENDED” to the best thing this morning.  (And I can breathe a prayer that I might just be a little less anxious and crabby.)

I hope you can too.

(Let me know if you do and what you are thankful for either in the comment section or privately at this link or connect with me on my social media pages:  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

Posted in God, Health, Thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #06) An End of November Special

“O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!” (William Shakespeare)

I eke every last little bit out of the month of November, the month of thanks.  Other than the trip to the tree farm, I don’t do anything related to Christmas until the clock strikes midnight on November 30 (and I secretly judge those who do (but still love them)…except for those who are not Americans…they can do whatever they want for obvious reasons). 

Actually, I do have a confession to make.  Today, I bought poinsettias (I never knew there was no “t” in the first half of that word until just now when spell-check corrected me) for friends and myself for the start of December tomorrow, but mine will stay in its brown wrapper until I wake at dawn.

As I reflect tonight about my #thirtythanks for the month of November, I am somewhat surprised at what I am the most grateful for.  Yes, I did write one thing each day for which I was thankful and took a picture to prove my point, but those things are NOT what is crossing the landscape of my mind.

As November draws to a close, my heart is drawn to the countless times others expressed their thankfulness and appreciation OF me TO me.  I recall emails, face-to-face conversations, texts, FB messages, and phone calls where someone said thank you to me.   One of my very favorite was a simple text from our son Josh the day he went back to college this past Monday.

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Just that simple note reminded me that he valued me and appreciated the hard work I had put in to making our holiday nice.  And there were so many other moments this past month where someone remembered to say thank you.  And you know what?  Every time it occurred, my heart became a little less empty and a lot more full, a little less broken and a lot more healed.  What a gift!  Thanksgiving heals.  I imagine that’s a secret President Lincoln knew when he declared a national day of thanksgiving during a time of civil war.  It brings unity where there is division, joy in the midst of sorrow, and clarity instead of confusion.

It’s why I am so passionate about it.  I want more of all that’s good and healing for my heart and yours.  It’s why I don’t just celebrate on the day, but I take the month of November and every #thankfulthursday during the rest of the year.  It’s why I have a thankful app on my phone that puts an annoying red notification circle at 7:00 pm every night.  I need the reminder because I’m human and my mind wanders to other, not-so-healed places at times.  I want my life to be saturated, or as St. Paul says, “overwhelmed with thanksgiving.”  Thanksgiving heals.

Thank you for all the times you have taken a moment to show your appreciation to all the different people in your life, from the clerk at the store to the spouse you might be annoyed with at the moment, from the person who teaches your children to the fallible mother who raised you, from the friend who sends you an encouraging text to the stranger who lets you pull out in front of them.  You have brought so much healing through this simple act.  I know what it’s done for me.  And I know what it’s doing for you and those whose lives you touch.

It’s December Eve.  Let’s take one more quiet moment together to reflect and allow our hearts to be filled up with all the goodness that gratitude has to offer.  And then, do one more thing:  find someone to say a simple thank you to as soon as you can.  It will change their world forever.  Thanksgiving heals.