About this time of year in 2012, I found myself in the midst of possibly the most horrific week of my life. It's a pretty long story, but I'll skip a lot. The short version is that my (at the time) 3-year-old niece contracted a Staph Scalding infection, which literally burned off about 75% of her skin--really all of her core, sparing just some of her face and parts of her arms and legs. Sadly, that is no exaggeration at all. Below is a sketch by the nurses who dressed her wounds including blue shading of all the "burned" areas of her body. (The front of her body was just as bad or worse.)
I still get sick to my stomach every time I see that picture and imagine the pain that baby was feeling. It was almost too much for *me* to bear watching. How in the world could that little 3-year-old bear the actual pain of it? Excruciating. And knowing how *I* felt, then imagining what her Mom (my sister) must have been feeling... I mean... no words. Never before had I felt so utterly worthless and helpless. I had nothing to offer. No way to give relief. No way to help ease pain or give rest. No answers. No nothing.
But I couldn't do nothing.
So I prayed. And I prayed. And I prayed and prayed and prayed. And then when I ran out of words and tried to sleep (which I honestly don't think I did at all that week), I just sighed and groaned and cried the kinds of prayers that only God could understand.
And while I know in my heart that is always the best thing to do in these situations, it still never feels like enough, does it? I wonder if you can guess where this is going. What do we tend to do when people are facing suffering/tragedy/loss? We bring food, right?
Yes. Food. Why? Well... I think lots of reasons, but here are my favorite three:
1. Regardless of what else is happening in the lives of our loved ones, we know that they will always, always need food. In this situation, not only did my sister Jody need someone to remind her (and sometimes force her) to eat so that she wouldn't end up in a bed right next to her daughter, she also had the rest of her family at home needing to eat.
2. Food is something we understand and know how to handle. Rarely do I ever know exactly the right thing to say or do in the midst of tragedy. No matter how much "practice" I get, I just don't think I'll ever be good at it. But I know how to prepare a meal and let it nourish someone in ways words never could anyway.
3. Food creates a reason for presence. I've learned that many people have trouble showing up at the home of a friend empty-handed. Dropping by just to "check on" someone doesn't seem to be a common practice. But food creates intentionality. Most of us have no trouble at all stopping by a friend's house to drop off food. And let's face it, that is rarely a 30-second interaction. Hopefully, it leads to conversation and a great big hug.
So. In my helplessness, I thought I could at least start bringing food and organizing others to bring food. But we'll come back to all of that in a minute...
Right now, I'm thrilled to report that the Lord worked nothing short of a miracle in the life of my baby niece during that week. She was miserably, gut-wrenchingly sick and in pain for about 3 days, during which we honestly thought we might even lose her. (I'm so grateful that the Lord helps us forget physical pain so quickly.) But she went from this:
in a matter of 3 days. Which still seems impossible. By earthly standards, I think it is. I will always believe this to be a medical miracle, the Lord responding to the cries of his people. We had people praying for that baby all over the world, and I believe with all of my heart that God used those prayers to save her life.
And the first thing she wanted when she woke up hungry was Macaroni and Cheese! And as soon as she got it, her dimples showed up. Biggest smile ever. Thank you, Jesus!
In the days and weeks that followed, I watched my church family and community care for my sister and her family in ways that were nothing short of overwhelming. They brought meals, they did chores, they set up fund raisers to help cover medical bills. It was non-stop, self-sacrificial and completely over the top (in the best way possible.)
And I suspect my sister doesn't specifically remember any of the food she ate during that time (although I bet there was an awful lot of mac and cheese once everyone knew it was Dylan's favorite :-D), but I guarantee she will never forget the love that was poured out on her and her family during their time of need.
So. PLEASE. Use food as an excuse to be present in people's lives. But you don't have to wait for tragedy. Just find a busy young Mom who is exhausted and bring over dinner so she can sit still for a few minutes. Or find an elderly couple and treat them to a night off from cooking and washing dishes. Everyone needs food every single day. Meet that need any time you can. Even if it's just an extra cup of coffee for a coworker having a rough day. You might be surprised what it does for your relationships.