I’ve had a handful of questions over the last 2 years, from moms walking our same path, on how we handle those who think we’re crazy. I decided to pull this excerpt out of my new book [coming Fall 2015!] to share our experience through the trial of learning how to handle haters. I wish this wasn’t an issue, but unless you live under a rock, chances are you have at least one hater in your life – even if they aren’t hating on your diet, they’re hating on something.
When I was living mainstream, I hadn’t really experienced them before. I was doing what everyone else was doing. Emery was so chill and easy going I didn’t deal with many people judging my parenting. I had even pridefully stuck my nose up, in ignorance, to the absurd things other parents were doing that weren’t widely accepted. “Can you believe she _____??” “How neglectful for them to ______!” “______’s so trendy, it’s not even a real issue! Marketing will make you believe anything!” Basically, without realizing it, I was a hater.
Then practically overnight, I was being served an entire humble pie. Not just one piece but the whole dang thing. I was witnessing, first hand, things I’d only read about or overheard moms talking about. Things I thought were just the latest fad, were proving to be true in my own home. And suddenly I was on the other side of the fence and all the mainstreamers, Christians included, were giving me various pieces of their mind. Or they weren’t saying a word but were giving looks. I had no idea how obvious body language can be when you’re on the other side of the fence. People aren’t stupid. You know when someone thinks you’re crazy. They don’t ask you questions to get to know you better and understand your situation more, they peek from the corner of their eye to see what you’re whipping out of your triple decker cooler. And if you happen to say something about it, to break the awkward silence, they close their mouth and nod their head while giving you a look. [If you’re off the beaten path with anything in life, you know the look I’m talking about.]
I can’t tell you how hard it is to suddenly go from being normal to being the black sheep. Nothing in life put the spotlight on me in group situations until our kids started having dietary needs. I had always flown under the radar and never had friction with people. As a people pleaser, it was perfect for me. I was comfortable with mainstream because it was easy and never caused anyone to raise their eyebrows my direction. However, I quickly found out that most people don’t like when you rock the boat of “normal.” Everyone wants to make excuses for you: “But she drank milk fine for 2 years!” “Surely it was just a fluke!” “Why not just put her on medicine?” “She just had a stomach bug!” “But all this work in the kitchen will keep you from fulfilling the Great Commission!” “Gluten intolerance isn’t scientifically proven, according to my research.”
I wanted to bang my head against the wall. I cried. I was hurt. I felt alienated and lonely. I was frustrated with people for being so close minded and so obviously in opposition to our being different. Why couldn’t just one person [who wasn’t already in our shoes] show us grace? Why was no one asking how they could help us? Why didn’t anyone ask how to cook for us, to give us relief in our stress? My heart was so heavy as I processed our new reality. I imagine it’s easier for those who have been raised differently from the start, but maybe not. What I do know is there’s an ache in your heart when everyone who has previously accepted everything about you suddenly doesn’t. Or if they aren’t showing any opposition, they aren’t showing that they care.
Then one day God started reminding me of my past. He brought specific instances to mind where I neglected various friends and family members with dietary needs. The Thanksgivings and Christmases with my aunt who has celiac – every year she would only have 1 or 2 random dishes she could eat and would sit there and watch everyone else enjoy their food around the table. I never once asked if I could bring a meal that was safe for her. I never once asked about her story – how she discovered her condition and how it effects her. I never empathized with her. The first few years I even forgot she was dealing with it at all. I’m sure that felt great – to struggle with something every single day and not only do your family members not accommodate you, they don’t even remember you’re dealing with it. I remember asking about her mostly empty plate at several holidays, and after being reminded again and again, thinking in my head, “man, that sucks for her!” as I loaded my plate with stuffing and rolls. I tear up and my heart aches just thinking about it, now that I know firsthand what her life is like.
Then there was my cousin. When she was in junior high, and I was newly married, her mom battled cancer and she started dealing with a dairy intolerance from the stress. Any time she would eat dairy she would get significant welts on her face or upper body, which is so embarrassing for a junior higher, or anyone for that matter. I was much closer to her than my aunt with Celiac, so I was a little more in tune to being sensitive about accommodating her.
But to be real with you, it irritated me. I loved this family so much, I went out of my way to make a dairy free version of an appetizer for her [in addition to a dairy version, because I couldn’t handle not having my dairy.] But I was annoyed the whole time I made it. It was inconveniencing me. It took extra time out of my day and made extra work for me.
You know what I wish I could go back and tell my old self, now that I know what it’s like to accommodate intolerances daily? Get over yourself. I wish that I had understood that her life was effected every day in every way. That her mom was dealing with cancer and navigating a new diet for her daughter and I had the audacity to pout about accommodating one meal [two dishes] for Thanksgiving? Really, Amber? You really can’t miss butter in your mashed potatoes for one stinkin’ meal? Talk about first world problems.
As God brought these memories to the front of my mind, my eyes were opened and my heart sunk. Have you ever read The Sneetches, by Dr Suess? I was a star bellied Sneetch. Whether or not I had a star, I was judging those who had the opposite of what I had. I started as a mainstream star-bellied snob who judged those who were different. When I crossed over to the “granola” side of the fence and had my star removed, I started judging the star-bellied Sneetches because they were judging me. As many regrets as I have about the snotty things my old self said and did, when it comes down to it I’m ultimately thankful. Because having been both a star bellied sneetch and one without stars, I’ve realized the problem isn’t in whether or not I have a star, the problem is with my heart.
I’ve ultimately had to pull back, emotionally and mentally, from the star vs no star war. Neither side is winning. There will never be a day when all the processed food eaters become real food eaters. There will never be a day when all the real food eaters become processed food eaters. I can’t convince 7 billion people to remove their stars and only eat food organic, free range, chemical free, and non GMO food. No matter the topic, I will never convince 7 billion people to agree with me. The solution isn’t in stars or earning respect for whether or not you have one, it’s in learning to cope with what you have and respect others for what they have. Eventually it becomes about thriving with what you have and loving others despite what they have. And about loving them despite what they think about what you have. It becomes about glorifying God.
Inserting my struggles into 1 Corinthians 13 always helps the verse hit home for me.
I’m convicted right to the heart when I remember:
Love is patient even when others don’t understand us. Love is kind even when people judge our diet. It does not envy the easy life of someone who can eat anything without side effects. It does not boast about our food choices. It is not proud of our healthier diet. It does not dishonor others by trashing them behind their back, it is not self-seeking in trying to earn their approval of our diet, it is not easily angered by other’s assumptions and criticisms, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
As much as I love that passage, I always, always go back and reread the passage right before it when I’m done. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
If I feed my family the healthiest food, but do not have love, I AM NOTHING. I may save our health but if I have not love, I GAIN NOTHING. The word of God declares that no matter what I do, if I do it without love I am nothing. If I boast in my star so much that I can’t love others who don’t understand, I am nothing.
If I’m craving respect for my food choices so much that when I don’t get it I can’t show love to that person, it’s become an idol. If I cannot love someone who disagrees with me, my opinion becomes an idol. I cannot be so passionate about my food choices that I become less passionate about what God declares to be the most important thing. 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”