Posted in Charity, Faith, Homeless

It Finally Happened to Us (The Relief Bus)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line is we met people.  Just people.

People with hopes and dreams not realized.

People with needs not met.  

People with kids they are worrying about.

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

Sound familiar?

People.  Just people.

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

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

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

Period.

Love our neighbor.  Period.

Choose good.  Period.

Bring hope.  Period.

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

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

From my  heart to yours.


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

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

DONATE (your money or hygiene kits)

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

READ Juan’s blog

Posted in Charity, Clean Water, Faith, Thanks

From the Fantastic to the Ordinary (#iwanttobuildashrine #rwanda)

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained.  We must always return to the ordinary.” (Richard Rohr)

I am still trying to wrap my head and my heart around the fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly” experience I had in Rwanda.  There really are no words in our English language able to capture it in its fullness.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve had these times as well where it feels like it’s too almost too sacred to share.

I go from energy to exhaustion within the same moment.  I am energized because a new village has clean water to drink.  I can see and hear the girls jumping rope with their new gift from America and dancing as water pours out from the brand new pump.  However, I am exhausted because people are still wearing their same dirty clothes day after day and school girls don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, much less a private place at school when it’s their “time of the month.”  They have to stay home for the week, thwarting their learning and the prospect of a better life.

My heart wants to go back and stay here all at once.  Here in New Jersey, I have people I love, conveniences (like wifi that actually works consistently), and a bed that welcomes me (without a mosquito net).  But in Rwanda, there are new friends that I love and already miss, the simplicities of a slower pace without the constant dinging of cell phones, and a night sky filled with unhindered stars shining brightly.

I miss the excitement of my team and our trip yet I am happy for the silence of my kitchen in this moment.   There couldn’t have been a better group of people to travel with.  Our persons varied widely:  silly and serious, introverts and extroverts (#meandnatalie), newbies to world travel and those who have lived all over the globe, young parents to grandparents, singles and married.  We laughed at ourselves in all our Americanness and shed tears for and with each other, sharing how our hearts had been changed forever because of this precious time spent.  We danced in the afternoon and sat bleary-eyed at the early breakfast table,   We played soccer and sang praise songs, gave hygiene lessons and carried pipes.  We did our best to be utterly flexible while our “used-to-being-in-control” selves took a much-needed break.  Yet, now, I am happy for the normal, everyday life where I can take stock of these moments and process how I have been shaken on the inside, never to be the same.  It’s just my computer and me in my kitchen in my home, all activity quieted for the moment.

I met some of the brightest and kindest people serving their local community with Living Water International.  Graciously, they allowed us the opportunity to actually hold the drill rig in our own non-calloused hands.  I  danced with local church leaders who care day-in and day-out for the poorest members of their villages.   I stood in awed silence as one woman prayed for me as she squeezed my hand intermittently during the time given to the task.  I spoke with a government sanitation minister about her efforts to have working toilets in the schools (the funny thing being that the toilet in her government building actually over-flowed after I used it).  Tears flowed as I left them behind, yet hope sprang because they continue to do the work after I am gone.  We are connected not in body anymore, but still in vision and heart.

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I want to do something more, not waste my experience, make it count.  I don’t want to go back to my ordinary life of sending emails, brushing my teeth and getting my car fixed.   I want to buy a cow for three people that I met.  I want to write blog posts that the world will read.  I want to make a slide show, a scrapbook, something so that I won’t forget, and neither will others.  I want to capture it and hold on tightly.

But when it comes down to it, I am probably not buying a cow for anyone.  It might be not the wisest thing to do.  I also have had a really hard time writing down exactly what I experienced even though I have tried many moments.  Even looking at my pics and videos (and I know some of them are here in this post), they just don’t do the trip justice.  I’ve tried to share them, but they don’t really capture the beauty of the rolling hills or the sheer joy of the people met.  You know.  You get it.  You’ve had these experiences too.

Processing some of it out (at least for now), I realized that I just want to build a shrine out of this mountaintop experience like the three disciples did when they saw Jesus being transfigured during their literal mountaintop experience (READ IT HERE) . After all, they had just encountered something fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly.”  I’m with Peter.  Why not build at least some tents, something more permanent, so everyone could live there?  Why not have at least a blog post, a video documentary, something concrete to hold on to so that no one would ever forget?

But Jesus surprisingly and gently says to them, “Don’t talk about it right now.”  As Richard Rohr reminded me this week (Check out his whole article HERE), “Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious.”

Obviously, I have not been completely silent (I am Esther Goetz after all).  Here you are, reading this blog post that I have written.  It’s my third one (here are ONE and TWO).   However, I have found myself fumbling for thoughts, words and images to share here and with family and friends.  And no matter what I’ve tried, I sense that I’m holding back and not really wanting to speak about it very much.  Now I have a small glimpse as to why.  Richard Rohr is wise.  Jesus is even wiser.  He has invited me on a sacred journey meant just for me FOR NOW.   He has lovingly thwarted me from “building a shrine” and living there in the extra-ordinary, mountaintop place.  He has reminded me that yes, the fantastic has its purpose.  It shakes us to the core.  It shouts loudly to our souls.  It changes us forever.  Thank God for the fantastic.

However, we can’t stay there.  Nor should we.  Even though this week, I have really wanted to.  Coming back off the mountaintop back down into the ordinary is just as crucial for us, for me.  It must be.  Most of our time is spent here.  Our hushed, behind-the-scenes, gentle, seemingly dull moments are not wasted.  They are essential.  For it’s in those very ordinary moments that turn into days that form weeks and months and years, that a lifetime of long-lasting redemption takes place.  We are truly changed forever.


Thank you again, Rwanda,  your people and your land are beautiful.  Your redemption story is almost unfathomable.   Because of the light you shine, our world and my heart are much brighter!!  Again, I say, Murakoze Rwanda!!!

Posted in Charity, Homeless

I Want A New Name (Six Days and Counting) #40Days

“The poor are not a problem to be solved, but a portal to the very heart of God.”  (Richard Galloway)

I couldn’t stop crying for 45 minutes.  Tears kept streaming down my face as I tried to wipe them away pointlessly.  No, I was not watching This is Us (although that has happened many times).  I was sitting in church.  From the moment my friend, Juan Galloway, Director of New York City Relief, appeared on stage, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

You see, Juan’s prior week had looked a lot different than mine.  I had spent the week moving Jared into his new home in Pittsburgh, spending time at Target and Big Lots, and going out to dinner with family.  I had slept in Allen’s 10th floor apartment overlooking the beautiful Monongahela River, enjoying the sunrise over the water each morning.  Yes, it was very chilly, we worked hard and I was exhausted by the end of it.  But I had food in my tummy, a coat on my back, and love from my family.  Juan, on the other hand, had spent six cold days and nights living as a homeless man on the streets of New York City.  He panhandled the first day enough to buy a blanket that became his lifeline to stay warm.  He slept on the E-train, at homeless shelters, and only ate what he was given or could buy from his labor.  He wanted to find out the answers to these questions:  “What does it feel like when people look down on you all day?  What does it feel like when someone blesses you and helps you?”  He also desired to SEE those who were homeless, HEAR them, and KNOW them.  He believed that in that process, he would SEE Jesus, HEAR Jesus and KNOW Jesus.

As some of you know, Allen has been on the board of the New York City Rescue Mission for about 20 years and now he serves on the board of the Bowery Mission, as those two have joined forces to serve the poor more effectively.   Our son Jared interned one summer at the Rescue Mission.  Our daughter, Sarah, teaches second grade to children in poverty.  We do serve the poor.  We give our time and resources, go to fund-raising galas in fancy clothes and hand out meals on occasion.  However, I have always viewed the poor as a problem to be solved.  And boy, am I a problem solver.  I fix things most days from sun up to sun down and do it all again the next day.  Makes me feel good about myself.

Until last Sunday.  And then all week as tears continue to well up even this morning as I ponder what God spoke through Juan to me.  You can see by my tagline that the whole point of this blog to bring hope and healing to the heart-broken.  That’s you and me, all of us.  And God promises that healing to us.  But how?  When?  What kind?  I may have just stumbled across an answer.  I am mostly uncomfortable with “if then” statements because it seems to reduce life down to formulas, removes the complexity of brokenness and tends to create a fix-it mentality.  Therefore, I don’t take what I am sharing with you lightly.

As many of you also know, I am at the tail-end of my forty-day fast from chips, chocolate and cheese (only six days left).  I have been praying over my “Hosanna” (COME SAVE US!)  list intermittently during this time (Happy Palm Sunday, BTW!).  I have continued to ask the questions:  what is the point?  why am I doing this?  will you really come save God?  what really matters?

Enter the reading of Isaiah 58 last Sunday.

Is not this the kind of FASTING I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

 

I naturally want self-preservation and self-advancement.  I spend a lot of time and energy on those two things.  Just look at my to-do list and my calendar.  Thank God His heart is the opposite.  He joyfully gives Himself to me.  He doesn’t need to preserve or advance Himself.  He knows those things only enslave me and He wants to gently move me into the place where He lives, the best place of all, the place of healing and freedom.

But how am I moved there?  The “treasure map,” as Juan calls it, of Isaiah 58 makes it plain.  There just doesn’t seem to be anything complicated about it.  One true path to my healing includes the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the oppressed, the broken.  Of course, when we see how Jesus lived, He seems to have clearly understood this unpopular path.  He engaged with and loved those who were on the fringes.  He spoke of the poor, the prisoner, the needy, the sick, the outcast and their value to Him.  He believed that the poor are the portal to the heart of God because as we see, hear and know them, just like Juan did, we see, hear and know Him, the one who reflects this best.  They are the portal to the heart of God, not because they are a problem to be solved, but a people to be loved.  I am not God’s gift to the poor.  They are His gift to me.

I want as much healing for MYSELF as I can get in this lifetime.  I want my heart to be fully and deeply satisfied.   I want to remove the “pointing finger” of judgment from my life and replace it with the loving hand of grace.   I want to hear God’s inner voice of love on this journey rather than my own voice of condemnation.  I want supernatural strength for my human frame as I am approaching the next years.  God promises all that and more as I take the uncomfortable journey towards the poor.   I’m not sure how it works, but I am hopeful to take another step towards compassion and connection.

I also want as much healing for OTHERS as they can get in this lifetime.  I want that for you.  It’s my overarching goal.  I want my personal inner garden to be well-watered so that I can be a place where other can come and drink deep the love of God, especially those who are thirsting for meaning and hope.  And mostly, I want a new name.  I want to be called (and Allen, take note for my  grave headstone) REPAIRER of Broken Walls and RESTORER of Streets with Dwellings.  I want the broken to be healed and their true homes to be found in God Himself.  REPAIRER.  RESTORER.   What really can be better than this?  Nothing.  And God promises this to me.  I’m counting on it.

This is and is not about the poor.  This is about God.  This is about your healing and mine.  This is about hearing God’s words of love to my heart.  There are broken, hurting, poor people all around me.  I don’t have to travel far to see them and to go after them in their brokenness.  God came after me in mine.  This is the best stuff!  Right now, there are people who are just waiting for me to come to them.  I want more of God.  They are the portal.

REPAIRER.  RESTORER.  It has a nice ring to it!

(If you would like to hear the talk from Juan that changed my heart, please click HERE.  You won’t regret it!)