Why do children suffer with life-threatening food allergies? What’s the purpose, the reason, the big picture? Why does my son have to deal with this? Why does my whole family have to deal with this?
The ‘why’ questions can drive you straight to insanity if you linger there too long. The truth is that we may never know the reasons why our children are suffering from food allergies. The question we should ponder is what can we learn through this struggle. There are blessings in the trials. We just have to open our eyes to the blessings and stay out of the pit of anger.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8
One blessing our family has experienced is unity. Because one person cannot solely carry the weight of keeping our son safe, the entire family carries it together. We have become a team, a safety net woven together with love. Sometimes, it takes hardships to weave a beautiful tapestry.
We have learned to trust in God’s plan. This is not an easy road. We traveled down the path of anger, sorrow, pleading for a cure, and even denial. We found dead ends at every one of those paths. God nudged us down the hard road of faith. He has been teaching us all along the way that we must trust in His plan. There is no other option that gives us peace. Anger, sorrow, denial all left us with turmoil inside. Faith, though it is sometimes difficult to keep, is the only road that leads to peace.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways may ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8
Looking at the blessings and focusing on gratefulness has left our family with more peace and encouragement than we could have imagined was possible at the beginning of this food allergy journey. We may not understand the whys of the weight we carry but what we can understand is the blessings. Focus on the positives, the gifts, and the blessings. You will see the world with a brighter light than before. This is my prayer for you-to seek the Lord in your trials and find your faith in Him.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-7
Winter is a tough season for our food allergy family. Coming off the heels of multiple food-centered celebrations, we are literally exhausted. Tremendous planning, safe proofing, and stress are all a part of the holiday season. We traveled through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s with flying (allergic reaction-free) colors only to land at two upcoming food-centered celebrations: Superbowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day. With only a few weeks of breathing room between the two seasons, our family needed a break!
My amazing extended family invited us to go snow skiing. I grew up skiing every year but it had been over twenty years since I’d hit the slopes. None of my four children had ever been before. With ages ranging from 4 to 16 years old, they were all eager to learn to ski and snowboard. I was a little apprehensive at first, as I always am when we encounter a new and unfamiliar environment in which I have to assess the dangers for my son with severe food allergies, but we were up for the adventure. And we needed it.
Between private snow boarding lessons for the oldest and ski school for the younger three, they all took to it quickly! The lovely thing about ski school was that they fed them nothing. NOTHING. That is heavenly music to a food allergy mom’s ears. Just heavenly. I didn’t have to worry about what they were feeding my son or what the other children were eating that my son may be allergic to. I almost cried when they told me there was no food served. I was able to ski the slopes, only worrying about the normal parent stuff but not the food allergy stuff! Of coarse, I was never more than a few minutes away from their location, but on this day, I was not hovering.
Thank you Appalachian Ski School for handing the children back to their parents for a one and a half hour break for lunch. Thank you for starting ski school at 10 am. Thank you for ending ski school at 3:30 pm. Thank you for arranging the day so that parents could feed their children snacks and lunch so that you did not need to. Praise God my son could learn to ski without the usual worry about food. And I could ski too. I treasured every second. It was relaxing and exhilarating all at the same time. You food allergy parents out there know what I mean.
My children learned a skill that will stick with them for life. They learned it together. They learned it safely. We were all able to appreciate the beauty of God’s artwork and the natural playground He created for us. Now that’s a family vacation! We all needed a little break. It was just the refreshment necessary to keep us pushing forward.
“For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.” 1 Corinthians 16:18
Fundraisers often involve 5K runs or being held in “jail” until you raise enough funds to be released. Recently, I came across a fundraiser (the Top 10 Challenge) for food allergy research funding that was quite different. Instead of the usual 5K, the participant is to avoid food allergens for one meal or for one day. Sponsors contribute monetarily to support the participant’s sacrifice of predetermined foods (usually the allergens of their loved one), in honor of people with food allergies. What an absolutely awesome idea! Not only is the participant supporting people with food allergies through a sacrificial act, they are raising funds for research to help end food allergies.
It sounds simple, right? Just avoid peanuts, milk, or eggs for the day. This only sounds simple. Once you begin reading labels, you will see how difficult it is to find foods that do not contain these allergens. Sometimes you are lucky enough to find foods that don’t contain peanuts, eggs, or milk in the ingredient list, offering a glimmer of hope. However, as you read on down the label, you find that they “may contain” your allergens due to cross contamination. Your food choice list becomes short.
Choosing to live a day in the life of someone with food allergies is exhausting. The substance (food) that you must have to keep you alive, can also kill you if it’s the wrong type of substance. Learning that the foods considered safe for you may contain the ones that aren’t safe for you by cross contamination is defeating to say the least. What you can eat becomes a more narrow spectrum. Restricting your choices so drastically makes you begin to feel imprisoned. It’s as if you are living in a glorious mansion but confined to one tiny linen closet because that’s your only safe space. Eventually, you become extremely grateful for that tiny little safe space.
As a parent of a child with severe food allergies, I am choosing to take part in the Top 10 Challenge fundraiser for food allergy research. My prayer is that many people will take part in this Challenge, not only to raise funds but also to experience a day in the life of someone with food allergies. Although you may feel restricted in your food choices, your eyes will be opened to some other beautiful things you may have otherwise missed. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.