Mammalian Meat Allergy and Margin

“Maybe it’s time to redefine 100%.”

My friend Sally said that in the fall of 2010 when I told her I was back to normal after my concussion nine months earlier, but that as soon as I did too much I would completely crash. No warning signs of increasing fatigue or feeling like I was a bit stressed and should take a break. I would go in a matter of minutes from 100% to physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and unable to get words out coherently. It was frustrating, as I was eager to resume normal life with my usual activities and responsibilities after months of recovery.

And then Sally suggested rethinking my whole way of approaching life. That wasn’t what I had had in mind; I was of the mindset that pushing myself would help me get better, like exercising a muscle to strengthen it. That clearly wasn’t working, though, and eleven years later, it still isn’t the best approach for me. Oh, there are times I can and do push myself when there’s a need, such as with family emergencies, but I found that when I pushed myself, I needed to take little breaks whenever I could and then a longer downtime once the situation was resolved. I learned to schedule margin into my days and weeks—unscheduled time that could be a buffer when there were extenuating circumstances and that would provide a healthy rhythm of rest and work for ordinary times.

Redefining 100% by adding margin led to a different way of living, and I found I loved it!  Previously I had occupied my time with “useful” work of some sort. After my discussion with Sally, instead of packing my schedule with good and useful activities, I became more thoughtful about what I committed to and started scheduling a weekly “Quiet Day,” when I would journal, read, sketch, and sometimes hike. After some adjustment I ended up being grateful for the concussion as an odd sort of gift and was glad for the way it had changed my life.

Then last summer I was diagnosed Mammalian Meat Allergy or Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS). I had wondered for several years why I’d sometimes wake up with hives, or why I’d frequently be inexplicably nauseous or dizzy. After a few anaphylactic reactions, I went to the doctor and tested positive for AGS, which is a tick-induced allergy to galactose-ά-1,3-galactose, a sugar found in all mammals except humans and some primates (so I suppose I could eat monkey meat-ick!). At first I was mostly relieved to know what was causing my symptoms, and since I prefer poultry and fish anyway, I figured it would be easy to manage this allergy by simply avoiding beef, lamb, and pork. Wrong!

I was amazed at how many medications, supplements, soaps, and other products contain substances made from mammalian sources. Even worse, it turns out many people with AGS react strongly to cross-contamination (think my grandmother’s wonderful cast iron frying pans that once had been used for hamburgers) and to meat cooking fumes (uh oh, the neighbor’s BBQ), and I seem to be in that category.

Suddenly my life has become significantly more constricted. I carry an Epi-pen and Benadryl wherever I go, even for a walk, in case someone is grilling burgers. Eating out isn’t an option, and I’ve mostly been home for fear of reacting to someone’s perfume (apparently some perfumes either contain a mammalian substance or cross-react somehow). Stephen has taken over the grocery shopping and other errands, at least until my system stabilizes and becomes less reactive. It’s been hard and frightening.

In the past few days, though, I’ve realized that while there are challenges, I’m already experiencing some gifts of this diagnosis. Because I’m not running errands or going many places, I have much more margin. This has given me the time and mental focus to write regularly, something I had wanted to do for a long time, and that I hope to continue after this April A to Z blogging challenge is past. I’m painting more, and I’m writing more letters (yes, even snail mail letters and cards). I’m reading a great variety of books and significantly more in the Bible. I’m exercising my brain with chess lessons and studying Spanish and loving it. I’m more at ease and better able to relax and enjoy tea with Stephen before work and when he breaks for lunch.

I still can’t quite say that I am grateful for this Mammal Meat Allergy, but, as with the concussion, I am confident that God will use it for good in my life. I’m thankful for the margin it has given me, and I’m looking forward to see how I will grow in this gift of time.

A to Z April Blogging M

This cow is safe; I won’t be eating her!

Thank you!

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy… Philippians 1:3-4

This morning I have been filled with gratitude. I’m not sure why this morning in particular, as I wasn’t consciously turning my thoughts that way any more than usual. In fact, I was reading in The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages about hospitality and prayer and maintaining balance in one’s life, when all of a sudden I was almost overwhelmed by a wave of gratitude as the names and faces of people started coming to mind.

People who have spoken into my life with words of encouragement and sometimes admonition, helping me grow in faith and character and way of living… I so appreciate the people who gently but clearly point me forward, even at times when I’m not always so willing or confident that I am able to move forward, and who walk along the way with me, encouraging me to keep going and keep growing.

Mentors and others who have inspired me in my art and writing over the years… I sometimes look back at early pieces I painted or have written and am both humbled and grateful as I remember the encouraging words they gave me. And knowing that there is always much room to grow, I am still so thankful for their gracious words that encourage me to keep going and keep growing.

Those who have mentored and encouraged me in various ways of teaching that I have done over the years, including homeschooling my children, training dogs and their people, teaching classes and workshops of various sorts, leading Bible studies, as well as other less formal forms of teaching… I am so thankful for the ways they have encouraged both confidence and humility, encouraging me to keep going and keep growing, both in my own skills and in my ability to encourage others on their own journeys.

So to the many, many people who have spoken and those who continue to speak words of grace and hope and love into various areas of my life, thank you, thank you, thank you. I do thank my God when I remember you and I pray for you with joy. Some of you I know well and some I have not yet met and may not meet in this life. And many have gone on before and are no doubt still cheering me on from unseen sidelines in ways I might not recognize but I suspect impact me nonetheless, helping to me to keep on going and keep on growing in this life.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Bald Eagle

Connection and relationship– Musings and Prayer

My sweet Rowan most likely has nasal cancer. I say “most likely,” because I’m not going to put him through the stress of a biopsy or other diagnostics, but his symptoms point to a nasal tumor. We’re giving him prednisone to keep him comfortable as long as possible, and I am cherishing all the time I have with this wonderful dog, who has been by my side for thirteen years.

A few months ago, though, I was having a harder time enjoying time with Rowan. He has been declining for a while with cognitive dysfunction (dementia), and as he became at times confused and disconnected, I found myself distancing myself from him emotionally. I think that was an unconscious response on my part to my fear of losing him, as if distancing myself now would somehow protect me from the hurt of losing him.

Then a friend told me that perhaps Rowan, who has always taught me so much, is now teaching me about life and death. He encouraged me to stay connected, fully experiencing both the joy of Rowan’s presence and the sadness of impending loss. I realized that distancing myself to protect my heart wouldn’t work anyway; the loss will come, but I will be better off if it isn’t mingled with regret. And as I am finding now, through moments of joy and moments of tears, there is a unique sweetness in this time with Rowan.

As is often the case, lessons I learn from dogs make me think about other relationships, and as I ponder this connection, disconnection, and reconnection with Rowan, I am thinking also of my connections with other people. This week I’m hoping to cultivate peace and gratitude in my heart and in my relationships of all sorts. This passage is rich with encouragement on how to have peace in our relationships with one another, so let’s meditate on it together this week.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.                                                                                 Colossians 3:15-17 The Message


Monday: We need peace in our own hearts in order to be able to be in tune with one another, but sometimes we choose to go our own way, avoiding the peace and joy of connection for whatever reason. Let’s think today about whether our words and actions lead to greater or lesser connection, along with the peace that connection brings.

Tuesday: Gratitude is essential to having peace. Throughout today, think of what you have for which you’re grateful, and thank God for those things and for the time to enjoy them in the present.

Wednesday: God’s word imparts wisdom and points the way to peace with God and one another. Ask God to give you a growing hunger for his word. Spend time today mulling on a passage of Scripture, allowing it to dwell in you richly. This week’s passage is one I meditate on frequently, allowing it to deeply affect my attitude.

Thursday: When we give each other any kind of guidance, it must be done wisely and sensibly. Pray for wisdom and grace to be able to do this humbly, lovingly, and respectfully.

Friday: Whether or not we sing aloud during the day, we can have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, based on our knowledge of God and of his amazing works. Praise him today!

Saturday: In all we do or say, we can it in the name of Jesus, faithfully representing him to the people around us. Thank God for the awesome privilege of representing Christ and pray for the ability to do it well.

Rowan and me