Posted in Faith, Thanks

Dear Church of the Ascension (I Have Some Confessions to Make),

“We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews.”  (Tish Harrison Warren)

Dear Church of the Ascension,

I have visited your church two times.  My husband and I live in New Jersey, but he works in Pittsburgh three days a week and has an apartment in the Strip District, not very far from you.  About once a month, I make the reverse commute and we spend the weekend in Pittsburgh, a city I have come to love and enjoy beyond what I thought possible.

It’s on these weekends that we have walked through your bright red door, been greeted by your people, sat in your pews, listened to your choir, watched your children gather at the feet of your rectors, opened the scriptures, kneeled in prayer and shared bread and wine.  It’s on these weekends that we have been outsiders peeking in on how you navigate this complex world of “church” in the new millennium.

I have some confessions to make to you this Palm Sunday morning, a day where I will be entering into the doors of another church, one where my view is from the inside out, not the outside in, one where we’ve loved and served for many years, one that is also maneuvering the mosaic of “church” in 2019.

Back to my confessions.

Today, I confess that I only visited your church because I was mildly obsessed with Tish Harrison Warren, having soaked up her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, not only once at a cursory level, but in depth with my women’s group.  When I found out that she had moved to Pittsburgh and was a writer in residence only a mile away from my husband’s apartment, I was determined to visit you.  I felt a little like the paparazzi, as I recorded her talk with the children, received communion from her and talked her ear off as she was greeting parishioners.  It was not my finest moment, but as she reminds me in her book, we are all “limping to redemption,” and I am included in the “all.”

Today, I confess that something changed inside of me that first day.  I wanted to come back.  Not just because of Tish, although her talks that day fed my soul the love that it so longed for, but because as I watched and wondered about this community that “practiced” very differently than what I am used to, it seemed kind and gracious, filled with love for those on the inside and those on the outside (me included), the kind of love Jesus talks about every chance He gets.

Today, I confess that I came back with my husband, this time my motivation not to see Tish (I didn’t even see her that day), but to be filled again with this love you have to share.  I confess that as I sat there, tears welled in my eyes as the message of God’s love for me was communicated from beginning to end, almost as if it was a calculated move on your part.  Here is just a glimpse of the words that leapt from the white booklet and the hymnal I held in my hands:

We started here…
“O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.”

“Come down, O Love Divine, seek thou this soul of mine.”

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside His crown for my soul.”

“Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest, Thy perfect love close in my breast…”

The middle was filled with this:

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And we ended here…
“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”

Whether it was deliberately planned by your leadership, God knew what I needed that day, my heart was more open to receiving the love and goodness of God, or ALL of those in sweet combination, my “outsider” self felt beautifully connected to you and your people, and especially to the loving heart of God.

Today, my last confession is one of thanks to you.  Thank you for being a beacon in the middle of my beloved adopted city of Pittsburgh.  Thank you for giving this outsider a place of belonging.  Tish reminds me in her book that “God loves and delights in the people in the pews around me and dares me to find beauty in them.”  I have found the beauty in you.  Your beauty is one that has given me inspiration for my inquisitive mind, daring hope as an anchor for my soul, but most of all, deep, deep love for my longing heart, a beautiful and firm foundation that I carry with me into this Holy Week ahead.  Thank you.   We shout HOSANNA (“Come Save Us!”) together today!

Godspeed, Church of the Ascension!  I will be coming through your red doors again soon!

Esther Goetz

*If you liked this, please go onto social media and give me a thumbs up or a like.  It would mean a lot to me.*

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 Faith, Friendship, Thanks

A Letter to My Friends #youhavenoidea

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

Dear Friends of Little Old Me,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my heart to yours,

Esther

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Posted in 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 Family, Grandparenthood, Thanks

Happy Birthday Broden Bear! #easytobethankful

When I see you, my eyes turn into little hearts! (The Internet)

Dearest Broden Bear,

Today you turn One!  I just can’t believe it’s been a year since I held you in my arms at Hershey Medical Center and had that unexplainable BIG feeling that your arrival would change me forever, in all the very best ways.

Mommy and Daddy have kept you alive for 12 whole months, 52 weeks, 365 days!  This is no easy undertaking now that your adventurous, free-spirited, “I-want-what-I-want”, curious and mobile self has taken over!  Just less than 72 hours ago, your determination to climb the steps all by yourself led to a not-so-little tumble, complete with a bloody nose and a call to the doctor.  Thankfully, you were back to your happy self very soon and went right back to the steps, not a care in the world.

I knew way back on November 18, 2017 that you would be cute.  I knew you would be super special.  But I didn’t know how easily and quickly my heart would be captivated by everything Broden:

  • Your big blue eyes filled with wonder at anything new.
  • Your six-toothed smile.
  • The pleasure you expressed when eating pizza with us on Friday.
  • The way you scrunch up your face.
  • Your strong-willed cry when you don’t want me to leave the room.
  • Bubbles of laughter during peek-a-boo!
  • Your love of music already.
  • The “look” of wariness when you are unsure of something.
  • The way you snuggle into my neck.
  • Your strong determination to get where and what you want.
  • Your look of recognition and then happiness when you see me.
  • Watching you giggle when you were playing with your new birthday toy last night!

One year ago, I found myself asking the questions, “What will you be like?  What adventures will life bring you and you, in turn, bring to life?”  You’ve already had so many adventures:

  • rides in your Daddy’s 1985 Bronco
  • staying up til midnight on New Year’s Eve (that might not happen again for a bunch of years)
  • meeting your great-grandparents
  • reading Press Here over and over and over (parents of young ones, buy this book…it’s genious)
  • going to your first wedding
  • eating a banana popsicle
  • dressing up like a pirate with Mommy and Daddy
  • putting your toes in the sand in LBI
  • kissing your first fish
  • loving the swing at the park
  • eating Chik-Fila (if Daddy has anything to say about it, this will be a staple in your diet)
  • dressing like twinsies with Daddy
  • swimming in the pool at Allenberry Resort
  • riding in your special bike seat behind Mommy and Daddy
  • meeting a goat at Paulus Orchard
  • having your first lollipop as Charlie Brown

And it’s not over . There are many many more to come!  They have and will continue to range from hazardous to great, terrible to sweet, quiet to joyous, sad to wonderful, hard to exciting.  One thing for sure: all of your adventures will be unique, because you, Broden, are one of a kind!  But one thing I didn’t realize then was all the adventures you would bring to me!  It’s been quite a ride already!  Can’t wait for more!

Regardless of the kind of adventure you take, never forget above all that that you are extremely loved.  The God who formed you has absolute and unconditional love for you.  Nothing you can ever do will make Him love you less or love you more.  He loves you just because you are you.

Your creative, smart, kind, hard-working, compassionate mommy and your free-spirited, adventurous, wise, level-headed, willing-to-grow daddy are absolutely head-over-heels in love with you.  They will love you no matter what and nothing you can do will ever change that.

You also have grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who have loved you from the first moment of hearing about you.  You will never find yourself in a place that you won’t be loved.

All of our eyes do turn into little hearts when we see you!  It’s impossible for it to be otherwise!

Your inner soul anchored in this place of unconditional love will be of immense value for living your outer adventure to the fullest.  Never forget that you have that safe place deep down inside that no one can take from you.  Live in and from that place!

This year, on the day you turn one, I want to remind you again of the “bunch of verses” that God gave to me right when you were born.  They are from God’s heart to mine and mine to yours:

From the day I heard about you, I have not stopped praying and making special requests for you. 

I pray that…

you will be filled with a deep and clear understanding of His will for you, that you will have insight into the ways and purposes of God. 

you would live how God designed you to live, from a fully-known and fully-loved place and that you would have complete trust in Him.  This brings Him the most pleasure.

your life would bear much fruit from all your hard work. 

you would have a full, deep and clear knowledge of God. 

you will be invigorated and strengthened with all power from God so that you will have much patience and joy.

I thank God because He has made you fit to share in all that is His.  He has brought you into His Kingdom, one that is filled with love.

(Colossians 1:9-14 – EJGV – “Esther Joy Goetz Version”)

Broden, how fun that you are ONE!  I am so glad that you were born right before Thanksgiving.  It’s perfect timing!  Having you in my life gives me countless reasons to be thankful!  Next November, you will be TWO and we will do this all over again!  For now, I am off to your birthday celebration!  Happy Birthday to you!!!

With all the love I have in my heart,

(Not sure what you will name me…maybe we will know by this time next year)

P.S.  We took a picture of you every day for your first year.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH YOUR SLIDE SHOW!

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief, Thanks

Dear Mrs. Geiger (#goodgrief),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With All the Love and Thanks I Can Muster,

Esther

 

Posted in 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 Celebration, Family, Thanks

Ten (Short and Sweet) Padre Snapshots

“My father didn’t tell me how to live.  He lived and let me watch him do it.”  (Clarence Buddington Kelland)

I am privileged today to be spending time with three dads:  two “oldish” ones (Allen and my brother Stephen) and one first-timer (my son-in-law Cody).  As I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram this morning, images and pictures of fathers near and far, alive or passed on, silly and serious, coupled with lots of writing or just a plain image, my heart became full.

Dads get a pretty bad wrap in our culture.  Their absence or abuse seems to be the downfall of our families and ultimately our society.  Dads are to blame for the ills that befall our hearts.  In the media, they are painted with a large brushstroke of incompetence, ill-will, and ignorance.  For many today, this image is more true than you’d like it to be.  It fits with your experience.  This day is actually one of the hardest of the year.  I am sorry.

But as social media reminded me this morning, it’s not a complete picture of all dads.  Some dads, like the three I am with today, are good men: kind-hearted and loyal, fun-loving and humble, gentle and strong, present and loving.  Enjoy these snapshots of some of the best dads I know.

1. My husband Allen getting into the baby pool with our four-month old.

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2.  My brother Stephen taking long fishing trips with his son to the remote regions of Canada and New York State.

3.  My father telling the story of the “Wide-Mouth Frog” to a bright-eyed grandchild the same way he did with me so many years ago.

4.  Allen patiently hooking up many a worm on fishing poles for our not-able-to-do-it-yet boys. (key word:  patiently)  And as you can see, braving the dangers of taking our young wiggly boys on a much-longed for boat ride.

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5.  My son-in-law Cody playing peek-a-boo with his six-month-old and producing cackles of laughter.

6.  My friend Glenn walking his daughter down the aisle and then performing her wedding ceremony with tears in his eyes and love in his heart.

7.  My brother Tim holding his kids close at the graveside of their mom.

8.  My father-in-law giving the toast at our wedding after agreeing to be Allen’s best man.

9.  My brother David attending concert after concert with his daughter.

10.  Allen and Rachel holding hands while walking into their favorite coffee shop in the wee morning hours before high school.

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These are the pictures (and so many more about so many of you or the men that you love) that are etched into my memory from men who have decided to be present, to be intentional, to bring healing, to love their children well.  Thank you.  Thank you.  I salute you!  Keep up the good work!  You are the reason that I can remotely understand the love of my Heavenly Father.  No one else does it better!  Happy Father’s Day!

 

WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR SNAPSHOTS OF THE GREAT DADS YOU KNOW!  Feel free to comment and share (especially out on social media)!