When it feels anything but peaceful…

photo 1The holidays and food are a powerful, powerful bond. Sometimes lovely and endearing, sometimes overwhelming and terrifying. As a little test the other day I questioned a few people about a holiday memory and every single one of them responded with a memory that circled a food or a meal with someone. Seriously powerful. And how can we forget the Rashida Jones/Jimmy Fallon Holiday Parodies, of which my favorite is “Oh won’t you drink with me/ I hate my family/ They’re insane/ It’s plain to see/ Oh won’t you drink with me” (Although the gonna gain some weight/sweatpants combo is right up there too.) Loaded. Y’all have wheelbarrows for all the emotional baggage that comes with it, right?

Let me tell you, it gains a whole new layer of meaning when you’re suddenly dealing with severe Celiacs. It’s already a minefield as it is with the connection (or is it dis-connection?) between food and emotion. If you don’t eat this you don’t love me. You look thin, you should eat some more. You’ve gained too much weight, stay away from the desert table, darling. Take your pick. Loaded. Add in the fact that pretty much everything on a traditional holiday table will make my daughter gravely ill, and I feel like I’m holding a veritable bomb.

photo 3I just want to be honest that such a drastic change isn’t easy. Certainly there are moments of ease, but there is so much that you have to learn to get to those little moments where it all clicks. And cross-contamination… since Ellianna was diagnosed, our four run-ins with gluten weren’t even out and out gluten gremlins- it was cross-contamination. It’s not like we handed her a gigantic cookie and said, here, eat up. It was accidental cross-contamination- crumbs on a counter or a non-dedicated serving utensil. Her reaction to this is swift and sure: within fifteen minutes she spikes a high fever (103ish, usually) and while she doesn’t get hives, her skin often lights up, particularly in the diaper and mouth area, where this stuff is entering and ahem, exiting. It’s twenty-four hours at least before things begin to calm down. Frightening! I can’t even imagine what it would look like for her if she had straight gluten…and I can’t even begin to fathom what this looks like for those with anaphylactic food allergies.

You can see where this is going… this loaded intersection is now that much more terror-inducing.

So far, our first year as a gluten-free family during the holidays have gone relatively well.

It’s interesting how God provides what you need before you know you need it. I always wanted to know how to cook better, to be more frugal and creative in the kitchen. It never came together for me, although the desire had been there for years, until just this last year. By the time Ellianna and three other family members were subsequently diagnosed, I had been cooking from scratch most of the time (and seeing serious savings in my food budget) for about six months. I got the groove down.

photo 4At first I struggled with the anger and overwhelm that comes with a diagnosis like this- you mean I have to do this, this and this? And I can’t ever do that? I have to change everything!  The groove was gone, and I felt as if I’d never find it again. But the more I think about it, I can’t begin to imagine what this adjustment would have been like without that skill set being sharpened just prior. There is so much that would have eluded me and be beyond what I was capable. Now I take what I already know and apply it.

Gluten free baking is the hardest and weirdest. It is absolute chemistry and failures are more apt to happen than successes and you’ll always have muffins that fall a bit in the middle….but they’ll sure taste good. (Or not, if it’s one of the bizarro failures.)

I was able to prepare a Thanksgiving meal from scratch, entirely gluten-free (and un-noticed, which I think is the big hurdle for family members and friends who think that allergen-free meals are nasty, etc.) I’m not saying that I wasn’t nervous as all get out and I didn’t sweat bullets, because I very much did. But I tell you, that feeling of sure success with that meal has carried me through many other failures in the kitchen as of late!

My next hurdle is traveling. We’ll be travelling out of state over the Christmas break, and we’ll definitely be dealing with family members who don’t understand what is going on with Ellianna.

I think I should say this here, as a parent. I never blame or judge anyone in any situation that doesn’t have a GF/allergen free meal option available for my kid. That’s not their job or their responsibility. It’s mine. What I do get frustrated with is when you won’t respect the boundary of my child’s needs and I have to police what is going in their mouths (and clearly if I haven’t told you about her GF needs, this is out the door, but if I have and you still do it anyway?) that brings out the mama bear real fast. I wouldn’t make your child eat/drink poison, so please don’t do it to mine. You may not understand why this is so dangerous for my child- but I do. Just trust someone when they set this boundary for you when dealing with their children. (Wow, hopping off the soap box now.)

I’m really nervous about traveling. I felt it hard enough to travel with a large family before the additional food needs- frugally- so yeah, this is a new frontier for me. It’s one thing when you have your own kitchen and food sources available (where would we be without Trader Joes? Broker than broke! I can’t shop at Whole Foods (*cough*) Whole Paycheck! ) but it’s another thing entirely when you’re headed somewhere that might not have those options. I’ve already begun to formulate battle-plans. We’ll see how it goes.

And if you’ve read to the end of this, bless you. Thanks for letting me be honest about a place I feel very not peaceful in at the moment…over time I’m sure I’ll be able to find a way to hold a space for peace for my family in this area, but I’m very much not there yet!

Opening a space for peace…

josiah_wonder

Advent is this way of holding space for a coming not yet fulfilled. We are called to put on wonder and hope. What comes so simply for children becomes increasingly difficult for us as we grow older. We look out on a very weary, weary world; we have known sorrow; we are acquainted with grief. And somewhere along the way, we forget that the very babe we hope and pray for is the very Emmanuel, the God-with-us, that suffers sorrow unto death for us, who knows deep hurt, deep sorrow, deep pain, far more than we could ever fathom. The lines get crossed somehow. This is what Advent does- what Lent does- (and Advent is often referred to in the Church as ‘little Lent’ with good reason)- it circles round and opens a space of peace where we remember. We connect the dots. We put on joy, peace, hope, and love through grief, remembrance, and sorrow.

I keep thinking of this as I hear the news headlines. There is deep, deep pain right now. Crying out in the streets. So much hurt. So many voices wiser than I are speaking into these issues, but above all, I have felt so deeply in these moments that this is where we were meant to walk. We were and are supposed to be the Advent people, the Easter people, the people who know how to hold space for peace. I’m not sure how this looks all the time. Sometimes, it is giving voice for those who have no voice. Sometimes it is holding silence, because there are no words. It is always prayer, unceasing prayer. Sometimes it is caressing a child’s face, making cookies, and holding peace in our homes when the world outside storms. It is all these things and so much more.  Rarely does deep and complex pain have easy answers, and it above all takes time. and space. Can we hold space for peace in a world desperately in need of safe places? What does that look like? These are the thoughts that have been circling my head of late as I watch my children in their wonder at Advent-tide.

O Tannenbaum…

all together

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,

candle

Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

tree

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!


ellianna

Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!


david and lorelei

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

isaiah

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Dein Kleid will mich
was lehren:

elly 2

Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Trost und Kraft
zu jeder Zeit.

first christmaselly 3star

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!

Das soll dein Kleid
mich lehren.

***

Traditions are strange things, especially in families. For years and years and years and years and years through two generations, the tree and all the trimmings always went up the day of Thanksgiving. The women would be making the kitchen smell all sorts of wonderful, while the children and men-folk dragged out the Christmas boxes and tested the lights, and as the turkey roasted and the Macy’s Day parade jabbered on the TV, the house would be made over. Until suddenly, the last few years, it just hasn’t happened for some reason or another. Traditions change.

This year, of all years, has been our slowest, quietest Advent and Nativity yet. Caleb’s lovely wreath and Mary on her donkey came out on Nov. 15th, the beginning of the Nativity Fast. We read Katherine’s Jesse Tree readings a few a week. Nothing else made appearance until the first weekend in December, when the tree slipped into white lights, and thus it stayed, plain and lovely. Mid-week, the festive table cloth was brought out. St. Nicholas came Dec. 6th, leaving his gold coins and oranges in the children’s shoes, lined up by the door where he’d be sure to find them.  And it wasn’t until Sunday night, the night of Peace, in the midst of sickness, that the tree was finally robed in our family ornaments and other finery. And it was then that the old traditions creeped in, for I couldn’t help but sing the song my mother used to sing to me in German as we decorated the tree…”O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!”