Rick and Monique

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Motorcyclist's Championship Bout

The wind sucked.  We rode our relatively heavy Triumph Adventurer 900 sideways.  Monique and I felt like rolling back-slashes.  I mean, begin with this "\", then mentally draw a motorcycle and two freaked people on the seats.  That's us.

We left on Saturday morning to Omaha; a little cool maybe, but we own the gear.  We rode well and besides my somewhat chilled and pickled fingers, the world turned and we rolled.

Sunday.  Went to church on a relatively calm morning, excited about God and the prospect of riding home on a perfect day.  Leaving church however felt more like the disciple's big day on the sea of Galilee.

"This could be interesting," I said.

"Uh-huh," replied Monique, obviously working her Zen.

Hunger.  The prospect of a big family meal held our aversions at bay.

We'd had eggs, biscuits and gravy and all kinds of good coffee for breakfast.  Dinner...King Tut might've enjoyed dinner.  Ham, potatoes, cheesy broccoli, soft baked bread and coleslaw filled our stomachs, and that was before a delicious birthday cake slid gracefully down.

Couldn't ignore it anymore.  Monique geared up looks a bit like the Michelin man.  But the bike goes down and she slides across the pavement like she's on a magic carpet ride and lives to tell the story.  I love my Michelin wife.  Her jacket is actually red and black and her helmet, gray.  The rest of her is back alley black and I find that totally hot.

"This could be interesting."

"Uh Huh".

I like the back roads but interstate 80 is really a lovely ride filled with rolling hills, beautiful flats and on the best days lots of sunshine.

Sunday though... back-slash bikers, "\", ...that's us.  The wind sucked.  The gusts were even more amazing.  War-like.  I'd say it was like the entire Senior High football team testing their metal on the pip squeak.  You ever been sucker punched by a prize fighter?  Me neither, but take a ride at thirty degrees ("\") and there ya go.  Except God was the prize fighter, Rocky freakin Balboa, and I was the librarian who thought nothing of peeing in his ever lovin' shorts.

Forty-five miles.  We rode toward an exit replete with Kum-N-Go and a BP or something like that.  Monique's hand pops into view and points toward the exit.

I get that.  I wanted off.

"Holy Moly," I said.

"My body is stiff from freaking out!" is what Monique said.  "Every time I felt like I was going to be ok another titanic gust hit the bike and I'd rush back to oblivion again."

"This is soooo not my favorite ride."

We stopped every 50 miles or so tell ya the truth.  Stops are good ways to get to know the area.  You look around, breath the air, kiss the road.

Frequent stops provided much needed relief.  Even the hardened need relief.  And still...only took ten minutes to stop the shaking before we were on the road again.

Mind numbing fear doesn't hold a candle to the spirit of the contumacious adventurer.  Believe that.  We were out there.  A lot of people wouldn't be.  Still, our bodies felt more like adventuresome noodles the first 90 miles.

Tell ya something else though...we got used to it.  Sort of tells you how numb our minds were doesn't it?  Besides the interstate 80's Sunday afternoon semi-fleet, and besides the nutty college kids trying to get back to college, and besides our angled ride and the championship bout with God's windy left hook, the ride home wasn't so bad.

The trees and prairie were bending over the rolling hills.  Flocks of geese flew overhead.  The road was straight enough and I can handle the college kids.  The earth turned and the our wheels rolled.

So we tacked another motorcycle adventure underneath our belts.  There were quite a few bikes out there actually and the lot of us waved our way through.  One dude passed us riding his Harley Fatboy.  His cheeks stretched and flapped in combination with strong winds and eighty miles per hour.  I'm sure it took some effort to keep his mouth closed.  He might've easily been in the gravity machine they use to test the resilience of your average astronaut.  He wasn't though.  He and his bike leaned into a steady road and a mighty gale.  Stretched cheeks were nothing compared to the biker's smile reaching both ears.

The adventurous giants we are...some would call us adventurous jack-asses and they might be right.

But we were out there, 'nuf said.

And we were really, really....really glad to be home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The farmer's name was Jed.  A farmer named Jed, I can't write a story that perfect.  He lives outside a small town in northwest Iowa.  You can find him behind the dust and rows every Autumn.  You can find him chuggin' another red sunset and burning up another golden sunrise.  I saw him on the road one day and I know he knew me.  He gave me two fingers.  They lifted gently off the steering wheel and then he was gone.  I gave him the same sixty-mile-an-hour greeting at that exact moment.  Why two fingers?  That's how it's done, you don't need to know why.  Three fingers meant you didn't understand the vibrations felt by a Northwest Iowa farmer.  Three fingers mean you didn't get it.  The two finger wave has nothing to do with individualism or unique personalities.  They're not derived from rebellion or defiance. Two finger waves are a time honored tradition, a connection meaning, "I'm, free and I live free.  I've the strength pawns could never comprehend."  They mean they're not the citified junket waving hands and feet and head and hair chaotically if not erratically and joyfully at whomever.  Jed feels there's more power in self-control, more strength within subtleties.  Jed could probably do with a little more expression, but two fingers wield a lifetime of it.  Nothing to prove... just have to know it.

If you wave ignorantly (your entire hand, for instance), It just means you've got a lot to learn about the vibrations of an enormous and free life, and the power of two fingers. The air smells better, feels fresher and rejuvenates robustly on free land.  The dirt feels less like dust and more like potential.  It is after all the beginning of our creation.

I didn't need chores to find a red sun behind his dust.  I needed two fingers.  Jed simply trusted that I knew that my meal that day might've come by him and them.  Understand another without words.

I'm sure he does well enough, but you wouldn't know it by the rust draining from his Ford 150.  I guess maybe he should ask for help more often.  He sometimes takes on milking jobs to get by the winter.  He gets by.  And he lives free.  The motor behind the farmers rusty paradise took him through two hundred and fifty thousand and some odd miles.  Wisdom teaches that some miles aren't always clean and shiny, but you can count on them none-the-less.

Dan called me saying he fixed my motorcycle.  Thirteen days and 9 1/2 hours.  That's how long I'd been without it.  Dan beamed for me.  Really.  He did. He's a biker.  He gets it.  I felt exuberant.

My ride doesn't supply 60% of the nations GDP.  The shop gained some wealth by my misfortune, but nothing about my motorcycle feeds a hungry nation... but not everything has to.   All I did was slice the wind and I became Jed, the free man.  Freedom is the snap of an umbilical chord.  Freedom is leaving the life of childhood and finding your place.  Freedom is a clash between the heart and the heartless.  And a free man chooses to thrive and learn no matter the journey.  Freedom is the pursuit.  The air is fresher and cleaner and more robust.

Those of us on bikes breathe the rushing air, a gush of freedom.

I don't know why God trusts us enough to pound us with burdens.  It is the burden of the wise to give others all the time they need.  Many have never learned the art of leaving, of being cut.  Those who have sleep and wake up the next morning wondering where it all went and move on anyway.  Life like trucks and motorcycles vibrates underneath us and the wind splashes our faces bending the skin until it hurts. Journeymen find exhilaration from the pain and joy from life.  Vibration and wind proves life is.  Jed...his fingers are dirty, having lived in the dust from whence they came.  Dirt is where he finds his purpose and grit is where he understands a free life.  Some people get hands dirty and others write about them.  None-the-less, umbilical-less hands thrive with sin and integrity.

The road was bumpy and magnificent, and my bike purred.  Ridin' bikes is like the ultimate skinny dip.  Layered burdens tear away, and all that's left between you and God is creation and death.

I'm working on a project right now, as we speak.  I've got a long ways to go.  I suppose we all do; have a long ways to go, I mean.  The world is wide and noisy, but rumbles and vibrations and motion pare all things down to a still small voice, and fingers.

I love riding and I loved riding away from the fix-it shop.  Another biker rode toward me, hopefully not to the shop.  I suspect not.  His hand moved from the bars and dropped to his side...at the right moment one finger pointed outward toward the ground, the biker's greeting.  His one finger wave exists in a crowd of a million one finger waves and I returned the favor.  It's just a one-finger wave really.  Just saying "hi", just letting me know I'm out there.  That's what I said, he or she let's me know I'm out here.  Car drivers can be an unobservant lot.  I'm not anymore.  It's amazing how many close calls are made because the car driver can't or won't see me or my motorcycle.  Bikers just want each other to know they're seen... makes the tired vigilant feel safer, welcome.

Either way, It's another wave, the biker's code and I know it full well.  "You've come from somewhere, I get that," he said, "Take in the wind, welcome to the journey, and enjoy the road...you're a free man now."  Like understanding the voice of God, I'm challenged to listen without words.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lifeboats and Motorcycles

The Triumph Adventurer rolled down interstate 29 south, opposite the direction I needed.  She was shackled into chocks; her muscles failed.  Monique and I had never taken a long interstate run.  We were three hours in and one hour short.  She didn't give up necessarily.  She growled, but had no bite beyond 45 mph.  That was difficult for me.  As those who ride know, the road and wind might as well be vitamin C.

All that gear and no place to go.  The rider stumped and the riderless shackled.

Life gets to me that way.  I've got the tools, the gear.  I ask for one good day, then something breaks.

Many of you have heard the story of the man and the flood.  The man prayed for God to save him from the flood.  Soon a rescuer in a boat floated by and yelled for him to jump into the boat.  The home owner declined believing God would save him.  Another boat came and the same scenario.  The dire moments had arrived and the house would soon be covered by waters.  A rescuer in a helicopter flew in and attempted a rescue but the homeowner again declined, believing God would save him, even when waters rushed by.  The man drowned, and he went to Heaven.  He asked God why he wasn't saved from the flood (The theology behind the story might be debatable, but continue listening!). God said, "I sent two boats and a helicopter..."

I asked for one good day.  We've been stressed.  I called my friend who lives in Sioux City, but he was in Minneapolis vacationing.  He told me, though, to hold tight.  Five minutes later he called me back and said a truck and trailer were on their way.  My friend owns a motorcycle.  Brad petitioned another friend to hitch up his own trailer to his friends truck and go to help me out.  Chris would take my bike to Brad's house, until I returned to Sioux City on Monday, at which point we'd figure out what to do.  I waited forty minutes or so when Chris, the truck and trailer, motored in.

In the mean time my Dad suggested I call my sister and brother-in-law.  My two sisters, their families, myself and Monique and mom and dad were to spend the long holiday weekend together at Lifelight Music Festival, the largest free Christian music festival in the country I believe.  So I called them.  Turns out they were five miles past our location.  They turned around, unquestioningly agreeing to haul us and our gear to Sioux Falls with them.

We arrived at the festival site on Friday night... disappointed, frustrated, stressed and worried.

One good day, God.

We vented a few moments before some of us decided to attend one of the concerts--the group Kutless was playing and I wanted to see them.  They put on a somewhat raucous concert full of haunted lyrics and emotional music.  And yet their show was fun, energetic and uplifting.  The air was cool and the breath fresh.

The flood story relates, you see.  I got rescued.  One good day.  Two actually.  There are no Triumph dealers in Sioux City.  My dealer and service station is in Des Moines, three hours away.  Brad's a police officer and had to work Monday night at Eleven.  He and I met at his house at 4 p.m.  He and I had resolved by phone that he would take me and the bike to Des Moines that night.  Brad felt it to be the best idea out of several difficult scenarios.

And so he did.  He drove three or four hours from Minneapolis, hitched my bike to the truck and drove me three hours to Des Moines and then had to drive back to Sioux City where his job awaited him.

One good day.  The best of friends, God's providence, and miracles galore.

The hairs on my head are numbered says writer Luke, quoting Jesus himself in Luke 12.  And so this morning I learned for the millionth time how to pray.

I'm feeling tired. I didn't sleep last night, but went to my Wednesday morning men's bible study anyway.  At 2 a.m. I was sure I wasn't going to go.  But my friend Neal said that when he's up and can't sleep, he reads his bible, and finds himself at peace.  I did that this morning.  I read Psalm 73, Matthew 4, Luke 12...Neal was right, my angst lessened, and I hung out with God.

So I went this morning--a hundred men get together, have breakfast, chat and study God's word.  We call it "PIGS"--that's "Pretty Important Guy Stuff."  Pigs was pretty good.  Pastor Richard began a series on Prayer.  He said some very profound and simple things.  Like when Jesus taught us to pray saying ABBA.  Richard stopped there.  Abba.

Christians know the prayer..."hallowed be thy name..."  Christians recite the rest of the prayer solemnly and reverently, many times in respectfully toned unison.  Abba, Father.

Christians over time manipulate the prayer into this reverent,  "Thou, Thee, Yahweh" prayer.  We've filled the prayer with pharisaical rancor, denying what God always wanted--to dote on his people.

Thou's, thee's and Yahweh's" actually serves to fill us with doubt.  "God is too big, God is too fearful..."  We want to sound respectful or reverent, but our attempts at "respect" only serve to create distance between God and I and deny the words of Christ who at the pinnacle moment, revealed a God who prefers to be called, "Dad".  Instead, our prayerful words prove to those around us that God is to be feared in such a way that he is almost unapproachable.

So Jesus taught us something different.  And that difference really meant something to me this morning.  In my tired, fearful, disappointed place, were Jesus words, "Abba Father."  And what Jesus began teaching with two words--"Dear Dad..."

One of the lead singers said this weekend to a group of 100,000 people, "We are not the sum total of our choices, no.  You and I are the sum total of God's choices."  My mistakes do not turn away a doting father.  My failures only prove to teach how saved I really am.  This man said, "We are not a people here struggling to be free, we are a people free to struggle and to then have an honest conversation with God."

An honest conversation with God.  There are several contained in the bible, and I've had several in the last few days.  One good day God!  Please!  But, I'm a son leaning on my dad.  Jesus taught me about that.

And so I prayed that way this morning.

"Dear Dad, I know you love me and the hairs on my head are known.  I know, because you are my dad, that you will walk with me and even carry me when I need.  I know you will guide me past temptation.  I know that, because you crown me more gloriously than the sparrow, you will always fill me with bread.  And even if I am hungry, my heart will rejoice because your kingdom comes, and is here.  Your power is, and yet your just ways provided me with mercy and with grace.  I don't understand everything dad.  I guess I am just a kid.  But one day I shall fully know.  What I know dad, is that you are glorious, and I love you."
"One good day God." ... ... "Dad?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unconditional Love Never Needs a Reason

I've spent the half a year really speaking not only of relationships, but what it really means to commit yourselves to them. I've written about myself, my birth defect and my accomplishments. I've written about my wife, her radiance, her beauty, her generosity, her kindness and her love for me and her friends. I've written of the many amazing RAGBRAI riders and how their lives intertwine with others all week long. I've written how none are left alone on the road. I've written how some battle the forces of time by their accomplishments and how others are humbled by them. I've written how the best of men return from battle only to be vilified at home. I've written of their strength while their country turned their backs on them. I've written about how one man, forty years removed from battle, saluted my dad, a Viet Nam Vet and said, "Welcome home brother." I've written about a group of Vets that my Dad-in-law has connected with, and how, even now, their bond brings healing. Even now no man gets left behind.

I've written how it is we ought to live together. I've written that it's okay to disagree, to quarrel, to struggle. But then I told you that together you must find the way to repair each other.

I've told you what it is to love.

I tried hard to help you to view others in light of their story. I've told you that for your story to be heard, you must first listen to the story of the other. I've tried to help you magnify your joy for the triumph of others, and by your joy they will also share your triumph. I've told you to listen to instruction, to gain wisdom from rebuke and to enjoy rewards together.

the best relationships, the best friends are those that bear the joys and trials of the other. The best relationships and the best friends take us with them no matter where that is. The best relationships and the best friends don't need "permission" to take the other with them on whatever journey is being engaged. And committed relationships and the best of friends accept the baggage of the other. They're willing to lug that baggage with them, and in many cases, lug the baggage for them. The best relationships and the best friends know that baggage sometimes takes a long time to shed, walls are sometimes difficult to knock down and illnesses sometimes take forever to heal; sometimes they never heal. The best relationships and the best friends love you till the ending day and even the days after your last. The best relationships and the best of friends want to be there to watch you shed the baggage, tear the walls down, and fight the most feared battles.

The wiles and wills of mankind are often to walk alone, separate from another. You nor I need work long to prove this.

It is often the wiles of mankind to take every disconnect and to threaten, even in jest, to leave another.

It is often the wiles of mankind to spend more energy giving up, giving in, than living hopeful, faithful lives.

Even my last two stories were intended to help you discover another.

Unconditional love never looks for a reason not to love. Unconditional love never desires a reason to leave.

I won't necessarily move away from this theme, but I'm going to look for different themes now as well. Maybe you'll look back at past posts to help you find the best and most courageous of your own path.

The video below reveals a dance about one of our worst fears...breast cancer. By this dance you can find how the strength of unconditional love bridges the gap between fear and courage. It reveals how, even at the weakest points, even when the hurting wish to give up, to run away, the other will be there for them and with them. It will show you the unending strength of those with hope and the need for the truest friends when it seems there is none.

The dance will inspire you to wake up and live now. And it will inspire you to be the most amazing friend, the strongest heart, and the best of companions. The journey never ends--what matters is that you travel together.

Watch and live.