I didn’t recognize the name on the list in front of me.

I was glancing over the sign-ups of those who had volunteered to bring a dinner to our family after our baby girl was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare and severe skin disorder at birth, hospitalized and critically ill for weeks.

The name was a stranger to our family, a random connection along the lines of a friend’s coworker’s mother-in-law. But she entered our home one winter evening when our daughter was in the NICU bearing packages of foil-wrapped food and desserts – enough to feed so many more than my husband, our 2-year-old son and myself.

As we continued to navigate life with a newborn in critical health, our meal train continued, and her name appeared once more on the list the following month.

By the third month, Kathy was texting me asking for any dinner requests, specially made to order. And by the fourth month, she had created a Pinterest board with meal ideas specifically for our family.

Our daughter was in and out of the hospital multiple times her first year, enduring skin infections, dehydration and surgeries. Friends, family and community members rallied around us, lifting us up in prayer, with food and gifts, and any other kinds of help imaginable.

Eventually, after about nine extremely helpful months of receiving meals at least twice a week, the sign-up list was put aside now that our daughter was home and we were finding our own routine as a family of four.

But Kathy never stopped.

Each month, she would ask me what date would be most helpful to receive a delivered dinner, and I would be relieved to not have to think about meal planning on a day full of doctors’ appointments or therapy. Month after month, she would step into our home with a feast – a main course, multiple side dishes, and always dessert. So much dessert we would have to freeze a portion of it!

As the months piled upon themselves, they became a year, and then two. Kathy continued not only to bring meals, but also to make birthday cakes for each member of our family – elaborate creations like the puppy dog cake she made for our daughter’s 2nd birthday and the construction scene cake complete with tiny plastic bulldozers for our son’s 6th birthday.

The woman who entered our lives as a complete stranger brought us birthday cakes and monthly meals for four entire years.

It was just food, just cooking – but it was so much more to our family. Kathy took the mundane task of meal preparation and created the most magnificent act of love from it. Month after month, she not only fed our bodies but also nurtured our souls, offering me the chance to focus on my children and put aside any concerns about what to make for dinner during the most stressful of days.

As our daughter’s 4th birthday approached, I gently told Kathy that she could stop, knowing that she would never quit this cooking commitment on her own. And she laughed as she asked “Are you firing me?”

What Kathy has proven to us is that showing love means giving of yourself and using your gifts to enrich the lives of others, in whatever way that looks like for you. Spreading extraordinary love in ordinary moments, like Kathy has done for our family, means sharing the best of ourselves with those around us – even strangers.

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Courtney Westlake

Courtney Westlake is a writer and photographer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a passion for storytelling. Courtney lives in Illinois with her husband, Evan, and two children, Connor and Brenna. She began blogging at http://www.courtneywestlake.com/ in 2011 after Brenna was born with a rare and severe skin disorder. Her first book, A Different Beautiful, released in August 2016. http://www.courtneywestlake.com/ADifferentBeautiful/