Stretched to the Size of the Cross

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My daughter, who’s four-and-a-half, can’t eat dairy. Or wheat. Or eggs. Or fish. Or tree nuts. Or soy and most legumes. Or sugar.

She’s currently subsisting on certain meats, vegetables—which make her break out in a rash—a tiny bit of fruit, vitamins, and sugar-free Jello.  (Her mother, at this point, is consuming almost exclusively coffee and sugar, in secret.)  My daughter spends most of the day either hungry or sick, while I spend it thinking about what to feed her or wondering when she’ll start feeling better.

I love to cook, and there’s not much I can cook for her.  I love to go grocery shopping, but now when I go I feel like I’m surrounded by an ocean of food that my daughter can’t eat.  And during the bleakest times, when she’s still hungry after the allotted meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates, it feels like she’s starving in a world of plenty, and I have a new ache for those parents who truly have nothing for their children’s swollen tummies.

I try to encourage her, telling her that she’s doing a good job with her tummy, that Jesus is so proud of her, that He can use her suffering for great good, that it’ll all be for her crown in heaven, that she just has to wait a little longer than everyone else for her bowl of ice cream, and then she can eat it with Jesus.  But sometimes it’s hard when you’re four-and-a-half…or twenty-eight.

Just recently, I came across this passage from Caryll Houselander’s The Way of the Cross in this month’s Magnificat that felt as deeply true as my family’s struggle with food allergies is deeply challenging:

“Because Christ is to be stretched to the size of the cross, those who love him will grow to the size of it, not only to the size of man’s suffering, which is bigger than man, but to the size of Christ’s love that is bigger than all suffering.”

Having been stretched far further than I otherwise would have chosen for myself, I can attest that this is true: Christ has broadened my family’s hearts through this particular trial, which is indeed larger than any of us. He has given us the love to devote countless hours to researching her allergies, visiting doctors, planning menus, and going shopping all with the intent of making her more comfortable.  Her younger siblings empathize with her and her sacrifices—even the baby tries to give her toast when she notices she didn’t get any—and I think, at least, that my daughter notices how very hard we try for and how often we think about her.

I pray that Our Lady and Jesus remain with us as we travel this road and that they stay particularly close to the little shoulders that are bearing this most burdensome cross.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer

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About Author

Meg Matenaer is a wife and mom of four little people. She loves her faith, family, and friends—and coffee—and writes about the faith at heaven’s in your corner. Like heaven’s in your corner on Facebook to receive news, updates, and Catholic inspiration for your day!

4 Comments

  1. Dear Catholic Mom,

    I too am a Catholic mom of a food allergic child….milk, eggs, peanuts and treenuts, shellfish, and used to be wheat (outgrew it at around age 4).

    Some foods I’ve cooked for my daughter are: rice, polenta (made with chicken broth not dairy), asian rice noodles (found dry at asian markets…but use with caution…the labeling might not be consistent). We are of chinese descent…so rice is a staple anyway. cook regular rice, make it into fried rice…by mixing veggies and meat bits in (no egg, no soysauce…just salt or garlic), make sushi…check amazon for some cute sushi or rice ball makers that are inexpensive. Corn tortillas warmed in the toaster. sweet potatoes made in the microwave. avocado mashed onto the tortillas are eaten scooped out of the peel. While the restrictions are daunting at first, you will discover new safe foods daily. work them into your diet as your schedule can allow. It took me a long time to figure out what my daughter can eat. Today is her birthday party. I’ve home baked the chocolate wacky cake (use gluten free flour…it should turn out…google the recipe…use honey instead of the sugar…i think it is less than a 1 to 1 ratio). We are serving avocado and cucumber sushi, potato chips, popcorn, fresh fruit and a veggie platter and cereal covered in melted Enjoy Life chocolate (free of the top 8 allergens). Don’t despair, good food awaits your daughter!

  2. Meg Matenaer on

    Thanks for writing, Stef, and God bless you for working so hard to pinpoint what was making your daughter sick. And thank you for your great food suggestions. Since this post, we returned home to the States and were able to get blood work done…which revealed nothing! Without a doubt, she cannot have tree nuts, as she gets a terrible reaction, but the other things seem okay in small amounts, it seems, especially as she gets bigger. But it’s still all a mystery. This fall after the tests revealed nothing, I finally had to give it to God because it was making me crazy! Blessings to you–sounds like you threw a great party today :)

  3. i hope i did not take away from your heartfelt post with my food comments above. It sounds like you have done a lot of research and probably know of foods that work for your daughter…and those that don’t. I can relate to a lot of what you’ve written above and the journey food allergic families are on.

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