Not Always Together – But Never Alone

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Certain days have a way of falling into a special place, kept as memories, that are treasured forever. Yesterday was one of those days – filled with laughter, fellowship, brotherhood and determination.

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A week or so ago, a ride was put together to Cassoday Kansas, a small town that hosts bikers the first Sunday of the month during the riding season. The ride, suggested by my dear friend Gary Meadows, was to invite some friends to ride along with him to meet up with Soldiers For Jesus, MC – Kansas City Chapter in Cassoday. Gary has been fighting the fight with cancer, and this was his way of showing cancer the true power of the love and support he has behind him.

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I’ve ridden with Gary before. DJ, a mutual friend of ours asked if he and Gary could ride to the rally with me a few years ago, and since I was going by myself, I welcomed it. That particular trip was thrown together in what seemed like a matter of days, and not knowing Gary on a personal level, it was clear to me he is someone who’s path I should have crossed many years before. His sense of humor and his sincerity is as genuine as his laughter. DJ, Gary and I had a great time and everything about the trip was effortless. We met up with Dennis Webb and Roger Larmer at the rally which only added to the experience. Thinking about this ride always brings a smile to my face and will go down as one of my best memories riding to Sturgis.

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So as Sunday morning rolled around and the weatherman predicting favorable conditions, we gathered with Gary and his wife Charlene and Gary’s nurse Dee, who came along to offer not only moral support but also to monitor his condition for the ride. In this group that gathered, I realized the wide range of lives that can be touched by such a good guy.

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If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you would know I do some of my best thinking from the seat of my motorcycle. I knew when we pulled out of the parking lot I’d have about 100 miles or so to pull some thoughts together. Sometimes these thoughts can be a mixed bag of emotions, some are reflective, but today it was about being present. Both figuratively and literally present.

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Gary, I can only speak for myself but it was truly an honor to ride with you once again. It was inspiring to see the love and support of your fellow bikers, but also your family. I witnessed the emotions and the power of prayer in the parking lot of a Casey’s. I saw the fellowship with the SFJMC-Kansas City as they wrapped their arms around you. I felt the bond between us when we embraced, and the lump in my throat when we spoke. These things I will never forget. The lives you’ve touched goes beyond the mechanics of the motorcycle – your church family and your community are living proof of that. I know I’m a better man because this path I’m on crossed yours.

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We ride – because that’s what we do. Not always together, but never alone. 

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Greener Grass

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It’s easy to find that old road home. Sometimes it can be automatic and effortless finding your way here and other times it can be a road no one wants to travel. Why is it easy to find the road home when the road out-of-town is so difficult to locate? It can’t be those roots around your feet holding you down as so many before you have proven it possible to cut loose and make a run for it. Look around – there are plenty of family and friends who have broken free and found the escape route from their hometowns to find greener and brighter places to reside. There must be a brick for every one of those who left, making up the cobblestone four blocks of our main street. Countless bricks – a quiet reminder that it is possible to call somewhere else home.

Why is it easy to find the road home when the road out-of-town is so difficult to locate?

Not everyone wants to stay behind. The quiet of a small town can make your ears bleed, and it’s often the invisible expectations we place upon ourselves which keep the porch light on at night. Is it a fear of the unknown or the lack of confidence in myself that keeps me here? Is the grass under my feet greener than that which grows down the road? Or is it me that makes the grass greener wherever I’m standing… Great questions with answers yet to be determined.

I know for some it’s a race to get beyond the railroad tracks. Life begins when the cake is cut at the high school after-graduation party, and then it’s off to who knows where to start who knows what. We’re young and excited and we want to see what we’re capable of. We want to make our mark in this world and this small town is standing in our way! The grip of any one-horse town is no match to college, work and distant dreams and besides, who’s going to notice when I’m gone?

We go about our business of living while planting our own roots so the family we raise has a place to call home. We water the grass to keep it green thinking that’s all it takes to keep them here, only to have them hatch the same escape plan we had when it’s time to leave the nest. Some leave the small town life and come back while others leave and never look back. There are those that never leave but always wish they had and there are a few that are completely content to living their life on gravel. There is a reason the end of the rainbow is always off in the distance. That elusive pot of gold which lies at the other end is actually our family and friends who have had the courage to move away. But remember, there are always two ends to a rainbow, even though you may not always see it. Does that mean there are two pots of gold?

So whether you are running from your past, chasing fame and fortune or love, one thing is for sure – you will either be leaving the comfort of your hometown in your pursuits or you will be coming back to a porch light left on. The direction you travel is dependent upon where your grass was planted or where this rainbow ends.

Dropping Anchor in San Diego Bay

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If there is one thing I truly enjoy, it would be meeting new people. Recently while flying to San Diego California for a motorcycle dealer show (my first trip to California), I sat next to a gentleman who, quite obviously was traveling for business as well, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. In my line of work, business casual is just that – minus the business. Blue jeans, tennis shoes and a work shirt are sufficient and from the untrained eye it would appear I was just an average guy on a plane. Who am I kidding, I’m just average no matter how you dress me. As the flight took off from DFW we sat mostly silent in our seats. During the first few minutes of the flight we could over-hear two random passengers talking about airplanes, their history, books they’ve read and some museums they both have been to. What luck, I thought, that two guys from different corners of this country could find each other and have so much in common and be seated that close for the next couple of hours. I made the comment “sounds like they were made for each other” and my friend next to me said “yes, and it is very interesting to listen to.” I agreed, and now the ice was broken and our own conversation took off.

 And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle.

We talked about the usual – where are you headed, what do you do and where are you from – mixed with some smaller details of family, life and business. And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle. He oversees a national sales force with about 140 employees selling medical devices and I sell motorcycles to those who I hope will never need such medical devices. A common thread being my daughter Kelly has had the Harrington rods placed in her back from Scoliosis. He asked how, after all these years, she was doing with them, and I thought back to the days of when she was going through that. He talked of the challenges he has with his line of work, and I could fully relate.

As most conversations do, it turned to politics and family, social media and the likes, and how this world is changing right before our eyes. He spoke of his ten-year old son, Jackson, who has a great relationship with his grandmother, wants to have a little more responsibility at home, and how his two children and wife are why he does what he does. Losing time with family at home to travel to a meeting in San Diego is a sacrifice, but right now it’s what he needs to do. Work hard, and enjoy the moments you have when you get home. Originally from Texas, he said that having family nearby was great, and they still get there once a month or so to visit. I, on the other hand, have my folks right down the street and most of my family is close enough that it really isn’t that big of a deal.

A lot in common? Sure. Different? Not in a bad way. For a couple of hours I had a great conversation with someone who I could relate to. So often we sit and not say a word, when the individual sitting right next to us is so much like us, or better yet, so different from us that it will be interesting either way. The plane landed and we shook hands. I wished him well and safe travels as I would any of my closest friends, and he was gone. I would like to think in this great big world, that I left an impression on him. We often move about our day and don’t realize the impact we might have on someone, and he had an impact on me. I learned something about the business he is in and I would like to think he got off the plane and thought the same about me. I wonder if he noticed the mark around my ankle where the boat anchor used to be.

Our Town

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Our town can be anywhere, and the boundaries of a zip code are no match when it comes to who we are as a community or where we end up as an individual. People come and go and even as the distance becomes greater to those who chose to explore the horizons that surround our town, they are still in some small way connected by friends, family or memories. Our town is wherever we make it and as life and surroundings change we often stay the same. We can throw ourselves into the world but if there is just a bit of small town in you, it is carried wherever you go. It’s an impact we have on those who haven’t been to our town and we wear it well. We may disguise it on the surface, but at some point our town will come up in conversation and only then will they understand who we are.

We can always return, but mostly we never left. If our town was just a little closer to where we ended up, it wouldn’t be the same. There is a threshold that is called distance, and once it’s crossed our memories become clearer and reflections become necessary. Our town is who we are no matter where we are and it shows in the foundation built by the people of every community. Is it that our town is getting older, or is it me? It was here long before me, and it will be here long after I’m gone. So leaving those imaginary boundaries of our town should be easy. For some it is, and for others, well, it is not. Someday.

There are those that only lived in our town a short while, and we hope that their experience will go with them in a positive way. For it is those few that will look back with a greater opinion of what our town is really like. Family, friends and neighbors all have that deep connection, and we see our town from a different light, but those whose roots are short should experience it in only a positive way. After all, those who left our town have also experienced a new and different community and all it has to offer. We only want the best for those who left and should welcome all that come. That’s just part of the foundation of our town.

The Storms of Life

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He watches over me, leading the way when the storms of life are coming. When there is no way around it and the only option is to put my head down and plow through it, He is there. I will not travel through this alone because He is leading the way, guiding me and protecting me from whatever this storm will bring. I do not have the strength to go it alone and He makes sure I do not have to face troubled times and stormy weather without Him. He gives me direction when I’m lost, and tells me when I should face the storm and when I should go around it. I trust Him.

When the dark clouds are approaching, our first instinct is to avoid them. We worry what might happen and wonder how we can get around it, because we get so caught up in what might happen we forget to have faith. The darkness and power of what’s coming makes us forget to appreciate the beauty in it. It is the experiences in our lives that made us who we are and we must remember that we will not go it alone. No matter how hard or bad it is, it too will end and a brand new beautiful day will dawn, giving us a better understanding of not only who we are but what we can handle. It always surprises me in how much we can handle.

When you are heading down that road in your life and you see a storm fast approaching, take a moment to look around and see who is going to ride it out with you. We hope that our friends and family will be there for us, and they will. But see who is leading, guiding and protecting you when it’s about to hit. It’s not always obvious, sometimes you have to look around for signs of His presence to see it for yourself.

My ride to work always gives me time to think about the day, week or life in general. As if I’m in some sort of meditative state, I can reflect on things and take a few minutes to figure it all out and put it into perspective. We all know our lives, as predictive as they may seem, are really unpredictable. It is this mind-clearing experience of riding to work where I do my best thinking because I’m alone with my thoughts and distractions are minimal. Sometimes it’s the obvious that we are quick to miss. I took this picture of the storm in the horizon unaware of the shadow being cast on the road before me. It may seem random to some and it may not even mean anything to others, but to me it was God telling me things were going to be alright. It is the open mind and open heart that hears the answers to questions we have, and today that question was answered.