A Gluten-Free Table in the Wilderness


By Kristy Ramirez | Twitter: @k79mt1


The fire-orange glow of the leaves peek over the fence in defiance of the dead limbs surrounding them. I have a clear view from my grandma Nanny’s window, the tiny tree still living, a splash of color against a stark landscape. My eyes linger, my back pressed against the oven, as I assess the risk I am taking, try to decide if it’s worth it.

I’m not supposed to be cooking at all here. It’s against the rules: the well-meaning tedious list of prohibited activities that include eating out and preparing food in a non-allergen-free environment. But I stayed up until 1 a.m. the night before in my own kitchen rolling out gluten-free flour and prepping part of a meal. Vision blurry and body aching, I gave up and decided to figure out how to proceed after a few hours of rest. That’s how we landed in my Nanny’s kitchen without a fully prepared Thanksgiving.

* * *

My daughter became a Christian at age four, two years after she was diagnosed with Celiac disease. My husband, her unknowing genetic link, got his diagnosis four months later at the age of 30. For years, our lives narrowed down to food, the nourishment needed to survive on this earth. Even the smallest crumb containing gluten was now a hazard, causing their bodies to turn on themselves, increasing risks of permanent damage. We worked hard to master the basics and plan for the unexpected, but it was at church on a Sunday morning when the gravity of our situation fully hit me.

“Kris, they’re doing the Lord’s Supper,” my husband said, rising from his seat to make his way to the front of the church.

“You can’t eat that cracker. It has gluten in it,” I whispered back, staying still. “In fact, you can’t drink the juice either.”

“I won’t. It’s a gesture. I’ll make my way up there and just bring it back here,” he responded.

I shook my head, let him make his way up the aisle alone. Since two of my loved ones had been diagnosed with this chronic illness, I vowed to live the gluten-free life out of solidarity. What would it be like for my daughter to deal with this disease every day of her life at every meal, during every social event? I needed to know. As much as I could, I needed to feel it with her. And this feeling was acute: my daughter would never take part in the Lord’s Supper at church. She and her dad would take part in the gesture, but never the reality.

My husband slid back in next to me, handed me a cracker and a tiny cup of grape juice.

“As a gesture,” he said. I sadly slid the representation for the body of Christ in my purse.

* * *

My Nanny looks into the kitchen and says, “I cleaned everything with bleach. I always do when you all are coming.” I give her a weak smile, say, “I know.” She retreats to the living room, expulsion from her own kitchen is its own form of hell, since hospitality is her love language.

I inhale and exhale slowly taking in the room around me, noticing the snacks boasting gluten-free labels, the countertops clean to the touch. She mopped the floor, washed the dishes. She spent a great amount of effort preparing this kitchen so I could arrive hours later and destroy, especially for a woman in her ninth decade of life. The soft hum of the radio, her constant companion, catches my attention, my mind taking in the old hymn from my youth:

There let me see the sight,
An open heaven;
All that Thou sendest me,
In mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Calm pours over me as my mind recalls all the groceries my grandmother buys when we come to visit, how she always leaves them in the packages so I can peruse the ingredients just in case. When all the grandchildren are together, my grandmother makes sure they don’t pass food between hands. She watches and prevents catastrophe, always aware of the threat.

She has always kept track of my daughter’s ever-changing food allergies besides gluten, sometimes numbering 25 at a time. She helps carry the burden. For every place I feel like we have lost a seat at the table, she has prepared a new one, working endlessly to ensure the safety of her great-grandchild and her grandson-in-law.

I reach for the bottom cabinet and open the door to look for a bowl, content that I can continue cooking safely. Instead I find a chocolate sheet cake pushed as far back in the cabinet as it will go, an unnecessary precaution since my daughter knows to never eat food that wasn’t preauthorized by me. Still, I’m both touched and entertained by the gesture and the sight of the cake sitting precariously atop a pile of Tupperware.

“Nanny!” I call.

“Can I help you with something?” she asks, scurrying into the kitchen.

“Yeah. You can tell me why you’re hoarding an entire cake in your cabinet.”

We make eye contact and smile, smiles that turn into giddy laughter. Finally she shakes her head and answers. “If your family can’t eat it, I don’t want them to have to look at it. It’s for tomorrow’s festivities, but by then you’ll have your own desserts made and this cake will mean nothing.”

I nod, grateful, as my grandmother retrieves the bowls I need from another cabinet. She is a tiny woman, but I am learning there is a fierceness in the tiny. Her small gestures move mountains. The minutiae of the allergen life wears me down, but my Nanny’s attention to detail helps sustain me, and shows me that every kind act changes a life. In her kitchen I feel safe, and that is absolutely monumental. I may never be able to share the recipes she passed to me with my daughter, will never be able to feed my family her famous chocolate sheet cake. But in her kitchen that night, I experience worship. She’s the vessel drawing heaven nearer to me.

My daughter asked once if there would be food in heaven, and my husband and I said yes.

With downcast eyes she asked, “Do you think I’ll be able to eat any of it?”

Hearts breaking, we told her she would, that all would be healed in heaven.

Standing in Nanny’s kitchen on the eve of Thanksgiving, I realize we’re lucky to have pieces of heaven here. Small acts of kindness allow us to sit at the table without fear, to see orange leaves glowing against a grey sky while Southern gospel blankets the silence with the sounds of praise. On earth as it is in Heaven exists when the other-worldly lands in our lives. Jesus shows up in the arthritic fingers of a lovely woman who washes her hands, rolls up her sleeves, and helps me roll gluten-free dough into the wee hours of the morning.


About Kristy:

PictureKristy is a wife and homeschooling mom in Texas who is trying to remember that everyday kindness can be life changing.  She doesn’t consume caffeine, so her fuel is great literature, cashew milk ice cream, and Jesus.  She blogs at livesinprogressnow.blogspot.com and hopes to one day fuel herself with enough ice cream to finish her novel.