I balance the aluminum tray on one hand and hold a paper grocery bag in the other. As I set my goods on the steps to knock on the door, I rehearse what to say. They’re good friends of mine, people I feel comfortable with and love deeply. But I want to be careful I don’t make their loss hurt more. I walk into the kitchen and the screen door closes behind me. Like a nervous reflex, I blurt out in a bubbly, high-pitched voice, “How’s it going?!” The perkiness sounds abrasive.
I hang my head. “Dumb question,” I mutter aloud. Thankfully my friends are generous and kind, and they brush off my awkward words. While I believe in the value of genuinely asking how someone is, this time the question came off like a verbal crutch meant to compensate for my discomfort. They just had a miscarriage, and my question came more from fear of silence than genuine interest.
How many times have I done this? How many times have I stepped into someone else’s pain and fumbled out a few words that were unhelpful at best and maybe even hurtful? Or maybe the words weren’t hurtful, but the tone was. You can tell when someone tries to hide their uneasiness. In the Bible, Proverbs says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” I think that’s also true if one asks a dumb question when she’s too uncomfortable to listen.
We read articles all the time that say something like “What not to say when…” I admit, we need those. We need language for how to understand experiences that are foreign to us. I need to know trigger words to avoid and have my blind spots exposed. But often I so deeply fear showing up and doing it wrong that I never show up at all.
During my mom’s battle with cancer, I traveled home regularly to help out however I could. I spent quite a bit of time answering their phone (in the days when people used a landline). I played the gatekeeper. I told friends and family whether she was up for a visit or being brought a meal, or if she felt too exhausted to talk to anyone. I promised them I’d pass along the message that they called.
I asked my mom how she wanted me to handle this. Did she mind the phone ringing so often while she tried to rest? Many people confessed to me they weren’t sure if they should have called. They didn’t want to disturb her. They didn’t want to be a nuisance. They didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
I’ll never forget what my mom told me. She said she’d rather people call and her not be up for talking than lay in her bed wondering why no one ever called.
If we’re going to show up for people, at some point we’re going to get it wrong. Let’s just admit that and work at doing it better. We’re going to say something stupid, or they’ll see right through our shallow perkiness. We may call at a bad time or drop off a meal that doesn’t fit their diet. We need to do our homework and find ways to be the best, most helpful support we can. Many times, that simply means showing up and shutting up. After all, you can’t say the wrong thing when you’re listening.
Yet despite our best intentions we may walk through the door or pick up the phone, and an unhelpful phrase will escape from our lips before we can catch it. We apologize, we learn, we grow. And we show up again, and again, and again.
I’m too often scared to say or do the wrong thing, so I sit there quietly in the fortress of my own home trying to just not screw things up too badly. But I’ve been the recipient of other people’s presence enough times to know it matters. Those knocks on the door, those texts, those cards in the mail...they make a difference. I spent hours in my moms bedroom reading her Facebook messages and handwritten cards. I relayed every voicemail and CaringBridge comment. Every act and every word, whether big or seemingly small, mattered. The burden of encouragement didn’t fall on any one set of shoulders but was spread across a web of people—a web that held us up during a dark time. Every person and gift and meal and word fed the need in our souls to not feel alone, to know that someone believed our life and our grief were worthy of their attention.
So let’s show up. Maybe we send a card or a text message, or maybe we knock on the door with a meal in hand—whatever is appropriate for the situation (because sometimes people do really need space). But let’s not let awkwardness win the day or fear keep us in isolation. No one should have to sit there wondering why the phone’s been silent or why no one stopped by. We need each other, and today, someone may need you.
After our twins were born, a friend brought us grilled skewers. While I love hearty, comforting casseroles, the light, fresh meal provided a much needed change of pace.
The recipe can be easily doubled, so you can make a batch for your family and bring the rest to a friend or neighbor. The leftovers also taste great the next day thrown on top of some greens for an easy lunch!
Chicken + Peach Skewers with Lemon-Basil Dressing
Yields 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if desired
4-5 peaches, cut into thick wedges
2.5 lbs chicken breasts, cut into cubes
Dressing (see recipe below)
Additional basil for serving, optional
Add the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, honey, lemon zest, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper to a large zip-top bag. Whisk or shake well to mix everything.
Add the cubed chicken and shake the mixture again so the marinade evenly covers all the chicken. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-8 hours.
If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before using so they don’t burn.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat a grill or cast-iron grill pan to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. Discard the marinade.
Thread the chicken and peach wedges on the skewers, alternating one after the other, until all the ingredients are used up. Sprinkle the chicken and peaches with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and a bit of black pepper if desired.
Cook the skewers for 5-7 minutes per side or until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle on the Lemon-Basil Dressing. Garnish with additional fresh basil.
¼ cup mayo
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Chicken + Peach Skewers.