I have a severe allergy peanut and tree allergy. I carry epi-pens with me everywhere. I ask questions about the food I am being offered. I avoid certain restaurants, skip food offered, pack my own food, and often go hungry to avoid ingesting something that could lead to my death. I did not always have to take these precautions.
Eighteen years ago when my allergies were first discovered my doctor told me as I got older my allergies would get worse. This meant that while I might be able to eat something processed with nuts at the time, there would come a time when what I was eating would kill me. I was also warned about kissing my husband if he had eaten something I was allergic to, even a peck could be deadly.
So for a few years I was sort of careful and nothing bad happened. I went to a new doctor when we moved to a new state and they repeated all the same warnings. I started to be a little bit more careful. A few years later I mistakenly ate something made of walnuts (I forgot to ask) and I had a severe reaction. At the advice of my friends who are nurses and my doctor I started carrying epi-pens in my bag. A couple years after that I mistakenly ate something made of pecans (again I forgot to ask) and had another similar reaction.
Three weeks ago I mistakenly ate something cooked in peanut oil, again I forgot to ask. Two epi-pens and an emergency room visit later and I was on the mend, though not healed. Three days ago I mistakenly ate something that had come in contact with nuts (again I did not ask) and though not as bad as the peanut oil reaction I have felt like an elephant is on my chest since. Because that is what happens to me, my throat and mouth swell up, my chest feels heavy and it is hard to breathe. The peanut oil incident resulted in my face looking sunburned for three days.
I share this story because I believe it is important for others to know how deadly food allergies can be. Some allergies will manifest the way mine did. Some will manifest in other ways. All allergies make the person suffer. Too often I have encountered people who think food allergies are made up because someone is a picky eater. In my case this has made me reluctant to ask how something was made, which a pharmacist once told me would be the death of me.
I know I am to blame for not asking before I put food in my mouth. I also know how important it is for me as a host to ask about allergies and to provide safe food for the people I am hosting. As always I see a connection between my experience and life in a congregation. We talk in our worshipping community about being a safe place for people to gather. We put windows in doors, develop habits of supervision, we learn histories and remember important dates so we can offer care during difficult times, and a hundred other little actions to let others know they are important enough for us to remember the details.
Remembering the details is the lesson I take from my food allergy experiences. When I remember the details no one has to be worried that they have accidentally killed me or made me suffer. When I remember the details no one has to worry about eating the food I make. As a community when we remember the details we provide a safe and hospitable place for each other, which means we are answering our call to be God’s hands and feet in a specific place.
Details are important.