This Beautiful, Complicated Story

I shared a special photograph on facebook this week.

My son, a small smile, and a slice of warm, wheat bread.

After nine years with no bread or pizza crust, no pasta or ice cream cones, our boy successfully completed a food challenge for wheat at the children’s hospital.

No more allergy.

I started baking bread the very next day.

 

First Bread

 

There are other allergies. More severe allergies. There will be more food challenges. But this is something new. Something wonderful.

Something delicious.

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I once wrote about my son and his allergies for the website Deeper Story. It’s one of my favorite things.

I’m sharing it again, and on my own website, because the truth I was trying to discover then feels even more important now as we navigate this change.

We haven’t arrived at the end of this story, but we have begun a new chapter.

The full story remains complicated. A little bit beyond my grasp. I am comforted to remember that the very best stories are never the easy ones. Not the easy ones to tell. Not the easy ones to hear. Certainly not the easy ones to live.

Here is that old, still continuing, story.

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“Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”

– Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

I know two ways to tell this story.

The first way follows a trail of brokenness. Like a mountain path marked by rubble.

I don’t like to tell it this way. It feels so negative, even somehow un-Christian. But I do sometimes tell it like this, especially when you ask me directly about my son’s food allergies.

The twin themes of this story are loss and fear.

This is the story of eight years with no bread or pizza. No ice cream or cheese. No peanut butter-and-jelly, no granola bars. No yogurt. No mac-and-cheese or fish fingers or chicken nuggets. No birthday cake at the parties of his friends.

This is a story about epi-pens and calls to 911 and too many visits to the E.R.

I might leave out the details of that one mother-son date when I forgot the epi-pen. No happy ending (in this case, a stranger with a pediatric epi-pen in her purse) can erase the horror of five minutes spent listening to death rattle in your little boy’s throat and knowing it is entirely your fault.

The central episode of this first story might be the year my son spent eating lunch alone at a table on the stage of the school cafeteria. The only kid in the “nut-free” zone.

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The second version of the story is more positive. You might call it pie-in-the-sky. Or, possibly, head-in-the-sand.

I’m not sure the story told this way is any closer to the truth, but it is easier to tell and easier to hear.

Highlights of this story include the gluten-free bakery only ten minutes from our small Pennsylvania town. They make pizza crusts and hamburger buns and even cupcakes without wheat or dairy or nuts. The pizza crusts are a little sad, but I will leave that part out.

This second story will make your mouth water. I will tell you about our special fried chicken and meatballs made without bread crumbs. I will tell you about a little concoction we call “pizza rice.” I will tell you how much my son adores his seaweed snacks. I will tempt you with my recipe for pumpkin bars.

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Neither story gets it right. Neither one touches the heart of our experience these eight years. The first points out all that is missing. All that is twisted and wrong. The second tries to distract you from the brokenness with a pile of deliciousness.

Both versions leave me hungry for the truth.

I think the true story follows a third way. As so many of the best stories do.

I’ve been feeling out the contours of this other way for years, as if searching for a secret place. The place where loss is still loss but is also, somehow, gain. The place where grief remains grief but where it is also the color of joy.

How do you tell a story built on contradictions?

I can’t send my son to summer camp, but my son lacks no good thing.

I pray every day that my son will be healed, but I believe the answer I’ve long been given: he is already healed.

Our family table is ringed round with fear and loss. Death and sickness. We never sit down to eat without noticing those shadows at our feet. And yet the food we eat at this table is good. Each bite tastes like a gift.

How can I ever account for the wonder of a table prepared in the presence of my enemies?

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When my son tells the story of his old school, he tells it like this:

“Mom, remember when I ate lunch on the stage in the cafeteria?”

“Yes,” I say. “How could I forget.”

“I was all by myself. It was like eating on top of a mountain! It was so quiet there.”

Watching him tell his story, I see a far-off gaze. I see something around his mouth. It is like the memory of a smile.

As if he’s glimpsed some other, hidden world. Some truer place.

Life Right Now

Has turned a corner and is picking up speed.

The trees are racing to drop their leaves. Everything is sunset colored. Only the evergreen trees stand still and unchangeable. They do not rush about seizing the day.

I do rush about but mostly regret that by nightfall. Strange, how all the hurry never seems to amount to much other than a headache.

The Maple Avenue in Fog

Now the days end in sudden darkness. We light a candle every night at dinner. We read Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and we eat pumpkin chili or an orange lentil curry.

I ordered a stack of new fiction from my library before realizing I am really only in the mood for gardening books. Like this one. Or this one.

My good friend Amy served me this tea recently. I do not exaggerate when I say that the taste is astonishing. It’s a cup of tea even a coffee drinker would love. A steaming cup is a very good antidote to hurry.

Tell me, what’s slowing you down these days? It may be lovely (like tea), it may be awful (like autumn allergies or the way young children pay no attention to the new time on the clock), but I hope that, together, we can say thank you.

For this dark month is for saying thank you.

 

I am grateful to be sharing my words in new places. Today, I am at The Laundry Moms writing about motherhood and calling. You can read it here.

Have you read  Wild in the Hollow, the beautiful new book by Amber Haines? I recently shared a few words about church for her “Wild in the Hollow” blog series. You can read them here.

Why We Say “Yes” To Good Food

This summer, I’ve been thinking about that elusive thing called the simple life.

I’ve been asking myself why simplicity sometimes seems so complicated. I’ve been asking myself why bother?

This. This is why.

Baby Apples

Because these tart green apples, growing on baby trees we planted ourselves, are the best I’ve ever tasted.

Apparently, the simple life is delicious.

Today, I’m sharing about eating well and eating with simplicity at Grace Table. I hope you’ll join me there.

Find my story (and our family’s recipe for simple, homemade yogurt) here.

This Is Pizza Night, This Is Prayer

In our home, Friday night is for pizza. I imagine that is true for many of you as well.

For ten years, we lived in pizza heaven (also known as Chicago.) Late on Friday afternoon, we would decide which neighborhood pizza place was calling our name.

Within a few blocks of our apartment we had two long-time pizza restaurants that served traditional, deep-dish Chicago pizza. I still dream about that spinach pizza pie. One slice would make you grab your belly and groan. Every once in a while my husband managed two.

There was also the little Italian restaurant on 53rd Street with its gourmet, thin-crust pizzas. We loved a version with thinly sliced potatoes and fresh rosemary, but I made the mistake of eating it early in my pregnancy with my firstborn. It was years before I could eat that pizza without remembering first-trimester suffering. Every few months, my husband would ask, plaintively, “How do you feel about potato pizza?”

Toward the end of our decade in the city, a new “bake-at-home” takeout place opened up. It was a little more affordable than the other options, and the ingredients were incredibly fresh. Baby spinach, large leaves of basil, golden, caramelized shallots, rich, briny olives … I think we tried a new combination every Friday night.

Then we moved to Florida.

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In Jacksonville, we sampled every pizza place in a 15-miles radius before accepting that things had changed. We’ve been making our own pizza ever since.

Our homemade pizza is cheap, quick, easy, and, oh my goodness, is it delicious. It may not be Chicago deep dish, but it is good.

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I’m sharing a story of homemade pizza, practical hospitality, and prayer over at Grace Table today. I am also sharing our recipe.

Won’t you join me?

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These Farmhouse Bookshelves (Advent Edition) + Giveaway!

It’s Saturday. Let’s have a little fun, shall we?

In addition to another installment of my Saturday series of book recommendations, I am inviting you to enter a fabulous foodie-themed prize giveaway organized by some of my favorite writers and a few new friends.

Let’s take a look:

giveaway prizes final.pages

I’m giving away a copy of one of my favorite cookbooks (a book I’ve recommended before), The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila, and a box of the magic white powder that changed my life. Seriously.

With Pomona’s Pectin you can make jam without any added sugar. Unlike every other pectin you’ll find on your grocery-store shelves that require equal (horrifying) amounts of sugar and fruit, with Pomona’s you can make your jam with fruit only, with a little honey, with fruit juice, with maple syrup, just however you like it. And jam-making (especially freezer-jam making) is one of the easiest, most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen.

Life-changing stuff, I tell you.

potential giveaway

 

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco bay area.  She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can connect with her on her blogFacebook, and Twitter.

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Erin S. Lane is author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe (forthcoming, February 2015) and co-editor of Talking Taboo, an anthology of writing by young Christian women on the intersection of faith and gender. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about faith, feminism, and, yes, cupcakes on her blog, Holy Hellions. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

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Rachel Marie Stone is a writer living near Philadelphia. In the past eight years, she has lived in four countries and two states, and will gladly tell you about the various kinds of pizza she ate (or didn’t eat) in each place. Her book, Eat With Joy, won the Christianity Today Book Award for Christian Living. You can connect with her further on her blogTwitter, andFacebook.

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Carina is an etsy shop owner, writes when she can, works with Noonday to advocate for women around the world, and loves food. Preparing it, consuming it, sitting together around a table filled with friends and family enjoying it. She lives in Seattle, WA with her five lively children and one awesome husband, and drinks way too much coffee. You can connect with her on her blogetsy shop, and Instagram(among other places).

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Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter or Facebook. She likes making new friends.

If you’re reading this post in an email or a reader, you’ll need to click over to enter.

Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

And now – books!

This week I picked up an old favorite and remembered why I love it so much. We may already be a few days into Advent, but this little gem can be enjoyed here and there as you make the time. The readings are diverse, all wonderful, and you never know what you might discover on a given day. It’s Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

While preparing this post I noticed that the paperback copy I own is no longer available. I am actually glad about that. This book deserves a hard cover, especially since, like me, you’ll be pulling it out year after year.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher is the perfect, cozy novel to reread each Advent season. I’m about to begin rereading it myself.

I say cozy, which it is, but I think this cozy is a cut above your typical holiday movie. This novel is thoughtful, sweet, never too sweet, atmospheric. It takes place in Scotland. Need I say more? This is one for reading by a twinkling Christmas tree.

I think books make the best Christmas gifts, and I especially love to give beautiful editions of classic favorites.

Of course, the problem with beautiful books is that I really just want them for myself. These new editions of the classic L.M. Montgomery series are lovely: Emily of New Moon: A Virago Modern Classic (Emily Trilogy).

Happy Advent, my friends.

 

These Farmhouse Bookshelves

We had our first hard freeze of the season last night. This morning, the sky is a deeper blue than I have seen in quite some time. The sky seems to respond well to freezing temperatures, as if making up for the dreariness of the earth. Though the dreariness will only come later. Right now the leaves on the ground are traced in frost, and the dahlias haven’t yet registered that they have reached their end. Their colors are still vivid.

I am grateful for our long, pleasant fall, but I am also breathing more deeply today. I recorded the date of the first freeze in my garden journal and felt a weight slide from my mind. I can close the page on this growing season. I do still have garlic to plant and a few more daffodil bulbs, but the seasons have taken a decisive turn. Around this bend lie dog-eared seed catalogs and sketches for the new flower garden. Piles of books, too.

When it is cold and dark, we read books in front of the fire like it is our job.

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I recently finished a stunning new novel. I’ve never been in a book club, but when I closed this book for the last time, I wanted only to talk about this book. It’s that good. That thought-provoking. That beautiful. It’s Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

I once wrote about books I don’t know why I read but am so glad I didStation Eleven would certainly qualify as one of these. First, I tend to avoid anything “dystopian,” and “post-apocalyptic” is even less appealing. Finally, I have never read any of Cormac McCarthy’s highly praised but violent novels, and I don’t think I ever will. When I heard Mandel likened to McCarthy, I had serious doubts about picking up this book. Yes, this is a book about the collapse of civilization after a serious flu bug kills most of the world’s population, but, I promise you, it’s really not about that at all.

All I can say is to forget everything I just wrote and go read this book. It isn’t violent, so we sensitive-flower types need not fret, but it is disturbing. It is disturbing in the way of excellent art. It gives you new eyes to see your life, your family, our world. It’s a book to wake up your soul. I don’t think it’s possible to read a book like this and stay just the same as you were.

But if that doesn’t convince you, it’s a compelling story. A pager-turner. The writing is beautiful, the characters are rich. And days after finishing it, I am still haunted by a single image. There is a moment when we come upon a group of survivors who have made their home in a building that was once a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. This new world has no fast-food (and, on the flip side, no antibiotics), but humans still flourish. The old restaurant door must have worn out and needed replacing because the door on this former Wendy’s is hand-cut from heavy wood. Also, someone has carved the front with delicate flowers and vines. A work of art in a place once devoted to everything fast, cheap, and plastic.

Because survival is insufficient. – Emily St. John Mandel

Another recently finished, dearly loved book is Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy Bass.

It’s a lovely, wise book. You’ll find a mixture of accessible scholarship and personal storytelling. You’ll find a bit about Sabbath and a bit about the Christian church calendar. But, mostly, you’ll find lost wisdom. Time is not our enemy. And each day is a gift. Live in it, and be glad. It isn’t always an easy or intuitive way to live, especially in our harried culture. But this book will help. It is helping me.

Preparing and eating is a major component of our days, isn’t it? As much as I love food, I struggle with that. I struggle with the time required to plan and shop and cook and clean. I resent the hard work, and I resent the time it asks. I’m praying to let go of resentment. I’m praying to grow in gratitude for the daily gift of food.

A good cookbook helps. I know one reason I have struggled with preparing meals for my family is the challenge of my son’s many food allergies. Anaphylaxis really takes the fun out of things.

Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker is saving my life in the kitchen. Paleo recipes don’t all work for us (my son can eat almonds but no other tree nuts or peanuts), but most of these recipes are for foods we can and want to eat. I’m recommending this book to anyone with allergies or food sensitivities, but I also think this is a great cookbook for anyone who thinks they should cut back on wheat and dairy and refined sugar. Which, if we’re honest, is probably most of us.

There is a lot I could tell you about these recipes, but I will only share one story: I have tried and failed to make or purchase a dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free birthday cake for my son for eights years. They have all been disappointments, some bigger than others. This past summer, I made the chocolate layer cake from this book. It was easy, used ingredients we already had on hand (though mine is the sort of kitchen where coconut oil and almond flour are always on hand), looked beautiful, and … well, my husband took one bite and looked at me with huge eyes.

“This actually tastes good.” I nodded in agreement. “No. I mean it. I would serve this to people! This tastes real.”

So. It’s good. You should check it out.

Tell me, what’s on your reading list for the dark days ahead?

 

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