Sunday, September 20, 2009

For Daily-Gluten Free Bread, We Give Thee Thanks, O Lord

Gathered around the table, I was teaching our three year old a round that had been sung at the table in my family, both in my childhood home and at larger family gatherings. With enough family members we could actually keep the round going for several cycles, but with Nate and myself, the goal was to learn the words and the melody for the first attempt.

For health and strength and daily bread, we give thee thanks O Lord.

Before the last note could end, Nate's response was immediately, "But I don't like to eat bread, mom!"

Umm. I had not thought of it. Here we were asking for blessing on a food that Nate found disgusting. Every attempt, at this point, to make homemade gluten-free bread had turned up moldy in a day due to our humid climate. The bread from the shelves at the store were vacuum packed and the consistency of sawdust. The one convenience bread that was edible was a gluten-free toaster waffle. We started using it for everything. Hotdogs rolled up in a waffle. Waffle peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pizza sauce and almond cheese, on toasted waffle. Waffle bun hamburgers. Tuna fish on waffle.

At the age of three, right after Nate's diagnosis, nothing was meeting his expectations of bread. Twice a week, Nate was use to standing next to me at the counter and making home-made whole wheat bread. As the new gluten-free baker, I would sneak into the kitchen to attempt loaves of bread made from bean flour, tapioca flour, two types of rice flour, and xanthum gum. When the loaves repeatedly failed, I began to find it hard to plunk out a gluten free brick before one hopeful and disappointed little boy.

Singing this grace, my image of bread had continued to be the crusty, warm loaf of rich wheat bread that had come from my mother and grandmother's ovens. Nate's image of bread, was crumbly sand-textured, vacuum-packed slices of rice flour bread or a hard bean-flavored rice brick. I imagined farms of waving wheat and healthy children running through the fields. Nate was just trying to become healthy and avoid any contact with the golden-grain poison.

Quickly, I thought about the lyrics, For health and strength and daily ____ we give thee thanks, O Lord.

What were we thankful for?

For health, yes.

For family, yes.

For our jobs, chores, school, friends. Yes. Yes. Yes.

For bread. Bread is a staple of our life, a symbol for all that we eat. Bread is just one of the foods we eat to live. Food.

As simple as that. What if I substituted food for bread?

Humming through the lyrics, while we munched through our gluten-free meal, I checked the rhythm. For health and strength, and daily food we give thee thanks, O Lord.

It worked! Following the meal we tried the song again. Again, no attempts to even replicate a round, but this time to make it through the grace with thanksgiving for all that God gifts us each day.

Thank you Lord for the food you provide for us.

(Years later, I learned that my "original" idea had long been a common version of the same song. My childhood family had used "bread" while other families had used "food.")

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rest of the Family: Non-gluten-free Catholic Family Members

“Why is everything about Catholic Celiac’s about Nate? Why don’t you ever write about me?”


She’s not celiac. We’ve had her tested twice, once as a toddler, and then again this past year when she complained about stomach ache’s after every meal. Maybe I am super sensitive, but I think my eagle eye has been turned on from the moment she was born, always looking for similar or different signs of gluten intolerance. Nothing. Or at least nothing, yet.

First Eucharist felt like it was a breeze with Emily. Emily was in a class of two. The big issue for us was conducting the sessions in dual languages and honor four cultures; Chinese, Deaf, Catholic, and American. Emily is hearing, bi-lingual, and very good friends with an adopted Chinese Deaf friend. She chose to take classes and celebrate with the Deaf community and was welcomed as member of their community.

On the special day, the two First Communicants, Emily and Xang, signed the psalms in American Sign Language, the parents each read prayers and signed a song. Nate and a cousin of the other communicant, acted as usher’s, and at the receiving of the bread, Fr. Pat gave the low-gluten wafer to Xang. Oops, a little miscommunication or over-site, but moments later, Nate processed forward to shake his head over the wheat wafer and receive a blessing before proceeding to the cup.

Emily wants her own pyx. We have made the ritual of the low-gluten-pyx a special occasion and she felt that she was missing out on something really important. Was it something that Deaf Catholic’s don’t do? No. Something that she could have for the hearing church? No. Could she just have a pretty pyx like Nate with her own wafer? Please?

So much of Emily’s life revolves around being in a gluten-free family, it is often easy to overlook what life looks like through her eyes:

  • We arrive at the weekly church community dinner and the menu was changed at the last moment, instead of expecting Nate to exist for three hours of youth group solely on iceberg salad, we all bundle up to head home for a quick dinner before returning for Religious Education. Emily misses out sitting with her classmates.

  • Pizza parties often require early arrival so that we can heat a frozen gluten-free pizza before youth group begins. Emily is willing to hang out, even though it will be a few more years before she gets to feast with the teens. We head home for left overs or soup.

  • We bring donuts to church for the after-church-donut-social, only to find out that this Sunday is a donut-free week. Nate munches happily on his donut, Emily mumbles about the texture of the donuts and would prefer to skip his offering of a few chunks of maple frosted pastry.

I can focus on all of the negative experiences that we sacrifice and suffer through, or I can approach each of these with a positive attitude and create moments for life lessons. Each of us has our own cross to carry, Nate’s is journeying through life on a gluten-free diet. Emily needs not to make hers a sacrifice of her brother’s, rather she will have her own cross to bear. My cross is not Nate’s diet.

The way I approach the conflicts and inconveniences can be a witness to them on how they can make sacrifices with a joyful heart. It has not been a quick turning of the heart, but a conscious choice each day.

For Emily, each time she approaches the altar, I need to remember to make this moment for her a moment to receive, no matter if it is with a special pyx, or from the community plate. This is Emily’s moment with Christ.