Crossing Rivers

No Man is an Island

Rich Mullins, one of my favorite poets/prophets/musicians of all time, has a song titled ‘We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are.’ Many of Rich’s songs have been part of my soundtrack during this cancer journey.  In this song there is a line that says, “We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage.  With these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.” [Song Below]

Of course this flies in the face of what we are told by pop culture. The world tells us we can do anything! All on our own!  We are great just as we are – self sufficient, all I need is me. As another brilliant and poetic wordsmith (cough cough), Katy Perry, sings in her song ‘Roar,’ “I went from zero to my own hero.”  (For the record, I will admit I tend to jam to Katy’s music in the car from time to time.) But Christianity states something else – we are empty vessels with out the power, forgiveness, love, and grace of God in our lives – especially in the hard times.

And not only that, but we need people in our lives.  We need family.  Community.  We were made for it.  Built for it.  We simply can’t lead a fulfilled life without it, no matter who we are. There is simply no substitute for a group of solid, trusted, dedicated people in your life to support, challenge, and encourage.

There have been so many that have embodied this support system for me over the last year. From childhood friends, high school friends, Louisville friends, YWAM friends, college friends, friends in the photography/wedding community, past clients of Honey Heart, church friends, and so many more. Our beloved families and our dear church Life Group shouldered much of the load and I will always be grateful especially to them.  If I didn’t have this support I truly believe I would be a different person today.  The darkness would have taken root and brought me further down, I truly believe.  God used these beautiful people, some I don’t even know, to keep me above water.  I’ll always be thankful.

“No man is an island…every man is a piece of the continent, part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  – John Donne

If we are truly our own hero, we will be either living constantly in the sad shadow of our own bloated ego, or we will be severely disappointed when we fail ourselves or someone else, or perhaps both.  We can’t and never should be our own hero.  We must be anchored and stabilized by something bigger and higher and fuller than ourselves – God and community.

To attempt to make spirituality a private affair is to reject part of our very nature and walk inside of a loneliness that God himself has damned. – Fr. Ronald Rolheiser

This has been one of the main lessons I’ve learned.  I am weak, frail, selfish without the grace of God in my life. I am only strong through Him and through those around me. It’s Christ who gives me strength.  It certainly doesn’t come from me alone. It’s through Him and the people He sends us to help that we can spring fresh with joy and vibrant life. The thief’s purpose is to kill and steal and destroy. My purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10

Crossing Rivers

Below is a beautiful song by Leon Bridges called ‘The River.’  Baptism is a beautiful and powerful demonstration of what has transpired in our lives through God’s forgiveness and Christ’s atonement. Jesus was baptized in the same river that Joshua crossed to enter Canaan – the Promised Land – the beautiful land God set aside for his people.

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Christian baptism enables us to cross another river of sorts – the river separating the lands of sin and the land of grace – another land God has set aside for his people – the ideal place God’s beloved people will dwell – the New Promised Land.  But crossing this river is not just a one-time event.  And it’s not just an individual act. Every day we must choose to wash ourselves by crossing that river – and in effect bathe ourselves in His forgiveness and grace.  It’s a journey. And we need others to help us along this journey. Thankfully our Father is still there to take us back and wash us white as snow once again.


A Short Health Update

It’s been a very long winter.  Thankfully winter is slowly fading away and spring is slowly sneaking back. Below is a health update and what’s up next.


The Update

Chemo treatments are finished!  I had my last infusion on Jan 25th, and my last round of pills finished up on Feb 7th.  This was my 6th cycle – and it was by far the hardest.  To cap it off, I continued to have random gallbladder attacks that last week of chemo, so I had surgery to get that silly organ removed on Feb 11th. The surgery went very well and I was thrilled to go home that same day!

So after all is said and done, over the last 9 months I survived 25 radiation appointments, 1 colon surgery where they removed the tumor and reconnected the colon, 6 chemo infusions, 17 weeks of taking chemo pills twice/day, 6 gallbladder attacks, 1 gallbladder removal surgery, and several different scans and tests and such. Whew. Glad that’s over. I’m beginning to feel better and better every day.  I was told by my oncologist that you don’t start feeling better until 1 month or so after treatment ends. I’ve already noticed a huge difference.

But I’ve realized it’s not quite over.  I’ve been in such a haze these last 9 months that I haven’t quite had the chance or the energy to process it all.  Chemo is a suffering that is difficult to explain – the one to two weeks after each infusion you feel like you’re dying and sometimes you’d like to go ahead and give up the ghost.  I always heard that it takes a toll that lasts well after you’re done with treatment.  I can attest to that.  And while I’m very ready to feel normal again, I know that it’s going to take a little more time.  I’m still believing for healing in my heart and soul and body and I do believe that’s happening. It just takes time.

This has definitely changed my outlook on life, on people, on God – on everything really.  I look forward to processing that in the weeks and months to come.  But I do believe I’m going to come out a better, stronger person through all of this by the grace of God.

The encouragement, the prayers, the kind notes, financial help, the hugs, – kept me and my family afloat.  They were from God to me and I am so grateful for all who helped us along the way. There are so many.  I do feel truly blessed.

I’m especially thankful and in completely in awe of Mary – who took care of me and our Caroline over the last 9 months.  She’s a rock. I think in a lot of ways it was harder on her than it was on me. There’s a toll that’s been taken on her too. She saw me at my absolute worst and ugliest – and she still loves me anyway, for some reason.

What’s Next

Well I’ll have another scan in May to check for any recurrence.  I’ll get a scan every 3-4 months for the next year.  Then It’ll go to every 6 months for awhile.

As you may remember, I was selected for an active duty chaplain position with the Air Force before any of this started.  That’s most likely not going to happen now due to the cancer diagnosis, but it looks like I’ll be able to stay in the Air Force Reserves, which I plan to do. I’m sad that I won’t be able to be an active duty chaplain.  Losing that job that I worked so hard to get was hard. Yet I’m incredibly excited to see what is up ahead and around the bend.

And of course we have another year of photographing weddings and portraits with Honey Heart which will be a lot of fun as always.  And who knows what else will turn up this year – I’m looking forward to finding out.

What the Cold Has Taught Me + an Update

Thoughts on the Cold

January is here and the cold has finally firmly set in.  The snow has too!  Many of you know that one of the several side effects of the type of chemotherapy I’m receiving is what’s called “neuropathy.”  This means it causes my nerves to be hypersensitive to the cold. It’s pretty weird. Even in 40 degree weather It feels to me like it’s in the 20s or 30s.  If I touch something cold at all it causes my hands and fingers to sting, or if I take a deep breath in the cold air or take a drink of anything cold at all I’ll choke.  So I’ve come to really appreciate good gloves and scarves this winter.


Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t to complain.  There are much worse side effects people have to deal with.  This is really more of an inconvenience and an annoyance than anything.

But, it’s gotten me thinking about how there really is power in a touch – perhaps more than we realize. A hug, a kind word, a note of encouragement, a gift – these things go so far in people’s lives.  So many people have reached out to me over the last several months and I’ll always be grateful.  This process has given me a brand new perspective on just how far a touch from someone really goes.  For me, it’s made an incredible difference.

This seems such a simple idea.  But it’s the simple things we can take for granted sometimes. I think I did before all this happened.

There are so many things in life that sting us, hurt us, choke us, wear us down.  Our words and actions can drastically turn someone’s day around.  They can change one’s perspective from darkness to light by just a simple word or act of kindness.

What we do for people, how we treat people, matters.

I think Jesus knew this when he commanded us to love each other. It’s incredibly important. It’s the way the world gets at least a very small sense of the great love of God. After all, the greatest of these things is Love.  And Love, ultimately, never fails (1 Cor 13).

The Update

My sixth and final chemotherapy infusion is tomorrow.  I’m both excited that it’s finally the last one and dreading the next two weeks of side effects.  But this is the last one!  And that’s a very good thing.

Colombia Bound

I was told a recently of a little lady who lived alone in Meddellin, Colombia.  She was down-and-out, dejected, and all her hope had vanished like snow in afternoon sun.  She was so hopeless that, to her, the only answer was to end her life.  As she was thinking about ways to kill herself, she saw some people stirring about outside.  She saw a group of people, then she heard them knock at her door.

She didn’t answer at first.  She didn’t want to be interrupted.  Then the knock came again.  She was intrigued so she answered.  It was a group of Christians that had simply come to share their faith.

She accepted Christ that day in her house with a group of American and Colombian brothers and sisters.  They welcomed her into the Kingdom of God with warm embraces and tears of joy.

There are 8 young adults (including myself) going to that same town in Colombia for a week – March 14-22 – over Spring Break.  We are looking forward to sharing the love of God to the people of Meddellin as the team above did.


While we are there we will:

  • Participate in ministry at a very large prison.
  • Join with a soccer ministry that works with over 1000 kids and have the opportunity to share the Gospel and God’s love
  • Partner with the local churches in serving the community and go door to door, testifying to God’s saving grace

We are expecting God to do great things during our time there.  We are praying that God would lead us to the right little lady, or young boy, or world-worn man who has lost hope so that we can tell them the good news: that God has found us, redeemed us, and that we can cast our cares upon Him and have life abundantly.

Would you join us in this prayer?  If you have questions about how to support us on this mission, feel free to shoot me an email at gabel{at}

13 Lessons from Nehemiah

I’m a part of a really fantastic young adult group at my church. This Fall we studied the Book of Nehemiah. It’s really such a great story.  As we read it we see that, ultimately, it is a metaphor of life in general.

Many of us can relate to this story – We have a project/job/cause God puts on our heart.  We step out and do it.  We run in to a lot of opposition in the process.  We learn we can’t do it alone – we have to work together.  Things don’t go as planned.  We trust God along the way.

So here are 13 Lessons we learned from the Life of Nehemiah…

  1. Fear of the unknown didn’t hold Nehemiah back from doing what was on his heart to do.
    Now I had been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”  Then I was very much afraid. Neh 2:2
    Even though Nehemiah was afraid to approach the King about his desire to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, he did it anyway.  But before he asked the King, the Scripture says he “Prayed to the God of heaven” (2:4.)  We don’t have to be afraid because we know God is with us.
  2. Nehemiah knew the good and faithful character of God.
    “I beseech You, O Lord God of Heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant.”  Neh 1:5-6
    Nehemiah always came back to the good and loving nature of God.  It’s                  what kept him anchored.
  3. People mattered more than things.
    As the cupbearer to the King, Nehemiah had everything – prestiege,                   comfort, money.  He gave all this up for people that he didn’t know.  He                gave up everything, and risked his life to restore the dignity of a city he had          never been to.
  4. Nehemiah took sin and repentance very seriously.
    In chapter 1, Nehemiah acknowledges the sin of his people.  He goes in to              great detail as to what that sin was and, on behalf of the people he’s leading,          repents.  Nehemiah knew that if God were to bless this task, their sin must be acknowledged, and offered to God so he may forgive. When we confess our sins, and repent, we are again made whole by the mercy of God.
  5. He constantly went to God in prayer, first. And always honestly.
    We see Nehemiah do this throughout the whole book. Prayer was vital in his life.  So must it be for us.  He prays to God in…
    Ch 1, 2:4, 4:4-5, 5:19, 6:9, 6:14, 9:5-38, 13:14,22,29,30
  6. He was patient. He waited on God’s timing.  He waited for the right moment to approach King Artaxerxes.
    It says in chapter 2 that he waited 3 months to approach the King with his              request to go to Jerusalem.  He waited for God to open the door.  He                        waited for God’s timing.
  7. Worship was made a priority by beginning with repairing the Gate by the Temple.
    In chapter 3, it says that Eliashib the High Priest arose and built the Sheep Gate.  This gate was the closest to the temple.  They started here first because they knew the most important thing they could do was worship God in community there at the temple.  Worshiping together was made #1 priority.
  8. Nothing can be accomplished without unity.  Humility is required for unity.
    In chapter 3, the text lists all those who were working on the wall.  The text makes a point of describing how they all were working next to each other – from the High Priest, to goldsmiths, regular priests, to governors, to daughters. They all swallowed their pride and worked together.
  9. When opposition comes, don’t conspire to get them back. Let God handle it. God fights for us.
    In chapter 4, Nehemiah comes under some opposition.  They are mocked             and threatened.  He doesn’t take matters into his own hands, he takes it to          God.
    At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.  Neh 4:20
  10. When we are afraid, remember who our God is.  Go to him for Grace.
    In chapter 6, Nehemiah’s enemies send him a messenger, trying to scare                 him into hiding and sinning (it was a sin to use the temple for anything but           worship.)  He didn’t fall for it. Don’t be scared into doing something you              know is wrong.
    But now, O God, strengthen my hand.  Neh 6:10
  11. Don’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Know and remember how God loves you.
    In chapter 6, the enemies of Nehemiah lie to him, saying they have heard              that Nehemiah is plotting to rule.  This was in an effort to discourage them and cause them to abandon their work.  Nehemiah didn’t fall for the lies of the enemy.  Neither should we.  As Nehemiah did, we must trust that God truly is Great and Awesome and that He fights on our behalf (Neh 4:20.)
  12. Joy comes when we remember we have been given salvation.
    The people there found themselves in a depressing, desperate situation.  They were being ridiculed, under threat of attack, and living in disgrace.  Yet, they are encouraged to take joy.  They were able to realize this joy because the day of Atonement was coming soon.  They knew they had forgiveness.  Joy comes when we realized we’ve been forgiven, saved, and are loved by God. No matter what or where we find ourselves, it never changes the fact that we are redeemed and forgiven.
    Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Neh 8:10
  13. Joy comes when we are in community with others.  When we are serving others.
    In chapter 8, the Festival of the Booths takes place.  This is a holiday where everyone camps out in tents and re-tells the story of their Exodus from slavery in Egypt.  We were meant to live out our faith together, in community. It’s in community where we find our true identity.


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Our Vinyl Lives

Right now I’m listening to a great album –  The Beatles’ ‘Abby Road’ (ranked the 14th greatest album of all time according to Rolling Stone, fyi).  And yes, it’s the actual vinyl album I’m listening to, thanks to the gift of my good friend Ben.

The music we make is imperfect. And like a vinyl record, that’s what makes it great.

Every album will develop flaws, scratches, scars.  Every person who walks this flawed earth will get scratches and broken from time to time as well.

Thankfully there is a God who uses people despite their stratches and scars. We don’t have to be perfect to accept redemption. We don’t have to be spotless to make a difference. We can come to God with our flaws, and our creator wants to listen. 

Thankfully there is a God who sees us and heals us and longs to enable us to make beautiful music with our lives.

So let’s not run away from the scars and scratches in our lives. Let’s not bury them under the mask of perfection.

Let’s give them to God, let him heal, and reach people with the music of our lives – scracthes and all. 

Only in our Creator can we make the music we were created to make. 

Only in our Creator are our scratches turned from a bad thing into a good thing.  

It’s through our scars we can empathize. It’s through our scratches we can love – if we let ourselves.

Thankfully there is a kind God who loves the imperfect analog music of our vinyl lives.



If I am to find the will of God I must have the right attitude toward life. ??-Thomas Merton

On Baseball

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall and winter alone.”

-A. Bartlett Giamatti


But the Spring is coming soon.

A Perfect Day

“As I say, I never feel more at home in America than at a ball game be it in a park or in a sandlot. Beyond this I know not. And dare not.”   Robert Frost  from “A Perfect Day – A Day of Prowess”


I agree, Mr. Frost.  I agree. 

Baseball, I already miss you.



Something Understood…


Every so often I come upon a poem or a paragraph or something that gives me chills – and continues to upon each subsequent reading – this poem is one of those.

I help out with the college/post-college group at my Church, which is awesome.  This fall we’re talking about prayer – what it means, how we can understand it, and how it relates to the every-day life of a Christian.  A few weeks ago i stumbled upon this poem from George Herbert – the brilliant 17th century English poet. 

His poem Prayer I captures the mystery and wonder and power that is prayer to God.  Check it below:


Prayer I – by George Herbert

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age, 
        Gods breath in man returning to his birth, 
        The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ; Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre, 
        Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
        The six daies world-transposing in an houre, 
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ; Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse, 
        Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best, 
        Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest, 
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,         Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud, 
        The land of spices, something understood. 


Dr. Ben Witherington III, one of my favorite Seminary profs, wrote a particularly pertintent synopsis of this great poem – 

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George Herbert presents us with a cornucopia of images of prayer in this 
wonderful and striking poem. For one thing, he sees prayer as communion 
with God, and so as a sort of feast.

Even if we don’t get what we ask for, 
we do get what we most need, which is intimacy with God. Hebert also sees 
prayer as natural, as natural as breathing, only prayer is spiritual 
respiration, from the heart or soul, if it is at all genuine.

prayer is a sort of spiritual sacrifice offered up to God, or even more 
strikingly, a seige engine with which to assail God when one is in dire 
straits. But prayer is also seen as a way of taking the measure of God’s 
will for our lives, and so it is a way for the heart to go on pilgrimage, 
but the heart must listen for God’s answer while journeying.

The most daring 
image in the poem is the analogy drawn between prayer and the spear that 
pierced Christ’s side. The idea here is sacramental, and it is dynamic way 
of saying that prayer releases the blessing, releases the healing, releases 
all the benefits of the shed blood of Jesus. Herbert even ventures into the 
psychology of prayer, saying it is something we all hear, but also fear. 
Why fear? For the same reason a child is afraid to ask their parent for 
something, lest the reply be no, or even worse in some cases— yes! There 
is a wonderful line in the play called St. John in Exile where John on 
Patmos has just heard that the Roman commander on the island has just been 
converted, will allow John to leave the island, but would prefer him to stay 
and instruct the commander in the faith. John wrily says to God ” Oh Lord 
why do you answer my deepest prayers at the worst possible moments?”

Prayer is indeed something to fear and revere and handle carefully, since God is one who answers prayer. In the end Hebert sees prayer as something that 
produces the fruit of the Spirit in the believer– love, joy, peace, 
patience, kindness and so on. The final image of prayer as being like a peal 
of a bell ringing out clearly reminds that God is not hard of hearing, 
rather he is always listening and prepared to respond.

And that’s good news…