Right around Christmastime, I was really sick. In hindsight, I don't think I recognized how sick, even though I knew something was wrong. I gained fifteen pounds in fifteen days. My body temperature struggled to get above 96 degrees. I could barely keep my eyes open. I had sores all over the inside of my mouth. And I really felt as if my body was attacking itself.
I have long known that I have a gluten sensitivity. Back in my wheat grinding, four-loaves-a-day-baking days, I would get hives on my face if I reached up to push my hair away from eyes with flour-dusted hands. My mouth itched when I ate bread. After struggling with these symptoms, infertility, and depression for a few years, I got serious about cutting gluten out of my life. Four months later, I was pregnant. And then, I was really good about keeping gluten away. Sarah was conceived shortly after Karoline's first birthday. Then, on bedrest, gluten crept in. I was at the mercy of people bringing me food and I just didn't want to be picky. I was too shy to ask people to avoid wheat. So, I tried to eat around the wheat and just did the best I could. I never really cleaned up my act again.
During Advent, it's particularly difficult to stay away from wheat. Just a little bit here and there, a cookie (or even a piece of one), something fried at a party where there is nothing but appetizers with some form of gluten. I didn't do well, despite my best intentions. So there was the gluten allergy--an autoimmune response with intensity.
At the same time, my thyroid did its own autoimmune dance. Not entirely unexpected; pregnancy is hard on a thyroid (nine of those, even harder) and radiation is really hard on a thyroid (but good for curing lymphoma). My thyroid has done it's very best well past when they thought it would quit, but it's tuckered out.
I plodded through January with thyroid medication. Some relief, but really, very little. And then, someone connected dots for me. There is quite a connection between gluten intolerance and thyroid disease. The more I looked, the more I found. And there is also a connection between gluten intolerance and lymphoma. There's a lot medical science has not yet discovered, but what's already there is really enough for me. Those dots, they were connected.
No more gluten. Not even a little. Ever.
I talked to my pastor. I talked to the priest at the mission church. Both of them were very supportive. All I needed to do to get a very low gluten host was to ask before Mass. And to come up before the rest of the congregation to receive. What a gift!
But, for an introvert, that asking--every time drawing attention to my special need-- and that setting myself apart by going up ahead, that's hard. If you are naturally extroverted and not at all shy, you'll have to take my word for it. That's effort. It's sacrifice. It also requires that I always, always get to Mass early, so that I can ask. If we squeak in just before time or we are even a second late, it's too late. I have to go without Communion.
But it's a sacrifice necessary to receive our Lord!
It's gift. It's grace. Actual grace.
And this time, it's not so hard to stay away from even the little bits of gluten. I look at that puddle of carmelized deliciousness that has pooled in the center of the monkey bread and I know that it has slid down warm, yeasty rolls. So, it is forbidden. And instead of swiping my finger through just a little, just a taste, I remember that I won't even meet Jesus in the wheat. If I won't have even a wafer of wheat for God Himself, why would I have it for that sticky sugar? And with the thought of Him comes all the strength I need to abstain.
When I pull up at the fast food restaurant, all of us far from home at dinner time, and my stomach is growling and I'm met by a sign that says "All foods come in contact with other foods. Nothing is gluten free" I order a big lemonade and I am grateful, insanely grateful for something filling my stomach. Another time, another place, and it's water. No food at all; there is nothing for me. But somehow, the liquid is enough. God fills the space.
This Lent, I am encouraged to go beyond wheat, to embrace the spiritual discipline of fasting and to trust that God will bless my efforts to the benefit of my soul.
And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.
I remember that He comes to me in the wafer that tastes like brittle burned rice, but He comes. He offers the grace to abstain. So too, does He offer the grace to fast.
When my children ask what to give up for Lent, I always tell them to give up something that they cannot possibly give up on their own, something that will make them call upon God for help. Sometimes, God decides what that will be. When He does, He provides all the grace we need. We are just called to cooperate.
I can do this! By the grace of God.
As Lent begins, the thoughts of the church turn to sacrifice: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Small Steps focuses and sacrifice this month. Would you share your thoughts with us, let us find you and walk with you? I'd be so grateful and so honored to have you as a companion. Please leave a link to your blog post below and then send your readers back here to see what others have said.