There’s usually a stack of books on my beside table. Murder mysteries. Books about the sacred. Memoirs. One or two chapters at the most at the end of a long day send me to dreamland.
Books, for me, are spending a bit of time with another person, the writer. I might enjoy a completely entertaining story, hear another’s heart on a particular issue, or just walk beside someone through their life’s journey. I find connection in my jammies without any makeup on.
Fast forward to Sundays, my “take-a-break” day. I carve out at least SOME time alone, in the quiet. Self-help books shut. TV off. Phone on emergency-calls-only mode. Stop and stare out the window. Hash it all out with God. Often, something inexplicable happens way down deep, in the places I rarely venture.
It feels similar to what happens when I see a rainbow or a sunset or hear a beautiful piece of music. There is an unexplainable knowing that “all is well” despite all the swirling things in my life that are NOT. In fact, the silence actually magnifies the things that are not okay, perhaps because there is some space to explore them.
Mysteriously, as I sip my once-a-week cup of tea, watch birds flit by or the snow fall (which is happening as I write this), sorrow and joy, disruption and peace, the messy and the beautiful are able to walk side-by-side, neither one cancelling out the other.
The rest of the busy, hurried week, I fall into the trap of working hard and praying for ONLY the positive, happy, safe side of life. I keep my house organized, pay my bills on time, plant flowers and read self-help books.
Somehow, though, the negative, sad, and scary sides that are usually defined as bad by almost every voice around me, creep in no matter how hard I try to avoid them, stuff them down, or get all in a fit about them.
I’m like the Greek mythology character, Sisyphus, painstakingly rolling a huge rock up a mountain and just before I reach the top, it tumbles right back down to the bottom and I have to start all over again.
Anger. Confusion. Anxiety. Despair.
Thanks to those books on my nightstand and the authors who have “been there and done that,” I’m gently reminded that life is filled with both and believe it or not, both are necessary AND both are good.
Happiness celebrates the gifts given to us AND sadness brings honor to the loss of those gifts. Both are necessary AND both are good.
Back to that little bit of time when I stop the distractions once a week. It’s no wonder that I often find my true “all is well” place in those moments. Space to lean into the bad. A place to celebrate the good. God smack-dab in the middle of it, making breathing room for it ALL.
“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.
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!!!