Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

“You Better Watch Out” God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia. I am just nine years old. My bunkmate stirs below me. I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep. Sleep does not come.

I rehash the day. Thoughts swirl: “I did a bunch of wrong things. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I should confess my sins. Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today. I hope you can forgive me.”

Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.  I go into a bit of a panic. “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart. If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”

I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart. I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.” Still nothing. I lay there wide-awake.

My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, my dorm mother reading us another chapter in the story of Narnia. The image of Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them, floods my mind. “I love Aslan. I wish God was like Aslan. Why can’t He be?”

As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope: “Maybe He is.”

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For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season. A jolly man with a jolly heart. A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.” My friend “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did to God as a young girl.

It makes a lot of sense. “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Sounds eerily similar to a song from those little girl boarding school days: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” YOU BETTER WATCH OUT.

Recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has stepped in to “help Santa.” This Elf is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent. He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas. His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Santa. God. Elf on the Shelf. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

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Fast forward 30+ years. I’m a mom of four littles who loves celebrating Santa (in fact, my seven-year old just opened her letter from the North Pole). We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf (only because he/she is not invented yet). But me, this “desperate-to-please-God” young mom, believes wholeheartedly in a this YOU BETTER WATCH OUT God.

I’m stuck in my grown-up mom body as the little nine-year old girl on her bunk bed. God is no different than Santa or Elf on a Shelf. He’s up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave, to be good for goodness sake.

You yelled at your kids today. BAD!

You taught Sunday School. GOOD!

You told that white lie to your best friend! BAD!

You helped your twelve-year-old with their homework. GOOD!

You forgot to pray! BAD!

My relationship with this Santa/Elf on a Shelf/God is a little topsy-turvy. I’m filled with and act from the stranglehold of fear and guilt. Am I good enough today? Is God happy with me?

I hide or at least try to. Why wouldn’t I? I avoid Him. Who wouldn’t? I struggle to feel close, spending all my energy keeping my external, visible behavior under control, hoping it’s enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s utter disapproval of me. UGH!

My internal craving for love and belonging is completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

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In the middle of all of this, the stories of Narnia reenter my life and I have a reunion with Aslan.  I find three-hour-long radio theater dramatic renditions (absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these tales that I loved as a child. I kill two birds with one stone: share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).

As I reconnect with Aslan, I find again that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one I long for and need so desperately, my grownup heart still fragile from the many years of trying to keep myself in line.

That hopeful thought I had as a child flickers again in the darkness of my soul.

God is not like Santa.

God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.

God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”

God is like Aslan.

God is wise. God is playful. God is generous. God is kind. God is mysterious. God is terrifying. God is magnificent. God is beautiful. God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period. End of story.

No more YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

My soul settles slowly (I’m talking years of retraining my brain) into a place of love and belonging. Yes, God sees me. He really sees me. He sees that little girl in the bunkbed, fearful, yet hopeful. He sees the young mom who longs to be known fully, and loved completely. He still sees me, the real real me. But instead of “setting me straight,” His beautiful, tender, kind heart sets me free!

My flicker so long ago, “Maybe He is,” burns brightly as a fire of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”

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P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus. I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

In his response, Lewis offered this relief: “Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

 

***ONE MORE NOTE:  If you liked reading this, please go back out and “like” it on social media.  Means the world to me!***

Posted in Charity

Sometimes Generosity Looks Like…

Sometimes GENEROSITY looks like…

…putting a coin in a red bin at the grocery store with the bell-ringer looking on.

…saying yes to your young teenager’s request for a ride to the movies (both ways).

…ringing your neighbor’s doorbell with a tin full of home-made (or even store-bought) cookies.

…texting a hurting friend and saying, “I’m here for you.  No judgment.  Only compassion.”

…allowing a hurried mom with four kids in tow to go before you in the checkout line (#thatmomwasme #thankyoukindstrangers).

…sitting with ten first-graders on Sunday mornings reminding them how crazy God is about them.

…sharing a “Go Fund Me” page on your social media network for a desperate soul.

…standing up on the train and gently whispering, “Please, take my seat.”

…reading one more book at the end of a long, exhausting day with your I-don’t-want-to-ever-go-to-bed toddler.

…writing that Google review for your hard-working, but not-perfect contractor.

…giving your spouse permission to sleep in when littles are up at the “most ungodly hour.”

…granting someone access to your beautiful, messy, sacred, broken, healing heart.

Sometimes GENEROSITY looks very different for each of us. 

That’s a wonderful thing.

#dontcompare #keepupthegoodwork #generosityheals #bringhope

Posted in Charity, Faith, Family, Friendship, Thanks

LOVE is Still Winning

It can feel like HATE is winning.  Fear creeps into our skin and buries deep within us, tearing our souls in shreds.  Despair tangles her knots around our spirits, attempting to blow out the tiny flickers of hope we carry inside.

Hate is NOT winning.  It will never win.

LOVE is winning.  LOVE will always win.

LOVE WINS WHEN A…

…mommy and daddy hold their newborn and shout, “We are so in love!” on social media and then take 1,345,428 pictures for the next year.

…married couple look deep into each other’s hurting eyes and say, “We will fight for each other.  Let’s go to a counselor.”

…toddler giggles at the sight of their aunt coming in the door, arms filled with gifts that only she can get away with giving.

…friend texts in the middle of the day and says, “I’m here.  Call me day or night.”

…teacher pulls her “spicy” student aside, and says, “I believe in you.”

…top executive makes his way to an inner city soup kitchen on a Friday night in the pouring rain.

…garbage collector rings your doorbell to remind you it’s Tuesday because your trash cans are still in your garage and then waits until you go running downing the driveway in your jammies with said cans flailing behind (#personalstory)

…gangly middle-schooler takes a risk to befriend the new kid who moved into the neighborhood.

…hospice worker cares tirelessly, going many extra miles, for the victim of a dreaded disease.

…person on the “other side” shares these words, “I hear you.  I see your point of view.”

…boss reminds a new and confused worker that failure is part of eventual success.

…grandpa plays “peek-a-boo” for the 48th time in the last 10 minutes.

…customer in the grocery store line steps aside and says, “Go ahead of me.”

…Savior sends a gorgeous rainbow to remind us of his promise never to leave us or forsake us.

…mechanic takes the time to help a stranger in need in the middle of Kansas on a cross-country trek (#anotherpersonalstory CLICK HERE)

…victim chooses forgiveness over revenge

…knowing smile that says, “me too,” sneaks to the lips of a stranger across the room.

…doctor takes the extra minute in the room and says, “I’m here to help.  You will not fight this alone.”

…roommate utters the precious words, “I’ll do the dishes tonight.”

Overwhelming peace quiets our desperate souls.  Hope is lit brightly again far down in our fledgling spirits.

It’s everywhere.  It’s all the time.

LOVE is winning.  LOVE will always win.

 

Posted in Celebration, Clean Water, Faith, Family, Homeless, Marriage, Thanks

Happy Birthday Allen!

“The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.”  (Thomas Carlyle)

Allen.  A word that comes off my lips probably twenty times a day.  A word that sometimes is surrounded by love and other times by frustration.  A word like no other in my life.  A word that encompasses kindness unlike I’ve known before, integrity that quietly makes a profound statement, humility that lifts others up and spirituality that is deep and genuine.

I’ve struck gold in the landscape of life.  This man, who I’ve known for almost 30 years just keeps getting better and better.  He’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.  And he gave me four more gifts in our incredible children, as qualities I see growing in them reflect who their dad is.

Allen embodies the spirit of “being kind over being right” (and thank God for that, because I like being right just a little too much).  I watch it play out in quiet moments with close friends and strangers alike.  He is considerate to both immediate family and the homeless that wander the streets of New York City.  Co-workers who spend every day with him and the poor who don’t have access to clean water benefit from his heart of benevolence.   His gracious spirit permeates his times with his partners in ministry and the engaged couples we minister to together.  As you can see, his kindness is genuine, often and without boundaries.

Integrity is the suit of armor Allen puts on every single day.  He does “the right thing even when no one is watching.”  I would know.  I live with the guy.  He doesn’t cheat on his taxes, on his expense sheet at work, or me.  He is the same person in the morning at work, in a board meeting at our church, on a weekend with the guys, and our family at home.  I trust him completely and utterly.  What a gift!

I struggle with thinking I’m better than everyone else (#notabigsurprise).  I know.  I’m working on it.  And one of the reasons I’m working on it is because of this man named Allen who shows genuine humility.  I want to be seen and heard.  He wants others to be seen and heard, including me.  He’s the biggest reason why I started this blog.  He wants my voice out there.  He actually, deep-down-inside, believes that others are valuable and takes the role of a servant much of the time even though he is a highly successful business man with mad skills.  You can find him washing the dishes, folding the laundry, performing menial, unseen tasks no one else wants to do and never expecting the notice and applause of others.  I am so blessed!

My favorite thing about Allen, and probably why he’s all those other things, is that he is deeply spiritual.  His inner life matters more to him than his outward persona.  He seeks God with ferocity.  He spends time in prayerful solitude in all kinds of places (the woods, his favorite chair in our family room, the airport as he’s waiting for a flight).  He seeks wise counsel with me as we work to have a better marriage and partnership for this journey.  He has a group of male friends called the Muckmeisters who meet every other week to encourage and be encouraged along their inner journeys.  We share our lives with a group of couples where Allen is vulnerable and open with his struggles and successes.   He voraciously reads anything he can get his hands on (at our local library because he is an accountant and keeps our money under control) that will help him on his path to becoming spiritually and emotionally whole.  He is the real deal!!

Allen is not perfect by any means.  No one is.  That’s what makes this post even more precious to me!  I spend a lot of time thinking about and dwelling on all the things he is not, the ways I wish he was different.  But today, on his 57th birthday, I am shouting for all to hear the things that HE IS, the parts of him that are his truest self.

To my boys:  you have a great father.  I don’t want you to be him.  I want you to be yourselves.  I want you to see, by Dad’s example, that you can be your truest, best selves in all that God made you to be.  You are already great men and a lot of the reason you are is because of the amazing dad that you have.

To my girls:  you have a great father.  He has been more than enough for you and shown you what a good man is. Sarah, you have chosen wisely and have two good men (one big and one little) yourself.  How blessed they both are to have you as their wife and mom.  Rachel, you are still to choose.  I know you will choose well.  Dad will be a blubbering mess when he walks you down the aisle!

To Allen today: you are amazing!  You are to be celebrated!   I am so grateful to share my life with you!  Keep doing what you are doing! Don’t change who you are (even though at times I’m shouting otherwise)! You make the world, and especially mine, a better place just because you are in it! I see you!  I salute you! Happy Birthday! I hope we have 57 more of them together!!! And even that won’t be long enough!!

Posted in Charity, Faith, Family, Thanks

THANK YOU Millennials! You are Good for Me!

I am amazed at how often “Millennials” are made fun of.  Put down.  Told they are lazy, entitled, spoiled, narcissistic.  Even skimming articles online, I came across titles from prominent magazines and newspapers like:

“Millennials and Their Destruction of Civilization”

“This is Why Millennials Get Such a Bad Rap”

“Millennials are Uniformly Bad Tippers”

I have been constantly bombarded with negative viewpoints on this whole generation of people.  I was raising three of them (with a fourth not too far behind) and every time they did something I didn’t like or agree with, I would dismiss it with “after all, their generation….yada yada yada.”  I fell many times into the trap of blaming them for the ills in my home and in our world, jumping on the “Millennials Suck” bandwagon, complete with “eye-rolling” and outright contempt.  NOT GOOD.

Allen and I (other than raising almost four of them) spend lots and lots of time with this generation.  Between our nieces and nephews, our kids’ friends, the significant others in our children’s lives, and the young engaged and married couples we mentor, our lives are surrounded by men and women aged 22-37.   Truth be told:  WE LOVE IT AND WE LOVE THEM!  News flash:  they certainly don’t suck.  They are an incredible group of human beings who have taught me how to live and love better.  They are SO SO SO good for my soul!  They have revealed God in a way that brings hope and healing to the core of who I am.

If there was anything that was hammered into my psyche from a very young age (by who knows what), it was the message that I should not reveal my true self.  I should hide.  I should only show the good parts of me, or what I think others will approve of.  This was the way to keep the world, my marriage, my church persona and my friendships in tact.  I even remember a deodorant advertisement that said, “Never let them see you sweat!” as if I couldn’t even have normal bodily fluids when I worked out.  Millennials have shouted, “NO MORE!”  “Sweat!”  “Be yourself in all your good and bad.” “Be vulnerable and authentic!”  Even writing this blog and having my podcast comes as a result of the permission I’ve been given to boldly be who I am, flaws and all.  THANK YOU MILLENNIALS!

My parents were outliers in many ways in their own generation.  Living in a world where their peers were living the “American Dream,” amassing wealth and pursuing happiness, my parents chose to give their lives for the “least of these.”  This did not make my childhood filled with all rainbows and ponies (in many ways it was fraught with a host of difficulties), but ONE vital thing I wouldn’t trade for all the money in the world is their hearts of generosity that penetrated my own.   THANK YOU MILLENNIALS for listening to those outliers who went before you and solidifying this good place in me.  You volunteer more than any generation before you.  You believe it’s essential to GIVE BACK!  You are changing the world, one cause at a time, one person at a time, with your love and commitment to the lost and the least.  You remind me each day to live in and from this place of generosity, the very heart that God has towards me!  YAY for you!

For years, I lived with the idea that if I could get my outer world under control, my inner world would follow suit.  I believed that “to do” lists checked off at the end of the day would bring me what I truly longed for:  a life filled with peace and joy.  But the harder I tried to fix, fix, fix, perfecting my outer world, the more I realized it was impossible, sending me into much anxiety, wondering what was wrong with me.  THANK YOU MILLENNIALS for challenging that lie, revealing the truth to me that tending to my inner world, my soul, where true peace and joy dwells, where God lives and moves and speaks and heals, is the best starting and ending place.  You have helped me have an “anchor for my soul, firm and secure,”  (Hebrews 6:19) one nestled in the very heart of God.

Today, on this very ordinary Monday, my heart swells in thankfulness for you, my friends, those of you who were placed into this world and especially my world “for such a time as this.”  I am humbled and grateful for the deep truths that you have so willingly spoken into my heart, shattering the lies that held sway over me!  Thank you for your vulnerability, your generosity and your wisdom!

To my own Millennials (Sarah, Cody, Jared, Josh, Daniella, Courtney, Brandon, Marina, Nick…with Rachel and Cara closely behind), THANK YOU for showing me who I am and how much I am accepted and loved, not only by you, but by the God who formed me from His very vulnerable, generous and wise heart!  The best is yet to come!!

Posted in Charity, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

How Not to Fight With Your Teens About Money

We implemented a financial system when our kids were about the age of 12.  In the middle of all the struggles of parenting, it was one of our successes!  Hear from each of them, why they liked it (and didn’t) and why it worked (or didn’t).  Join me in a discussion with all four of them at the same time (P.S.  For some reason, I talk really fast – LOL!)  We cover topics like budgeting, generosity, and individuality.  Finances can be sore subject and a source for lots of arguments with your children.  If you want to eliminate 90% of fighting with your kids about money, this is for you!!!  If you want to hear my kids make fun of me, this is also for you!

CLICK ON PODCAST LINK BELOW:

https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/e36um3

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Thank you for taking the time to listen!  Please share this with anyone you know who has a pre-teen, teen or college student!  It’s powerful stuff!

Posted in Charity, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

Getting Down With Rachel Joy! The Baby’s Got A Lot to Tell! (Link to Podcast)

What do “getting down,” “giving up birthdays” and “making MINI-MEs” have to do with this beautiful and messy parenting journey? Join with me as I interview Rachel, the baby of the Dolly Mama family. In just 20 minutes, she breaks out her wise voice, even though she can’t even break open the bubbly yet! But don’t worry! She’s produces enough bubbly herself!

CLICK ON LINK BELOW TO LISTEN TO 20 MINUTES OF CAN’T MISS THOUGHTS!!

Episode 4: Get Down with Rachel Joy! The Baby’s Got A Lot to Tell!

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Thank you for taking the time to listen!  Please share this with anyone you know who is beginning the parenting journey, in the middle of the mess, or still navigating it all with adult children!!  It’s powerful stuff!

 

Posted in Clean Water, Faith, Family, Friendship, Health, Marriage, Motherhood, Prison, Thanks

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 Charity, Faith, Homeless

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 Charity, Clean Water, Faith, Thanks

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*