Category Archives: Life Lessons

Wholly, Holy Gfree…Really!

The church my husband and I attend offers a gluten free option during communion; it was a major selling point when we were searching for a spiritual home. Sometimes the gluten free option was Van’s Everything Crackers and sometimes we received rice circles seemingly sized for dolls with self-titled story books.

The church is part of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian faith whose “overarching creed is love.”

This post, however, is not about church doctrine or what and why we believe. If you want to know more about the United Church of Christ, check out www.ucc.org.

This post is about the challenges of participating in any community of faith when celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or food allergies separate you from everyone else.

This is about watching the minister tear in half the loaf of bread while proclaiming, “This is my body!” and watching, not with sacred awe, but with horror as bread bits bounce across the table. Maybe they didn’t bounce into the bowl brimming with gfree crackers, I think, only to see glutinous globs on said crackers when the minister proffers the dish moments later.

This is about graciously changing crumb culture:  making clergy cognizant of how crumbs clinging to their fingers create crumby communion crackers, contaminate once celiac-safe crackers.

This is about how I only nibbled a corner of the cracker before covering the rest with a tissue, hoping no one would see me partially partake, and getting sick anyway.

This is about finding the courage to chat with the clergy about cross-contact, about wanting to show them simple steps for celiac-safe communion, and how, strangely shame-laden, I sweet-talked my spouse into speaking in my stead…something I regret.

This is about invitations to potluck gatherings, supper clubs, and even the coffee and tea social hour after service and being unable to participate because participating might be sickening, really sickening. The kind of sickening that comes from a coffee cup proffered by a cheery congregant whose same hands composed the cookie plate so now my coffee cup has cookie crumbs clinging to where I must clasp it.  Conundrum. Can the crumbs be cleansed from my cup or my clasp before I cover my mouth to cough? If not, curses! Those crumbs now course through me. I’m contaminated…glutened.

This is about God calling the clergy to call my husband and me to serve on the Board of Deacons. After we accepted our respective calls, I emailed our minister, asking if I could help the church become more inclusive for those of us on the fringes due to serious medical conditions related to food.

This is about our senior minister then celebrating the ordination of his blessed friend, who broke gfree bread for churchwide communion because he, too, has celiac. The newly ordained to his friend explained he cannot engage with glutinous grain: no loaf, wafer, or cracker. God loves timing a revelation.

This is about our leader rethinking what it means to be inclusive and welcoming after seeing his friend celebrate communion celiac-safely. I only planned to propose plastic to cover the gfree communion crackers to prevent crumby cross-contact. Our minister—by God—went much further. When he announced the 8:30 service would serve gluten free bread for communion, not just for the gluten sensitive but for everyone, my heart heated and my eyes misted.

This is about tears tumbling freely when he tore a piece from the same gfree loaf feeding everyone else and placed it into my hand. In that moment, I felt holy. I felt wholly a part and not apart. After years of feeling separate and not equal, it was Velveteen Rabbit redemption: I suddenly was real, a one-of-Us and not a Them.

This is about the countless times I’ve “participated” in gatherings by sitting at the end of the table, huddled over my brought-from-home container of gfree food while everyone else orders from the menu, or passes around plate after plate of potluck, laughing and sharing the same feast while remarking about how sad it must be to be me, deprived of the communal bounty.

This is about someone seeing, beyond me, that separate is not equal, that a sliver of starch beside sumptuous sourdough disserves the spirit of the Last Supper set by the One whose generosity surpasses any we mortals can muster.

Gfree…you…now…like me.

Amen.

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Morality and Medical Issues, Part 2

Tuesday’s post challenged the notion, debunked by gobs of science, that illness and disability somehow are the results of moral failing. After I posted, I went running–it’s my primary treatment for fibromyalgia and for guarding against a host of other ailments–but I couldn’t escape a nagging feeling about the post.

A few blocks into the run it hit me: I feel guilty about being sick.

Again.

Still.

Damn.

I really do believe the God of my understanding isn’t doling out diseases and disabilities as punishment. I absolutely can’t get behind a god who zaps a beautiful baby/child/youth/adult/mother/father/sister/brother/friend/foe with ___ (insert name of a disease or a disability) because he or she or his or her kin didn’t read the bible enough/didn’t attend church enough/wasn’t pure enough/wasn’t repentant enough/ committed some litany of sins. I’d like to think God has better things to do than play whack-a-sinner, although whack-an-a*hole has a certain dark appeal, at least in the abstract. Continue reading Morality and Medical Issues, Part 2

Illness Is Not A Moral Failing

Screaming loudly from more than a corner of the quest to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is this notion that moral, upstanding people take care of themselves and do not get sick; therefore, they do not need guaranteed health insurance or subsidized premiums to make insurance affordable. This line of thinking suggests we who have chronic illness somehow bring the malaise upon ourselves. We don’t lead clean, healthy lives; instead, we make bad choices which lead to our illnesses. If we put our money on organic food instead of smartphones, I’ve heard said, we’d be healthier. If we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and worked to become wealthy like regular Americans, rather than laying around bemoaning our ailments, we’d stop being a drain on the economy . . . and we wouldn’t need to see the doctor so often.

The trouble is, science doesn’t support this kind of thinking. Having a chronic autoimmune disease like celiac disease as I do, or Sjogren’s as my sister does, or ankylosing spondylitis as my other sister does, is more a fuction of genetics plus environmental risk factors than of moralilty. Continue reading Illness Is Not A Moral Failing

Gut Instinct: In Search of an Answer

My gut has been roiling for the past two months and not because of national politics. I got worried about the persistent pain and the degree to which my abdomen appeared to be swollen, so I made an appointment with a new gastroenterologist.

If you have gut issues, you probably understand how stressful it can be to go to the doctor. An MD is no guarantee the person you trust with your health is kind or even competent. As my mother used to say, there’s a top 1/3 and a bottom 1/3 in every medical school’s graduating class, as well as the top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of medical schools themselves.

The gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with celiac disease in 2009 did so by mail. A week after the endoscopy I received a form in the mail with the following words scribbled on it: Evidence of celiac disease. Restart gluten free diet.

That’s it?

Continue reading Gut Instinct: In Search of an Answer

Complicit in Oppression: What I, a White Person, Must Do to Stop It

I have not written for this blog in the past year because I was busy being a newlywed. That silence ends today with a post that doesn’t talk about gluten. It talks about something even more sickening.

This post sprouted from a conversation I followed on Facebook. The conversation was started by a beautiful woman I had the privilege of learning from when she was a student at the university that employed me (and also is our alma mater). I still learn from her, ten years later, as she challenges white people me to understand and confront our own racism and its crippling, killing effect on her and all people of color.

She said she doesn’t trust white people. A large number of her friends admitted their distrust, too, a distrust we white people have earned with our mercurial support for civil rights and equal rights. We show up when it suits us, and when we show up, we twist the whole thing to suit us. We want “credit” for supporting Black Lives Matter with our signs and bumper stickers but where were we in the demonstrations and marches against racist police brutality? We marched en masse for women but our pussy hats all were pink (didja think about the colors of women of color down there?)

Continue reading Complicit in Oppression: What I, a White Person, Must Do to Stop It

Accessorize Snow Wise

There are so many pretty ways to realize your theme for a wedding without causing yourself to cringe when you later look at the photos. I’d be cringing right now if I’d gone all out, say, with a wedding gown or even bridesmaids’ gowns embroidered with snowflakes. I did investigate options for about a day before deciding classic with a sprinkling of snowflakes was the much better way to go. Looking now at the pix, I am glad I did.

I can thank my my dearly departed mother, who had strong and wise opinions about how far to take a theme. I remember her planning a Halloween-themed birthday party for my sister one year when we were kids. She went all out on the decor but drew the line on serving guts in blood (spaghetti and sausage in tomato sauce). It’s all fun and games, she said, until a kid runs home crying about being forced to eat a bowl of guts and a piece of bone meal cake. Who wants to answer that call, my mother asked, especially if the little party-goer ended up barfing on the new sofa once she got home?

I never forgot that bit of advice and it’s served me well.

Continue reading Accessorize Snow Wise

Gut Reaction to Fashion: Choosing a Painless Gown

Twenty-one days after my reproductive organs were yanked through my birth canal, I  accidentally went wedding dress shopping.

I don’t recommend this.

I don’t recommend any kind of shopping three weeks post surgery, unless you traverse said shopping emporium by way of velvet-lined, pillow-packed coach and are accompanied by people who fetch what you want and bring it to you. Bonus points if they pay for it, too.

I especially don’t recommend jamming yourself into couture created by camouflaging cinching corsets with swaths of satin and silk that some commission-currying consultant will clamp so snugly to your corpus you can’t cough, all to show you how to look like a million skinny bucks. Continue reading Gut Reaction to Fashion: Choosing a Painless Gown

Planning a Gluten Free Wedding on a Budget

Apologies for the dearth of posts the last two months. I wasn’t sick or in jail, thank goodness. I was super busy planning a wedding. My wedding. Yes, I planned and pulled off an entire wedding—from appetizers, bridesmaids, and cake to tuxedos, underthings, a veil and white gown…and everything in between—for 100 guests in four months.

It wasn’t that hard. I mean, what else is there to do while recovering from surgical removal of one’s womanly innards and resulting complications thereof?

Sure, I could have wallowed in self-pity: woe is me (or, more correctly, I) for being in pain for five months and counting (I have gotten a bit peevish about the pain on a few occasions). How awful to be in menopause when I’m not even fifty (I got over this pretty quickly). Rue that I’ll never have children of my own (this does prickle me with sorrow from time to time and then I think of all the kids I’ve helped as a teacher or adviser in the past twenty years plus being an aunt is pretty danged awesome). Wallowing is boring and surprisingly exhausting. I prefer to look on the bright side of things.

There were and are a lot of bright sides to the surgery. Number one, I don’t have cancer. We can end the gratitude list right there. What else do I need to feel immensely grateful? The surgery and cancer scare reminded me that life is unpredictable and short. There are no guarantees that I’ll have next year or any years after that, or even next week. Life can change in an instant. The doctor could have found cancer and I could be dying or dead right now.

Given that uncertainty, as well as the good news that, at least for now, I’m not dying, why not go for it and get married to the most wonderful man in the world? And why not do it sooner than later? Continue reading Planning a Gluten Free Wedding on a Budget

What? Sparkling Cider Is Not Gluten Free

The holidays call for festive beverages to toast the season. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year! Weddings also call for festive beverages to toast the happy couple, the father of the bride, the DJ, and whoever else makes the party rock.

When alcohol isn’t an option, sparkling cider fits the festive bill. In our family, we break out the Knudsen sparking cherry and sparkling pear cider. It looks so lovely in my parents’ etched wine glasses. For an extra splash of special, I put a frozen cherry in the bottom of each glass. My niece and nephews have grown up tipping glasses of Knudsen Family’s sparkling cider at every holiday dinner. They look forward to it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a large display of new Knudsen specialty flavors at Sprouts: caramel apple, green apple, cranberry, and glogg. I got really excited, especially about the glogg, which we tried for the first time last year when Crate and Barrel offered a pricey non-alcoholic, gluten free, non-sparkly version. We waited until Crate and Barrel slashed the price in half and then we guzzled eight bottles. It tasted best when served warm. Why not try this new sparkly version, which had a much more palatable price tag of $2.99 per bottle? Continue reading What? Sparkling Cider Is Not Gluten Free

Drink This

Contrast tastes terrible. Flavor it berry, banana, vanilla, even Thanksgiving Dinner, and it tastes like, well, nothing like berry or banana or vanilla or anything remotely like food. It tastes so terrible, it makes one hate berry, banana and vanilla, whichcontrast is not fair because berry, banana, and vanilla are quite tasty as ice cream or pudding and don’t deserve such bilious wrath. It’s liquid chalk, aptly named contrast because it contrasts starkly with anything you want to put in your mouth and swallow.

Okay, the gallon of saline laxative you have to drink in preparation for a colonoscopy is worse, so I’m grateful that this is only a pint of berry chalk. Continue reading Drink This