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

Posted in Charity, Clean Water, Thanks, Third Culture Kid

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 Charity, Clean Water, Uncategorized

charity:water

We believe in a world where every single person has clean and safe water.  (Scott Harrison)

Clean water is one of our family’s passions.  Loving others with no strings attached is another.  I’m shouting out today to an organization that combines both and changes the world one “cup of cold water” at a time!

Rachel’s college essay captures the heart and passion of Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water!  This organization changed our lives and hearts.  I pray their story will change yours.

One individual who has influenced me profoundly since I was a young girl is Scott Harrison. He first came to speak at my church when I was eight years old. He told the congregation his story, shared his passion in its entirety, and truly won my heart.

Harrison’s story is not what one would expect of someone who is now devoted to serving those less fortunate. Harrison grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school until he convinced his parents to let him go to public school. While attending public school, Harrison joined a band and began straying from the Christian faith. At the age of eighteen, he moved to New York City with his band and played gigs at various clubs until his band broke up. Harrison then began working to promote the same nightclubs where he played. He spent the next 10 years flourishing in this business and used his money to excessively “party.”  He used alcohol and drugs to numb the boredom of his life, while constantly searching for the next big thing, eventually becoming morally and spiritually bankrupt.

At that time, his father gave him a book called, “The Pursuit of God,” by A.W Tozer.  He had a crisis in his conscience that sent him on a path to rediscover his faith and reflect on his lifestyle.  He posed the question to himself, “What would the exact opposite of my life be?” (charitywater.org)  Shortly thereafter, Harrison went from making lots of money promoting clubs and alcohol, to serving with Mercy Ships as their volunteer photojournalist.  This organization is a fleet of floating hospitals that provide medical care to those who don’t have this crucial need. During this time, he met another volunteer on the ship who also had a passion to dig wells in his spare time for communities who had the worst water resources. Harrison began to ask questions about the link between dirty water and the very diseases the ship was providing treatment for.  He discovered that 80% of these diseases were caused by dirty water. He decided to devote his life to removing what he deemed the biggest obstacle facing the poor: access to clean drinking water.  

Harrison’s vision became one of bringing clean drinking water to the 663 million people who walked miles every day to fetch dirty water for themselves and their families. However, he realized there would be obstacles, one being that people have hesitations when donating to charity, primarily because they don’t know how much of it is going directly to the work and and how much is funding the overhead of the organization. To ensure people their money was being used for their designated purpose, Harrison decided that 100% of the money that was donated to the charity would be given to funding clean water service projects. He personally would have the challenge of raising the money for the administrative side of the organization. He even took it one step further and told the donors that he would track each dollar using GPS so they could see exactly where and how their money was being used. On his 31st birthday, in September of 2006, Harrison decided to use his skills and connections to throw a huge birthday party for himself in New York City and charged $20.00 to all 700 of the people he invited.  He shared his passion that evening, built three wells with the money and sent the pictures of those wells to each person who came. Less than two years later, Harrison came to my church and shared his vision, inviting those who had September birthdays to follow his lead and use their own birthdays as a way to raise money for charity:water.

As a soon-to-be nine year-old girl with an upcoming September birthday, I caught Harrison’s vision for a world where everyone has clean drinking water.  I was so excited and decided that I would have a birthday party and instead of asking for gifts, I would ask for a donation for charity:water.  I am sure that the money I received was not nearly enough for a well, but my heart was changed.

The mission of charity:water is something that effected my whole family. We have gone into the charity:water headquarters, been to their fund-raising Christmas galas, run in 5Ks to raise money and awareness, and currently, we have three pictures sitting on our counter of completed wells in my mom’s birth country of Ethiopia.  Last Christmas, my siblings and I pooled our resources and donated our own well. I will be excited when it’s the picture of our well on the counter along with the others.  I am so glad that Scott Harrison came and shared this need with our church, and that I have had a part in meeting it.  He not only won over my head, but my heart.

Scott Harrison is changing the world one well at a time, and in turn, one heart at a time.

Update (back to Esther):  our family has another well in the works for 2017 in Tigray, Ethiopia.  25 years ago, more than 3.2 billion people had no access to clean water.  That number is now 663 million.  One well may not seem like very much, but if each of us does our part, the number could one day be zero.

Second Update (World Water Day 2018):  Allen and I will be traveling with Living Water (another clean water organization) in September of 2018 to the country of Rwanda to build a well and meet the amazing people of Rwanda, whose country’s president wants to be the first African country where 100% of the people have access to clean water.  If you would like to donate to our trip, which would mean the world to us, click HERE.