Visit me there! FulFill! 

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 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. ;)

In honor of the Olympics:  A re-print from 2006-

Curious? George was. So is Noah.
I keep telling myself: he’s not bad…. he’s curious, creative, innovative, but, what I see at the moment is, he’s messy. Maximum mess. Messious Maximus.

Three guesses as to what the ooze is that Noah is sliding in…..

Is it:
1. Gorilla Glue? (Thankfully- Not.. I suppose it COULD have been worse…–although I wouldn’t have had to chase his stickiness through the kitchen, if it HAD been…He’d have been: stuck. permanently. Which sounds like a pretty good idea on occasion.)
2. A Bodily Fluid- either  animal or human? (Nope-not this time, that would have smelled much worse.)
3. An entire bottle of syrup poured onto my kitchen floor, creating Noah’s own Olympic Speed Skating rink? DING DING DING!- We have a winner!

Like most toddler mischief-it began, with two minutes of peace and quiet.

I should have known.

When suddenly,I remembered that: Quiet is not good. I called out: “Noah!?  Where are you?”  No answer.

No answer? Also: not good.

3 steps into the kitchen, my feet felt funny.

5 steps in,  I saw what you see,in the picture above.

6 steps in, I decided I had to kill him….

Then, I saw his shirt. “GEORGE” It said in bright white letters across his back.

I stopped cold (and sticky) in my tracks. I was reminded of where we went just yesterday.

We went to see “Curious George”.  I giggled through the whole movie through because Curious George- is so like my Noah.

George is like any normal preschooler. Curious.

So is Noah. Not only curious, but also uninhibited. If the sticky syrup feels good- they slide in it. Our whole family saw Noah in the movie- we laughed on the way home… thinking of the little moments- where Noah has gotten himself into scrapes.

Don’t get me wrong…

20 oz. of maple syrup, (Okay high fructose corn syrup with caramel coloring and maple falling .. at least it was the cheap stuff.) spread across my floor, does NOT make me happy. It makes me furious. But- in the instant that I saw his shirt, I was reminded of Curious George and Curious Noah. In the same instant God ( I know it was God, because the woman in my head?  She was heading for her executioner’s hood!) reminded me: “George isn’t BAD, he’s CURIOUS. So is Noah.”

Truth is— I could have ranted and raved. (I have before) But, the floor would have still been a mess, the syrup would have been covering him… and I’d have felt awful. Instead, in a moment of lucidity, that also could only have been God, I calmly said…

Noah? What did you do? ” to which he replied ” I skating. I go Olympics!”

I told him: “Syrup is for waffles, not skating.”  I then had to figure out how to clean up the mess- before the dog went into a maple sugar induced coma….AND I had to keep them both from spreading invisible sticky footprints all thru the house. I decided on stripping the preschooler to his drawers and making him stand on a towel, while I mopped up what I could…. before putting him in the tub. (Noah, alone in a tub while I’m MOPPING-would be a bad thing…actually, preschoolers, alone in a tub is ALWAYS a bad thing!)

Noah must have sensed how close to death he came today- because he managed to stand (wiggle and sit ) on that towel, without leaving it for 10 minutes. A herculean feat for a wriggly boy.

We all survived, thanks to Curious George and Jesus.

FYI: When faced with a “Curious” problem like this of your own…. prior to the actual mopping up of the syrup— I recommend you use a spatula to scrape as much up as possible. This will eliminate the creation of “mop doom”…(you don’t want to know) and will enhance your cleaning experience. (These are the kind f cleaning tips you can’t find in parenting books. But, should.)

Dear Lord, I love you- and this child (all three!) that you gave me, please help me to always see them as your wonderful creation. Please, give me wisdom, to discipline them, and patience to guide them. And Lord- thanks for not letting me kill them. amen.

 a tiny nest in the doctor's officeIt’s taken over 2 years. Don’t get too excited. We haven’t arrived at a cure, yet. (Which sucks.) But, I have finally arrived at: thankful. At least I usually manage to visit the land of thankful, each day. If only for a few moments at a time. Apparently, I’m not holy enough (or maybe crazy enough) to be thankful for my husband’s cancer. (I’ve had several people encourage me to BE thankful for it…. so far? Not so much. Honestly? That sounds masochistic and sick. But hey- if it IS your experience- I’m glad for you. Just stop trying to push it on me, ok?)  I can, however- finally recognize my thankfulness IN cancer.

  • I’m thankful for the love and support of friends and family as we take this seemingly never ending Willie-Wonka- on- the psychelic -boat ride. A ride through diagnosis, surgery, treatments, appointments, emotions and trying to find a new normal that involves: cancer. Every single, day.
  • I’m thankful for the deepening of conversations and faith that this cancer battle has born like fruit on a thorny bush. I once heard that trees growing in harsh conditions where wind and rock make life difficult, dig deeper roots. I’m thankful the storm of cancer has caused our roots to deepen. (I’m feeling metaphoric- what can I say?)
  • I’m thankful for the daily reminder that life is short. Cancer puts a magnifying glass on the clock of life. There are no guarantees of tomorrow, and that loving people right now, where you are, is really the best anyone can do to honor God. This has always been true…. I was just oblivious of it. (Along with a lot of other things. Of course:P  Oblivious could be my middle name.)
  • I’m thankful that God has shown his presence in ways I recognize, at times I most desperately need it. He hasn’t DONE what I’ve been begging for- but he has shown up. We’ve not been, or felt alone. (We have however felt: angry, hurt, grief, fear, jealous of the healthy, frustrated with glib responses to our pain…. but not alone.)
  • I’m thankful for the strength of our family- birthed in love, is now being  forged in fire. Like steel hardened by a blacksmith- we’re becoming stronger- not weakened by the “stuff” we’ve been facing. (Cancer is just the tip of the iceberg….let’s just say if it COULD hit the fan? It has.) (You’re welcome- that was metaphor 3,002 for this post. I’m gong for a record.)
  • I’m thankful that life continues- even under threat.

I could go on…. But the point is- for the past few years I’ve entered each New Year hoping the next year would be better. I’ve been kicking years to the curb like the ripped wrapping paper and used paper plates currently filling my holiday infused trash. (I mean recycling. Yeah, that’s right- recycling.) I’ve been happy we survived them. But I’v not been thankful for them.

Last night, I felt different. I felt thankful. Finally. The cancer is still there. Life is still hitting us hard. We struggle. Like most people- it’s always something. Cars still break down and so do I.

But-I’m finally thankful. I’m thankful for what God accomplished last year. In spite of cancer. (And in spite of me.) Instead of kicking 2013 to the curb- I’m archiving it. I looked through this years “year in review” photo album with joy and thankfulness . Even the hospital pictures hold glimpses of humor and hope.

There was beauty amid  the mess and  I am thankful. As I look back- now I can see- I HAVE been thankful. As all the things above and so many more, unfolded this year, I felt thankful. Not every minute. And certainly not for cancer- but the thankfulness has been there. Sometimes so fleeting, I barely noticed. Like a butterfly- it momentarily landed in my heart- countless times.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been feeling guilty about my lack of thankfulness in this mess. I’ve had lots of people tell me how thankful they were for their experiences with cancer. That cancer has been “a gift in their life.” If it’s a gift, it’s been one I’d like to return. I’d even wait in the Walmart after Christmas return line for as long as it takes. (Walmart post Christmas return line? = a taste of hell on earth. Justsayin. It’s that bad.)

I’ve experienced magical thinking- “Maybe if I can make myself be thankful for the cancer- god will take it away… maybe thats the key.”  The problem is: I can’t be thankful FOR cancer. Besides- I highly doubt God falls for manipulation by emotion. I  can’t get rid of it. Not even with magical thinking. It’s not returnable or regiftable. (Even I have limits for re-gifitng.)

Cancer doesn’t come with a gift receipt. There are no returns. Not even for store credit. It just: sucks. It’s the gift that keeps on sucking.

However- I’ve been looking back- all the way to the beginning of this journey- and now I can see not just God- but my own footprints of thankfulness, in the cancer- if not for it. The truth is-I’ve been thankful all along.

I refuse to keep trying to believe that I have to be thankful FOR cancer. Jesus never met someone sick or in pain and said: “You should be thankful for this affliction. Go and enjoy it some more.” The bible says Jesus had compassion on the afflicted, the outcast, the pained. It also says he understands our weaknesses and our pain. We have a high priest (Jesus) who “gets it.” “Jesus wept.”  Is one of the most profound verses in the Bible. It shows God doesn’t expect or desire denial… he desires honesty of feelings. And that he can handle it.

Dear Lord- I’ve felt guilty for my lack of thankfulness in this cancerous mess. I’ve longed for it- I’ve even tried to manufacture it. Thank you Lord- for loving me even here. When I’m too blinded by pain to be thankful. And to messy to even recognize the thankfulness I have experienced. Thank you lord for being with us- everyday- in and through all this mess- And thank you lord for letting me off the hook of being thankful FOR cancer……. Thank you for 2013, and your presence in it. I’m not kicking it to the curb- but am gently archiving it in the story of our lives. Thank you for 2014. I’m looking forward to seeing where and how you’ll be showing up in this new year. Lord- this year I already hear you whispering to abide…..even here. Please Lord- help me to live fully- to remain- to abide- in this new year. I love you. But- I still hate cancer. Amen.

Dear Reader- I don’t know what you’re experiencing. Maybe it’s cancer- loss, divorce,job loss, financial struggles, sickness, chronic pain, relational struggles…. But if you’re like me and think you need to be thankful FOR it- and are feeling guilty and frustrated with yourself in addition to all you’re going through. I want you to know you’re not alone. I’ve been there. And: I don’t think you have to be thankful FOR whatever you’re going through. It sucks.  But maybe, just maybe if you look back- you may find you’ve been thankful IN it all along even if only for fleeting moments. If not- I promise- it will come. When it’s time. I don’t know how long it will take. It’s taken me a long time. Just keep breathing. Keep praying. (yes even ugly prayers… God can handle it.) Keep waiting. Stop heaping guilt on your already burdened heart. You’ll find thankful. If you let yourself.


  1. 6f72d9c1bb2806053f0ef0b54f998344

     
  2. John 15:4
    Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

    John 15:3-5 

  3. 1 John 2:24
    [ Let Truth Abide in You ] Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
  4. John 15:7
    If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

    John 15:6-8 (in Context) 

  5. John 15:10
    If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

    John 15:9-11 (in Context) 

  6. 1 John 4:16
    And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he whoabides in love abides in God, and God in him.

    1 John 4:15-17 (in Context) 

  7. 1 Corinthians 13:13
    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (in Context)

  8. 1 John 4:15

    Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

    1 John 4:14-16 (in Context) 

  9. Proverbs 15:31
    The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise.

    Proverbs 15:30-32 (in Context) 

  10. 1 John 2:6
    He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

    1 John 2:5-7 (in Context)

  11. Joel 3:20
    But Judah shall abide forever, And Jerusalem from generation to generation.

    Joel 3:19-21 (in Context) 

  12. 2 John 1:2
    because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:

    2 John 1:1-3 (in Context) 

  13. John 6:56John 6:55-57 (in Context) 
  14. 2 John 1:9
    Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

    2 John 1:8-10 (in Context) 

  15. 1 John 3:24
    [ The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error ] Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

    1 John 3:23-24 (in Context) 

  16. Psalm 61:7
    He shall abide before God forever. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him!

    Psalm 61:6-8 (in Context) 

  17. Psalm 119:90
    Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides.

    Psalm 119:89-91 (in Context) 

  18. 1 John 2:17
    And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

    1 John 2:16-18 (in Context) 

  19. 1 John 4:13
    By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

    1 John 4:12-14 (in Context) 

  20. 1 John 3:6
    Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

    1 John 3:5-7 (in Context)

  21. John 12:46
    I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.

    John 12:45-47 (in Context) 

  22. Psalm 61:4
    I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah

    Psalm 61:3-5 (in Context) 

  23. John 14:16
    And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—

    John 14:15-17 (in Context) 

  24. Job 24:13
    “There are those who rebel against the light; They do not know its ways Nor abide in its paths.

    Job 24:12-14 (in Context) 

  25. 1 John 2:10
    He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

    1 John 2:9-11 (in Context)

 

imagesWarning: Forget about zombies…. we’re under attack of a two headed dragon lie. This dragon is trying to kill what God so desperately wants to create- community. Today we’re gone slay that lie like the warriors of love we are, and want to be. It’s the lie that if we compare our situations, pains and struggles  and joys and they don’t measure equal or greater than- we have no right or responsibility to share them. LIE. let’s take on one ugly head of this dragon at a time.

The first lie like sounds like this: “I feel stupid even sharing with what you’re going through…..” “It’s nothing compared to what you have going on…” And-the even sadder:  “I don’t even want to share this good news with them.. because I know how hard life is for them right now… my news will just make them feel worse.” The second ugly head of the lie looks like this: “That’s nothing. Really? Here’s what I’m going through- you should be thankful that’s all you have on your plate. Suck it up buttercup.” 

That first head is usually pretty noisy and vocal. It’s in your face- comparing pain, heaping on guilt and withholding joy. The second is usually a it more stealthy…. it’s often noticed in a look, an attitude a feeling and ocassionally loudly and proudly roaring to fend off connection.

Here’s the thing; this dragon needs to die. Both heads are damaging to relationships. The first self inflicts flaming guilt at the speaker and shoots smoldering guilt embers to the listener. The speaker feels like they shouldn’t be in pain or struggling with whatever they are struggling with. Or, they don’t want to share their joy as if their joy makes someone else’s pain somehow- worse. They feel GULTY for good news. The listener feels bad that their pain makes someone else feel guilty for sharing their struggles, and feel let out of sharing in someone else’s joy. It also has another insidious side effect- the listener feels like because they are struggling they are being judged as too selfish or  hurting to care for someone else’s pain or joy.  Both are left feeling guilty. Disconnected. Less than.  The second head is equally diabolical and destructive. It lives to compete for the martyr crown. This dragon head snaps and bites to trump everyone else’s pain. It minimizes the struggles of others it in order to be seen as some kind of amazing martyr. It injects a selfish venom in it’s bite.

The result of these dragon attacks are the same- separation.  Guilt, Fear, Judgment (or the feeling of being judged) all lead to destruction of intimacy. Killing (or at least )damaging community.  When people feel they can’t share their pain and  joy  they don’t feel connected. Because they aren’t. They are separated by a two headed dragon of lies.

its time to slay the dragon. It’s time to stop comparing our pain and start sharing it. It’s time to respect the struggles of others and be honest about the struggles of our own.

Here’s what we’re learning about this two headed dragon during our three year battle of cancer and other huge struggles: Shared pain is more bearable. Shared joy is more joyful. Sharing pain breeds compassion and understanding and intimacy, sharing joy breeds hope and joy.  It all creates intimacy and community.

It slays the dragon.

Today- as we continue through the holidays- I want to slay the dragon. I refuse to compare our pain or minimize the pain of others. I refuse to be unavailable to the joy of others. I choose love. I choose sharing- not comparing. I choose intimacy not isolation. I hope you will to.

Like all Dragon slaying- it will require courage and wisdom…. and maybe a bit of armor. Sharing in someone else’s pain can hurt, sharing in another’s joy when you are hurting can be bittersweet. It can sting. But it’s worth it to grow hope….it can be  the tilling of the soil hope needs to grow in.

Let’s do it-  lets slay this beast and built community. I already know I can’t do it on my own. I’m too selfish and human and have a heart that automatically judges and compares. I AM the two headed dragon. (With slightly better hair.) Or- I can be on any given day.  Somedays- both in the same day. (Trips to the cancer center can do that to you. It’s a bipolar mix of survivors and the sick. Trust me.)

“Dear Lord- I love you- it hurts when I see people comparing or withholding their struggles from each other. I can see the damage it does to relationships- and I know your heart is for us to love one another- give us courage and wisdom lord- give us a bit of armor to bear the sting that sometimes comes with the sweet. Lord help us share in joy and in pain- the way you do, help us create community – we are stronger and better together- we need each other as a body needs it’s parts- help us slay this dragon- I love you lord- amen.”

” Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge,my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” From Roman’s 12

 

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)

 

ImageI shifted from one foot to the other, trying to relieve the pain that was creeping out from my between my shoulders all the way down to my wrists.. I was choosing this pain. It wasn’t outside of my neurosurgeons rules.. I was just standing.  At the AT&T counter because it was that celebratory day- UPGRADE day. (That happy day, every two years, when I feel like I’m getting a deal on a new apple product. .But, I’m not. Yup. I’m that person.) It should have been fine. Except there was nowhere to sit. I didn’t think it would take this long. However, it did.

I almost cared how long it took. (My neck certainly did.) But, by the time those magic buttons were hit and I was restoring form the haloed “iCloud” I was over it.

I walked out the door thinking one thing:  “I need my icepack and my comfy chair….. (And play with my new phone.)” Okay. Maybe,  that’s 2 things.

Even without the neck brace, I can’t turn my head- so my peripheral vision is pretty limited. We’ll pretend that’s why I didn’t notice the beautiful mother daughter pair as they walked to meet me at my car. (As opposed to the truth: I had visions of apps and fear of back up failure dancing in my head. It’s pathetic, I know.)

Eventually, I noticed. (Even in an Apple induced stupor, I still notice people.. I’m that extroverted. It’s true.)

I smiled. Honestly? I thought it was one of my not so well known neighbors, walking past me. The mother a slim, raven haired Indian or Pakistani beauty in a long sari -type skirt and t-shirt. The daughter- wearing about the same only accessorized by a baby doll cradled in her arms. I was pretty sure it was a new neighbor from down the street…..

Until, I noticed the sign:

“Please Help. Lost job. No money, Need food. We love Jesus.”

My brain immediately said: “Not my neighbor. Couldn’t be. Not begging in the strip mall parking lot. ”

So….I did what I usually do when I see someone in need… I reached into my purse and grabbed what cash I had. I handed it to the mother and in broken English she thanks and blessed me and kept saying she loves Jesus. I mumbled something about how I do to.. then I turned and hugged the daughter….

Then I got into my car and left.

As I drove home, the visions of Apps stopped dancing through my head. Instead, I felt startled. (My reflexes are slow, blame the meds.)

I’ll be honest- here is what I found startling: 1)  I’ve never seen someone of their ethnicity panhandling, which somehow made me feel this was a true case of a mother’s desperation…..and 2) There was something strangely implied in their sign…..like it would help their cause to say “They love Jesus.”

As I drove home either my own preconceptions caught up with me or my convictions did. To be honest?  I’m still not sure. It bothers me that their ethnicity lended a sense of credibility to their stated need. It made me feel like a racist. Do I have assumptions about my Indian (or) Pakistani neighbors that I don’t even notice? (Like that they would never panhandle due to pride…. or that their familial communities meet their needs? It also haunts me that they felt like in order to get the help they needed they needed to clearly state: “We love Jesus.”

I would have helped them either way. I help because Jesus loves me… and I love Jesus… I would never not help someone based on their race or beliefs. Jesus didn’t.

As I drove.. shoulders and neck aching, questions flew through my mind: “What is their story? Are they alone? Are they safe? Are there siblings. Do they even speak enough English to find and access the resources that are available in our community? How long have they been here? What happened?”

And finally- and embarrassingly- Were they lying about the Jesus thing because they were afraid no one would help because of their ethnicity?

Why did I even suspect that?

I can’t shake the questions or their faces. I can;t shake the feeling that I missed an opportunity. I can;t shake the fact that- as soon as I saw that cardboard sign… I didn’t see this woman as a neighbor. I saw her as: a panhandler. A beggar. Sure… I did the minimum. I gave her what cash I had…..

But-

She IS my neighbor.

I should have treated as one. I should have asked her how she was. What had happened. How I could help…. or help her find help…..

That’s how I would have treated a neighbor.

I can’t go back in time… (even with the post surgical ads.. they aren’t that trippy.)  But, I can do this…. Next time? I will ask questions. I won’t do the minimum. I will care with more than cash. I’ll care with my heart.

Dear Lord…. I don’t know the circumstances of this momma and daughter. Lord have mercy on me and on them. Bless them. Provide for them. Help them. Send someone to love them with more than cash. Forgive my prejudices Lord… and forgive me for categorizing them as beggars/ panhandlers instead of neighbors…. help me to see people as you do. Lord… I’d like to see them again.. and ask the questions that came too late…. But if I don’t , I’l be watching for the next opportunity. I love you Lord- amen. 

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So readers…. have you ever taken the time to talk to someone in need instead of just handing over cash?

What happened?

If not… What stops you?

And before you get all “Tracey- you’re not prejudiced, and you did more than what others would have…” (Because I know you are kind hearted readers who don’t like it when I’m hard on myself….. ) Please trust me on this… I could have walked over to the diner across the parking lot with them- sat down, ate with them (I was starving at the time) and heard their story…. I just. Didn’t.

It’s okay. I don’t think I’m a terrible person…. I just think I can learn from my mistakes… and maybe you can too;)

516DfEiT2jL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I pray. a lot. (Let’s face it… not much else I can do at the moment.) I ask for wisdom., I ask for forgiveness, I plead for healing, for myself, for my husband. I pray that God will make up through love the things I can’t do with and for my kids right now. I pray for others. I pray for the impoverished, the entrapped, the persecuted, the addicted, the hurting. Like I said: I pray.

The truth is….lately- I’ve felt like God isn’t answering. (Or, rather, I’m not liking the answers.) I pray for wisdom, and discover more questions. I pray for forgiveness and discover more sin. I plead for healing and find more pain, more disease. More tests to be run, more waiting to be waited.

We currently face: Cancer, chronic illness and pain. I’m in the middle of a difficult surgical recovery. There has been loss. I have questions without clear answers but with potential eternal consequences. I recently told a friend ” I feel like every time I come up for air another wave crashes on my head. ” (Heart?) I feel: Frustrated. Overwhelmed. I’m afraid that the reason God hasn’t answered me (The way I want him to) is because of my lack of faith…. Maybe, it’s my own fault.

Still, I pray. lately? Without bothering to tell God what I need or want him to do . Sometimes, words are barely involved. Sometimes, just breathing, has been a prayer. I’ve started to doubt my sanity. (not new and still unconfirmed.) But also, whether I’m a heretic…. Breathing as prayer? Am I cheating God, by not trying hard enough? (Yes. I over think EVERYTHING.)

As I read “The Mercy Prayer” what resonated most wasn’t the words….it was their truth. Truth that changed my perspective. God hasn’t been ignoring or denying my requests. He’s been answering them with mercy.

Mercy to bear pain. Mercy to stand up under temptation. Mercy in kindness. Mercy in meals made with love to sustain us through recoveries. Mercy in provision. Mercy in lack. Mercy to find joy in the tragedy and pain that threatens to engulf. Mercy to sit with unanswered questions. (And not lose my mind. (Mostly.) Mercy in nested reminders of His love….from friends, and in places where I’ve least expected to find them.

The truth is- a million mercies line the mess of my nest. Even here. God has already been answering my Mercy Prayer…. even when I didn’t know that’s what I was really asking for. (If you’re new to the blog- click “Even Here” for the tender mercies God has been feathering my nest with..)

Reading these words, my hope is renewed. I’m not a heretic. I’m not (that) crazy. My focus is changed. I will endeavor to quit telling God what he should do….and ask him to do what he always does. Lord, have mercy.

The Mercy prayer cuts through the frustration of trying to figure out what I need, so I can pray “right.” . Or the right things to pray…So God will answer “right.”

The heart of the matter.. is always: My need for Mercy. Of all kinds.

“His grace (truly) is sufficient” and it begins with mercy.

Read this book. Let it speak to your heart. Let our hearts beat to the rhythm of the mercy prayer…..I have a feeling that if we do….. they will be beating in time with the very heart of God. What a different world that would be.

Again: Lord, have mercy, Even here.

“The Mercy Prayer” Available on Amazon- or at your local bookstore.

By Pastor Robert Gelinas

Confession: When I saw the title– I was a little worried… “Oh No.. Please don’t try to give me another formulaic- magical harry potter approach to God……They never work. God is far above our puny manipulations and does not owe us his obedience to our magic words or incantations…..God is not a genie released by rubbing a lamp or saying a word… They leave me feeling irritated with the author for trying to profit from manipulating people in desperate need.”

This Book? NOT THAT. No worries. No formula… just an affirmation of our greatest need-for grace through mercy- always being met. By a God who delights to show mercy and grant grace.