dear friends II

A few weeks ago, Eddy and I attended a prayer meeting at church called RezFast (though, I had not fasted), in which we prayed together in small groups for Holy Week. At one point, Father Stewart invited us to pray for healing: spiritual healing, emotional healing, physical healing. It fell upon me in my small group to pray for physical healing. As you may know, my body has been sort of a wreck in the past few years, and I’d often wished for healing of this sort. But physical healing was on the fringes of my worldview, so when I prayed, I only had the courage to pray for an increase of faith in our church to ask for and to receive physical healing.

That prayer worked in me over the next week, and while I was praying on Maundy Thursday, miracle of miracles, I felt an invitation from the Lord to ask for the healing of my food allergies. In the past few months, those allergies have been increasingly difficult to deal with. Food prices had gone up a lot and I had started reacting to things I had been able to eat before. I was walking around every day feeling hungry, and I was tired.

So on Maundy Thursday, I felt this invitation from the Lord to ask for healing, and when I asked, I felt this great freedom to ask, and I felt good about asking, as if I had done the right thing. Now, I had asked for healing for this issue before, but it was always like, “God, please heal me through this diet, or these pills.” I had believed in some way that God could heal me but I did not believe that he would, especially without any work on my part. This was different.

But since I was not experienced at listening to the Lord in prayer, that prayer left me bewildered and unsure. So I asked again on Good Friday, and then again on Holy Saturday, and in spite of my doubts, only grew in confidence that this was from the Lord.

But how would I know, other than by eating? When I ate wheat, my belly would swell up and get uncomfortable and I would lose my appetite for a few days. Cow’s milk was much more miserable. I had developed an aversion to dairy products.

So I decided that on Easter Sunday lunch, I would eat a dinner roll. I ate one with my lunch, and it tasted very good. I felt my stomach fill up, I felt my food digest, and then I felt hungry again! A wonderful feeling! But I still wasn’t certain. That night I ate two malted milk balls from our Easter egg hunt, all the while praying “Lordhavemercy, lordhavemercy, lordhavemercy,” and I woke up in the middle of the night and felt my sinus allergies and a little pain in my guts, and I was sad. Lord, I am such a fool, I thought. But when I woke in the morning, all was well, so I decided to try again. I ate two slices of whole wheat toast, and waited, and felt good, and felt hungry again. Later, I tried more Easter candy, and I wasn’t afraid.

In the morning, I resolved to end the experiment by eating something that should have truly hurt me, Greek yogurt, full of milk protein.  I felt like the Lord was telling me, “Eat! Eat! Enjoy!” So I brought out Eddy’s tub of Greek yogurt and I got myself a big ol’ scoop, and I ate. I waited, and waited, and paced the apartment, and waited, and nothing happened! So I ate half a pizza that night, and when I woke up in the morning, my stomach was my own, less bloated than on most mornings, and I gave thanks to God, and started calling my family. I have truly been healed from nearly seven years of food allergies, frustrating mishaps and a limited diet, and I am so free to enjoy the good world God has made. (Ricotta cheese! Milkshakes! French bread!) And praise God, I have not been hungry  and I have felt a new sense of well being and energy!

I have tasted a tiny, tiny, but glorious bit of resurrection life. What a beautiful, delightful gift this Easter! Give thanks to God with me!


unintentional ascetic

The Ice Cream Girl, August 11, 1913. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Ice Cream Girl, August 11, 1913. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Or, how food allergies are training me in righteousness.

Several years ago, when I first discovered that milk products were off limits, I couldn’t be around anyone who was enjoying them. I threw a temper tantrum in a grocery store when Eddy wanted to buy a block of cheese for a snack. I’m so skinny, no one would guess, but I’m a glutton, and food, whatever kind of food I’m craving, is my right.

And after milk went coconut, shrimp, lobster, black tea, alcohol, caffeine, and, the killer, wheat. Pretty much all my favorite foods require one of those ingredients. But, lots of people deal with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets. I’m not special, I know, and I’m not complaining, anymore.

This has been a good gift, and, not just for the obvious reason, that I can no longer consume an entire package of Oreos in one night. This has been a good gift for my inner person. I’ve never fasted before– I think I’m too physically unstable– but, in a way, I’ve been fasting all this time. I’m just beginning to see God’s good work in it.

In the United States, food is everywhere and readily accessible and cheap. In suburban Wheaton, I can take a five minute drive to Jewel-Osco, or to McDonalds, and spend two bucks on a bag of chips, or a double cheeseburger. There is very little I can’t afford, at least, besides those beautiful 6oz tubs of  imported water buffalo mozzarella. Food is so easy, and in this kind of world, I got tricked into believing I was entitled to it. And, then, one day, I lost access to all of it. I walked into a McDonalds, and the only thing on the entire menu I could eat was a 20 calorie side salad.

I was in denial for the first couple of years. I tried a weird diet to heal my guts and I bought digestive enzymes to denature the allergens before they reached my intestines. I thought I was entitled to eat the foods I wanted. I prayed for healing, and really thought, if I prayed hard enough and ate healthy enough, one day I’d wake up and be able to eat ice cream again. Not so. One day this past year, I woke up, and realized that God was trying to heal me of my gluttony and self-entitlement instead.

In small steps, I am becoming more and more detached from food. I don’t put my hope in being free from dietary restrictions anymore. I don’t believe that ice cream is a norm. I can celebrate pizza with friends and not take a bite of one. And although food is still one of my favorite pleasures, food is also, more than ever, a gift. Sure, it hurts a little when everyone else is enjoying a homemade pecan sticky bun, warm and fragrant, just out of the oven, and I’m staring at my empty plate. But I can now say that pecan sticky buns weren’t made for me, and I was made for another world.

Could food allergies, too, be pure joy?


offering issac

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Juan de Valdés Leal

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Juan de Valdés Leal

I’ve always left the doctor’s office discouraged. I haven’t felt good or strong in years, despite getting as much nourishment and rest as I can, and doctors can never figure me out. It’s always something “idiopathic,” which I think means, “All in your head.” Well, I finally met a good doctor, who listened, and told me I was in the wrong place. Find a neurologist, he said. What do neurologists treat? I didn’t know.

They treat Multiple Sclerosis. That one thing that one doctor wanted to test for over three years ago. That was the time that I didn’t listen. Multiple Sclerosis? No, not me. Multiple Sclerosis? Well, it could fit.

So I saw the neurologist, prompted by that week of headaches that never seemed to end, and I filled out her never ending questionnaire. She was a tiny, Chinese woman, with a bright smile, and a cheerful giggle. She tapped my knee with her toy hammer, and giggled. She tapped my knee with her tiny fingers, and giggled harder. My leg shot out like a horse in a derby, and I giggled too. I had never known why doctors play with those toy hammers before now.

I could barely make out “central nervous system,” and I don’t know what else she said, but those two letters, M and S, are still echoing in my mind. “Get an MRI, and if it’s abnormal, you come back to see me, and if not, you’re fine.” She popped out of her chair with an exuberant smile and showed me the door.

The past few weeks had been scary. Weak, tense muscles so that I couldn’t wave my palm branch or stand for the whole liturgy. Tingly patches in a few fingers and toes, and, awkwardly, my butt cheek. The right side of my lips sending electric shocks at a gentle touch. Trembling knees on the stairs. An unnerving twitch down my right side. Ringing in my ear, loss of balance. And those headaches that wouldn’t end. (Not everything at once, of course, lest you think I’m miserable!) Then there was the question: Could this be the rest of my life?

I have this pet imaginary future, in which I climb mountains and wrestle with my kids, and I’m a teacher and I show up to my classes to teach. But who would employ a girl who needs this many sick days?

A few hours after the visit with the neurologist, I was immersed in liturgy. It was Holy Week, and throughout that week, we kept returning to Abraham, climbing the mountain with his precious son and wrestling him onto the altar. God’s promise to Abraham, that son Issac, was Abraham’s future and his very life. When Abraham sunk into Sheol, what would his life mean, if not for Isaac, and then Jacob, and Jacob’s sons? God was asking Abraham to offer up his life.

But Abraham trusted God.

After I had heard the story a few times, I realized that God was asking me, too, to offer up my health, yes, my very life, to him. I said yes. Peace overflowed, and still overflows. It was a moment of faith, and I felt triumphant. I know, however, that my faith is far from complete. Yesterday’s moment of faith asks obedience of the rest of my life. Oh Lord, help me when I say no. Oh Lord, I am always saying no.

James says, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”

May my faith, as I face this possible diagnosis, and offer up my physical strength to God day by day, be made complete, too.


participation goes both ways

Feast Day of Divine Mercy, Stephen B. Whatley.

Feast Day of Divine Mercy, Stephen B. Whatley. Pastel on paper.

Pain after pain. For a week, the pain burned along my trigeminal nerve, burrowing behind my eye and nostril, alternating from the right side to the left. I’d swallow an Imitrex, waiting for hours– “God! God! Help me!”– until the pain reset. And then it would start building on the other side of my face. By the end of that week, anything would leave me in tears. Exhausted.

Could this be the rest of my life?

One night, alone, I drew a bath for my feet. Multiple pairs of socks, slippers, blankets, and they were still cold. I sat at the edge of the tub and rest my head on my knees and began to pray. Well, I don’t pray. I don’t pray. And I’d been avoiding God all week. Wasn’t God to blame?

But I turned my face to God and I said, simply, “God, I don’t want to be angry.”

Immediately, Ι was overwhelmed with comfort. And then I knew: Christ suffers with me. He holds me close enough to feel each throb in himself. I was overwhelmed. I stripped, lit some candles, turned off the lights, and lay in the bath, in silence, in the dark, beholding Christ’s love.