MealBaby and the Cat

I have been thinking a lot about MealBaby the past few weeks. MealBaby is the meal registry website that TJ and I created back in 2008 around the time Cash was born. Since its inception, the website has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, celebrations and frustrations. Because neither TJ nor I know how to write code and develop websites, we have had to rely on the abilities (+ interest + motivation + responsiveness) of others. We had no less than four developers over the first seven years of the site's existence, and no developer at all for the past two years. We have decided together, more than once, to just let the site "die out" on its own due to lack of time for either of us to invest in figuring out how to maximize the potential of MealBaby. 

And yet...something seems to always bring us back to a front-and-center encounter with MealBaby. We breathed life into this idea all those years ago, and evidently the flame will not so easily go out. We have ignored MealBaby at times and engaged with MealBaby at other times. A few years ago, we contacted our top users to ask how we might make their experience with our site better, and then we implemented none of the improvements. Ouch! I ask myself continually why people even bother with the site. 

But then just yesterday I visited MealBaby and realized it may not be a bother to folks after all. It's an easy and brilliant meal-coordination system, even if a bit neglected. I was able to recall why, back when I was first having babies, that I wanted to bring such an idea to fruition. It was simply because there needed to be a better way to coordinate meals for people having babies, or having surgery, or having lost a loved one. Back then, no meal registry websites existed, so it felt like we were on to something novel that would meet a need (lots of needs). We envisioned a way to connect friends and family to those dear to them: Let me bring you a meal, baby. Let me love you in this way, dear friend. Let me connect my life to yours in this very tangible way of providing nourishment for you. 

And for years, this has been happening. Many babies have been born, many surgeries have taken place, and many, many meals have been signed up for, prepared, and delivered. In the meantime, a few competitors have come onto the meal registry scene and word has gotten around about this type of service. You may hear tale of "joining a meal train," "taking them a meal," or "setting up a MealBaby." Even with our lack of proactivity to add new features to MealBaby in recent years, and even though we recently went so far as to disable certain features of the site due to upkeep issues, lots of people are still choosing MealBaby for its simplicity and unique calendar functionality. 

If we could sit down face to face and I could tell you the whole MealBaby story, it would be a story of perseverance at its core, of ideas flowing and then getting stuck, of untapped potential, of the mysterious disinvolvement of developers along the way, of a surprising encounter with a Babies-R-Us marketing employee in a hotel parking lot that reignited my lost excitement over MealBaby's potential, of decisions to give up, of the friends who've encouraged us at crucial points (even just a month ago!) to not give up, of recent meetings with two new developers who could potentially revive and refresh the site, of a friend from college who answered customer feedback questions for a few years, and of our own looming questions: Why has this felt so hard? Why have we not fully engaged? Why do we still have thousands of users monthly? Why do people come into our lives who won't let us let MealBaby die, even when we've tried to forget it and move on? 

I have come to the conclusion, with trepidation at even saying so, that the answer to all of those questions is that every story has room for redemption. MealBaby has not, by any stretch of the imagination, been a stretch of easy entrepreneurship. Most days I feel like MealBaby is an idea we labored years ago to birth, but then failed to prioritize its nurturing and growth. We can blame the situation on many variables, but the fact is, I don't feel that I've brought to MealBaby the excellence and intentionality that I strive to bring to the other parts of my life. And I'm not even convinced I can do that now. But with this blog post, I am putting on my can-do attitude and taking up words like a weapon.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg said that "Writing is the act of burning through the fog in your mind." There is much fog in my mind about MealBaby's past, present, and future. Anne Lamott continually reminds me through her writing that we must be kind to ourselves, and I think she probably meant we should be kind to any extensions of ourselves as well. That would include MealBaby. Acknowledging this connection means my mind is hovering over words like redemption, purpose, struggle, release, attention, endurance, all the while looking for the right place to land. 

I do not have the answers or the insight. I only know that my heart is alive and MealBaby is still alive too. There are many people who have benefited from the service provided by MealBaby over the years, and many more who could do so yet. There is risk and there is reward. There is "a time to keep, and a time to cast away." There are still my own babies, and my own meals to make. But my ears are perked, and I hear MealBaby's voice rising to me above the din.

A couple nights ago I asked TJ if he has more room in his heart for MealBaby than he does for the stray cat that sits at our back door most nights. This is the cat that the people who lived here before us left by mistake when they moved to Florida, so it's not stray in the true sense of the word. But it has not ever been, nor ever will be, a cat that we feel a strong sense of ownership over and responsibility toward. I feel sorry for the cat, so I feed it every night, and occasionally I even pet it and speak soothing words to it. TJ, on the other hand, has nothing in his heart for the cat, which I'm not saying is bad or wrong. I'm just saying if we don't have more room in our hearts for MealBaby than for the cat, how can we ever expect to feel a sense of ownership, pride, responsibility, passion, and joy in this endeavor? 

But we can be big in prayer, and trust that God won't mind if we pray about the cat....Is God going to say, "Sorry, we don't have enough for the cat?" I don't think so.
-Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow