Zach and Taylor Johnson: May 27, 2017

Spring 2018 Bridal Guide
February 1, 2018
Regina and Stephen Swirsky: October 22, 2017
February 2, 2018

Story by Sawyer Wilson
Photos by Lauren Maria Photography

When Denise glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw tears in her daughter’s eyes, she knew something was wrong. They were on their way to the wedding of a family friend. Taylor was clearly upset, but Denise was not sure why. After encouraging Taylor to speak what was on her mind, she confessed what was bothering her. Taylor was worried that she may not be able to have a cake at her own wedding someday. This is an uncommon worry for a fourteen-year-old girl, but it was not without valid cause.

Taylor had been dealing with a “mystery” illness since she was an infant. Her entire childhood was filled with memories of being much more tired than her friends, never knowing what foods would send her home sick, and sitting in front of the television, too weak to live her life as a normal child.

“I realized that I had way more anxiety than the other kids, because everyone always seemed happy-go-lucky, and I was always worried about myself and worried that I would be okay,” remembers Taylor.

Not only that, but she remembers trips to doctors’ appointments, a lack of diagnoses, and plenty of sick days that resulted in missing a lot of school. Doctors responded with everything from “I don’t know” to “It’s all in your head,” but no helpful solutions were found. This exhausting and disheartening cycle seemed endless.

They reached a point where they felt like there was no choice other than to settle into a life of sickness. They decided to take life a day at a time and deal with the symptoms they saw. The unhelpful responses from doctors were weighing on Taylor emotionally, and at times, it just seemed too much to handle.

“As a kid, I felt guilty all the time, because when you are always told that something is in your head, you start to believe that,” Taylor confesses. “You start to feel guilty and embarrassed.”

Even if treating the symptoms was all that could be done at the time, they had not given up on finding answers.

There was one night in particular Denise remembers in vivid detail. Taylor had been sick and was laying on the couch, weak. Her head was resting on her lap, and Denise sat there stroking her daughter’s hair, thinking that Taylor looked like the light had gone from her eyes. In a moment of disappointment and frustration, she cried out to God and she prayed, “Please Lord, tell me what is wrong with my child. If you reveal what it is that is wrong with her, I will not only do whatever it takes to make her better, I will do whatever it takes to make everyone else who has this mystery disease better too.”

Just days after Denise prayed this prayer, she somehow found herself flipping through the pages of a Vegetarian Times Magazine, which was not normal reading for her. She found an article about Celiac disease that seemed to be written about Taylor. What the author wrote perfectly matched Taylor’s symptoms, and what had been murky for so long finally started to become a bit clearer.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. When the small intestine is damaged, the villi, small finger-like projections that help with nutrient absorption, are also damaged, leaving the body unable to process gluten.

What this meant for Taylor is that for her whole life, not only was she not getting the nutrients she needed to be normal and healthy, but every time she ingested gluten, her body was being poisoned. As Denise continued to read about this disease, she realized that these symptoms closely aligned with her own health as well. Celiac is a hereditary disorder, and Denise concluded that Taylor must have gotten it from her. Now that she knew more about what was causing Taylor’s sickness, Denise decided that there was no time to waste in fulfilling her promise.

The first six years after Taylor’s diagnosis were dedicated to Celiac education and what those suffering from it could do to improve their health and quality of life. Denise started a Celiac Support Group set out to improve diagnosis rates, educate doctors, and generally be a helpful place for people interested in learning more.

However, in 2004 there were not nearly as many resources for people with gluten-intolerance as there are today. Without viable food options, Denise wondered how she could truly help others with Celiac. She saw a need and decided to do what she could to meet it. Her kitchen became an ongoing science experiment. New flours, substitutes, and methods were used to create interesting and delicious food that was still completely gluten-free. After a while of creating better food options for her daughter, Denise decided that opening a gluten-free bakery would be the best way to help others with Celiac.

In November of 2007, Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery opened. Denise was committed to creating a bakery that gave people who eat gluten-free, either by necessity or by choice, to love what they are eating, because their food would be made only from the highest quality ingredients. The bakery was met with an enthusiastic response, finally giving Denise the satisfaction of fulfilling her promise. Now Taylor Made’s goods are carried not only in the Bryan College Station area, but in grocery stores throughout Texas and surrounding states.

Years have passed since the bakery’s opening and Taylor’s childhood sickness. Since her early battles with Celiac, Taylor’s health has continued to improve with help from resources like the bakery, doctors, and even “The Great Gluten Escape” camp at Camp Gilmont, but that did not change the fact that she still had to face a unique set of problems.

When Taylor got older, she started to attend many of her friends’ weddings. Instead of getting to partake in the meals with the rest of the guests, Taylor would be forced to rely on the power bar in her purse or to ask for some iceberg lettuce to hold her over. When it came time for Taylor to plan her own wedding, these memories and the desire for everyone to feel included prompted her decision to have an entirely gluten-free wedding.

Taylor was pleasantly surprised with not only the caterer’s reaction, but the general reaction to the fact that her wedding would be gluten-free. Through this experience, she felt empowered to encourage others who have been in similar situations or who have ever felt different because of their circumstances. She realized that the lessons she learned over the years not only apply to those with gluten intolerance, but to anyone who has ever felt unusual.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want,” Taylor says. “It really is okay to be different.”

Never did she think that people would be so accommodating to her needs or be so excited to learn about how celiac has affected her journey. Her wedding was the ultimate celebration of overcoming adversity and the great leaps of progress she could make in her health and life. Guests celebrated with her by indulging in a gluten-free dessert bar and wedding cake — just like she hoped they would be able to when she was a little girl.

Johnson Vendors

Venue The Taylor Mansion Estate & Crystal Ballroom
Food and Alcohol Thrall Country Diner
Cakes Chef Taylor Duhon, Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery
DJ Jason Winn
Hair Jac Bexley with Salon 77
Make Up SarahBeth with Southern Blush
Dress Casablanca
Photography Lauren Maria Films & Photography