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. ;)

1441273_10201627269256256_1776938028_nWell, Cancer- here we are again. It’s the holidays- and you are that shadow in the corner. You are the uninvited, obnoxious guest that doesn’t know when to leave. You’re the drunk family member everyone wishes would just pass out already, so we could take the keys from you without blood shed. You are the Grinch trying to steal our Who pudding Who- hash and Roast Beast.

For 3 Christmas’ you’ve been an unwelcome guest. We’ve done and are doing everything to try to get you to leave- from serving up obnoxious juice concoctions and organic everything…to surgery, radiation and now: starving you of the hormones you crave.

I wish I could say that we’ve dodged everything you’ve thrown. I wish I could say that while you’ve shown up over and over each year to steal our cheer- we haven’t let you. I wish I could say that our heavenly heart alarm (kind of like a home alarm system, only it can tell the difference between a cat and a burglar. And it protects your heart- not your house….and Jesus shows up instead of the police….pretty much.) has caught and detained you every year.

It hasn’t. Maybe we forgot to pay the bill.

The truth is- your repeated attacks and effects, make our hearts ache. Maybe even more so at this time of the year.

Because-it shouldn’t be this way.  Cancer treatments and side effects should not be part of our holiday decor. Fear, anxiety, facing mortality, and an unknown future aren’t on anyone’s Pinterboards for holidays.  Cancer is never highlighted in a magazine spread on how to host the perfect holiday. Cancer has never been one of Oprah’s Favorite Things or  Ellen’s 12 days of Giveaways. (Could you imagine the audience response on that one? ) Norman Rockwell never painted a Merry Cancerous Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be all Silverbell’s and Holly Jolly.

Not, hot flashes and PSA tests and Cancer center appointments.

Isn’t it?

Honestly… Christmas has always been  different form what we imagine and try to create.  There have been holidays on bed rest- threatening to miscarry, holidays with chicken pox (FYI: Santa is immune.) holidays with stomach flu,holidays with grief and loss, holidays’ with casts, holidays after surgery, holidays with surgery looming with in days,  holidays with family conflict, holidays with no money, holidays with overspending and a nightmare of bills in January.

All things we didn’t invite. All things we didn’t want. All messy and broken and imperfect.

Yet somehow, all still wonderful.

The year on bed rest brought friends to be with me, the season of chickenpox? Gave us a year without running ourselves ragged and we got to enjoy a quiet holiday. Stomach flu? Gets you a pass on travel and a few extra days to shop- post sales. Holidays with grief and loss? Make us more thankful for memories made. Holidays after and before surgery? Mean no one expects us to do “it all.” It’s kind of nice not to have to battle that expectation… even when it comes from my own head. Holidays with family conflict, well- they suck but conflict is part of relationship- it can even make it stronger in the long run. (In theory.) Holidays with no money- show us how little it actually takes to make a holiday bright and merry. Holidays with overspending- feel decadent and teach us not to do that again. (Again: in theory.)

So Cancer- here’s what I have to say to you: Christmas is never perfect. It never has been. It was broken before you ever arrived. From the very first Christmas- that was surrounded by rumors of infidelity and lies.Unfair taxes and taxing travel. A young woman forced to give birth in a dirty barn surrounded by donkeys and sheep while passersby gawked. (The manger scene where Christ was born was more like a circus sideshow than a private LDR justsayin.) And unexpected guests bearing awkward gifts (have you every smelled Frankincense or myrrh? PU. Also: awkward- I imagine Mary thinking: “What are we supposed to do with THAT? Bethlehem-bay it?” ) and frightening warnings….(“Oh- by the way- the king who sent us, wants your baby dead….. congrats. We gotta run.”)

Yup- Christmas has always been broken. Maybe it’s brokenness is supposed to be. Maybe we need to to be broken to remind us of our greatest need….. for a savior.

Which- by the way Cancer- you cannot conquer. You cannot steal, you cannot ruin. The savior has already come. On that first messy broken Christmas. In that dirty manger. He was born while gawkers gawked, rumors swirled and threats threatened- he brought peace.

So you know what Cancer? Merry #BrokenChristmas. There has always been beauty in broken Christmas’ past- and there will be in this one too.

  •  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel means God who is living with us.
  • Isaiah also gave this prophecy; “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • The prophet Micah foretold where He would be born. “But as for you, Bethlehem… From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:25).
  • It was also foretold that He would come to be the sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, Who would bear “the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)
  • Isaiah prophesied that even though He would be “pierced through for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-6), He would also be raised from the dead. “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10 cf. Psalm 22:19-24).

Dear Lord- You know what I envision as a perfect Christmas and Cancer is not a part. I know-in my brain that perfect is not attainable- it never has been. But- cancer is NOT part of my decor and is not on my to-do spreadsheet. But lord-  it IS once again a part of this Broken Christmas.  I trust that you will bring beauty in and from it- because you can and promise to. I love you lord- and I  hate cancer. Heal my husband and heal our hearts- in Jesus precious name- amen-

Dear Reader- I don’t know what shadow is lurking in your Christmas…. sickness, pain, loss, grief, fear un met expectations or just plain brokenness. But I want you to know this- you are not alone. Broken or not- it’s still Christmas- because of that first messy- not what anyone expected Christmas- when the savior we so desperately need- was born. Invite him into your brokenness. Invite him into your mess- he can handle it. He’s been there. If you’re struggling with brokenness this Christmas- I recommend you read “The Beauty of Broken” by Elisa Morgan- it will remind you that there IS beauty in the brokenness- and that we’e all broken. There is no perfect family- not one.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,f Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4)