My daughter, who’s four-and-a-half, can’t eat dairy. Or wheat. Or eggs. Or fish. Or tree nuts. Or soy and most legumes. Or sugar.

She’s currently subsisting on certain meats, vegetables—which make her break out in a rash—a tiny bit of fruit, vitamins, and sugar-free Jello.  (Her mother, at this point, is consuming almost exclusively coffee and sugar, in secret.)  My daughter spends most of the day either hungry or sick, while I spend it thinking about what to feed her or wondering when she’ll start feeling better.

I love to cook, and there’s not much I can cook for her.  I love to go grocery shopping, but now when I go I feel like I’m surrounded by an ocean of food that my daughter can’t eat.  And during the bleakest times, when she’s still hungry after the allotted meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates, it feels like she’s starving in a world of plenty, and I have a new ache for those parents who truly have nothing for their children’s swollen tummies.

I try to encourage her, telling her that she’s doing a good job with her tummy, that Jesus is so proud of her, that He can use her suffering for great good, that it’ll all be for her crown in heaven, that she just has to wait a little longer than everyone else for her bowl of ice cream, and then she can eat it with Jesus.  But sometimes it’s hard when you’re four-and-a-half…or twenty-eight.

Just recently, I came across this passage from Caryll Houselander’s The Way of the Cross in this month’s Magnificat that felt as deeply true as my family’s struggle with food allergies is deeply challenging:

“Because Christ is to be stretched to the size of the cross, those who love him will grow to the size of it, not only to the size of man’s suffering, which is bigger than man, but to the size of Christ’s love that is bigger than all suffering.”

Having been stretched far further than I otherwise would have chosen for myself, I can attest that this is true: Christ has broadened my family’s hearts through this particular trial, which is indeed larger than any of us. He has given us the love to devote countless hours to researching her allergies, visiting doctors, planning menus, and going shopping all with the intent of making her more comfortable.  Her younger siblings empathize with her and her sacrifices—even the baby tries to give her toast when she notices she didn’t get any—and I think, at least, that my daughter notices how very hard we try for and how often we think about her.

I pray that Our Lady and Jesus remain with us as we travel this road and that they stay particularly close to the little shoulders that are bearing this most burdensome cross.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer