I was fourteen when I came to Hutchmoot for the first time. My mom knew it would open my eyes to a whole new world of art and storytelling, and she was right. I had never seen anything like it and I was overwhelmed by the poetry and artistry all around me. I soaked up the words of speakers I had looked up to for years, listened to authors read aloud from books I loved, and admired the wonderful culinary creations that were set out for everyone who attended—but I admired the feast from a distance. At almost every meal, there was nothing I could eat.
In eighth grade, I started having allergic reactions to a list of foods that slowly chipped away at my ability to eat at restaurants and friends’ homes, and that was just the beginning. When I came to Nashville for the first time, I packed a bag of snacks and bars and anything I could think of that would get me through Hutchmoot. In between sessions I sat at the table with a cup of water and tried to engage in the conversation without looking at people’s plates, trying not to be too self-conscious about the empty space in front of me. I was terrified of the inevitable and inexhaustible questions: Are you not hungry? Did you already eat? Really? Why can’t you have dairy? Afterwards, I would sneak out of the conference and eat almond butter and gluten-free crackers in the car. Hutchmoot was the best part of my year and I came back, time and time again—but that one aspect, the thing that brought everyone together on equal ground, the table set for hundreds of people, was impossible for me to approach.
As high school wound down, I started dealing with strange symptoms that confused and concerned every doctor I saw. My brain was fuzzy, my stomach swelled, and I was fatigued and anxious all the time. I cut out more grains and that helped until it didn’t, so I kept going. Over the next three years I cut out every food that I was reacting to, one at a time. Bananas made me break out in hives. Anything with soy made me sick. Sugar made my heart race. Sugar replacements gave me such bad brain fog that I couldn’t do my homework. When my church served communion, I had to pretend to take it and hide the juice-soaked crumbs in my hand until I could throw them away.
In the end, there were only six foods I could tolerate: two kinds of meat, three vegetables, and seeds. I was malnourished and exhausted. I kept telling myself that it would get better, that someday I would return to the world of taste and delight and community. I would return to the table at my church, at restaurants, at friends’ homes, and at Hutchmoot.
Senior year of college brought COVID-19 and still no answers from my doctors. Hutchmoot: Homebound was a light in the shadow and I rejoiced when my Moot Kit arrived at my door. I opened the kitchen packet when instructed and realized I couldn’t use anything in it. I was six hours from Nashville in my own apartment with my own kitchen and I still couldn’t find a seat at the table.
I made it through college…barely. At the end of my fall semester senior year, my parents had to come pick me up from school a few weeks early because my body shut down on me. I rested and recovered and finished my degree but the experience left its mark. There were a few dark moments when I didn’t think it would ever get better.
Things have changed since then. Over the last year or so, I have started to improve, and right now the list of things I can’t eat is shorter than the list of things I can. Every new challenge that my body overcomes fills me with joy. I can go into a garden and eat the fruit off the vine. I can eat apples and artichokes and broccoli and blueberries and it feels like a miracle. I bought a gluten-free muffin at a farmer’s market the other day and there were tears in my eyes. Food is glorious and unique and beautifully created for the enjoyment of God’s people, and when I can share in that blessing, I can’t help responding with excitement and gratitude.
There will be people who come to Hutchmoot who are hurting, who can only eat six things, or who struggle to celebrate God's good creation in freedom, but my prayer is that for everyone who gathers, whatever their meal looks like, wherever they are in the world, this Hutchmoot: Homebound would hold an image of the final feast where no one is left behind and everyone can be brought in. Carly Marlys
Hutchmoot: Homebound is right around the corner, and finally, the subtitle “A Seat at the Table for Everyone” is true for me. I can’t eat everything, but my heart and my body are healing and I can truly celebrate the good creation of God with those around me for the first time. In the middle of a difficult season, this year’s Hutchmoot is a time of redemption and reclamation. I grieve the time that I lost and the time that I stood on the outside looking in, but I can celebrate the time that I have this year, as people around the world praise and magnify God’s creation in all its forms, whether that be a poem by Malcolm Guite or a perfect strawberry. There will be people who come to Hutchmoot who are hurting, who can only eat six things, or who struggle to celebrate God’s good creation in freedom, but my prayer is that for everyone who gathers, whatever their meal looks like, wherever they are in the world, this Hutchmoot: Homebound would hold an image of the final feast where no one is left behind and everyone can be brought in. May this conference be a hopeful marker of the better day that is coming. May we all taste and see that the Lord is good.