Food Allergies Are Real

20180925_110859I 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.



One Sunday Morning


From the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

One Sunday afternoon I read an article in  The Christian Century about the newly opened Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to  Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

One Sunday morning halfway through our summer vacation traveling through Alabama we had a discussion with our children about foregoing a usual worship service to be confronted with our sins as a country.  My explanation resulted in comments about how even away from the pulpit I could not stop teaching them.  There were a few John Calvin jokes shared before we pulled into Montgomery.

Arriving in Montgomery we parked by a sign that told us Montgomery was the center of the Domestic Slave Trade and that the place we were parked used to be a place where humans were sold.  As we read the sign silence began to descend.  It was an odd silence because the city sounds did not cease, but the other noise of our lives ceased.

The museum is housed in a building that used to hold humans as they awaited the moment they would be auctioned.  The day we visited, the museum was packed.  We slowly made our way to each exhibit between two families.  We never spoke more than the usual whispered “excuse me” and “sorry” of museum goers, yet I was completely aware of their presence.  We were staring at evil laid bare, and my skin color, which was different than theirs, connected me more with the evil than with the good.

The memorial is a sacred place.  We walked through the memorial reading the names and dates of our fellow humans who had been murdered because of the color of their skin.  More than 4,000 names were displayed.  I walked through the memorial reading of the lynchings in towns I have walked the streets, in years people I know were alive.  I wondered if I would learn someone I loved was a murderer.  I wondered how anyone I was walking beside could ever look at me and not hate me on sight for what white Christians had done.

As I came to the last corner of the hanging display section of the memorial I could hear water, realizing I had heard it all along.  I stopped to read the wall featured in the photograph, and the tears could no longer be held inside.  I took a photograph because it was allowed and turned toward the source of the water, a long wall pouring water down like a righteous stream.

I approached the water hearing in my head the words of baptism I say when I baptize babies, teenagers, and adults.  I heard these words and my tears fell as I touched the water.

. . . we set this water apart to be the waters of baptism may the person who now passes through these waters be delivered from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to righteousness.  Grant that they will grow in compassion and humility. . . 

I wanted to put my whole body in the water.  I wanted someone to make the sign of the cross on my forehead and say the words of baptism to me.  I wanted to be reminded that grace and forgiveness is ours to have.  I wanted to know we could still have hope.  I wanted to know evil would not win for one more day.

I reluctantly left the water and walked through the graveyard portion of the memorial holding my daughter’s hand.  I read the invocation at the end of the memorial, wiped at my falling tears, and left with my family.

In the weeks since we visited that morning has never been far from my thoughts.  One of the lessons the creators shared was their belief that With Hope we could change the world, with a determination to never forget and a belief we could be better, we could bring healing, and that evil could be stopped.

I am left with this conviction.  We cannot change our past, but we can change the present and the future.  In order to do that we have to know our history.  We have to admit our sins, the ways the sins of others have benefited us, and our lack of commitment to working for healing.  We have to admit where we have been and are if we ever expect to change, and we must change.

We cannot be who we have been.

We cannot let evil win one more day.

We must change ourselves and the world.

We must remember, have hope, be courageous, be persistent, and have faith.

One Sunday morning the Holy Spirit held me tight and forced me to see.