I have become a bona fide expert at label-reading. In a few seconds flat, I can scan allergy warnings and scope out ingredient lists. I can confidently tell you if it's okay for my daughter to eat—or if it's danger disguised as a snack. And if there are ingredients on the label that I can't identify, or that have so many chemistry-laden syllables that they sound like they were concocted at Los Alamos National Laboratory, or one of those sneaky and nebulous ingredients like "flavor" or "modified food starch" (often gluten-in-disguise), then there is no way it's coming anywhere near my kid's plate.
But this confidence of mine has been hard won. There was a time not too long ago when the whole issue of food was laden with fear. When trying to eke out something resembling a healthy diet for my child seemed like an impossible, herculean task. When an innocent question, "How is your daughter doing?," would instantly cause tears to spring to my eyes and a painful lump to form in my throat as I tried to muster up a semi-normal sounding voice and say, "She's okay."
Because that wasn't actually true. She was not okay—and food had a lot to do with it. My daughter had a dietary "prescription" that had totally yanked the rug out from under me. It was a list of dos and don'ts that seemed impossible (and expensive) to accomplish: no eggs, no dairy, no nuts (especially peanuts), and most of all, absolutely no gluten.
What was I supposed to feed her? I wondered. Organic cardboard?
A growing problem
The reality of my daughter's medically-serious food intolerance left me scrambling and scared.
But I am not alone.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), as many as 1 in 13 American kids have food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the occurrence of such allergies is definitely on the rise. For some of these children, exposure to an allergen can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis. Along with allergies, medical conditions like celiac disease and severe food intolerances (such as lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance) can lead to serious digestive problems and devastating autoimmune system reactions.
When I started sharing my struggle, I discovered a whole network of people who were there too: mom-friends whose kids have life-threatening peanut allergies, women at church going through their own painful journeys with celiac disease and lyme disease, and a whole lot of other people—both adults and kids—on severely restricted diets. Encouragement began pouring in. Suggestions of books to read and cookbooks to scour abounded and helped me begin to find my bearings. I started to get a sense of hope for the practical matters we faced—and I also began to find my spiritual life buoyed. Because, to be honest, even though I've been a Christian all my life—even though I'm an author of Christian books, for goodness sake!—this whole thing rocked my faith quite a bit.