High-Maintenance Ministers

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Our office is the land of the high-maintenance eaters. M is anaphylactically allergic to gluten (yeah, I know, but really), peanuts, almonds, and everything else she really likes. R has fibro which flares up with gluten. K has found that her chest hurts when she has milk. S refuses to eat vegetables. G and R2 won't eat junk food. I thought I was doing well with my modest allergy to crustaceans.

Until we went to Germany and I realized the stomach cramps I'd been having off and on for years were caused by sugar. So I went off sugar.

And then the GI told me I didn't have heartburn. I most likely have eosinophilic esophagitis. The same thing as K. So far, I'm off milk, peanuts, almonds, and I think I'm reacting to cheese, too.

But this isn't a whiny post. This is a post about how we can be high-maintenance and still serve God.

My first role model is M. She is not only a gluten-free mentor, she's a canary (because gluten affects her throat immediately and not her stomach she can test food for her celiac friends), and she's just a great example. She took a missions trip to Eastern Europe a few years ago. Part of the work was visiting the homes of several locals. All of whom served coffee (which she hates) and baked treats (which she can't have). She lived on coffee and eggs. And lost several pounds. But she didn't let her limitations get in the way of her service.

R is another great example. Last winter, her fibro flared so high she was in the hospital. But she's one of the hardest workers in the office. If she starts feeling stiff, she goes outside and walks a bit. Meanwhile, she works as much as she can when she feels alright. If I were in that much pain, I think I'd want to spend my good days messing around, not working.

I have another friend in Texas with MS. A lot of the time, she can't leave her apartment. But she still tries to serve. She's a big supporter of soldiers serving overseas, and she sends care packages regularly.

Then there's B at church. I swear, if anyone had a right to phone it in, it would be her. Her arthritis is so bad she can't extend her fingers. This last year I think she's had two hip replacements and one knee. But she won't even use a wheelchair. She hobbles on crutches until she gets to the coffee table, where she sets up everything for church. Then she hobbles to the youth group class to teach about how God provides. Then she hobbles back to the sanctuary. In the meantime, she moved into her mother's basement, where she has to climb a steep, narrow staircase to care for her mother. I've heard her explain her pain, and I've heard her exclaim in pain, but I've never heard her complain or say that God gave her a raw deal.

These are the examples I have around me, and they've set a very high standard. M saying, "I'll find something I can eat," instead of directing us to another restaurant with more g-free options. R working even when she's in pain — and she's always in pain. My friend in Texas cajoling us once again to send Christmas cards to troops, or B using the cart with her coffee supplies as a walker. Or even my ma — when she had surgery on both her ankles and was confined to a wheelchair, she still got bored and swept the kitchen and made cookies.

I talked before to friends of the high-maintenance. How we should have patience and grace to those struggling with chronic illness. My friends show me that the high-maintenance should also have patience and grace. I have to remember that when a friend offers me a cookie, he is being polite, not uncaring. When I'm faced with a meal of clam chowder, I need to learn to make a meal of the oyster crackers and not complain that I'm hungry. And be gracious enough to make Dev a smoothie with peanut butter and real milk when my protein comes from chickpeas.

We are blessed in this country to have options. We are blessed as children of God to know the things of this world don't matter much. Jesus endured the cross; having to skip dessert is not a terrible-great tragedy.

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Published 7-24-13