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My Hope is Built

Not long ago, I was on my bike headed towards a nearby town[1]. It was one of those days where I just needed to get away; I left church and started pedaling out of town on the county road with my goal in mind. I started my journey uphill; I went up the first big hill and then down half a hill and up the next big hill and then down the next half hill, etc[2]. It was exhausting. In my head, each hill discouraged me more and more until I finally gave up and turned Sylvia[3] around and made my way back into town. After 4 miles, I had my first glimpse of familiarity: The water tower. Hope flushed through my body like the first sip of coffee in the morning; the bike ride would be over, it would be over soon. All I could see before was hill after hill, climb after climb, fight after fight. Now, I knew, I was close to home.

Psalm 121, one of the psalms of accents[4], has offered hope to Christians for decades.

However, it seems that it held a much deeper meaning for the original hearers (singers) of the psalm. I heard a pastor preach on this psalm not that long ago. He shared a delightful sermon on how the idols in those days were worshiped on top of the mountains. So, when the people sang, “I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from”, they were making a statement not only about God’s sovereignty, but also about his might, power, and love. It’s as if the original singers could have also sung something like this: “I lift my eyes up to the other god’s and laugh for my help comes from the Lord, the one who made the mountains that the idols stand on.”

As delightful and scriptural as that sermon was, I must admit that the thing that still resonates in my mind when I read this psalm is the hope that we have in Jesus. So yes, the psalm may have meant, “Screw you, idols; our God is better than you”, but I think the meaning goes deeper. This is a psalm of hope and trust. We will, regardless of the circumstances in our lives or how many hills we have to climb in a row, look to OUR God who made the heavens and the earth. To lift up, not only our eyes, but also our hearts to the One who created everything, the one on whom we build our hope.

There have been many times in my life when, not by choice, I have lost hope in my circumstances or what God is doing in my life. But by the grace of God, I no longer doubt who He is or forget to trust Him. The hope that I have in God is a capital H-O-P-E kind of hope; a Romans 5 kind of hope. A hope that rests in the fact that God is who he is and that’s all I need. So even when walking through the Psalm 23 valleys or after biking up 5 consecutive hills, even if I lose hope in everything around me, my hope is still grounded in MY God. Praise Him for He IS H-O-P-E[5], through everything.

Blessing,

Gabby

[1] ok, so maybe not that near-by; 15 miles is quite a way by bike. Spoiler alert…I didn’t make it.

[2] People who think that Iowa is flat clearly have never tried to pedal 15 miles.

[3] If you don’t recall from one of my earlier blogs… that is the name of my bike. She is teal and the kind of spunky that also makes her beautiful.

[4] There is a group of psalms in the bible that is labeled as the song of accents. This means that the people who would make the journey sang them as they traveled up to Jerusalem.

[5] It’s who he is… and G-O-O-D. It’s who he is.

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Good, Good Father

One of the things that I’ve been reflecting on lately is what to call God. This is two fold: the name of God and also the attributes of God.

There are certainly several different names to give God[1]. But I will take time to reflect on just one:

I’ve been told by assorted pastors[2] over the years about the significance of the name Yahweh[3]; we get the name Yahweh from the four asperate[4] consonants that are put together to mean the name of God in Hebrew in the Old Testament. People in that time wouldn’t even reference the name of God in its entirety because of the how holy he is; God’s name was so holy, so heavy for them.

In light of that, there are two reasons why I find that Yahweh holds so much weight in our current context. First, it comes from the fact that God is too holy for words; there is no name that I can give God that recognizes all of who he is. Even more significantly, though, is its weight because of the grace and mercy that God gives me just to utter his name. Just being allowed and encouraged to call out to my God, to use his name[5]. Wow! What love! I use Yahweh because God is not only holy, but he is also MY God, MY holy Father, MY personal savior, MY Yahweh.

So let’s say that I have now decided to call God, Yahweh. But who is Yahweh? How do I describe a God that is too holy for vowels?

When I am writing songs, I often agonize over getting just the right descriptor for God; God has already been called so many attributes that don’t seem to even remotely cover who he is. How do I describe the LORD of the universe? How do I describe in one word what he has done for me, who he is, and how he sees me?

As I reflected on this, I kept coming back to the word “good”. What a simple word; a simple word that you ascribe to a dog or a slice of pizza[6]. No, the word “good” isn’t good enough for MY God. Yet, that was the word that kept coming to mind[7].

On Good Friday, I was delivering Easter Lilies to a church as part of my new job. I heard one of the radio personal reflect on the “good” of Good Friday. She mentioned that this instance of “good” was taken from the old English way of saying “holy”.

When I heard that, my definition of the word “good” opened. I realized in that moment that “good” is not a simple word. Like Yahweh, “good” holds more weight than it seems. If “good” can mean holy, it can also mean faithful and loving, kind and compassionate and whatever other words we use to inadequately describe God.

I can confidently say, then, that God is good. But not “just” good. He is capital G-O-O-D, good. Always.

He is a good, good Father; it’s who he is. Always.

Blessings,

Gabby

 

[1] I often default to Father.

[2] Maybe some pastors reading this might want to enter the conversation in the comment section.

[3] I believe that it gets translated in our bibles as LORD (in all capitals).

[4] Some pastors have associated the use of these consonants to mean the breath of God because you have to breath out when you say them. More on this in a later blog post…

[5] I don’t need a Moses or a prophet or a pastor or clergy member. Me. I can talk to God through Jesus Christ, the only mediator I need.

[6] or the expected response when you ask someone, “how are you doing today?”

[7] I had a few friends in college these past couple of years that hated the song, “Good, Good Father” (Tomlin) because of the attempt to give God the attribute of “good” as a term of praise

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My Heart Beats “Fast”-er

I love to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and if it were up to me, we would celebrate it every week. I think that communion, on its own, is transformative. Now, I’m a good, classically trained, Reformed girl. However, I believe that communion is just as important as the preaching of the word; the Spirit is at work in both. Because of its transformational nature, I look forward to communion on the occasion that it comes around[1]. The last time we celebrated communion was especially meaningful.

It was the first Sunday of Lent and I had been fasting for 5 days. After 5 days of fasting, I still feel hunger pains and still must depend heavily on God for strength.
Despite planning the service, I had forgotten about communion and what that would mean for my fasting body. As I squished the bread between my thumb and index finger, a couple of brief thoughts pushed themselves into my head: “Should I eat this?” and “I’m fasting; am I allowed to eat this?”.
Then, before those abrasive thoughts could continue, I heard the chorus come through my monitor: “Take, eat, remember, and believe”.
And I ate.
As I placed the bread into my mouth and began chewing, it wasn’t as if I was chewing a dry piece of bread that had been sitting out on the communion table since the night before; it was as if I was eating the only meal I would ever need.
After I swallowed those few calories, I felt them take up space in my stomach. I felt like I was the fullest that I had ever been. The Psalm 23:5[2] kind of full; so full of desperation that I could taste it. The physical hunger pains had been pushed out by the spiritual desperation pains that I felt deep in my heart for the presence God.
As my soul cried out to my Father, the realization set in.
I had to get back to work. For the first time since I started planning services, I was going to sing a solo during the passing of the cup.
With tear stained cheeks, I began playing chords in the wrong rhythm.
With my heart beating faster than the rhythm of my movements, I started over.
I made a lot more mistakes, but I sang.
My voice wavered, but I sang.
I sang, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”[3].
Just allowing the word “feast” to escape from my lips, sent a wave of hope down my spine. The kind of hope that would not end; the book of Revelation kind of hope. I believed in that moment every word that I was singing to the fullest sense of each word. I believed that the troubles of this life would end and I was taking hold of the promise that “we will feast and weep no more”.
By the time the elders were making their way up the isle with the leftover grape-juice-filled-cups, I was shaking, almost violently and weeping. But not the John 11[4] type of weeping. I was weeping because in that moment, while I sang, my desperation was turned to hope. The deepest desperation that I had ever felt in a church service was met by the fullest sense of hope. Completely unable to control myself, I let my tears bathe E4 and A4[5].
I was awakened from my trance only when I heard the pastors starting to give their cup-speech. I startled, then bent down to pick up the communion cup that one of the elders placed at my feet while I was singing.
I let the grape juice trace my esophagus on the way down; I relished in the sweetness that filled my mouth and the hope that filled my soul.

This moment was near perfect and I do believe that there will be a day when we will feast and when our troubles will be over. I just hope that when that day comes, and my joy is complete, that I will be able to weep in the presence of my Holy Father. Weep not out of sadness or regret, but out of thankfulness and love.

Blessings,
Gabby

[1] At the church where I work, we have been celebrating communion about once every two months. The worship team recently petitioned the council to move the frequency of communion up to once a month. This gradual change will happen over the course of about a year.

[2] From the NIV: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

[3] By Sandra McCracken: https://sandramccracken.bandcamp.com/track/we-will-feast-in-the-house-of-zion

[4] After the death of Lazarus, in grief, Jesus wept.

[5] For you none-musician types, these are the names of notes on the keyboard.

Just Jesus..

The More I Seek You, the More I Find You

In my last post, I talked a lot about my Lenten journey of fasting.

However, this is not out of the ordinary for me; I actually fast quite a bit. It is one of my spiritual disciplines. Interestingly, I have met many people who exclaim that “Fasting is NOT one of their spiritual disciples” or “Fasting is NOT for them; they need to eat” as if fasting is an easy, enjoyable thing[1]. The truth is that many people dismiss fasting before they even get to know it.

I know fasting. In fact, we are kind of like BFFs. The kind of friend that you’ve known forever and enjoy spending time with, even if sometimes their company is taxing. The kind of friend that may not be the easiest companion, but you love them; I love fasting. But this love is not the kind of love that I have for my real life best friends or my cat or for cooking. It’s more like the kind of love that I have for doing laundry that has accumulated for a month or ripping off a band-aid on a hairy part of my arm; I love it because it needs to be done and once it’s over, I am free. I love fasting because it gives me a great sense of freedom and yet, at the same time, makes me completely dependent on God. In every way, I hunger. When I’m past the point of hunger, when my stomach feels like it’s eating itself from the inside out, I am acutely aware of my hunger for God. I dive head first into other spiritual disciplines like reading/ listening to the Bible, and I am way more aware of God’s presence. During the course of a day, I spend more time communing with God than I do anything else. I love fasting, not because I love feeling hungry or sick to my stomach, but because I love being close to my Father.

Because fasting has so many spiritual benefits, I urge you to try it. Get to know fasting; invite it into your home. Maybe just invite it over for lunch or dinner the first time and let your love for it grow. Try starting with a six hour or eight hour fast and work your way up to a whole day. Or just jump right into a relationship with fasting, like I did.

I was first exposed to fasting when I was in college. At the time, I was going to a church in which the pastor invited the whole congregation to fast for Good Friday in which the fast would be broken by communion around the table with other fasting (and non-fasting) believers. It changed my life. I was hooked.

So here is my challenge: Work your way up over this Lenten season or just jump right in and fast for the 24 hours before communion on Good Friday or Maundy Thursday[2]. If you seek God in your fasting, I believe you will find him…in a big way!

Blessings,

Gabby

[1] Like going for a walk on a 40 degree day in February.

[2] or the next time your church celebrates communion

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Through These Lenten Days And Nights

It is Lent[1].

I’ve always loved Lent; I used to love it because it gave me an excuse to wallow in self-pity and self-destruction under the disguise of holiness and repentance or I used it as a glorified diet technique[2].

Now, however, Lent has become much more meaningful: a true returning to the Lord, naming the sins in my life, and attacking them head on with the help of the Savior.

The past two Lenten seasons I have committed myself to a very hard journey; I’ve fasted[3]. I’ve fasted not from one particular thing, but from food in general. Now before you freak out about how I didn’t eat for 6 weeks – which is not recommended – I practice Intermittent Fasting[4]. That is, I fast for most of the day and then enjoy one highly caloric meal (800ish calories). This year I am fasting 20 hours a day and having a meal anywhere between 5-9pm. Within the fasting period I am allowed 200-300 calories from liquids. This is how it plays out for me: a cup of coffee in the morning, 70 calories of vegetable juice in the late morning- early afternoon, and if I need it 130 calories of fruit juice mixed with half water in the later afternoon[5].

So, I’m fasting for Lent. I started February 14th (Ash Wednesday) and will continue until Easter Morning (April 1). Last year when I fasted, I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. Or maybe I told a few people who were starting to grow concerned for my welfare. However, this year, I am telling everyone. I’m telling everyone because I need them to help me. Fasting for 24 hours, easy. Fasting for a week, hard. Fasting for 6 weeks non-stop, almost impossible. So I need accountability and I need support. Obviously, I rely on God for strength during the day, but I need your prayers too. So if you’re the talking-to-Jesus type of person, please say some prayers for both strength and wisdom as I push through these Lenten days and nights.

If you would also like a prayer warrior for your own Lenten journey[6], I love to talk to the-big-guy-upstairs.

Blessings,

Gabby

[1] Welcome to that time in the church calendar when Catholics stop eating meat and some of the CRC’s give up coffee or chocolate.

[2] One year I gave up processed sugar and dropped 30 lbs in 6 weeks.

[3] with a doctors supervision

[4] If you want to hear one persons story on this weight loss trend: https://www.prevention.com/food/i-tried-intermittent-fasting-for-a-week

[5] I usually only drink the fruit juice if I go to the gym in the early afternoon.

[6] or any other journey for that matter

Just Losin' It

Healthy Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola

When a person starts a diet, they are on fire with will-power which has the strength to spread like a relationship status rumor. However, after you’ve been on a diet for a while[1], you start to search for ways to cheat, but not really cheat. You want to feel like you’re cheating without having to take in the empty calories of a cheat day. Insert granola here. It is crunchy, sweet,[2] and full of flavor. But the best thing is that granola, even a healthy recipe doesn’t taste like diet food or fake sugars; even the unhealthy granola is made in approximately the same way. Here is my favorite healthy recipe for granola.

Healthy Peanut Butter Granola[3]

½ cup of Peanut Butter[4]
¼ cup of honey[5]
¼ cup of coconut oil[6]
1 tbls lemon juice[7]
1 tbls cinnamon[8]
½ tsp salt[9]
4 cups of rolled oats[10]
2 tbls flax or chia seeds[11]
½ cup of chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine peanut butter, honey, and oil in a medium saucepan. Melt over low-medium heat.
Remove from heat and add lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until completely combined.[12]
Add the rolled oats and stir until all the oats are dressed equally.
Spread out evenly onto a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Sprinkle the top with the flax or chia seeds. Stir to combine.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm and slightly brown, stirring once half-way through.
Once out of the oven, let cool for 20 minutes.
Fold the chocolate chips into the cooling mixture and then use your fingers to break up the melting chocolate chips into pea sized morsels.
Allow to cool completely and store in an air-tight container or zip-top bag.

I serve this with unsweetened banana chips over low-fat greek yogurt.

 

 

[1] maybe even in the first week
[2]team oxford comma
[3] This is a loose granola that I designed for the purpose of adding to my yogurt. If you are hoping for something that holds together a little bit more up your honey to oil ratio; the more honey, the stickier (and sweeter) it will be.
[4] I used smooth but you can use crunchy or any other nut butter (cookie butter anyone?)
[5] Or maple syrup
[6] Why is this healthier than vegetable based oils? Unlike vegetable based oil, the fatty acids in coconut oil are metabolized by your body quickly and not stored as fat. It also has a high smoke point so is great for cooking as well as baking.
[7] Yes, lemon juice. Don’t skip it. Adding a little bit of acid will help balance the flavors of the granola without actually adding any flavor. I promise no one will be able to taste it!
[8] Cinnamon is great because it can help give your metabolism a little boost; although not enough to actually cause dramatic weight loss.
[9] I measure by pinches and this is about four pinches for me
[10] You could substitute some rolled oats for some chopped nuts or dried fruit if you want a complete snack – no yogurt or milk required.
[11] I used a blend of the two that I found at a health food store. Both flax and chia are high in Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber. Both will keep you fuller for longer and have health benefits that can help with high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s and more.
[12] If you stop here you have a delicious sauce to pour over your favorite low-calorie ice cream.

Just Losin' It

It’s The Climb

I love biking.

Well, I guess, some would call it cycling.

Regardless, I love it.

But I don’t want to bike across Iowa[1], I want to speed down the rolling hills in this corner of the state.

I love the mobility that being on the bike gives me. I love that I can bike a mile in less than 5 minutes[2].

I love that I can bike to my job in the summer unless there is a threat of storms.

I like that I can make a quick grocery run without having to start up my car[3].

I adore that the combination of living in a small town, owning a bike, and desiring an active lifestyle gives me the freedom to bike anywhere within the town I live without too much trouble.

But I had an issue present itself recently: I accepted a position as a worship coordinator at a church in a town 15 miles away. And although the commute is not long in a car, it is still more than a non-distance cyclist would want to do twice in one day.

But I came up with a fast solution; I can take my bike with me!

So every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Sylvia (my bike) and I rest for the 15 miles in (or on) my car[4] on our way to the church.

Once I’ve finished working for the day, I gingerly remove Sylvia from her rack and bike towards the trails that are conveniently located only about a mile and a quarter from where I work. Although I have to bike on the highway[5], it is worth it; it is almost exclusively downhill all the way to the trail and it takes me only about 3 minutes to get there if I don’t have to stop for the stop light. Once I get to the trail, I usually do some exploring and 5 miles later I head back up the hill to the church[6].

But as I was saying, I love to bike.

There are so many things I love about biking, but my favorite are the hills.

I love a good climb.

I love the skill that it takes.

I love that as I climb the hill back to church, my quads are screaming at me to rest[7].

I also like the skill and knowledge it takes to know when to shift through the gears for the most effective climb.

In short, I like the challenge of the climb (cue Miley Cyrus here).

But more than the climb, I like the rush of the downhill.

And no, I don’t mean the coast.

I mean, I like knowing a hill is coming and biking as aggressively as I can up to and half-way down the hill. I like to get the speed. And although the trails around here are not super long, I regularly get close to 25[8] miles per hour making my way down them[9].

I love that the only thing I hear as I race down the hill is the rush of wind that comes from both sides of my face, as if it is pushing its way through my brain.

I love that I can close my eyes so tight for a millisecond.

I love that for that one moment, as I coast down the rest of the hill, I can’t remember a single thing. I’m not thinking about what happened at work or what I need to get done; I’m not thinking about my roommate or my family or my friends; I’m not thinking about any sin in my life or any negative thought that so easily pushes through; I’m not thinking about what a plus-sized woman looks like on a bike or whether or not my shirt is riding up.

I’m literally thinking about nothing.

In that one moment, there is peace. It is almost as if I pick up enough speed, I will literally take off and start flying with the angels in heaven.

In that single moment, that millisecond, there is nothing but peace.

I love that by the time I get down the hill there is water coming from my eyes and that I am never quite sure whether it is from the beauty of God or from the wind.

In that moment, I feel as if God and I are together without distraction, almost as if I am one with the angels.

This is what I imagine it will feel like in the new heaven and new earth; that this moment will someday last forever.

Someday I won’t have to exert myself to feel that kind of peace, but it will be gifted to me by a God who loves me more than I can imagine.

[1] Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI)

[2] This depends on whether or not I’m working against the wind or how many times I have to come to a dead stop.

[3] With the help, of course, of my bike rack and handy bag that hangs off the back of it.

[4] His name is Ted.

[5] relatively dangerous in my neck of the woods

[6] As you can image, it takes me a bit longer to go up the hill

[7] Or give up…

[8] It’s amazing to me that 25 miles per hour feels slow in a car, but so fast on a bike.

[9] Real cyclist with laugh at this. I have a friend who has gotten well above 50 with his small-tired road bike