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I cringed in pain as I leaned down and reached for the edge of what I thought would be a beautiful sand dollar.

It wasn’t. “Just another broken bit.”  I sighed as I stiffly straightened up and walked on.

Over and over- I saw the curved, white edges I was searching for peeping out from the sparkling sugar sand like gold coins in a buried treasure chest.

Over and over I slowed. I reached down. I nudged curved edged shells from their sandy beds. I sighed. I cringed. I hurt.”Technically,” I wasn’t breaking (many) post surgical rules.I had my brace on. (Which- as a side note- could double as a nuclear shelter for a mouse. Its tough. Just sayin.) It took me 45 minutes to figure out I could use my feet to nudge them from their sandy beds.  (I never said I’m quick, it took me a while to figure out a less painful way to check for brokenness.)

I kept walking.

I kept looking.I kept nudging. I alternated between toes and hands when I thought I wasn’t being thorough.

Between nudges and signs, I mechanically, I snapped pictures. More out of habit than heart. More of scientific documentation than search for beauty. The more pieces of sand dollars I found, the more frustrated I became.  “With all these pieces… there HAS to be a whole one here, somewhere. Or maybe, this beach lies.” (Slight paranoia may have been setting in. Maybe a delayed reaction to the anesthesia? Or, maybe just me…)

I found all kinds of shells. I filled my pockets with them. For Noah. But, I was disappointed. I wanted a sand dollar. I didn’t want whelks or mollusks, oysters or scallops. I didn’t want sea sponges or sea weeds. I wanted a sand dollar.

I know finding whole sand dollars on the beach is rare. I didn’t care.  I WANT ONE. NOW. (more…)

I love juxtapositions. I have yet to meet many uni-dimensional people- and the more diverse- the more I like it.

And juxtapositions- sums up my weekend. Friday was (kind of) a sick day- errands and figuring out how to make dinner for my inlays without actually cooking kind of day. (Hello- spiral sliced ham to the rescue. ) It ended with my Father in-law being admitted to the hospital for an infection. Yes- now, both of my in-laws are in indifferent facilities recovering from different issues. Prayers appreciated. So would a break from sickness and loss and emergencies. But- life doesn’t work that way.

Saturday was an amazing day of blessing one of my best friends daughters with a “”Breakfast at Tiffany’s” themed wedding shower.  It involved wearing a tiara and black satin gloves…. what’s not to love about that? 1625531_10151989161382083_426185128_n For the record- I moved the table to be centered under the sign-before guests arrived… (OCD much? ) It was a beautiful morning for a beautiful couple.

1966828_10152208424091168_2052637838_n-1Sunday, I needed a break. In an- “I may kill people if I don’t get a break”  kind of way.  I told my beloved -hubby I needed a day off. He (wisely) and lovingly agreed. Even when I told him I thought I wanted to go to the Motor City Tattoo Expo.  Yes. I said Tattoo Expo.

Why? Because 1) I’ve never been to one. And duh: adventure. 2) I knew Cee Jay and Dani were going to be there to represent- Dolly Llama Tattoo was in the house! I wanted to support! Both Cee Jay and Dani are amazing artists and Dolly llama is my ink home. 3) I was hoping to get my ugly scar covered with something beautiful I have picked out. And 4) of course— I totally thought it would be a great experience to write about and add to the book in process…

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 So- I headed downtown.

 The expo was held at the Marriott Renaissance Center. To avoid the downtown hassle I valet parked. I was a little concerned when I walked into the lobby- apparently there was also a Nation of Islam Event at the same hotel. Talk about a juxtaposition— the lobby was filled with beautiful African American’s- especially beautiful women in white flowing garb with head coverings that made ME want to twirl in the lobby like a little girl I met. It was lovely.

But, I was there for the tattoo expo. Eventually, I found it. (Not much signage in the lobby.) So- I just followed the trail of colorful hair, the smell of fresh ink and the steady stream of saran wrapped body parts.Once I got close enough- the heart thumping sound of music led me the rest of the way. (I love that feeling..just saying.)

When I wandered in- I  felt a little like.. well- like a soccer mom at a tattoo convention. (Except my kid plays flag football. And games. Whatever- you get the point.) It was brightly lit and well organized. Music was loud enough but not obnoxious.

I’ll be honest- I was a little disappointed. Not in the expo and definitely not in the beautiful artwork I saw. I stunning pieces of art on both bodies and in portfolios. It just wasn’t as weird, exotic or adventure-ful  as I thought it would be.  I think I was expecting a freak show. Bodies so modified they looked a little less than human. Outrageous clothes,  tattooed and modified people straight out of Ripleys’ Believe It or Not.  Like this guy. I expected a dark club like atmosphere…not so much. (Umm tattooing in the dark – not possible. or wise… I shoulda known better.)

Instead, there were tables laden with portfolios, sketch books, prints, t-shirts and swag, and enough aftercare products to drown (or purify and protect) the city. All with the typical back drops of shop banners you’d end at ay kind of convention of event.

I was also kind of expecting to be treated like or feel like “the weird one.” While I have a few beautiful meaningful pieces of ink-art- they don’t show in my regular February clothes. Which yesterday happened to be a red tank- leopard sweater, wide belt- black jeans and flats. Because: leopard.  Both feet my are inked- as is my right ankle/calf and my left shoulder blade. aside from my feet- nothing actually showed.  Except I wasn’t treated like an outcast. I was welcomed at each table. Additionally- every random person I smiled at or accosted to get a better look at their stunning ink- was as gracious and friendly as at any knitting or MOPS Event I’ve attended in the past. (My frames of event -reference.)

True- there were a few interesting and over the top characters. Three top characters: one girl who would have been “over exposed” if she were a photograph– and kind of kept walking around on parade. One. Out of hundreds. Then there was one guy who dropped drawer to show a tattoo at a booth- and was wearing what I can only describe as some kind of possibly meat- themed 70′s style running shorts type drawers that so distracted and caught me off guard -that had he walked past me 5 minutes later with his pants pulled up- there’s NO WAY I would have recognized him. Finally there was an awesome shop-owner guy who’d bought a tortoise on Craig’s list during the show, and had been keeping him in his hotel bath tub. After a day an half though- he decided he was lonely, so had him hiding out in his backpack, with some lettuce- of course. (Same dude had an awesome Ninja Turtle tattoo on his foot. He’s into turtles like I have a thing for nests, apparently.)

No lizard guy. No freaks – a few geeks. But they were more science -math type geeks than circus type. It was mostly cute young couples and families. and a few interesting old timers. One sister needle-phobe who was there with he daughter. But mostly families and couples.  FYI: this was definitely a baby wearing crowd. (I swear I felt my ovaries attempt to explode old decrepit eggs in response to the cuteness that was in attendance.) Lots of babies and kids-only 2 strollers. The rest were wrapped and baby-worn by beautifully inked moms and dad’s alike.

There was a bar and enough free rockstar energy drinks to fuel a college campus for a year.

There were competitions… (My girl, Cee-Jay won 2 awards for best cover ups- they were amazing.)  Unfortunately, as I’d forgotten to bring my stilts- I could’t see the judging. But- it sounded like fun and there was beautiful work everywhere so i have to imagine the winners were incredible.

After wandering wound and buying a cute t-shirt )Black- White lettering that says: Tattooed Parent.) I hung out at the Dolly Llama Booth  waiting to see if I could get some work done. (My only other ink plans:  to cover my neck surgery scar- and to make my left foot- ankle piece a bit prettier.) Since I can’t help myself, and the girls were busy- I imposed my extrovert fangirl skills- by talking to every one that walked up to the booth. From photographers to potential clients, show judges and apprentice hopefuls- I talked to them all. It was awesome.

Happily for them- (cause they were busy- and busy s good when you’re in business.) sadly for me- there wasn’t actually time to get any ink done. I’ll be making an appointment at the shop. Which is a great place-and way more comfortable than a convention room, anyway;)

What I learned from the Motor City Tattoo Expo-

  • 1) I still have some pre-concieved ideas about inked people, in general. I hate that.I’m working on it. The only way I can do that- is to get to know people instead of judging from afar.
  • 2) If you are friendly to most people- guess what? They will be friendly back. Even if their head is covered in tattoos and you look like a soccer mom caught in the tattoo – spot lights.
  • 3) There was an awesome couple at the expo with a booth set up just to love people in the name of Jesus- and just because they love people. They weren’t jerks. They represented Jesus with love and grace. No bullhorn. No judgment- no being jerks. I loved that. I also pre-judged them- cause as soon as I saw the booth- I was afraid they’d be bullhorn blaring condemning jerks… prejudiced- yet again. UGH.
  • 4) If you want to get work done at an tattoo expo- book an appointment…. good artists’ get busy;)

Bonus learning: The tattooing process doesn’t make me squeamish at all. However- the piercing thing? Squick and ouch. I was glad that was all in a room I could just walk by—- too bloody too painful looking… Not my thing. And that’s okay. For a recovering needle-phobe, I did great. ;)

And so my weekend went from hospitals to tiaras and closed out with a tattoo expo…. cause that’s how I live life. With people.

Because- I love people. All kinds of people. And- I truly long to learn to love better- and the only way I learn anything- is to practice. – so, this weekend-I did.

John 13:34-35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

PS: Watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time in years- and while Audrey Hepburn is stunning classy looking vision in the whole movie—- she’s also a shallow hot drunken mess…..good ending.. But the movie? Kind of annoying- Holly Golightly is rather pathetic…. I usually think of it as a classic- but I bet it was really risqué in it’s day…. justsayin. Still- awesome theme for a wedding shower;) If you ignore the movie;)

I love my neighbors. Sure, we have differences- including language complications and different traditions and beliefs…. But, I love my neighbors.

This week, the patriarch of the family next door died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (A really nasty killer- I might add.) His wife had already battled cancer of her own. I hate cancer.

Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer? Yeah. I hate it THAT much.

I’ve chatted with, smiled at and waved to this family for the 12 or so years that we’ve lived next-door to each other. The patriarch (The word truly fits this gentleman.) gave my husband (much needed) gardening tips. Our kids went to school together, squabbled together, played together.

Yesterday, when I saw the driveway and street fill with cars I suspected the battle was over. [When that much family arrives in the middle of the week- it means either a baby was born- or there was a death.] There was no baby due.

I desperately wanted to DO SOMETHING. [Mostly] Feed them. Pray with them…. sit with them.. something.

Problem: some of our differences make that complicated. My beloved neighbors are Muslim. I know how to do Christian funeral stuff. I am, however clueless about the rules- etiquette and options for me here. Cooking? Kind of hard. I do not keep a Halal kitchen- so I can’t really cook for them.  

I probably already broke 10,000 rules when I hugged the grandson yesterday after he confirmed what I suspected. That the fight was over. I told him to let me know if there was anything we could do. A service to attend? Anything. (Umm yeah nothing like awkwardly pushing my need to help on the poor grieving kid- who knows there are things I can’t do and places I can’t really go….)

This morning- he knocked on the door- wondering if the family could use our driveway for parking. “YES, PLEASE.” was my response…And then he asked if he could buy our ice melt… they’d tried to get some but EVERYWHERE is sold out. I practically begged him to take it. Again- I wanted to HELP!  But salt and a place to park didn’t seem like much. He invited me to the ladies- reception this evening… but my whole family is sick.:(

I can’t cook. I can’t sit with them in their grief without contaminating them… literally.

Fortunately- I have a halal grocer right next to our pharmacy. Or, what I like to call our winter home. While my middle son picked up his prescription- I wandered into the tiny market like an alien from another planet. FYI: when a woman without a head covering wanders into a middle eastern market- the men scatter. With the exception of the owner.

Thank you Jesus. Cause- this naked headed chick needed help.

I explained the situation- and for some reason- totally blamed my Italian heritage for my need to feed these people. I asked if he could help me make up a gift basket of goodies. He graciously agreed. I waited while he rang up a few customers- and while I waited I thought: “Hey, I’m here, I got this…I can pull together a gift basket.” I started tossing things that looked yummy into my cart.

When he finished- he found me wandering the aisles, still tossing things into my cart. He asked a few questions and then basically- then rescued my butt from looking like a doofus. My cart was half filled with Indian food the other half was Pakistani. My neighbors are Jordanian. Apparently- I didn’t “have this, after all.”

The owner helped me start over.

I left with a few bags of staples and treats to feed my neighbors.  I immediately felt better.

Ish. I mean… This isn’t flowers and helping with a funeral dinner, you know what I mean? Which is what I’d normally DO.

When I’d barely finished packing up the goodies and signed the card, the doorbell rang.

It was the kid from next-door. With a warm plate of food from the funeral luncheon.

I nearly cried right there. I also kind of wanted to yell: “Hello. I’M BRINGING YOU FOOD. You’re the grieving ones!!”

He said something about the salt and parking and thank you. I’m sure I looked confused.

I said- hold on.. I have something for you, I grabbed the goodies. Then, he looked confused. “No, you shouldn’t.”

I said something lame like: “We care about your family- I know I can’t cook for you- but I COULD go to the Halal market and pick up some goodies… My family is sick- so I can’t come visit tonight- but please- take this to your family and give them our love.” (I honestly have no clue what I said- I was so caught off guard by the gift of a warm meal that I just don’t remember.) Image

As he walked home, I thought about the scripture that tells us to be salt and light……and how maybe sometimes that can be literal.

Salt for the icy walk. Light spaces to park cars. I thought about loving our neighbor, and how my neighbor had just loved me. (Let’s face it- doesn’t matter what culture you’re from- if you take the time and effort to think of and bring a plate of food from your families funeral to someone- well.. that’s an offering of love and acceptance.)

I think too often we’re afraid to reach out to people who are different. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll offend. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be offended. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll be rejected. Maybe we fear we won’t be needed. Maybe we just don’t know what to do.

I thought and felt all of those things. Then I took a deep breath and I tried.

I wonder how different the world would be if we all took a few more little risks, if we thought about solutions and points of connection instead of differences and problems. Sure- maybe we’d end up scattering a few men in the Halal market. Maybe some things would flop like a fish on dry land. Maybe we’d seem overly eager to help. But our neighbors would know they are loved. That we tried.

I think that’s worth it. I kind of think Jesus is smiling over this whole thing…

My hubby and I are  planning on attending the reception later this week- and out of respect for the family- I won’t be sharing about that here. To touch someone’s grief and try to bring comfort-is private and holy. Not fodder for a blog.

To lend some salt and parking space and be surprised it meant something? Blog appropriate. To figure out how to feed people who’s dietary traditions and beliefs preclude you from cooking for them that ends up with me on an adventure in a grocery store where I can’t read the labels? That’s my story to share….

And I share it with hope that when your neighbor is hurting…or even when they aren’t-  That you’ll do something. Anything. To let them know you care. Even if they’re “different” from you. Cultural differences, lifestyle differences, appearance or preferences….

Difference don’t have to divide…. sometimes they just require some creativity to navigate.

I appreciate your continued prayers for this grieving family.

Now- go- love your neighbor. Or at least try. I will too. ;)

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