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, Childhood, Faith, Health, Third Culture Kid

My Childhood Jesuses (What are Yours?)

“If Jesus was Jewish, did He believe in Himself?”  (Josh Goetz – 6)

It all started with “Get-Out-of-Hell Free” Jesus, the earliest one I can remember.  This Jesus gets “asked into your heart” and then when you die, you get saved from the fiery torment of an eternal damnation in a very literal place called hell.

Before you click away because you are worried that I am going to be marching down the path to preach a hell, fire and brimstone blog post, calm your hearts.  We’re just taking a little ride together.  🙂

I am reading a very light-hearted, yet serious-at-the-same-time book called Stolen Jesus.  One day, the author, Jami Amerine, notices that the portrait of Jesus at her local YMCA lobby is gone.  Finding out that He is now relegated to “behind the filing cabinet,” she sneaks Him out and hangs Him over her mantel at home, thus the title of the book.  She goes on to unpack all of her Jesuses (including Mormon Jesus, High School Jesus and Michigan Jesus), filling my mind with all of my own Jesuses.

Two weeks ago, I would have told you that I know Jesus pretty well.  I’ve got a pretty good handle on who and what He is and who and what He is not.  I’ve spent a lifetime figuring Him out.  After spending some much-needed time with Jami Amerine delving into all my different Jesuses, I’m thinking, “Maybe not.”  After all, the Jesus I believed in when I was three, eight, 12, 19, 28, 41 and 50ish are all completely different and some even contradictory.  Is He none of them?  Perhaps.

Childhood Jesuses formed hard and deep for me.  They continue to be a part of who I am today, some I long to embrace further and others I wish I could banish.  I would imagine you have your own.  Here is a glimpse into some of mine:

Get-Out-of-Hell Free Jesus
I asked Jesus into my heart every night for my whole childhood.  If you didn’t have Him in there, you were going to burn in a “lake of fire” forever and ever.   That was super scary.  Who wants that?  I certainly didn’t.  At the end of most days, I was never sure if I had done it right or meant it based on my troubling behavior earlier in the day, so the cycle continued endlessly.  Poor Jesus.  He was not a lot more than the best fire insurance a very frightened child could muster up.  (Little known fact:  this ended when 12-year old Esther wrote down the “date” I finally meant it in my Bible:  January 25, 1979.  It was for sure this time.  God help me.)

Boarding School Jesus (also known as Verse Group Jesus and Behavior-Management Jesus)
Every morning during my boarding school years, we were wakened and marched downstairs to some room (even before breakfast…but my memory might be a little fuzzy here) to memorize verses.  We got a prize at the end of the semester (lunch out at the local airport…big deal for this “never-eat-out” tot) for memorizing them all.   After all, “hiding these verses in our heart” would ensure that we would “not sin against” God (see Psalm 119:11 to get the picture) or more happily for our dorm parents and teachers, not sin against them.  It was an amazing “behavior management” technique.  (Quiet thought circling in my head:  Little Esther was good at this.  Especially on the outside.  Maybe not so much the inside.)

Aslan Jesus
It’s crazy how you can have simultaneous Jesuses that are nothing alike.  At the same time as Verse Group Jesus, I had another Jesus.  Many nights, after being fed and washed up, I listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother.  Enter Aslan Jesus.  He was a kind and gracious lion who loved and took great care of children, playing with them and even dying for them, even one of them who betrayed Him.  He seemed like the kind of Jesus and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the first two that I had learned about or conjured up in my head.  I wished he was real.  I loved him.  Who wouldn’t?  (Secret:  I still love Aslan Jesus.  He’s a keeper.)

Bible Quiz Team Jesus
When I was a very nerdy high schooler, I belonged to a Bible quiz team.  We would memorize entire books of the Bible and compete with other teams for a chance to go to the National Tournament.  It happened all four years for me.  In fact, I was ranked the “#1 Bible Quizzer in the USA” my senior summer!  It’s probably the only time in my life I was the actual “master of the trade,” not just the “jack.”   I performed superbly.  I was highly rewarded for it.  This Jesus loved me.   I was acceptable in His eyes.  I had finally proved my worth to Him.  (Another secret:  This Jesus has pestered me to this day.  I daily battle with this Jesus.)

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What we believe about Jesus is paramount to how we live and love.   If we believe He’s out to get us, we may be afraid of Him.  If we believe His goal is to keep us in line, we will probably avoid Him (I was the queen avoider for years).  If we believe He accepts us only when we are “good,” we may perform well, but we also may feel like it’s never enough.  On the contrary, if we truly believe He loves and cares for us, and understand that in the core of our souls, we will have safety and freedom to love and respond in kind.

I have a lot more Jesuses that formed during my adult years, some I will speak of in another post.  Again, just like my childhood Jesuses, there are some I long to cling to and dive deeper with and some that don’t describe the Real Jesus at all and that I should run far away from.

I am still on my adventure to get to know the Real Jesus, the One who isn’t bound by all my experiences and thoughts and frailties, the One Who is completely Himself.  I hope you are too.  I do know one thing for sure:  I won’t be disappointed when I know Him fully!  It might take the rest of my life and even into forever for this to happen, but He will be worth it!  I love this journey with Him!

We all have different Jesuses.  Who are your childhood Jesuses?  I really hope you respond here by commenting or let me know on Facebook, Instagram, Linked In or Twitter.  I would love that so much!  Please like my posts out on social media (but only if you like them…LOL).  It helps it to move into people’s newsfeeds and I can get the word out to more folks!

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Posted in Charity, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

I’m an MK. What are You?

“I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”  (Abraham Lincoln)

TTYL – Talk To You Later
SSDD – Same Stuff Different Day
LMK – Let Me Know
PAW – Parents are Watching (my personal favorite…not really!)

We live in a world where we communicate with all kinds of capital letters.  It just makes it easier when using our thumbs to type words designed for five fingers.  And sometimes, things can get lost in translation.  Here’s my favorite:

“I heard your aunt passed away.  LOL.”
(If you’re struggling with this one, the person sending thought LOL meant “Lots of Love” and it really means “Laugh Out Loud”)

In the olden days, instead of #textspeak, we called these capital letters acronyms.

I grew up with one that identified me:  MK (Missionary Kid).  For as long as I can remember, I have used those two letters to tell people who I am.   In fact, I just did it again this week when meeting someone for the first time.  And I haven’t lived overseas for 4/5 of my life.  I guess it’s supposed to give insight into some depth of my being for the curious or just be used as a conversation starter.  Sometimes, people are fascinated and other times, I get the feeling they feel a little sorry for me.  It’s a funny dichotomy.

Life as an MK is BOTH fascinating AND difficult.  BOTH wonderful AND confusing.  Kind of like your life.  It does pose BOTH a unique set of challenges AND a particular group of rewards (CHECK OUT MINE HERE).  Just like your life.

For a long time, I felt strange and unusual, almost like an animal in a zoo for everyone to gawk at.  We were on display, especially when we came home on deputation…a fancy word for visiting churches to raise money (and believe me, my parents did their best to protect us from the insanity of standing up in front of churches and singing songs in Ethiopia’s native tongue).  **CHECK OUT MY PARENT’S BIRD’S EYE VIEW HERE**  I felt excluded, like everyone else was in some kind of inner circle and I was on the outside.  It was partly true.  I did have a different story than those I eventually went to school with here in the US.  I did have a life that didn’t resemble theirs.  But it wasn’t the whole truth.

The WHOLE TRUTH is that each one of us has a unique life story that encompasses sorrow AND joy, hardship AND celebration, beauty AND darkness.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that I can accept BOTH myself and my particular journey AND love others as I get to know theirs.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that instead of a wall of division between US (MKs) and THEM (RJs – Regular Joes – who might have lived in the same house in the same town for their whole childhood), there is solidarity that we ALL are in the same big giant circle as humans. After all, I now have a husband and children who are RJs and I certainly never want any division between us.  Blogger Janet Newberry calls this divided place a “two-circle world,” one that’s based on exclusion and isolation, not inclusion and community.  The WHOLE TRUTH (the one that sets us free) is that our distinct stories don’t divide us.  They unite us.  This makes room for a “one-circle” world.

We all tend to find people who relate to our stories, our beliefs, our way of living.  We tend to group ourselves according to these commonalities.  It doesn’t just happen to MKs and RJs.  It happens everywhere:  politics, religion, race, hobbies, life status, you name it. Just looking at groups on Facebook reminds me that this happens in spades.  If I look around me, I’m not sure it’s working great.  Yes.  It matters that we find others who are going through/have gone through what we have, share a similar story.  In fact, it’s important.  It creates a place of understanding, of being known, of safety, of belonging.   But again, it’s only partly true.  It isn’t the whole truth.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that excluding others because we feel excluded doesn’t ensure us true belonging.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that Jesus’ prayer that “we are one just as He and His Father are one” provides the love and belonging we all were designed to have and long for.  The WHOLE TRUTH is love and exclusion cannot coexist and that God invites us all into this great, inclusive love story.   We already belong!!

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I want to live out of that WHOLE TRUTH.  I want to live FROM a place of belonging, not FOR it.  I want to invite myself and others into this “one-circle world,” to unwrap the gift of each person God has for me to enjoy, no matter what their story, background, political affiliation, race, etc.  If I am honest, I’m not there yet.  My world is “two-circlish” right now.  I want that to change.  It might mean more work on my part.  But more work usually means more reward.  One way is that I would love to unwrap the gift that is you.  I would love to know your story.  Here’s one little step for me and you to take (this blog post is my part in it):

If you had to describe your life in #textspeak, what would it be?  Mine has now changed to PMKNRJ (Previous Missionary Kid, Now Regular Joe).  Let me know here in the comment section or out on social media.  Can’t wait to hear!

If you want to share your deeper story with me, please go to the contact page and send me an email.  Or “friend” me on Facebook.  I will count it as a very sacred privilege to get to know you.  Thank you.

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Last thing:  if you are wondering where the pics are from up top, it’s from the Dr. Seuss book, “The Sneetches and Other Stories.”  Great read!

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Third Culture Kid

1,246 Missionary Slides (The Best and the Worst)

“You know you’re a missionary kid when you see a picture of your family on random peoples’ refrigerators.”  (Anonymous)

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Jared scanned all of my parents’ slides from Africa.  It’s one of those projects that keeps getting put off, but we actually tackled it and got it done.  They were coming here for the holiday and all of my siblings and my parents were going to be together.   So, on Thanksgiving Eve, we spent most of the afternoon viewing them on the large TV screen in our family room and heard stories about each one.  Needless to say, we made a pretty good dent.

That same weekend, in conjunction with the slides, I asked my parents about the “Five Best and Worst Things” about being a missionary in the latter half of the 20th Century.   I seized the opportunity to listen and learn what it was like from their perspective.   I have had my personal kid’s-eye-view and have spent years processing my own experience (good and bad), but I was in the dark about theirs.  Truth be told, I heard stories that corroborated my memories and beliefs and learned many things that were new and unexpected.

Here are their Top Five(ish):

Mom Worst

  1. Deputation. Dragging the kids around to all kinds of churches in the USA trying to raise money. (This seems nuts to me and I remember how we all didn’t like it either.)
  2. No converts.  Questioning what they were doing there.
  3. Terrible food.
  4. Leaving her kids at boarding school.  It was a heartbreak.
  5. Not getting along with other missionaries.

Mom Best (she only had Four)

  1. Freedom not to be encumbered with constant schedules.
  2. Teaching in the school.
  3. Experiences that you were exposed to that were “out of the norm.”
  4. Getting to know people from all over the world.  The friendships they developed.

Dad Worst (he only had Three)

  1. So few converts.  Asked himself, “what are we doing here?”
  2. Deputation.  (see above crazy-making)
  3. Not getting along with other missionaries (I’m seeing a pattern).

Dad Best 

  1. Learning another language.
  2. Traveling to new places.
  3. Seeing kids learn in the school where they were teaching.
  4. The experience with the death of a close friend who was gunned down in front of his wife by an extremist and how God protected him and my mom. (sounds like a best and worst to me)
  5. Meeting people from other countries (missionaries and nationals) and all the friendships they made.

I learned a lot about my parents over Thanksgiving and continue to.  This past week, we plowed ahead through more slides during a visit as my mom is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer.  It makes our time even more precious and the learning and gleaning even more pressing.  So far, here are my top five takeaways which are for all of us, missionary kid or not (sorry, the new correct phrase is third culture kid).

My Takeaways

  1. There were a lot of slides of animals I only now see in zoos.  Growing up in another country meant having a different experience than your average American kid (like my husband).  Attending boarding school, living as a minority and foreigner, knowing people from all over the world, being surrounded by war and poverty, vacationing in exotic places, and eating strange food is not your average American childhood.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I’m sure you wouldn’t trade yours either, no matter how or where you grew up.  It makes us into the people we are today, both broken and beautiful.
  2. Those 18 years my parents spent serving God in a far-away country was exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated all at the same time.  Like all of our lives, my parents’ lives were filled with struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows.  I draw comfort in knowing this.  My “normal” adult life has looked very different from theirs on the outside.  But my own life has been filled with the exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated as well.  It’s not what’s happening on the outside that matters most.  It’s what’s happening on the inside.
  3. They matter and all their experiences matter.  It was really good for me to take a peek from their point-of-view, to understand all of this effected them, as well as us four kids, for both good and bad.  I have been so wrapped up in my own “how this effected me” for a long time.  It was helpful to step out of that for a moment to see the view through another lens.  I want to do this more often with all those I know.  My life will be richer when I do.
  4. Our family mattered to my parents.  My mom wants to delete every slide that doesn’t have one of us in it.  She keeps saying, “What does that matter to our family?”  I love this.  For a long time, I had a warped perspective on this.  My view was that “God’s work” was more important than our family.  It’s just not true for the Marets at the very core.  It’s so good for me to know that.  It brings great healing to me.  Yes.  They made mistakes.  Yes.  It was very hard and unusual.  BUT.  Yes.  They did their best.  Yes.  They loved us.  (Doesn’t sound very different from my own family and my own children.)  This is where grace comes in and wins!
  5. Life comes down to people.  People are the hardest parts of our lives.  People are the best parts of our lives.  It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what cultural differences we have, or what we are trying to accomplish together, it all boils down to people and the relationships we build with them.   People bring the most frustration and hurt, but they also bring the most joy and healing.  We can try to avoid people and all the “bad” stuff they bring, but in doing so, we miss out on all the hope and healing and love that they bring to us.  People are worth it!

My heart is for greater healing for each of us.  This project is bringing me much.  It brings me back to what matters most:  being fully-known and loved, but with a twist.  This time was not about me being known, but getting to know another.  That’s my unexpected surprise.  I hope this will prompt you to take on a project (person) of your own.  Who knows what will happen?

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Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood, Third Culture Kid

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Help!)

“I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks and more like being out at sea, a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling.”   (Shauna Niequist)

Our town had a snow day this past week and I didn’t even know it until I saw it on Facebook in our town’s moms’ group site.  Oh my goodness.  The thought roared into my brain, “You are not one of those moms anymore.”  I remember having the same feeling this past fall when I realized I would have no more school year in my life.  I didn’t even know when the first day of school was until I saw pictures being posted by young moms with their adorable children in cute “first day of school” outfits.  After 22 years of first days of school and snow days, I felt clueless.  Huge change.  No more pics on the porch with Allen.  No more “you have a snow day” surprise visits into bedrooms with sleepy “awesome” replies.  Huge change.

These past few years have brought change after change for our family.  Each child slowly left the nest for college.  Allen took a new job commuting to Pittsburgh three days a week.  I started this blog which has brought a host of new and old friends into my life.  Grandchild #1 was born.  Close friends experienced horrific tragedies and loss and I didn’t avoid them (huge change for me).  And just this past Wednesday night, Allen and I slept with no one else in the house for the first time in 26 years  (that doesn’t count the 5 nights all four kids were at camp one summer…best week of my mom life).   There are many days, where I can’t get my bearing and feel tossed around by the “sea of life.”

As a young child of missionary parents, I embraced change.  I moved 21 times in my first 19 years.  I got a kick out of it all.  I constantly adjusted and readjusted to new normals and enjoyed it as much as I can remember.  Change kept happening, as it does throughout our lives no matter how much we try to stop it, and it took its toll on me.  Horrible anxiety came over me one summer with such a force that I couldn’t even leave my house.  At that point, I believed with all my might that change was the villain and I was the victim.  Uncertainty was the culprit and I was the casualty.

Those beliefs are just not true or helpful.  They shout loudly that the external things in life have control over my internal world.  I feel powerless and without hope.  No wonder anxiety comes right along side.  Thankfully, I’ve been slowly discovering a few new and very helpful ways to approach the changes that are sure to come (after all, I am only 51…oh, that kind of rhymes).

  • Embrace change itself.  Shauna Niequist reminds me, “If you dig in and fight the change you’re facing, it will indeed smash you to bits.”  Think of the example of a wave.  If you stand in the sand with knees locked as a wave comes in, you will be knocked over, tumbled through the rough sand and probably get pretty banged up.  But if you entrust yourself to the water just a little further out, you will be gently carried above those seemingly scary waves.  My hope is to embrace change.  Wait for the next step.  Stop “locking my knees” and bracing for impact.  Choose the long-view of my story.  “Ride the waves.”  I find it much easier to live there.
  • Embrace BOTH the darkness and the light.  I don’t want to lose touch with the heart of the story, the part where life comes from death (but not skip over the death part).  I spent many years just trying to “go up and to the right” and avoid all the bad stuff.  This past year, I have plunged headlong into grief, murder, anxiety, all the more shadowy sides of life.  I am going deep there.  People are really hurting.  It’s hard.  But there is always a glimmer of hope.  It’s not all bad.  Redemption comes.  Again, I don’t want to skip the death part, the darkness part.  I want to sit still where it’s not okay NOW (where darkness reigns) but still have hope it WILL be okay in the future (where the light shines brightly).  This is huge for me.  It’s been such a tremendous gift.
  • Embrace uncertainty.  Making peace with uncertainty is the hardest of all for me.  I have learned that certainty is not part of life.  The more I demand it, the more it eludes me.  Much of my life is driven by this force of demanding certainty.  “If this, then this.”  Formulas.  They just don’t work.  Because I bring my kids to church and read them stories from the Bible doesn’t mean they will embrace the deep love of God for them.  Because I exercise and eat right doesn’t mean I won’t get cancer.  Because I do all the right things (whatever that even means), doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen.  Certainty.  The insatiable hunger for it that I believed was my friend is actually my enemy.  Desire for certainty enslaves me.  Making peace with uncertainty frees me.

In the end of the day, change is one of God’s greatest gifts and most useful tools.  Change is one of the things that redeems me, brings me into greater freedom.  As Shauna reminds me once again, “It’s not a function of life’s cruelty but of God’s graciousness.”  God longs for me to have freedom from all that would hold me captive.  This hope of freedom helps me to embrace change the way I truly long to (even just a little bit at a time).

I don’t fear change the way I used to.  I’m up for the next round (and to be honest, a little fear crept in as I wrote that).  When I do think of all those changes I mentioned above, I get excited.  I have less constrictions on my time and energy.  God keeps bringing those who need me and who I need.  We are going deep together.  This blog is opening those doors.  I love and long for relationship.  I love and long for wholeness and healing.  I love and long for impact.  That core of who I am actually has not changed even though the world around me has and will continue to.  I am preserved through all of it.  The outside, external world does not have control over my truest self.  I am not without hope.  Change is NOT the villain and I am NOT the victim.  Uncertainty is NOT the culprit and I am NOT the casualty.   I am not losing myself, but marching forward on this journey of finding myself with the gracious, kind and loving help of God and others.  It’s really worth it.

(Please be sure to check out other posts I have shared by clicking HERE!! There’s a lot of good stuff on the site!!)

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

The “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.  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.  Please 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, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “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.”

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.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “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.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), 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!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was 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.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could 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 came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  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.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light 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 (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  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.”

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

Ethiopia Tikdem!

“Narnia taught me we must all grow up and leave our childhood behind, but must never forget it.”  (Some place on Pinterest)

In my young years, I heard this shouted and chanted: “Ethiopia Tikdem!  Ethiopia Tikdem!  “Ethiopia First!  Ethiopia First!”  Sitting at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants earlier this week, it came to mind as I ate injera ba wat and savored every bite.

The year is 1966, the month is February and a little girl is born. Not in a hospital, but in a back-woods clinic in a tiny town called Deder, Ethiopia. I, Esther Joy Maret, was born the fourth child of missionary parents who wanted to serve God.  Having three older brothers, I was the answer to my mother’s prayer for a girl.  Much to say, I did not have your typical American childhood (I guess that has to be left to author Annie Dillard and many of you to describe).  Here is a peak at my Ethiopian childhood…

  • I had a Somali nanny who didn’t speak much English during my preschool years (see picture above).
  • I went to a local French kindergarten because I was wide-eyed, early reader at four years old.
  • I was in boarding school at just five.
  • We memorized Bible verses each morning at 6:45 am. Our end-of-the-year prize was going to the airport for a luncheon if we memorized all of the verses.
  • I knew “O Canada,” “God Save the Queen” and the “Pledge of Allegiance” because our school was filled with people from all different countries.
  • We learned the local language of Amharic.
  • I saw my brothers in passing as they were much older.  I never saw my oldest brother because he was away in Kenya for his boarding school.  We spent vacations and holidays together.
  • I played outside unsupervised after school with my dorm mates (it was like being a college student when you were seven).
  • We had field day, sporting events, Halloween parades, chapel, piano lessons, school plays and homework. Sometimes, parents showed up to these.
  • I stood in endless lines waiting for vaccinations. Gamma Globulin was the worst. It was hard to sit for a week.
  • We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother each night after we were fed and washed up.  (And here’s a little secret: I loved Aslan, the kind, loving and gracious lion in the stories more than I loved Jesus. He seemed like the kind of Savior and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the one I had learned about or conjured up in my head, the angry one who might just send me to hell if I didn’t behave or believe the right thing.  I still love Aslan.)
  • I saw my parents on random weekends and vacations or if I was sick (which was super fun because I got to listen to The Wizard of Oz on reel-to-reel and drink tea).
  • I lived in guarded and walled compounds when with my parents, being frequently robbed for our clothes and plastic, even our Kerplunk game.  (We got a kick out of that because when the thief got home, he or she would find that the plastic was filled with holes and useless for whatever his purposes were.)  So much for the guard and the wall.

A communist coup came in 1974 that brought the death of King Haile Selassie, many of his children and grandchildren.  War ensued.  There were communist marches and guns fired in the streets.  Famine came.  After two long years of brewing hatred for foreigners, my parents decided that they would leave all their belongings behind and take their four children back to the United States.  Not your typical childhood.

But like each and every one of our childhoods, it was filled with good and bad, happy and sad, ups and downs, boring and interesting.  These are the things that make our childhoods sacred and unique and form us into who we are today, the beautiful and broken and complicated and messy and wonderful us.  And probably like you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Would love to hear what things made your childhood typical or completely unique?  Is any childhood typical?  Who are you because of yours?

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