We’ve kept an extra place at our kitchen table for years, and lately I’ve been trying to figure out the whys and hows of the uninvited guest who frequently sits there.
I never notice him right away. Usually, we’re a few minutes into our meal when I first realize that he’s joined us. I see my son’s eyes grow a little bigger and a little rounder. Next, he says something like, “Is this my special pizza?” Or, maybe, “I think this hot dog is making my throat hurt.”
The name of our guest? Fear.
Sometimes, he’s just a shadow flitting around at the edges of our conversation. “Don’t worry,” I say. “You probably scratched your throat with that tortilla chip. You’re fine.”
Other times, he monopolizes the meal, entirely. My heart starts racing. Unsure of what’s happening, I mentally thumb through each of the possibilities. Did baby brother touch his food? Did I doublecheck that label? The package looked a little different. Did they change the formula?
I whisper to my husband, “Get the Benadryl. Let’s get it ready, just in case.”
My son sits staring into space, and I can tell that he’s making an effort to swallow. I know that he’s afraid and trying to figure out what’s happening in his throat. I keep up a conversation hoping that if I look unafraid my boy will be able to relax.
Then I notice that the hand holding my fork is shaking.
The thing about this particular fear is that it always takes me to the same place. Utter dependence. I pray without using any words. And I remember: this boy is loved. He is, and always will be, safe in his Father’s arms. All will be well. No matter what.
Only then do I start to breathe easily again.
I walk away from the table, stooped a little with fear, limping like Jacob.
The fear, like a hip out of joint, is not an entirely bad thing. I can’t feel it without remembering that I too wrestled with God. When failed fertility treatments and another month of bad news said, “Despair,” God gave me faith to grab the hem of His son’s robe, to pray and pray without letting go and to be healed. This boy, this good gift, was on the way.
Will I ever send my son to school without worrying that a stray spill on the cafeteria table might cause death to flare up in his throat?
We pray for healing. We pray for miracles.
Lately, the miracle I’ve been dreaming of looks a little different than the one I used to imagine. It isn’t a dream that my son grows out of his allergy (something that would be miraculous given the severity of his reactions). It isn’t a dream of supernatural, spontaneous healing, although I believe deeply that such things do happen. I may be a rational academic by training, but, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I know that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The miracle looks more like this: a team of scientists and doctors at Mt. Sinai discovering that some children, fed a steady diet of baked milk proteins in carefully calibrated amounts, can increase their tolerance. They may never sit and drink a glass of milk, but they can eat a slice of cheese pizza at a class party without risk of anaphylaxis.
Suddenly, a healing touch straight from heaven seems . . . a little boring. A little limited. What seems truly miraculous is the divine at work in a doctor’s lab. The divine bringing hope to more than just one child. Miracles baked into muffins.