A Reason to Celebrate, and Sweet & Smoky Chicken Skewers

Good grief I’m tired. Summer can’t come soon enough.

It’s weird to say that because last summer stretched on forever, and when it was finally over I swore up and down I never wanted the hot, sticky season to come again. Summer is supposed to be slow, but it was more sluggish than a snail last year. The lack of momentum made it feel static, not serene. And that was tiring. I feel like I only just started recovering from it, yet here I am ready for another one? It’s a strange tension.

Today I’m tired in a different sort of way–the best sort of way. The weekend swept me up in a swirl of food and family and fun, and the whirlwind wore me out. I fell asleep on the couch last night recovering. Remembering, too: the smile on Mia’s face as she turned nine. The way she laughed and played and drank it all in–the swimming, the silly jokes, the small cans of Dr. Pepper that are special treat indeed. It almost didn’t matter what I served; the people surrounding her made it the most special, especially after last year’s lockdown.

Her birthday last year was different. We celebrated, but separately. Reality got skewed and our circle got smaller and eventually summer stretched on for days on end. We grilled our way through the long, hot months, trying to enjoy the low pressure days, but secretly stressed out with waiting and wondering what would happen next. This recipe was born out of the lonesome days of lockdown, a time when life was slow and sweet in its own way, even though the world seemed to burn around us.

The days at home were good, but the strife outside our doors made it hard to guess what would come next. This recipe for sweet & smoky chicken reminds me of those days. It gave me hope for a day when we would fill our table with family and friends again–and that day came right along with Mia’s birthday. They remind me of last year when we couldn’t share meals together like this–and why it’s so important we do so again.

A shared meal is never just about the food: it is always about fellowship with the faces that share the food with us. It’s about acknowledging our need for fuel and friendship at the same time; it’s about feeding people’s stomachs and souls by giving them a reason to slow down and savor. Food is so much more meaningful when it’s shared.

And so, as a new summer knocks on our doors and asks to stay for awhile, let’s invite it in with open arms–and along with it, let’s welcome each other again. Let’s find a reason to celebrate and gather around tables together, laughing alongside each other as we pass platters filled to the brim with good things. Let’s feed each other with the sort of welcome that says “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Let’s remember the way it was for awhile and be grateful it wasn’t forever, because eating together is something sacred indeed.


Starting from Scratch and the Reason I Keep Writing

Dear Readers:

When I first started writing here, I called this blog “Love, Scratch.” It was a love letter, really: notes and recipes from my kitchen addressed to Joey, the man who called me Scratch before circumstances earned me the nickname.

In those early days, I wrote to relate my days to him, the ones spent in small spaces with two baby girls who kept me busy. My words were limited to the pages here, and that was enough for me. It was a season, and I knew it would pass before long. When it did, I wrote to remember: documenting days of struggle and success, heartache and hope. Life unfolded and revealed all sorts of things we didn’t expect, as most of you know. The food and the kitchen and all the things I cherished about both went from friend to foe in an instant, and the light-hearted spirit with which this blog began faded. I wrestled my way toward hope during those scary, painful days right here and many of you followed along, praying big prayers for us even as our life got smaller.

It was a hard road.

The kitchen got complicated and messy, and the table got lonelier and lonelier as the years wore on. Food kept complicating things that should have been simple. Throwing open our doors and inviting people over got inconvenient; accepting invitations to other homes felt impossible. But the Goobies stayed hungry. We all did. For food. For friendship. For life around our table.

Under normal circumstances, food slows us down and calms our hearts when pain and uncertainty wrench us out of our normal routines. Showing up with chicken enchiladas and a pan of lemon bars screams I see you right in the middle of your mess and I’m coming to you anyway. Food doesn’t fix the problem, but it acknowledges the pain and whispers hope that things could turn out ok after all. Friends show up with casserole because it invites people to catch their breath.

The very tricky part about our particular pain was this: food couldn’t soothe the ache away even if we wanted it to. Dietary restrictions barged into that sacred space that ministers hope to the hurting, and it doled out fear and loathing right along with rules we didn’t know how to follow yet. I was hurt and needed help, but it was extremely difficult to ask for it and even harder to accept it.

Letting go of the way things used to be wasn’t quick or easy for me. Lord knows I folded my arms and clutched what was left tight to my chest. It felt safer to live that way. But life became small and living in fear wasn’t really living at all. Fear told me staying home meant staying safe. Faith taught me God is good everywhere, within my home and beyond my walls, regardless of whether I’m what I think of as safe.

The tricky part was this: the risks of leaving our safe zone are very, very real. Getting glutened. Cross-contamination. Alienation. Hurt feelings. Accidental ingestion. Anaphylaxis. Just because God is good doesn’t mean those things aren’t real. They are. We’ve experienced them all. But the rewards of leaving our safe zone are very, very real too. Making friends. Connecting across tables. Bearing each other’s burdens. Acceptance. Adventure. Life.

A few days ago, I was exploring all this in a project that’s diverted my attention away from this space for awhile now. It’s been taking shape and going well until suddenly, surprisingly, my words dried up. I stomped my feet and cried ugly tears over the ones refusing to be written. I tried forcing them into a place they didn’t belong, and it just plain didn’t work. I labored over that document for hours clicking it open and snapping it shut and getting nowhere fast. I pouted. I cried. Lord knows I shouted a thousand times over “That’s it! I quit!” but something inside told me to start from scratch.

But staring down a fresh blank page and stringing together beautiful, brilliant words while the cursor blinked at me, taunting my effort felt foolish too. The idea of scrapping all the work I had already done made me mad. No thanks God. I’d rather quit than start over. Starting over hurts. What we leave behind feels wasted, as if walking away from it means it never mattered in the first place. (Or am I alone in that feeling?) But I couldn’t shake it. My spirit whispered, “Start from scratch.”

I clicked open a new document and sat with it for a moment, begrudgingly at first, waiting. The cursor finally winked at me, and words rippled across the page like cake batter tipped into a sheet pan. It settled and smoothed, and I realized God was right. Starting over hurt, but it’s what changed me, what shaped me, and what grounds me. As it turns out, starting over heals too.

That’s why I write any of these words at all: because starting from scratch hurts, but it also heals, if we let it.

Opening myself up to the possibility of starting over did more than just save my life: it made my life. When I realized God is just as good now as he ever seemed before, that’s when I realized why he had written it on my heart to start Love, Scratch in the first place, and why changing course with Rachel Maier Writes makes perfect sense: Rachel Maier writes to Joey, always. But she also writes to you: to remember with you and relate to you and remind us both that God is good in both places.

Later that day, satisfied and surprised at what had just spilled out on the page, my doorbell rang. I opened the door to find my brother standing on the stoop, juggling a box of frozen fish sticks and a covered casserole dish.

“Hey Sis!” he said. “Mom sent fish sticks for the kids’ dinner tonight. She sent over this chicken casserole so you could eat something too.”

I eased the pan out of his hands and laughed in spite of myself. The chapter that spilled out that day was about showing up anyway, arms heavy with casseroles if you can. Just like that.

There were days when my mom wouldn’t have dared to send dinner over on a whim. She would have stuck to something less risky, like nestling a whole chicken in a crockpot, sprinkling it with salt and cooking it low and slow until the thing fell apart. She’d serve it with a baked potato or a mound of white rice, and coleslaw with vinegar and sugar and not sleep all night long, worried and wondering if she fed us well or made us sick. But we’ve come a long way from there, and we’re both armed with more confidence now.

She walked alongside me–alongside us–and invested her time in learning how to make food work for our family so that she could feed us well, even in this complicated place. At her house and at ours. She helped me learn how to put feet to my faith and walk out the message I preached: that life is more than food. That people make food what it is food. That God provides and makes a way and gives us every single thing we need, like comfort food I didn’t have to make, but trust enough to enjoy.

I know this life is hard. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Scary. I know you feel alone sometimes because I did too. I still do. But this place is also a sacred one with an opportunity for connection and camaraderie. All of it together makes the reason I keep writing: to share the reason I have hope into the homes of women like you and me–and our mothers and sisters and best friends and neighbors–women who are hurting and in search of healing, and the people who love them but don’t know how to help. I remember how it was. I’ve tasted what it can become. Life is good here too, because God is good in both places. Starting from scratch–painful as it may be–is worth it when we do it to make room at the table for people we love.