Cycling and Consumption

I hate running. I mean like hate it to the point it makes me angry when people try to convince me that it’s not so bad and to run with them. Ask any of my running friends and they will say that it only took them one conversation to learn never to ask me to run with them again. It actually gets scary.

Something that always makes people laugh, however, is when I tell them I played soccer for fifteen years– one of the biggest running sports. But even then, I hated running. Coach would have us run a few miles to warm up before practice and I would want to die. Not because it was hard, but because it just drove me crazy. Math has never been my forte, and I would somehow “miscount” my laps so that I finished with everyone else. I was right behind the pack the whole time was the excuse that rang in the air when I chugged water with the team. When in reality, I simply did not want to spend however many minutes running however far, only to stop.

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Once I started getting injured, my joints and back would scream with any type of running, whether on a treadmill, grass, or pavement. But when I got to college and was no longer playing soccer or had a reason that made me stay in shape, I decided I needed to figure out something quick. That freshman fifteen is real! I toyed around with racquetball and tennis, weightlifting and elliptical. After four years of trying to find the right niche for my post-high school wanna-be athletic abilities and for my inability to stay focused for a long period of time without getting bored, I finally landed on yoga and cycling. Aka, stretching and riding my bike. But yoga and cycling sounds more mature for a college graduate to say anyway.

Yoga is that one activity that doesn’t mean I have to move too much but can still sweat my brains out. I am already decent with balance, so it improves my confidence along with stretching and strengthening my joints and muscles. Cycling is something I have found fits me perfectly. It still makes me realize how out of shape I am because I can always up the gears or find some hills to make my legs burn. Yet, it allows all my joints to love me and my back can actually relax at times during a ride. And I can change scenery quick so I don’t get bored. It has turned out to be my favorite.

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The unfortunate thing about living in Texas is the weather is so inconsistent week-to-week that it easily knocks me out of any sort of exercise routine I should have. One day, it might be overcast and in the 30s, and the next day I’m walking around in shorts and catching some rays. Early last week, I went to bed telling myself I would ride in the morning, regardless of the weather. Thankfully, I woke up to a beautiful, 70 degree, sunny day that made me feel invincible as soon as I hopped on my bike.

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The ride started off lovely. I hadn’t been on a long ride in quite some time, but I was surprised at how easy it seemed to go. A little wind here, a slight hill there, but overall I was doing well. Then all of the sudden, as I was reaching my halfway point, I couldn’t breathe. My chest squeezed tight, my legs started cramping, and the wind seemed to pick up immensely. Noises came from me and my bike that I had never heard before. Who knew you can’t bike ten miles on just a cup of coffee?! Needless to say, the last half-mile was miserable. I was about to turn the corner into my neighborhood, when I began to feel nauseous. I chanted I’m not throwing up, I’m not throwing up the rest of the way and somehow pulled up to my driveway. Once I got inside, I sat for about an hour, confused and tired.

Why was that so hard?

Why did I feel so sick?

What in the world happened out there??

Then it hit me. I had been walking around, saying that I cycle, but hadn’t actually been riding. I carried the swag of a long-distance cyclist, but definitely didn’t ride like one. I expected to hit the road for ten miles with ease, even though I hadn’t been training. I even filled my body with coffee beforehand instead of the right nutrients in order to healthily finish the ride. And when the struggles came, I wasn’t prepared for the crosswinds that hit me and caught me off balance.

While these ego-busting realities still lingered in my mind, God came, sat down next to my weary body, and whispered these words:

Just as you talked like a cyclist, walked like a cyclist, you consumed the wrong things. You weren’t ready for the ride. Beware that you don’t just talk like a Christian and walk like a Christian, only to move on with life. Consume Me, so that you are ready when the winds come and try to knock you over. 

What I consume invades my heart, overflows into my words, and affects my body and soul. Only He who is Lord is healthy, so why would I intake something that plagues my spirit and infects others? How easy it is to speak or walk one way, only to fall because my foundation is built on something that cannot to stand when the winds blow.

May I continually be reminded that all I consume is expressed, and may I daily consume more and more of the One who strengthens and satisfies me so that the winds may cease to knock me down.

The Necessity of Nourishment

Food seems to be a circulating theme when I think about time with my family. I remember watching Food Network with my grandma and listening to her thoughts on each chef, who she liked and didn’t like, which meals looked tasty and which ones appeared horrendous, all while sitting on the edge of the couch waiting for the big meal reveal. I still think of her when I flip over to watch Chopped or Giada or Iron Chef. She would make the best sugar pie at Christmas and could always be found shaking her arthritic finger at my mom or my aunt when they diced something wrong or mixed the salad terribly or didn’t choose a flavor she preferred. Her favorite spot in the kitchen would be leaning on the island, hovering over our work and making sure we were handling the ingredients the way she would if she were cooking.

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Ever since my parents got married in 1978, my mom has made pizza every weekend. Same recipe, same process.  She still makes the dough from scratch, measuring the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Freshly cooked pizza dough fills the air as she covers the crispy crust with sauce, cheese, and any other item we deem necessary and find in the refrigerator. The toppings have gradually varied throughout time, but the recipe is consistently tried and true. The pan she uses is so seasoned and aged that my parents refuse to eat pizza from any other pan. Of course, between my parents, my brother, and myself, the pizzas would be devoured in front of the television as the TGIF lineup from the 90s flooded our living room. You know. The Home Improvement, Full House, Boy Meets World, Step by Step kind of night. Of the few traditions that carry on in our family, this one is sure to never cease. If we miss a pizza night on the weekend, no fear! We will make it up during the week. Homemade pizza is a must in our house.

For about three months in high school, I decided I wanted to be a chef. To graduate from book school and start culinary school seemed so exciting, so intriguing, so new and unconventional. Though I was quite the athlete at the time, there was something special about cooking a meal and feeding people food I created. Most of the time, I fed my parents; 97% of the time, the meal was a flop. I didn’t understand flavors or spices or what goes well with this meat or that pasta. I so badly wanted to become a chef, or at least a decent cook, who could magically throw things together and produce a magnificent and satisfying meal. I just wanted to fill my family in a way that was tangible and pleasing. And when I think about it, whether a freshman in college heating up Ramen noodles in the microwave, a mom mixing macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for her five children, or a five-star chef making an elegant dessert with dry ice and salted caramel, people cook to nourish. Deep down, we are made with empty stomachs, seeking that thing that will nurture our bodies and souls, bringing health and wholeness to a life that otherwise proves vain and unfulfilling.

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I recently read an advanced copy of Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by the one and only Shauna Niequist. The book carries snippets of her experiences in life ranging from love and faith to miscarriages and insecurities, artistically showing how food and feeding people has been an underlying equalizer in the midst of it all. She even gives recipes to most of the dishes she describes. Similar to her past books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, Shauna writes each chapter in a way that purely exudes God’s grace. Some of the most cherished chapters are when she openly shares the painful realities of life so intimately that I feel as if we have been friends forever and are sitting across from each other on the couch, and as she lets me into her world, she is simultaneously speaking strict, but loving truth over my heart.

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I think the main theme that resonated with me from this book is her intentionality with creating a safe place where people can feel loved, cared for, and nourished. Sure, Shauna does this primarily through food, which is such a beautiful and visible way to portray this act. Yet, she subtly parallels this with the body of Christ and how His body and His blood nourishes our souls in a way that demonstrates the safety and love that comes when being in His arms, around His table.

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist

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The book is released today, April 9! Due to her emphasis on food, the book is a different approach than her past ones. However, I still recommend it, especially if you love food, as it speaks deeper than our stomachs. If you’re not a huge food person, go ahead and read her other two books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. I promise you won’t be disappointed.