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 Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, God, Holiday, Hope, jesus, Sacred

What if God is Waiting for Me? #holyadvent

Advent is the “Howl of the Not-Yet,” the WAITING for wrong to be made right, hopes to be made sight, broken places to be healed and questions to be answered.  We wait for God to come.  We wait for Christmas morning!

Our journeys are bumpy, filled with twists and turns, steps forward and slides backward, confusion and clarity, the messy and the beautiful.  It can seem like Advent never ends.  We cry out!  We howl!  We plead!  “How long?  How long?”  We wait.

But is waiting only reserved for us?  Are we the only ones who cry and long and plead?  What if God has His own Advent, His own howl, His own waiting.  What if God is waiting for us?  


Join with my friend Annie Ellerbusch as she uncovers this.

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about waiting (the Season we have upon us).  What am I waiting for?  What have I been waiting for all my life?  Maybe it’s more like what am I missing?  I know I am missing something, but what is it?   

As I persisted in thinking, I realized I had been focused on my waiting, MY waiting.  But I was not the only one waiting.  God was waiting for me.  God had been for a long time.

God was waiting in the most intimate places of my being, in the parts that only the two of us could visit, the memories that only the two of us shared, the places where I pushed down all that I could not accept, understand, or live with

…all the parts that I had ignored, dismissed, disowned, outgrown, left behind, rejected, abandoned, hid away or hid from 

…all the parts that I could not expose or share, that needed to be locked away for their own protection, or to protect myself and others

…all the parts that were either too bad or too dangerous to be set free, or too good and precious to risk losing

 God was there waiting for me, waiting IN me.

God was keeping all the parts safe, every one of them.  God valued and treasured all of them, all of me.  The words that came to me were intense, even insistent.

“It is your JOB and your JOY to take care of all of your parts, to take care of your self.  Only you can do it.  No one else will do it for you.  No one else CAN do it for you.  Not even ME.  This is your job, your responsibility.  

This is also your gift.  You are a GIFT.  You are My gift to Me.  You are My gift to you.  You are My gift to the world.

Take your self.  Love your self.  Own your self.  Care for your self.

Trust me.  You will see.  You will see what good will come from this.”

God was waiting for me to come and claim all my parts, to look at them and learn about them, to see them and hear them, to understand them, to accept and love them, to learn to care about them and for them, to welcome them back, to gather them up into the whole, my whole

. . . to inhabit my own wholeness , wholly known, wholly loved, and wholly free. 

 

TO SEE MORE POSTS RELATED TO THIS, CHECK THESE OUT:

Parenthood (The Constant Return to Advent)

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

You are the Gift


Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, God, Holiday, Hope, jesus, Parenthood

Parenthood (The Constant Return to Advent)

“Advent is for the ones who know longing.”  (Sarah Bessey)

“Tis the Season.”   (Mom utters with eyes rolling  while corralling little one hyped up on the latest candy cane-induced sugar high)

“Tis the Season.”  (Dad pronounces with pride brimming watching high schooler dance in holiday pageant)

“Tis the Season.” (Parents cry waiting for any hopeful news of their adult child living on the streets with addiction)

“Tis the Season” is right!  A season filled with wonder, joy, hope and generosity.  A season also filled with waiting, anticipating, yearning, the pleading question “is it all going to be okay?”  This is the howl of Advent.  Christmas morning is the answer to that question.

The entire journey of parenting feels a lot like Advent.   In fact, it starts with the womb, nine months of waiting, anticipating, yearning, the Question, “are they going to be okay?”  Our precious baby is born and for a moment when the doctor says, “All is well,” we burst with joy and wonder, waves of relief flooding our hearts as the question is answered.  “Yes, they are going to be okay.”  Advent quiets.  Christmas morning arrives.

Until…

We arrive home, alone with this human we are responsible to feed and care for, keep alive and healthy.  We wake in the dark, tiptoe over to the bassinet and put our hands on their backs or our fingers under their teeny noses to see if they are breathing.  The Question arises again, “are they going to be okay?”  Advent returns.

This constant returning to Advent, to the Question, permeates parenthood.   “WILL THEY BE OKAY???  Will they choke on that bagel?  Will they make friends in their class?  Will they learn to read?  Will they score a goal?  Will they have a seat in the lunchroom?  Will they tell us the truth about that party?  Will they drink and drive?  Will they get into a good college?  Will they struggle with loneliness?  Will they meet someone who loves them?  Will they make enough money?  Will they be a good mom or dad?  Will they have a happy marriage?  WILL THEY BE OKAY???”

Advent grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today and yearning that is unfulfilled.  BUT (and it’s a big BUT), Advent also speaks the hope of an answer at the end of a long season of waiting, a Christmas morning to come.

But as parents (whether our child is 2, 22 or 42), we wait, always returning to the Question.  Wondering if there is an answer to the burning doubt inside.  Will they be okay?  Really?   Is there a Christmas morning for us, for our children who we love so tenderly and so dearly?

Not too long ago, I was in the middle of a long period of Advent, asking and asking the Question.  It was nearly impossible to see any glimmer of hope on the horizon, near or distant.   The waiting was long.   I fell into a bleak and dreary place.  The Question engulfed me until I asked an ever scarier one:  What if they are not okay?  What then?

Just when I needed it (or more likely, when I was able to hear it), a gentle voice spoke into my heart, clear as the air on a crisp Spring day, “Even if the unspeakable happens, even if their treasured life comes to an end, they will be with Me, enveloped in My unfathomable love.  They will be perfectly safe.”   Further words came after that I had so longed for, “THEY WILL BE OKAY!”  And then, when I thought it was over, the same kind voice gave the answer to an even deeper question I had not even asked.  “AND SO WILL YOU.”  The sigh of my soul was almost audible, as I collapsed into the knowing place that no matter what, even if all questions are answered with a NO, the Question is answered always with a YES and Advent always ends with the beautiful Savior of Christmas Morning!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
(O Holy Night)

Continue reading “Parenthood (The Constant Return to Advent)”

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 Charity, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope, jesus, Missionary, Sacred

It Finally Happened to Us (The Relief Bus)

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” (Mother Teresa)

It’s super easy to spiral into hopelessness when checking out the news or social media. War. Wildfires. Politics. Shootings. Sex-trafficking. Addiction. You don’t have to look very far to find what’s going wrong.  It might even be impacting your own family.  It all feels heavy, dire and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Where do I start? Who do I help? What can I possibly do to make a small dent for good in this gut-wrenching broken world? Would it even make a difference? Those hard questions probably come up for you when you think about it. They do for me.

I felt that a lot as a mom.  There were gigantic, world-shattering issues and I was just changing diapers, helping with homework, feeding hungry bellies, cheering at events, and getting needed tasks accomplished, both at work and at home.

I still feel it.  My days are mostly borne out in the small, the mundane, the ordinary.  No earth-changing happening here.  Or so it sure seems.

Many times, I fall into the trap of two not-so-helpful thought-patterns and thus choices:

  1. Draining what little time and energy I have getting stuck trying to figure out what is most crucial or…
  2. Crumpling under the sheer magnitude of all the horror.

Other times, thank God, I am reminded of something wiser:

3.  Make the world a better place because I am in it.

It doesn’t matter what we invest ourselves in. We can care about clean water for the planet, special education needs in our communities, or our own child struggling with his math problems. It can be a big-world, local community or one-person issue.   We, all by our sweet selves, can be a powerful force for good.   We’ve done it thousands of times, most of it small and seemingly insignificant: a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, a meal made, a listening ear, a thoughtful gift.

No, we can’t do everything. But we can do something. And that is lots better than doing nothing.

Friday night, this came true outside of our normal, work-a-day world.  Allen and I, after much encouragement from my brother, Stephen (okay, he asked us about 10 times before we could say “yes”), drove our little selves to Elizabeth, NJ in 40 degree, rainy weather, to serve soup and hand out socks on the Relief Bus with him and some of his let’s-change-the-world college students.

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Yes.  I finally took the plunge into “the poor being the very portal to the heart of God” thing my friend Juan Galloway always talks about.

We met people who didn’t have their mental ducks in a row.  We met an unwed, teenage soon-to-be mom.  We met a man who prayed for us in a loud voice and called the power of Jesus down on us.  We met a “used-to-live-in-the-suburbs” couple who wanted to overcome their addiction to heroin and were desperate to get into a detox and rehab facility.  Their names are Dan and Jessica.

The bottom line is we met people.  Just people.

People with hopes and dreams not realized.

People with needs not met.  

People with kids they are worrying about.

People waiting to see how God will show up and wondering if He will.

Sound familiar?

People.  Just people.

Doing those few hours, our minds and bodies were taken up with passing out socks and soup, praying with these beautiful souls as they wanted, reminding them not to give up and that God saw them and every single one of their needs and that He loves them.  It was a good break from obsessing over the huge, complicated plight of the homeless in our broken culture and broken systems.

As we got in the car and were debriefing together, those consuming thoughts came rushing back.  “It’s so complicated.”  “What a mess.”  “Are there enough beds?”  “Everyone is on SSI or disability.”  “Are we adding to the problem?”   “No one is working.”  “Is a cup of soup really making a difference?”  “How is this ever going to be fixed?”  Even before we left, our kind guide said to us, “No, you are not going to fix homelessness in one night.”  UGH.

Very quickly, as “not-so-helpful” option #2 buzzed around in the car, floating out there and ready to consume us with hopelessness, we chose to cling to option #3:  make the world a better place because we are in it.

Period.

Love our neighbor.  Period.

Choose good.  Period.

Bring hope.  Period.

You see, whether we’re digging a well in Rwanda (YAY, we got to do that), washing the dishes in our kitchen (do that every day ugh), handing out socks to the homeless, cutting up bite-size portions for our toddler’s dinner (did that for like 10 years straight), putting money in a bucket at church (our church has a popcorn bucket…how fun is that?), saying thank you to your local barista (I don’t drink coffee, but I bet most of you do), all those tiny, supposedly inconsequential moments of good grow into the huge life stories of hope, change and restoration. The good beats back the bad one choice at a time, one person at a time.   It’s not insignificant after all.  It’s essential.

I’m not sure where your passion lies, what sets your soul on fire, what your heart longs to see restored. Be encouraged. Your “cup of soup” for one “hungry” person will send ripples of life-changing goodness into the world.  And don’t forget this one very important thing:  the “hungry” are everywhere, perhaps even sitting next to you.

From my  heart to yours.


**Huge shout-out today to New York City Relief and Juan Galloway (their fearless leader) for allowing us to get up close and personal.  Check out these four places for more information.  GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL YOURSELF.**

VOLUNTEER (your time – join all these cool names on the wall)

DONATE (your money or hygiene kits)

LISTEN to Juan’s story about his week on the streets living as homeless

READ Juan’s blog

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 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!

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