Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Allergic Child

Our youngest daughter, Olivia, has food allergies. We started her on baby food at the normal age--6 months. No problems whatsoever. Then, around 9 months, she figured out that her adoring older sisters were eating things that looked quite a bit more appealing. We battled with her awhile but our pediatrician assured us that this was just a logical consequence of having multiple children. So, we obliged her and started giving her little bits of table food. Again, no problems. Somewhere around 11 months, we started noticing that she seemed to have some digestive issues. Also, she was not gaining weight. In fact, she had dropped off her growth chart and we became concerned. Our concerns grew as the problems worsened. We had suspected that she might be allergic to milk and had tried to restrict her diet. Things were not getting better. So, off I went one October day to the allergist's office. After a pretty simple allergy test the results came back: allergies to milk, milk proteins, egg whites and egg yolks. No dairy, no eggs.
Armed with a few wimpy pamphlets, we returned home. I went about attempting to change her diet. The doctor's words echoed in my mind: Just don't give her any milk products or egg products and things should clear up right away.

I remember feeling pretty relaxed about it. Relieved almost. I knew what was wrong with her and I could do something about it. Hah! I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to find "Olivia-friendly" foods. I had no idea how many of my tried and true recipes would not work for her. It was depressing to look through my cabinets and refrigerator and discover that we had very little for her to eat. Eating out was almost impossible. Many restaurants don't even have information readily available about the ingredients of their foods, let alone foods that Olivia could actually eat. I became an expert label reader and starting cooking special dishes just for her.

That approach lasted about three weeks. I wore myself out trying to cook two separate meals, three times a day. We spent a fortune at a couple of health food stores trying to feed her dairy-free and egg-free products. (She turned her nose up at those!) Cooking, one of my passions and normally my favorite daily activity, had become arduous and unenjoyable. I dreaded mealtime. Emma and Ruthie were jealous of the "special treats" Olivia was permitted to have and Olivia cried to be included in our meal. I had reached the end of what I knew how to do and threw myself and our daughter before the Lord.

One day not long after Christmas, I explained to the Lord that I wasn't going anywhere until He showed me what to do. I was frustrated and angry about the situation and knew that He must have a better way. I was willing to do anything He wanted but I needed very clear direction. Opening my Bible, I read through a few favorite passages and was then led to this:

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:13

I started thinking about why Paul had written this particular passage of 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians were arguing amongst themselves about freedom in Christ. Their city was filled with pagan idol worship. Part of that worship included feasts and some Corinthian believers felt freedom to eat the food at such feasts because it was offered to a false god and therefore, not a sin. Others felt strongly that participation of any kind in such a pagan ritual was wrong. Paul agreed that pagan idols were "nothing" but encouraged believers to avoid anything that might cause a brother to stumble. He explained that their freedom in Christ was not a license to participate in anything they wanted; rather, out of love for their weaker, less mature brothers in the Lord, they should avoid those things that might lead another away from Christ.

In a way, we all have "spiritual allergies." We all have weaknesses in some area of our flesh, areas that are prone to attack. I struggle with my worth in Christ. If I allow myself to wander too deeply into areas of self-pity, introspection and emotion, I forget who Christ says I am: His beloved. Each of us has an area like that, an area where Satan can gain a foothold if we're not walking in the Spirit. What is okay for another is not okay for us. Maybe someone can have a glass of wine with dinner but her brother or sister in the Lord would develop a drinking problem from that same glass of wine. What Paul is saying is that, motivated by love for our brothers and sisters, we should be compelled to also abstain from anything that might be a stumbling block for others.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

So, I went to the library and scoured the Internet for Olivia-friendly recipes. I decided that if she couldn't eat dairy or eggs, we would avoid them also. If these things were making her sick, we would join with her, motivated by love, to find a happier mealtime for everyone. It's been working. I try to serve meals that are 75% Olivia-friendly. Some meals I do better than others. I'm still searching for creative ways to feed our family. We've tried some delicious recipes and some stinkers. Mealtime is more fun and I'm putting my love of cooking to use in new ways. Charlie and I are praying for Olivia's healing, hoping the Lord will free her from allergies. Until then, though, we'll be right beside her, loving her and discovering a new way to eat.

And, I'm more sensitive to other areas of weakness in my girls. I've been asking the Lord to show me "spiritual allergies" they might have. I don't want to be a stumbling block to them in their relationships with the Lord. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness and His goodness!


Anonymous said...

I love your analogy with allergies, and the passage totally fits your journey with Olivia. I'm so glad you find the spiritual lessons in the everyday occurances!