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. ;)

Maybe, it’s a disease or a disorder….either way- I cannot pass a bookstore without going in. I can’t go into a bookstore without buying a book. (or maybe 5…)

So- yesterday, that’s what I did. I went in to the bookstore as I passed it on my way to the salon, at the mall. And, since I had to pass the bookstore yet again, on the way out of the mall.. I went in again.   Miraculously the first time I left with nothing. I was searching for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Book for Noah.. (Yes, I use my children as an excuse to book-shop- who doesn’t?) and couldn’t find one. When I returned, I did and then…somehow, I accidently ended up in the (woefully stocked) “Religious” book section. (Funny how that happens, isn’t it?)

As I paced the aisle, staring at the shelves trying to make more books (to choose from) appear, a voice caught my attention: “Just let me know if you need me to move.”  I looked up, to see long straight, blonde hair framing a smiling face. “Oh, I’m just wandering- no need to move.” I replied. “You’re in a good aisle to wander.” She said. I agreed.

She picked up a book and asked me if I’d read it, and what I’d thought.  I had, and well- let’s just say it’s not among my favorites. I was torn how to respond.. and then just went with the truth: “Well- I kind of feel like all of his books are the same.. read one and you’ve pretty much read them all.” I immediately regretted what I’d said. What if she loved that author and I offended her?

I held my breath and waited for her to respond… ready with an apology if necessary…. (I tend to speak my mind- and so, I need to have apologies ready- at all times…) “Oh- I read another book by his wife and was wondering if this one was like a pre-quel or something. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.” I let out my breath. Whew. one less offense to worry about. “No, I think they cover a lot of this in that book- it might be redundant.” “Good- I really want this other book I heard about, but I can’t remember the name…”

We talked for a few minutes, trying to figure out the title. We searched the shelves… nothing. I pulled out my iphone and googled the info she had about the book… Princess something or other…(FYI: there are a LOT of Princess something or other books on the market- just sayin.) we found the title, but, it wasn’t at that store. Her smile faded. “I went to a conference this weekend and I really want this book- they quoted it and it really touched me….”   “I’d go across the street, to Family Christian.. I know they have it over there…”

Her head drooped just a bit. “I have a gift card for this store.”

Oh, that I get. Shopping on a gift card and wishing that the thing you REALLY want would magically appear… and fit your giftcard budget. Been there. Done that.

Which is when I decided to take a risk and (maybe) look crazy at the bookstore. (It wouldn’t be the first time…)

“Ok, so this may sound weird… but, I’d really like to bless you (yes, I actually said: “bless you.” I mean, who says that? Well..apparently- me.) with that book… is it ok if I give you some cash so you can go to Family Christian and pick it up?” I held my breath. I waited to see if I’d offended her… Had I assumed too much?  I mean this chick could have been loaded and was just trying to dump that giftcard before it expired…. what had I done?

Tears started to well up in her eyes. She blinked them away. “Really? You’d do that? You don’t have. to…..” I didn’t wait- that was all I needed.. I slipped a $20 out of my purse and into her hand. We hugged. (I wondered what the heck the college kid looking at manga at the end of the aisle was thinking..) She took it graciously and with a big smile. Then she looked at a book on the shelf… then at me… Have you read this one? I still have that gift card….” “I did and I loved it—- get that one too!”  I smiled.

She left.

I tried not to cry.

I’ve gotta say….It feels amazing when you take a little risk to look silly.. and end up in the middle of a divine appointment… used by God- to yes… “bless” another’s heart.

Tomorrow- (or maybe even today) I challenge you to open your eyes to the people around you….is there a little risk you could take? Take it!  It’s more than worth it….. you’ll be glad you did.

Dear Lord- Thank you for using my weird book-store addiction to help meet the heart need of another woman. I pray that the words she finds in those pages will grow and change her and fill her with the knowledge of your love…. I pray that you’d continue to grow me and stretch me to take risks and reach out in love… even  when I may look crazy… Oh.. and Lord– I also ask you to help me not use weird-irrelevant- semi- archaic words like “bless” in public…. it’s.. just weird. I love you Lord- amen.

Re-post from June- 2009

When the caller ID showed the number– I knew something was wrong.   I was right.  My grandmother was in the hospital.. and it was the “you need to come visit now,” kind of call.

I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I could, and what i always do.  I made a care pkg of love.

This weekend- I had tried my hand at making jam. It had actually turned out, so I thought I’d bring some up to her.  My grandmother ALWAYS made home made jam in the summer.  It is part of our family story. I remember prying out the carefully poured parafin to find an amazing elixir of liquid summer.  I can feel the cool jelly jar in my had even now and taste the sweet-tar fruit on toast with butter.   My grandmother was born in Wales, so I added fresh scones and clotted cream, along with a box of tea bags to the little care package.  Tea time is a daily tradition and is something we’ve  always enjoyed together.  All I could think- was grandma needs tea, and hospital tea won’t do.  Packing up tea was something I could DO to help.

We made the drive to the hospital in quiet.  When we arrived, we  had to look hard to find the outline of her tiny frail body in the hospital bed. She had trouble speaking, but tears came to her eyes when she saw me.  I smiled.  It was worse than I’d thought.

I did not know is that she hadn’t eaten in days, and that scones would be out of the question.  Still, I wondered if a bit of jam and cream would be good.  I asked the nurse and with her  approval..I asked grandma if she wanted a taste. I offered her a bit of jam and cream on a spoon,  Grandma nodded her regal approval.  .  That was enough.

My grandmother’s mouth and throat are parched from dehydration and diminished use. Every swallow is obviously painful, a sponge to wet her mouth has been on the bedside. But honestly- it just didn’t seem right. Her regalness- sucking a sponge was wrong, and while compassionate care.. it wasn’t what she needed to improve.

The idea that grandma needed tea, would not leave my mind.  Tea, makes everything bearable, if not better. Our family has had pots of tea during wakes, during wedding planning, on lazy afternoons and after every holiday meal..(even the fourth of July.)  the kettle has NEVER been anywhere other than the stove top. Like the  Rock of Gibraltar, it doesn’t move. I decided to try to get her to take a bit the next day.

Shortly after arriving,  I asked if she wanted a bit of tea. “That would be wonderful” . Was her answer.  It was more words in a row than we’d heard in days. I grinned. “YOU got it grandma.”  I was quickly reminded of this:   My Grandmother doesn’t drink tea through a straw, nor from a styrofoam cup.  “That would be disgusting”  grandma would say.

Standing in the hospital room, I longed for the kettle. I longed for the teapot and limoges cups she’d served me from.  I wracked my brain for how to accomplish tea in this place. The gift shop held the answer. a pretty blue china cup. I washed it in the bathroom and ran back to grandma’s room.

With warm water from the cafeteria, we brewed up a fresh cuppa.  My aunt raised it to her parched lips.  Grandma wanted more. A few minutes later.. she COMPLAINED. It wasn’t hot enough.  We laughed. “We don’t want to burn you!” Grandma reprimanded: “Don’t be ridiculous.”  We promised the next cup would be warmer.

And it was.

Something shifted in Grandma with those cups of tea.  A spark of herself ignited.  It couldn’t have been caffeine.  It was decaf.. It was a spark of her dignity.

Dignity is an even more fragile thing than my grandmother. (She tips the scale at a childs weight.) My grandmother is a proud and proper woman, dignity is her MO. Being bedridden and immobile is a type of hell for her. She cannot care for herself, she cries when “certain  of her needs”  require the help of others. Those china cups of tea helped make her feel like herself.

I don’t know what the future holds for my grandmother.  We know that at nearly 90, time is short.  Her prognosis is guarded at best.  But I know this.. a tea cups worth of dignity can make a difference in this moment.

I hope that today- if you’re confronted with an overwhelming situation- one that leaves you feeling like there’s nothing you can do,  that you will do what you can. Sometimes just being there is enough.  Sometimes a  smile.. or an  offered  cup of cold water- or a hot tea.  There is something.. however small that you can do to make a difference in this moment, for someone.  Do it.

A timely re-post from this summer


It was one of those “Black and white” days of winter.  Where the world is painted in shades of dirt.  The slush on the road was the exact color and consistency of dryer lint.  Or maybe, it was the stress of buying gifts for everyone we know, that made it seem that way.  The holidays can be like that.

Especially when you’re in a time and money crunch and are in a trying to get it all done now, mode. Which, we were.

As we drove, there were more reminders of how bad things are economically, than holiday decorations on every corner. I’m pretty sure there were literal “signs of the times” because I saw them. They read: “We buy houses” and “Call NOW, to avoid foreclosure!”

No more silver bells on every street corner, only store closing signs.  Just when the signs had started to melt together like a marketing slush pile, one jumped out at us.

Or maybe it wasn’t the sign, it was the huge, slush dripping, black man holding the sign that caught out attention. With one strong arm he held the sign, and with the other he waved. He had a smile warm enough to melt an iceberg. (I may have suspected he was high-for just a minute.  Just being honest!) I looked a little closer- iPhone in hand in case I needed to report a drunken signer…But he wasn’t smiling vacantly, he made eye contact with each passing car. He was smiling genuinely. (Who knew people still do that?)

I couldn’t help but smile back. Neither could every other driver on that road. It was more contagious than swine flu.

My husband noticed too. “See that guy?” My hubby said.  “He must be freezing!”

” Yeah, I can’t help but smile! We should get him a coffee or something…” I replied. “Well, maybe when we’re done.” I suggested, looking at the clock and wishing it would sloooow down.

By the time we’d turned the next corner and found a parking lace at the mall, I’d forgotten all about he smiling man and the hot coffee.

We finished our errands, then drove to the nearest Starbucks for a treat to celebrate sticking to our budget.  As I held the white chocolate mocha and let it warm my fingers, I remembered that warm smile.

I thought I was losing it when I looked up to see the “STORE CLOSING SALE” sign walking towards the coffee shop. I wondered if I were about to be visited by a ghost of Christmas past…..then I worried whether Starbucks was the next store to close.. (that would be tragic.) Funny how one worry leads to another, isn’t it?

No worries, no paranormal episode being filmed and Starbucks wasn’t in fiscal trouble.  It was time for the smiling sign holder’s coffee break.

“He’s STILL SMILING! I said to my husband. “Hey, …Buy him a coffee, he’s gotta be freezing!!” I told hubby- but he was already reaching for his wallet. We were on the same page. (The first time that day- let’s just say Christmas shopping together can be brutal.)

Hubby walked to the counter with him and offered to buy him a coffee.

I strained to listen while they talked.  (And not look like a SBUX eaves dropper while doing it..)

“You seem to like what you’re doing..” Hubby said.

“I like having a job” Said our sign holding friend.

“Been doing this long?” Hubby asked, curious.

“A few months. I worked for a moving company before the economy tanked.” He said,  warming his frigid hands around the iconic paper cup.

The talk lasted just a bit longer than the coffee. By the end? My husband was  sure it had been a “divine appointment.”  The kind you don’t have programmed into your blackberry.

When the man excused himself to the restroom, my husband returned, looking perplexed.

“His birthday is coming up.. he has twin girls…times are rough but he’s glad to be working… I feel like I should give him something, do something to help.. but I don’t want to you know.. make him feel bad..he’s working, not begging.. you know what I mean?” Hubby said.

“Just be honest with him.. tell him you want to do it to thank him for what he’s doing…making people smile….  If that doesn’t work, tell him to use it to buy something for his girls…for Christmas.” I offered, thinking a little cash to buy gifts for the kids would be rough for anyone to turn down!

Hubby reached for his wallet. I watched him walk over as our new friend was picking up his sign getting ready to head back out into the cold.  I couldn’t make out words as they talked, but my ears strained to hear, anyways. They seemed more serious and intense this time.  I prayed silently: “Lord, please don’t let this offend this guy, let it bless him.”

My heart skipped a beat when I saw those two big men embrace, each with tears in their eyes.

He’d accepted the gift without offense.

We didn’t solve the economic crisis, or get him a more stable job. We just did what we could. So did he. He gave warm smiles and waves to drivers facing their own economic crisis’ as they drove to Christmas shop,  we gave a Venti’ and a few bills to a guy struggling to make ends meet.

In our own ways, we all made a difference that day, to each other.  And, just maybe to the world.

What will you do to make a difference, today?

When tail lights started lighting up in front of my car and traffic came to a stand still, I got annoyed.  “STOP GAWKING, and GET MOVING!”  I said, to no one. It  had been one of those- “re-entry”  days.  You know, when you’re catapulted from the fun of vacation back into the orbit of your life and things get heated up, FAST.  Friction + speed (always) = HEAT.  My heat just happened to be in the form of attitude.

My husband had left for a quick business trip- and before he had landed at his destination, we’d already blown a fuse (of course the one with the freezer and camper- which I was TRYING to clean out at the time..) and had several games of  “How many neighbor kids can my kid bring in the house” claiming “rain” because someone had spit into the wind.

When traffic had slowed to a stand still then crawl, I had escaped the heat and the kids by declaring an emergency trip to the grocery store. (A mom’s way of spitting into the wind and claiming rain, I suppose…)

I saw the empty infant  car seat on the embankment, first. ( Funny how that caught my eye before the police cars and ambulance lights, did.  I am a hard core mom. ) My heart skipped a beat.  Then I noticed a mom holding the tiny one in her arms, with a preschooler sitting along side her, wrapped in blanket to ward off the drizzle that had started to fall.  A toddler held onto the leg of her shorts, somehow, knowing that now wasn’t a time to wander.  Their crushed minivan had become a modern art installment, in the foreground of the scene.

(more…)

004I teetered on the edge of the flooded, scum topped, drainage ditch.  I stretched to reach the half full sport water bottle that was floating on it’s surface.  As I teetered, I heard my college boy mumble something about “nematodes”  and wondered if maybe this was a bad idea after all.  I didn’t want to have to explain the nematodes under my nails to the nail tech, the scum stains would be bad enough.

“Can’t you get cholera from dirty water?”  I heard the high school boy ask.  Ignoring him, I sighed, and stood up with my slimey, nematode and scum covered prize.  I dropped it into the half full garbage bag.  “Scaring me won’t work guys- we’re filling these bags. ”  I said in reply. It was Earthday and we were doing our part, or ELSE. They must have gotten the message, because they bent to pick up a broken cooler and an empty vodka bottle from the weeds.

“Mommy!  Look!  I found garbage! I made a difference!”  Yelled my youngest, as he added a broken hub-cap to the garbage bag.  At least someone was enjoying this project.  He was living on the edge- (this was the closer to the road than he is normally allowed) and doing his part to care for our community. He could not have been happier. I on the other hand, was starting to feel overwhelmed and disgusted.  Everywhere I looked- there was more garbage, much of it not even within reach. It would still be there when we left.  To be honest- it would be hard to tell we’d ever been there, at all.  I felt a knot of tension tighten between my shoulders.  This was NOT what I’d had in mind.

“Why, exactly, do we have to clean up this mess, anyways? We didn’t MAKE it.”  I heard mumbled from one teenager to another.  I ignored them.  But, I have to admit- although it had been my idea to do this, I was starting to wonder the same thing. 

I walked across the road and bent to the edge of the ditch on the other side.  I reached out to pluck a soggy (but thankfully, empty) cup from it’s equally murky, depths.  I felt my foot slide on the muddy bank.  I tottered in slow motion and (thankfully) fell backwards onto my backside.  I had no desire to slurp nematode soup.

As I sat, mud soaking into my sweats, I caught my reflection in the scum topped and oil-slicked, ditch water.  I looked awful.  Not just dirty- but furious.  I was furious that this was making very little difference, and furious that the older boys attitudes were crummy.  (Not to mention my own.) I struggled to stand up without touching anything and I wondered how people do this everyday, for a living. “They get paid, to.”  Was the answer that came to mind.

“I don’t.” said a small quiet voice, the one I recognize in my heart as either the voice of God or truth… For a moment, I though I’d lost it. Maybe it was contaminated ditch water fumes, or the nematodes, but I argued with the quiet voice:  “I don’t recall a bible story about you picking up trash on Earthday.”  I snarked. “I do it everyday, it’s called grace.”  The voice countered.

I stopped snarking and felt my fury melt away.  I hadn’t thought about it like that before. (more…)

I closed the car door with a “bang”.  I started up the walk.  I was tired, and my bags were heavy.  My head throbbed from information overload, but I knew I only had to make it a few more steps.  I was finally:  Home.  Standing on the red Ikea welcome mat- I didn’t bother to wipe my feet. I just wanted to go IN.  I started to dig for my keys.  I heard shuffling and barking on the other side of the door.  Before I could unlock it,  it burst open. 

“MOMMY! You’re home, I missed you!”  I was met with kisses- both doggy and boy-type.  I took a deep breath.  I smelled teenager tennis shoes, ( the boy-pourri always near my front door)  left over macaroni and cheese left out on the stove top, recently wet dog  and undertones of lavander and vanilla.  The smell of my home.  Messy- stinky-real and beloved.

I dropped my bags and hugged all who greeted me.   I ignored the mess on the counter (ok, I mostly ignored it, with a side order of being irritated by it.)  and  I went upstairs to strip off all the confining “professional” (I use the word loosely) clothes.  I stepped into my stretched-beyond-their-elastic’s-lifespan- ( and perfectly comfy) grey velour sweats and a tank top that doubles as chest-container.  No need to care about appearance here— I was HOME. My family has seen the good the bad and the ugly- tonight was about the ugly.  They could handle it.

I went downstairs and plopped my tired self  into the corner of the couch that has been mine for as long as I can remember.  It was an automatic relaxation response, my body melted into the comfort of home.

Home. It’s an amazing place. 

Home isn’t about a building.  It’s not about a place.  It’s a feeling.  A place to belong.  A place to BE.   A place where the outside accoutrements can be stripped away.  Home is a place to be welcomed,  regardless of your appearance- or it’s own.  Home is a place where the door is flung open before you can even find your keys at the bottom of your purse.

Home may be messy, it may be boy-pourri scented, but it calls to me.  Does it call to you? Honestly- I wsh I never had to leave.. I wish I could take it with me everywhere.

Thinking back to that tired night.. I wonder what would happen if we DID take it everywhere.  What if we each became places of home for others- where ever we find ourselves.

What if we BECAME homes with mats of welcome instead of mats for people to clean off their feet before entering?    What if we welcomed others into our hearts and lives and loved them as our own?  What if we allowed them to strip off their own “professional” clothes get comfortable? 

Sure- things may get messy and smelly- because homes always do.. but you know– being able to share the gift of home, and take it with us where-ever we go?  It just might be worth it.

Maybe that’s what practicing hospitality means— what do you think?  I’d love to hear…

Roman’s 12:9-16

 9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.