Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taking a meal to a friend in need...and other musings on paying it forward

Since early in our marriage, whenever I hear of a close friend or family member who's had a death in the family, major surgery, extended illness, birth of a child, or some such life event, I've been the type of person who immediately thinks, "I may need to take this person a meal." It all started in 2004 when a good friend delivered her son at 28 weeks, and he spent the first months of his life in the hospital. Our mutual friend suggested a few of us having a cooking day and provide the family with several freezer meals they could heat at their convenience. (My very first freezer cooking adventure!) I immediately agreed to the plan because the Big Guy and I had experienced our own family crisis a couple years earlier, and the thing I remember most fondly is those friends and co-workers who showed up with a meal. It was one less thing we had to worry about during the most difficult time of our young marriage.

That's part of the reason this whole freezer cooking adventure appeals to me so much. When you have meals already prepared in your freezer, ready to thaw and reheat, it makes helping others so effortless! Friend had a baby? Grab a casserole on your way out the door to visit! Relative had knee replacement surgery? Snatch up a bag of soup from the freezer and you're on your way! There have been so many people in my life in the past year who I have wanted to help with meals or in some other small way, but I've just been stretched too thin. If I had had meals already in the freezer, it would've been a cinch. But now that I have several go-to meals on hand, I don't have to worry anymore about my busy schedule preventing me from helping my friends and family in the best way I know how. And that makes me very happy.

Another thing that makes me very happy is a website I ran across during my freezer cooking research, and it is what prompted today's post. Take Them a Meal is a site that allows people to coordinate meal-taking efforts online. Simply create a free account, invite friends via email to join your effort, and the person in need will have a meal delivered to their door as often as needed. Brilliant! The site also features recipes, a blog, and tips for coordinating meals but also for other simple ways to help those in need. Created by a group of friends who saw a need and were tired of coordinating meal-taking through endless phone calls, this site has grown into a useful tool for anyone - even those who don't want or have time to cook or deliver a meal, or who live at too great a distance. Through their partnership with A Bowl of Good, you can simply order a pre-made meal online to be shipped directly to the friend you're helping.

How do you help your friends in need? How do you give back to your community in general? I've found that, no matter how much I have going on in my own life, no matter how self-absorbed I am at any given moment, what sometimes brings me the most pleasure is carving out time to give back to someone or some organization. Taking a meal is something simple I love to do because (selfishly) I love to cook and (for whatever ulterior motive) I love to share my cooking with others. In the last several years, this has carried over into other areas of my life - this desire to help others. Whether it's through our non-profit activities, or through the "give-back" team at my office, or just through helping a dear friend, I carve out time weekly to pay it forward.

Recently I lost someone who I considered to be a good friend - though I learned at her funeral that, truly, I hardly knew her at all. Miss Mary and I were both members of the same ladies' organization. I always knew her as just this sweet old woman who happened to also be a member of the club. But a few years ago, while we were attending a convention in Florida, Miss Mary became ill in the middle of the night. Her roommate, Miss Wilda, called me - knowing I was the only person in our group who did not have to go to the business session the next day - and asked if I would accompany them to the emergency room. The three of us spent the next several hours at the hospital and filled our time with conversation. I learned so much about these beautiful women who had been the best of friends for more than 50 years. And as Miss Mary began to feel a bit better the next day, she and I spent more time together and I learned even more about her life and what kind of person she was. The most important thing I learned that week about Miss Mary was that there was so much more to her quiet demeanor than met the eye. But I never realized just how much more until people got up to speak at her funeral. Miss Mary - and her husband, who survives her - are the model for living a life of service to others.

Being child-free, I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, "Don't you want a family of your own?" "But won't you be lonely in your old age?" "Who's going to take care of you when you get older?" I wish the people who have asked me these questions (sometimes repeatedly) could have been at Miss Mary's funeral. It was a testament to how not alone and how very cared for an elderly person can be...IF they've lived their life right. Miss Mary had no children of her own - no grieving "immediate family" left other than her husband. The funeral home was unprepared for the number of people who attended. It was standing room only. The pastor even commented during his eulogy that he's done many funerals for 85-year-old women, and there is never a crowd that size. Several people stood up after the pastor and spoke about what Miss Mary meant to them. She and Mr. Lefty touched countless lives on their journey, believing strongly that, as Christians, their primary duty on Earth was to humbly serve others. 

That is Miss Mary's legacy - a peaceful life of service to her fellow human beings. Whether that service was simply delivering a batch of homemade jam to say thank you or giving a ride to someone who had no transportation or even opening their home to a single parent and child who had nowhere else to go, Miss Mary and Mr. Lefty exemplified Christian love every day. And because of this, in their last years of life, this childless couple has been surrounded by loved ones. They've not been lonely. They've not been forgotten. Because throughout their lives they made sure others were not lonely - others were not forgotten. 

The Big Guy and I talked at length after Miss Mary's funeral about this legacy, and we know we want it to be ours as well. I believe most people find themselves alone at the end of their lives as a consequence of how they've lived their lives and what kind of relationships they nurtured - or allowed to wither - along the way. So I will strive to focus on those relationships that can be nurtured. The ones that will continue to grow and be fruitful throughout our lives. And I will continue to try to live a life of service - even if that service is simply taking a meal to a friend in need. Sometimes it's the simplest things that make the most lasting impact on a person's life. 

How will you try to serve others in your life? Who will you take a meal to this year?


  1. Love this. I've always felt you go out of your way to help others. (I only wish I knew you when I gave birth to my children so I could have gotten a yummy casserole or two out of the deal!) :)

    This is very inspiring...thank you.

    1. Dude. I was not the cook back in those days that I am now. You would've been SOL with Anna. Might have fared better with Ben. :) Thanks for the feedback. Love ya, sista!