Rick and Monique

Sunday, July 26, 2009

RAGBRAI--Tour of Triumph

Photo taken by Mary Chind of the Des Moines Register

He appeared feeble. Coffee dribbled from his lips. Wooden tables supported the weight of six--five and a half really.

"Five bulls and an old man," we thought.
"I've ridden RAGBRAI for 37 years," he said as we chewed.

Cyclists numbered hundreds around us, but the table dimmed as if in a Monastery. Strong young men and women sat with us. It was only mere seconds earlier when the lot of us judged an old, bent, coffee stained man with Elvis side-burns.

We hesitated...,"How old are you?" asked one cyclist.

"Eighty-four," is all he said.

Whispers and triumph walk hand in hand.

One and a half hours before my spot opened at the picnic table, pale fog rested against the morning sun in the flaunted hills of Iowa like water in a farmer's bucket. One by one, two by two and by the hundreds, silhouetted riders charged into the screen. Pedaled bulls. Breath and breaths poked minor holes into the foggy heaven, but as quickly the holes repaired into thickness. I heard them breath. I heard the bikes whirr. I felt them spin past me and I felt space fill as I passed them.

RAGBRAI-- the raconteur's happy place.

Layer by layer the fog lifted as if God himself sipped from the mighty bucket. One hour. One day.

"May the road rise up to meet you," Dad recited each morning of last week. The Irish Blessing, a team mantra. The road rose.

"You must love hills," said one RAGBRAI teammate, "You really push those hills!"

"I'm desperate to get to the top," I said. "Don't exactly dig the hills."

Tires flattened, spokes broken, derailleurs busted, ankles cracked, elbows, knees and heads scraped and none left wanting even for a moment. Cyclists in blips and seconds moved from taming the road to soothing the sores and souls of the wounded.

"Do you need help?"

A man and his son stopped to assist my wife. Her tire blew.

"I don't know much about fixing things, but I can try to help," he said. "Do you need a tube? I've got one here."

"I think we'll be alright," I replied, "The fact that you stopped helps already."

He left. He even expressed regret that he couldn't help more than what he did.

"Did he really just offer us his gear?" I wondered.

We got as far as we could really, but I couldn't get the outer tire over the new tube we'd bought days before. A minute later another two guys stopped to help, guys who knew something. They gladly taught us how to roll the rubber over the tube and the rim. One of them even used his own CO2 capsule (not cheap) to fill her tire up to about ninety PSI, forty PSI short of full.

"Thank you so much," said Monique.

"Whatever we can do," he answered. "You sure you don't need anything else?"

"We're good," I said, "Thanks a million, man we're grateful." They left us shaking our heads again.

We were stuck there a bit longer. We'd called teammates and knew several of them had portable air-pumps. Two air-pump carrying teammates would arrive soon. Others rode by in the meantime and asked if we were ok.

Finally our two friends rode up and pulled over. We used his air pump and filled her tire to one-hundred and twenty PSI. I think our friend nearly burst a blood vessel airing her tire. Portables weren't exactly meant to push one-hundred and twenty PSI. Takes strength. Add vessel-bursting effort to a seventy-five mile ride. Says something about a man.

Then we continued our ride.

We blew three tires last week and have similar stories to tell about all of them. My spoke broke and while it was repaired I helped another woman make a decision about one of her own bike problems.

Nothing's paid forward, they're simply paid.

Jesus Christ knows something about that.

The day of the "picnic table incident" A woman flew head over apple-cart into the ditch and shot straight up to her feet like a canon ball, hands thrust upward like a gold-medal gymnast--a human cat with nine-lives. She didn't seem to even realize what happened. It all happened so fast. She made me giggle. No, she made me laugh. No one could believe they'd seen such a perfectly executed flip into the ditch--10.0 on my card. She'd ridden into a crack, lost her balance, hit another rider and took a flip-n-roll.

Several of us stopped to make sure she was alright and to re-tell the tale. Others, including my wife used our own bandages and salve to patch up the other rider, a 16 year old girl who was stunned and hurt, but able. The road scraped and bled her. No sooner though had we patched her up, put our arms around her and prayed our thank-you's that she rose up to the hill, hopped atop her bicycle and headed out, taking her worried mother in-tow. I understand the gritted journey.

An army of wheels and cyclists left no man behind.

Cyclists rode with radios attached to their bike. The classical guy, the metal guy, the folk guy, the German pub guy, the Christian Contemporary lady, the country girl, the rap couple--they were all there. We had so much fun on the route. One of them rode past Monique and a a catchy country song with lines like "God is great, beer is good and people are crazy" played on his radio. Maybe you had to hear the song to wrap your brain around where you were. Monique did. He was a fast rider but Monique yelled, "Hey sir, could you slow down because I love this song and I'm wondering if we can ride together until it's over?" The faster rider slowed and they enjoyed a great song before he rode off into the wind once again.

One minute, one hour, one day. If cyclists were lucky, they caught up to the guy in the banana suit or the asian dude in the bear suit. Maybe riders heard like I did, one of the twenty-four wiener balloons in one man's helmet pop and laughed. Maybe they found "Team Pie Hunter", a group of riders wearing helmets shaped like pieces of pie, or maybe riders rode with the couple dressed as clowns. Maybe they saw the ladies with colorful wigs and parrot beaks taped to their noses.

They might've pedaled around the young lady who rode a mountain bike and only seven gears through Iowa, and maybe they paired up with another who took her mountain bike through every mile possible. Maybe cyclists met the sixty-five year old man who recently completed a two-hundred mile tour...in one day, and that through Utah mountains. Maybe they saw the guy with a deformed leg, the oversized shoe turned outward and the large custom pedal made just for him, ride through the Iowa hills, smiling and pedaling. Maybe. Maybe they rode with the man who weighed over three-hundred pounds last year, but who trained six-hundred miles, lost a bunch of weight and hit the road. Maybe you rode with the sixty-two year old man who rode ten-thousand miles last year. Maybe bikers heard the mighty cry of the Marine team, "Hooahhh!"

Maybe they rode in line with dozens whom one by one assisted an old man with an extra handle on the side of his bike and a sign on his back that read something like, "Help me up the hill please?" New strangers-turned-friends formed behind him day in and day out, but the line remained. Each rider took hold of the handle and rose to the hills with him a couple hundred feet before drifting off to the back of the line, allowing another rider to take their place another couple hundred feet. Maybe riders saw their privilege.

Maybe it takes might and vulnerability to be the best.

Maybe cyclists rode with the woman who only two years ago had not picked up a bike in twenty years, but whom this year decided she could do the optional one-hundred miles on day five.

My wife rolled into camp 107.6 miles later.

Maybe. Maybe they rode with the man with Spina Bifida whose doctors couldn't have dreamed he'd walk let alone ride his bicycle over almost twenty-four thousand feet of hills in one week.

We all rode with the thousands in the rain. Bikers stopped with hundreds at a warm church to take some coffee and sugar and an excellent breakfast. Maybe they were there when the church lady opened an oven so that cold, wet hands could warm. Maybe they were one of the many awed by the generosity of the janitor who would clean up the next day. Maybe the same home-owner opened his garage to others as he did for my wife and some teammates so they could again escape the rain and warm up.

Maybe. Maybe their support crew humbly, joyfully and unabashedly kept them in tip-top shape. And maybe their support blessed them as ours did us before we left in the morning.

I saw him the next day, I did. Deep, white side-burns defied a feeble cover for the giant inside--a silhouette of other days--the good 'ol days whether they were or not. Bony knees shook as small feet and small stature clipped in. His bicycle swayed left and right as balance eluded him for three seconds. Then there he was, all 84 years of him headed out of another town, down another road. I remembered the coffee stains and the judgement and I rode behind him for a minute, hardly daring to pass such a hallowed road bull headed away from pasture. He's now held together by patience and the wisdom of the journey.

I'm a young bull. I will rise and meet the road that rises with me. But my nostrils flare by the example of the mighty and the unafraid who's courage ne'er wanes and who's life remains unfeigned.

Whether they rode last week with balloons in their helmets, or rolled with the hearts of hosts of angels, they revealed the wisdom of our years, the tenacity of spirit, the practicality of skill, the happiness of laughter, the satisfaction of effort, and enabled the vulnerability of joy.

And even when they whispered, I engaged in and witnessed a tour of triumph.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ready to Ride--But not in the rain?

"How you doin'?", I asked my wife Monique.

"My legs hurt, but I feel great," she replied.

"Me too," I said. "Only a handful of us believe it's possible to get it done."

"I don't mind being part of the handful really," she said. "But riding in rain, I just can't do it. Too dangerous." Pause. "No way I'm goin' out in the rain. You can't make me," she continued. Then an afterthought, "Impossible."

Today she rode in the rain.

The posts are few and far between--I'm off on the nearly 500 mile bicycle ride across Iowa this week. Sounds kinda crazy, I know. People have called me crazy for years and I figured it was time to walk the talk. However, one gentleman is roller blading across Iowa, another is riding his Unicycle. One woman is riding with one wooden leg and another with only one arm. An 81 year old man is riding this week with only one gear, my wife rode in the rain, and the rest of us are riding with one big pile of guts, fear, pain, joy, pride and satisfaction. One man, Wes, rode the first three days...the first after discovering his nephew was killed in a motorcycle accident. He leaves for the funeral tomorrow morning. We've all got stories. Between my wife and I, we've popped two tires and broke a spoke. In all that I've told my story at least once already, and to a perfectly random stranger who overheard a conversation.

We're all a little crazy I suppose. But I'm off on another day of doing the impossible and that feels quite normal. All the days are them that the Lord has made and the lot of us wake up to see as much of it as possible.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Good To See You Today God


It’s good to see you today God.

You’re never one day older. You never change I know that.

But you seem different to me today.

Probably because you spared us from disaster yesterday.

You’ve done that before.

It’s good to see you in the sun today God.

You awoke my bride again and I can never repay you for such a gift.

You always do that.

Your gifts are miraculous.

There was so much water yesterday.

Dryness marks the ground today and the skies have changed color.

The heavens do declare your mighty works don’t they?

It’s Summer here and it’s a different Summer than was the last.

But I counted on it being Summer today.

I felt the spine of winter last

even as I soaked in every photo you arranged for us God.

We prefer Spring, Summer and Fall,

But we’re glad you were with us in winter.

It’s good to see you today God.

It’s cooler today and less humid.

I’m glad to see you today God.

Your Word spoke to me this morning God as it so often has.

And it wasn’t long ago that you told me something completely new!

I was glad to see you that day.

I realized you always show me something new. You’re consistent that way.

We have paintings inside our home.

Geniuses work hard to find you there. Sometimes they get it right.

The emotions, the light, the beauty the effervescent color,

the peacefulness, the sorrow, the desperation.

We feel different about them every day.

I’m amazed that all range of glory that carries your name

stands consistent, uniform, steady, dependable, non-fluctuating.

I don’t understand that because I change my mind on a dime constantly.

You’ve consistently insisted and encourage

that we change so that on the ultimate day

we’ll get you in the most eternal, massive, unchanging worship.

I can’t wait to see you that day.

Because today it seems we hear

what we want to hear

and disregard the rest

to the wiles of strangers and temptations.

I wish we were prepared for those Lord because we’re battered.

Maybe I’ve weathered them. I don’t know for sure.

There’s a butcher around the next corner and we know he’s there.

We’ll go a different direction.

We’ll go where rocks are thrown over water

skipping along delighted by your natural laws.

How do we avoid the stones meant to harm?

We can’t always tell which ones skip

from the ones that are sharp and crass and uneven.

We’re glad to find the rock on which we stand.

It’s good to see you today God.

We’re overwhelmed by lies and delighted by jest,

but sometimes they’re the same.

I know the wages of sin but how do I know

whether or not the wages for my work are fair?

Where are wages within a grateful heart?

What payment drives the volunteer who wants nothing in return?

Your call goes out and we desire nothing except that

you would find us there and make your directions clear

because so much of our work happens without direction it seems.

Even so you’re faithfulness fills the ages. Yesterday you said you would be today.

I am your bride and you wake me up to see you every morning.

I lie with you and my fears find rest on your breast. Consistent and true.

I woke up a different man with my wife today.

I remember the day we wed as if she rose to the aisle yesterday.

I told her I loved her as I did then. A holy white lie maybe.

I love her more.

It’s like knowing you are, it’s simply something that is.

Steady. Unchanging. Beautiful. Awesome.

We cry out!

We change and it’s a bit unnerving.

Until I saw her again this morning,

understanding that things were different. Better.

Thanks for that.

I love seeing you today God.

And I’m going to love seeing you tomorrow.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Watchers

He said, "I want to be the same as Uncle Rick."

Children understand mistakes. They don't mind that their parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends make them. They hate hypocrisy, however, and I believe their little "hypo-dars" can spot hypocrisy and differentiate that from a mere mistake. Too many adult children disown their parents and very few of them are angry about their parent's mistakes. I met a man in a small group a few days ago who simply said, "He calls himself my Dad. I just can't stand the hypocrisy." I don't know really what he meant, but his bitterness seeped thickly and belied a relatively cool and simple response to a question about his family.

My Dad-in-law took his motorcycle driver's test yesterday. He didn't work it out this time and I suppose he felt a little foolish. The test isn't as easy as it looks. He said something like, "I feel a little dumb, but I loved the ride here and I loved the ride back home. I'll take the test again in a couple weeks." He has a permit y'see, so must ride with another motorcyclist until he achieves his full license. I'm that guy for the most part. I'm watching. I'm good with dad's mistakes. And his mistakes yesterday did not belie a man after God's own heart. He bore good fruit, and I was watching.

My wife's bike tire went flat on our morning ride. We were disappointed. God provided a bike shop close by, but the shop hadn't yet opened. She said, "Oh well, we'll ride this afternoon. Ride home, get the car then pick me up. I'll hang at boomer's coffee shop until you're here or until the bike shop opens."

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control--the Holy Spirit's fruit--delicious, juice-filled fruit. We rode through a construction zone, a mistake. But my bride didn't belie her fruits by hypocrisy. I was watching.

Monique shaved my head so I'll stay cooler next week when we ride the week-long bicycling event RAGBRAI. My five-year-old nephew watched in wonder as my hair fell to the ground. I could tell his proverbial light-bulb was turned on full. Monique shaved and my nephew Aaron finally said, "Auntie Monique can you do that to me and I want to look like Uncle Rick!" Aaron's hypo-dar read-out said I was safe. He wanted to be like Uncle Rick. I sat somewhat impatiently on my chair, shirt off, shorts on, hair-cut bib on. My nose itched, my neck itched and I got hair on my tongue. But Aaron's hypo-dar was clear, the young man was watching and he wanted to be like me. He wanted to look like Uncle Rick. He wanted to be my little twin. Long term, if he wants to look like me, what does that mean for him? I should want to know.

Later he sat on my lap and leaned against my chest. He turned and I felt his small hand graze over my buzzed head. He did the same to his own head, then leaned against me again.

I've made mistakes. But that day all was clear on the hypo front.

When asked why he didn't go to church, one gentleman said, "Because all Christians are hypocrites!" He's right. I've been a hypocrite. The moment I did something against God's will I hypocrited (is that a word?) God's name. I don't have to say God's name out of context to take his name in vain because the moment I disobey God's will I've taken His name and made it vain. I'm a sinner therefore I need a Savior. Some days there are blips on the children's hypo-dar. I wish that weren't true. But life on this side of eternal life is met with the same unconditional love as the other side of eternal life. I'm glad about that. But what about the blips? What about the oft heard, "He calls himself my dad..."? What about...

Open the closet, wade through your skeletons and bring out, then attach your own hypocrisy meters and wear them like a pace maker on a bad heart. Whatever is true, noble, right and pure; whatever is admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, I urge you to think about such things.

You do, and your children will be there when you're old.

They're watching.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Psalm 66: A Poetic Rendition: Black Water and Crimson by richard j.

The Sermon at church today was based on Psalm 66, a Psalm that laments God's refining and purifying fire that will eventually present me Holy and fully Sanctified. I sometimes don't understand trials and I don't even feel like smelted silver. But as the Psalm says, "I cried out to Him with my Tongue and His praise was on my tongue." This poem is my Psalm 66.

Black Water and Crimson

Sin stabbed me
And black water and crimson flow
And Satan Smiles.
I overlook a raging sea
White walls of salty teeth
And black water and crimson flow.

There are no footprints in water
Only depth and breadth and mystery.
I stand, heart clenched
And hands open
Touch these hands please!
Slippery with black water and crimson.

The salt sea stings my feet
Like grit-iron fence
With barbed wire on the underside.

Muscles ripped
Mix of black water and crimson
Eyes sty with muddy mix and grain.

I’ve never known a day
When, though my hands were
Outstretched in triumph
Swaying from tip to way
That they weren’t also
A pendulum swinging like time and death.
Like gut-shot…and black water and crimson flow.

Only the ocean and no feet
To print my way over.
I only know of two paths
On the unfettered seas,
One leavened with holiness
And the other devilish fear

I am neither holy nor timid
And I walk alone in reticent petulance.
My hands drip
With black water
And my clenched heart bleeds
Like a womb that has lost
Her first born.

Black water and crimson
They’re all I know
Even as they seep from me
Satan smiles.

To see, to walk, to swim, to conquer.
Thunder and waves against the Cliffside
Know my doubt.

But my tussle takes sides
The beautiful rebellion shall
Ne’er find my allegiance,
Nor will he see my death.

I face my God and my heart bleeds
Until all its crimson life
Is gone and in its place like an icy mantle
Is simply white...white

He called me good
And I wrestle in black water
Muscles ripped, eyes wide
Like propane and fire.

I know my demons
They find me.
And taste their detestable palate,
charred yet polished bursts of ecstasy and hell.
But mixed with terror and ill
And smelling of snake oil.

I stand undevoured
And fight for I am not thine of little faith.

I am shaken,
My feet wrent from my shoulders
And fastened to the ground
In black water and crimson…
I fight.

Even should I build a ship
That I might avoid the water's terrible lips
The sea sees and laughs
Such a small inconsequent thing
And I, even smaller.

The ship no match for the sea
And no match for thee
But what about me?
Black water and crimson
Black water and crimson.

In propane and fire
Black water and crimson
I wrench and wail and fall
But I will fight, I will tussle.
I will wrestle!

And you will break me
Though your lambs remain unfed and thirsty
Tired and naked and distressed
And bathing in black water and crimson
You will fight me.

Because not even I can snatch me from your hand.

Deeply wounded
My pain shrivels me to weary.
I will know them until I reach the gate
And the end of this side of eternal life.

To which I will lift feeble wisdom
To your Judgment and terrible light.

I will fight!
I will fight!
I will not stop until you bless me!!!

And I step onto the sea.

Black water and crimson
Black water and crimson.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Declaration

"Make all the right choices," I whispered to an infant lad vacationing in my home for a couple days while foster mom and dad were making a visit out of state. I'm not sure why I gave him the advice. I guess I'm just glad he's here. Quite a few dads blessed their children similarly in their day I'm sure. My dad asked me to preserve his good name. Another dad says, "Whatever you do, be great." I simply said, "Make the right choices." I wish we would--I wish we all would. My mistakes have probably made me what I am today--I'm still good with the blessing though--"make all the right choices"--they would also form who I could've been.

Make the right choices--It's July 5th today. I enjoyed the celebration of my country's independence. I'm a United States citizen. I'm part of the melding pot of the world. I live as part of a union that professes, ""Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." No man left behind.

Y'know, I care about fiscal responsibility, I want to pay less taxes, I want Roe v. Wade overturned and I want freedom to worship. But they do not themselves define my patriotism. I want my country's leaders to make the right choices because, beyond my political ideals, I'm simply a proud American. I'm not better than a Frenchman or a Dutchman, but I'm proud that men and women of the new Americas wanted a government and a system supporting freedoms never before realized. Find your way of life. But understand what you have. Make all the right choices--understand the nature of the blessing--Fathers fear it, but the strongest of them desire nothing else.

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence--a process that started well before July 4th, 1776. Fifty-six fathers birthed their sons wanting their best from them--"make all the right choices" I can hear them say.

"Make all the right choices." I like to think the fathers of nine who signed our Declaration of Independence and whom also fought and died from Revolutionary war wounds or hardships, gave them this blessing.

A Father had his son Carter Braxton of Virginia. Carter became a wealthy planter and trader and also signed the Declaration and soon after saw his ships swept from the seas by the opposing Revolutionary Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay debts. He died in perverse poverty.

Thomas McKean's signature rests confidently on the Declaration of Independence. Soon after he signed, he was so hounded by opposing search parties that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Make all the right choices.

Soldiers, thieves and vandals radically against this new establishment looted the properties of signers Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Declaration signer Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the opposing forces had taken over the Nelson home for their headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on his own home. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt--make all the right choices.

Opposition destroyed Declaration signer Francis Lewis's home and properties. His wife was jailed and died within a few months.

I have no idea if John Hart's father watched his son's blessing come to fruition. Opposition drove Declaration of Independence signer John Hart from his dying wife's bedside. Their 13 children fled to destinations he would never discover. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For well over one year he lived and hid in forests, caves and shadows, returning home to find his wife and children vanished. Only a few weeks later he died exhausted and broken. Signers Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

John Hancock, who's name we so often pilfer every time we encourage someone to sign on any lesser dotted line lost his home, his way of life, his friends and his possessions when Boston burned.

Would a father bless his son then if he knew the consequences of the right choices? Would fifty-six 18th century fathers have blessed their sons? Were they, in the end, proud of them?

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. Many more stories have been lived and told since then. President Abraham Lincoln urged for a more perfect Union--he was assassinated. Men in Viet Nam fought communism, favored freedom and came home to a silent country--backs turned, fires raging.

The men of the Declaration of Independence, of the Revolution and beyond were not merely petulant, wild eyed, hooligans, trouble makers and ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They were men of blessing--"make the right choices."

These men had security, wealth and power, but saw as more important the security, power and liberty for all men.

They stood proud, tall, straight, and unwavering -- and they pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

The song--our song says the morning broke and "The Flag Was Still There." Our fireworks last night were their glaring and deadly red rockets.

I attended an Independence celebration at the Iowa Capitol. The colors were presented. Many talked right through the ceremony. Our national Anthem, the song of Independence was played, and most did not sing, some talked right through that, some did not remove their hats, others gazed here and there at whatever caught their attention--where is your song? Where is your voice? Make all the right choices. The Macy's day celebration included the celebration of the exploration of the Hudson River 400 years ago. One song during the amazing fire works display compared the U.S. to a bunch of rivers heading into one ocean. The Hudson is beautiful and I am a river. But I heard little of the choices that gave them their song.

Make all the right choices I said to the young infant boy put in my charge a mere two days. I may never know the consequences of his blessing. I hope his adoptive father does. But I blessed him much like my father blessed me and I felt the fear. It felt real.

Make all the right choices.

Sing our song, our National Anthem. Many courageous and terrible choices formed the free path you tread today. Sing our song, The Star Spangled Banner. The rockets glared red and I live free. Sing the song, a song too often relegated to some superstar. Sing your anthem, a song that should be sung by the life and breath of an entire nation of the people, by the people, and for the people. I've lived too long here to allow someone else to sing it for me.