by Rachel Sircy
I have been sick most of my life with various and seemingly unrelated symptoms ravaging my body. I have suffered body aches, severe fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, the inability to gain weight, borderline anemia and so on. No one ever imagined that these varied symptoms were possibly all related. Finally, when I was in my early 20’s and just married, I started to develop terrible gastric problems. Every time I ate I would experience such intense stomach pain that I would have to lay down for a while. It got to the point that I wasn’t able to eat more than about a handful of food at a time. I dreaded going to the doctor for these problems, but my husband put his foot down and told me that I could either go to the doctor on my own, or he would drag me there himself. I was afraid I had an ulcer. My husband was afraid that I had stomach cancer. The symptoms had gotten that bad.
Before I went to the doctor, I prayed a simple prayer: that no matter what the diagnosis, I would not have to be on medicine my entire life. The thought of taking pills every single day was something that I dreaded. I got what I prayed for, but my answered prayer turned out to be much more burdensome than I had expected. Instead of taking one or two pills every day, I would have to completely change my relationship with food, what I ate and how I cooked. For the first few eight months or so after my diagnosis, I lived in a sort of denial. I thought that perhaps I had been misdiagnosed or that perhaps if I prayed hard enough, I would be miraculously healed. I do believe in miracles, but no miracle was in my future. Or, rather, the miracle that I got was not the one that I wanted. I refused to stay on a strict gluten free diet for that first eight months and I even went back to the gastroenterologist to try to talk him into retesting me and seeing if he had been mistaken. I stayed sick and when I went back to the gastroenterologist, he told me that there was no need to retest. The tests, he told me, had come out clear as day. There was no mistake in the diagnosis. He actually looked at me and said that he was sorry that I had celiac disease, but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
I was fairly distraught after that. One night, alone in my room, I knelt down by the bed and cried, begging God to heal me and let me go back to the way of cooking and eating that I had always known. In that moment, crazy as it may sound, I think I heard from God. I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but an idea came to my mind so strongly, an idea that was so contrary to everything that I had been thinking and praying, that I knew the idea didn’t originate with me. The idea was something like this: Do I really need to be healed so that I can continue to eat powdered doughnuts and McDonald’s hamburgers? No, the point of this disease would be to serve as a constant physical reminder that it isn’t okay to just fuel my body (or my soul) with easily accessible junk. I was going to have to think about what I ate. I was going to have to put the health of my body before my cravings. Somehow, that night, I understood that this new way of relating to food, would make me a more careful and purposeful person. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each time I drive down the road wondering what I’m going to do for dinner and thinking that my life would be so much easier if I could just pull over for fast food, I am reminded that food is for nourishment. My lifestyle is difficult because I choose nourishment over convenience. It has occurred to me since that night that this is a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. This gluten free lifestyle is my own personal sacrament. Deuteronomy 30:19 records God’s statement to the Israelites: “[…] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose life.”
This blog post was really supposed to be about the possibilities of a cure for celiac disease. Pharmaceutical companies are working even as you read this on drugs that could cure celiacs via immunotherapy drugs or protect celiacs from gluten contamination by creating drugs that isolate gliadin (the protein that causes the violent auto-immune response in celiacs) and making it undigestible. At first, I thought that anything that could cure celiac disease would be a welcome answer to prayer, but as I began to write, I realized that my prayer was answered years ago. Choosing life is never an easy decision, but it is one that is well worth it. Almost 10 years into my diagnosis I am a healthier person all the way around. I’m not saying that everyone should avoid these drugs or therapies if they ever become available. By all means, if you can become healthier through better science, I say that is a good thing. But as for me, I think I will continue to do things the hard way, choosing to remember that the ability to deny myself means that I am not a slave to my cravings. There is a great freedom in self-discipline.
Just something to think about…