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. 

Mental Ditch

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It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch. I can remember in my early teens, driving my ’72 Dodge Charger around town in the winter snow, looking for snow drifts to plow through. This was a great car but it didn’t do well in the snow. Those after-dark Friday nights driving around White City in the snow would often find you getting the front-end pulled into the ditch, often due to a heavy right foot and an out-of-control back-end. Right up there on the center console, next to where your cell phone would have been had we had one, was your gloves. Someone was getting out to push.

So what does this have to do with a mental ditch? I thought you would never ask. It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch of negativity. Sometimes it happens faster than we can react and we find ourselves sliding into a bad attitude or mood. Despite how we felt before it happened, it can suck you in requiring someone else to push you out. We need friends riding shotgun with us to make us understand that we are responsible for our own attitude and that we aren’t responsible for the attitudes of others. And besides, they are willing to get out and give us a push in the right direction – just like we would do for them. Literally and figuratively speaking.

But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of this mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push.

We are at this point in the year where I normally talk about riding my motorcycle and all those wonderful thoughts that roll around in this pretty little head of mine, and believe me those blogs are coming. But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of the mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push, and will gladly get out and give it all they have. After all, we have to be home by midnight.

3 Amigos

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It’s funny how we mark moments in our lives. Memories are made in the most random of ways and are usually referenced by a certain month or year in which it happened, or triggered when the friends we choose to surround ourselves will remind us of how it really was. Certain birthdays, a time of day, a street address, a highway sign and the list can go on and on. Numbers can make us do crazy things, and those lifelong friends poking and prodding each other along the way don’t help much either. Those same lifelong friends that have been through it all with you are the same ones that will be down for anything. Anything? Why not?

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If you’re fortunate to have friends like this – friends that have always been there – count your lucky stars. Usually time erodes bonds and distance will put us in places where our closest friends aren’t. But when the opportunity comes, we can make up lost time as if it were the 80’s once more. Friends are always friends no matter the length of time or the distance we are apart. These guys seem to have had the luxury of keeping distance to a minimum, wouldn’t you say? You only live once, but friends are forever.

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I recently found three guys who fit this description. Friends since they were 14 years old, they have hit the milestone of age; that magical age of 50. These three friends who live in the U.K. are planning a trip to the United States to ride US Highway 50 across this great land on Indian Motorcycles. Credit for this inspiration might have a little to do with Charley Boorman, who is known for taking life by the handlebars and living it to the fullest. This isn’t their first trip  to the U.S. for sure, but this time it will be different. They will be riding highway 50 at the tender young age of 50 years old. Traveling coast to coast with your best mates sounds like something I would love to cross off my bucket list. Mid-life crisis? Probably, but who cares? Of course timing is important, as they are due to set off on their journey in May 2016. As luck would have it, highway 50 runs just south of where I live and I’m hoping to take a day and ride with them through a part of Kansas. I’m 53 and that’s close enough for me. Anyway, mom always told me to act my age, not my shoe size. She also said if all my friends jumped off a bridge would you? Hmm.

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So please follow the 3 Amigos on twitter @ Ride50at50 to see how their #route50 adventure is going. Send them a message and wish them luck, but more importantly, if you see three friends on motorcycles acting their shoe size instead of their age, let me know!

The Age of Friends

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Just exactly when do friends become “old friends?” Every day we get a little older, but that’s not the kind of age that defines these friends of ours. It’s the difference between having friends, and having friends that have always been there in some capacity through the years. The kind that can pick up where things were left off the last time you were together, and each and every time you catch up it brings a smile to everyone’s face. You can see by the expressions on the faces of these old friends that this is real and genuine and the laughter is from the heart. We all have friends that aren’t necessarily in our lives every day, but it’s always a smile and a hug that brings those good feelings of “old friends” to us whenever we are together.

Over the years, our world evolves into routines and patterns that are hard to break. It’s those old friends that take us back to the beginning and remind us of who we are and who we have always been. And just as some things never change, they show us the friendship that we built is still capable of supporting the weight of the world that is adulthood. Conversation is effortless and humor is found in the strangest places, and a few hours can make up for years without contact. But we don’t worry, because old friends understand that catching up is part of the deal. No grudges, no ill-feelings and plenty of trust. Old friends “just know.”

Old friends are a feeling. A feeling inside us that can’t be replaced with anything else – as there is nothing that can take the place of an old friend.  Try to describe an old friend in words and it might sound like love, trust, understanding and happiness. But words can’t say it all and there is no definite description to someone this close to us as each one holds a special place near and dear in our hearts. Old friends just happen and there is no stopping it. Not everyone is an old friend to us, but everyone becomes an old friend to someone. We don’t pick and choose these special people in our lives, they are placed there. Paths cross and personalities click and it happens in an instant. And then an old friend is made – for life.

Old Friends and Home

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I can still hear the laughter from my friends as we hung out on main street in White City. Standing in front of the pool hall watching the same cars pass by, as we talked about what we should be doing or where we should be going. Back and forth, cruising the four blocks of that red brick street, making endless U-turns and unconscious waves to the cars we passed in opposite directions. That was our independence. The football field lights still shining bright after a home game and everyone is uptown hanging out, happy for a win, or bummed from a loss. We all knew each other, and growing up together in a small town was what you did. Voices still echo from those sidewalks as cars pass by, heading nowhere, waiting for the clock on the City building to let me know I was going to be late getting her home.

Those years can be looked upon as “the good times” and even though they were good times, we had no idea that the best years of our lives were yet to come. You could see all four blocks of that street and you knew that a U-turn was going to bring you right back. Those that had the courage to not turn around at the locker plant knew how it felt to return on those special occasions to find the front yard beneath their feet was still there, reassuring them they were home. Walking past the boot scraper, up those concrete steps and into the kitchen, remembering the smells that somehow still linger as the door opens to rooms full of memories. Photos are taken, hugs are given and small talk is made, then it’s back to the world that pulled them away.

I still hear the laughter of those friends, but now it’s through the words they type in texts or emails – I swear I can hear their voice in the words I read. Their smiles are the same and their laughs haven’t changed at all. Even though kids don’t turn around on the main drag in town anymore, it doesn’t mean the world stopped turning around. Friends that left still come back for graduations, weddings, reunions and funerals, so we get a quick word, a handshake or hug and then it’s goodbye…for now, only to return another day.

There are a lot of miles on that old main street, and there are a lot of miles between old friends and home. I miss those days when we were close enough to say it in person, even if it was just a two finger wave from your hand on the steering wheel. Maybe someday I’ll know what it’s like to not turn around at the locker plant.

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.

Places We Need To Be

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A bridge can be quite the silent structure. It’s there every day to make sure you get to where you’re going and doesn’t ask for anything in return. We take these strong, silent structures for granted and we assume that they will always be there, waiting for us to cross. Think about what happens to our daily routine when a bridge is out, or there is a detour because of construction or high water – it’s aggravating!

But we cross those bridges each and every day of our lives. We have expectations that every day will go smoothly and without interruption, and as we get comfortable with those expectations, the next thing you know there is a bridge out or a detour in front of us. Even though we can see where we need to be, there is a chasm in our way and without the bridge to get us there we feel that this short distance we need to travel might as well be a million miles. Sometimes those bridges can take us places we’ve never been before or bring us back to places we need to be. If there is one thing that stays the same, it would be old bridges.

What makes a bridge what it is? Sure, location is important because it is allowing us to get over something we normally would not be able to get over without it. Strength, to get us and our heavy loads across without fail is also important, so we don’t have to worry about what might happen. Classic scenery doesn’t hurt either with a nice slow-moving creek below it. I like scenery.

We all have friends in our lives that over time have become our bridges. Some strong, some silent but always there when we need help getting across that difficult point in our lives that we couldn’t get across alone. They are able to carry the weight of our burdens so we have nothing to worry about when that time comes. They also take us places we have never been before and remind us of where we came from, no matter their location and without asking anything in return.

Remember that those bridges in our lives that have been there over the years are there for a reason; some we have yet to cross and others we are afraid to cross for fear of the unknown. Many of these bridges we cross daily without a hitch and life goes on, but don’t be afraid to go places you have never been before, after all it will always bring you back to a place you need to be.

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.

 

Puzzled

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Life happens and as it does, it changes us. Daily. The morning’s ride to work is usually something that is ordinary and uneventful, but as I put my kickstand down after arriving at work, I stopped and realized I couldn’t remember the ride in. Twenty minutes had gone by and although I was coherent and aware of the ride, all I could remember was that two miles of Skiddy where the temperature dropped. The smell of cedar trees and how they reminded me of the pencils my mother would bring home from Anderson’s Lumber and Hardware where she worked part-time. I used those pencils in school and as I was leaving my teeth marks in them during Mrs. Stenstrom’s class, that smell of cedar must have stayed with me. Or was it the lead in those pencils?

I thought about a life-long friend of mine, Russ, who is moving back to Skiddy in the near future and how it would be to move your life back to where you grew up, after so many years of living in Wisconsin. Not difficult in the sense of moving your stuff, but in the emotional sense. I often think I should have taken the chance and moved outside of White City and experienced something else. Sure, the community made me who I am, but would moving have changed me? Again, life happens every day, so would it have been that big of a deal to move? Hmmm. Even so, I thought about those friends of mine that I grew up with and how some have stayed, but most have moved on. I still feel that connection with a few of them and it feels good to know that no matter where someone is in this world, we’ll always have that going for us.

The ride continued past the Skiddy Cemetery and I noticed how the sun was coming up over a bank of dark clouds in the East. The edge of the clouds filtered the sun just enough to make this particular morning look a little different. Or was it one of those life moments when I was changing. To see something in a different light might have a new meaning here. Maybe there is a scientific reason for the different light and how it affects you but I’m betting it’s more of a spiritual reason. The ride continued on, and I thought about how our lives are kind of like puzzles. The big difference here is we don’t know what the finished picture is going to be. Each piece we place in our puzzle of life changes what the picture will be and eventually the outcome, and each piece is represented by those people in our lives, our jobs, our environment, etc. A subtle change is all it takes to completely change the entire puzzle of life. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing here, it’s just the way it is. As we get about half way through our puzzle, we can start seeing the cabin by the water (or apparently a forest of cedar trees in my case) and the puzzle seems to be falling into place. Then a few more pieces are placed and you realize that this puzzle may be harder than you think. One thing is for sure; those that “fit” into our puzzle will be there to stay. A lot to think about on a twenty-minute ride. Or in this case; what ride?

So I made it to work safe and sound. In summary, science says when you ride into a valley the temperature will probably drop a few degrees. Also, someone decided cedar trees make good pencils, and you must have patience to put a puzzle together. But for twenty minutes I thought about friends that are dear to me and how we fit into each other’s lives. Friends near and far will always be friends, and some are very close to me no matter how far away they are. They are an important piece to my puzzle and without them my life wouldn’t be complete.

Thanks To My Mother

I have to give thanks for the lessons my mother taught me. As the youngest child, most would think I got everything I ever wanted and could get away with anything I ever did. Ok, so maybe that’s true. But it doesn’t take away from things I learned from my mother along the way.

She’s a pretty special gal, my mom. Looking at some old pictures of mom and dad you have to appreciate the difference in what a photograph meant to them compared to what they mean to us today. Sunday best, or jeans and t-shirts. There was usually a car in the background, standing on the steps of the house or they were at an event or going somewhere. Today, we take pictures of everything but it usually isn’t choreographed. In most of these pictures my mom stands the same way. One foot slightly in front of the other, turned a little to the side and hands together. Very feminine and elegant, she always takes a very good picture.

But there was so much to the making of Jeff Maddox than meets the eye. From an early age I picked up on little things that made me who I am today. For instance, a man always carries the heavy packages. A very simple rule I know, but valuable to say the least. It IS my responsibility after all and I do it willingly. Also, a man should always hold the door for a woman. Of course! We should hold the door for anyone, agreed? But always for a lady. Another is walking on the “street side” of a woman. As you are walking down the sidewalk, it should always be the man walking next to the curb. I’m good with that. Alright, so far I’m walking along the curb carrying the heavy packages, hands full and getting ready to hold the door…

Next, it is the man’s responsibility to pay for the meal. This too is something I agree with. And while you’re there, the woman orders first. Always. So, where are we now? Walking, carrying the heavy packages, holding the door to the restaurant and then paying for the meal. I like it so far!

But there is so much more to it than that. Watching my mother and father dancing down the aisle at Gibson’s to the elevator music playing in the store is priceless. In her eighties, she still has a sense of humor and makes me laugh. And she knows that it’s good to laugh at yourself. I’m lucky as both my mother and father have a great sense of humor.

Through the years, these little things have stayed with me. I still believe in the lessons learned, but find them harder and harder to do. Mostly, because people just aren’t used to the way it used to be. People don’t make eye contact any more and if you hold the door they seemed surprised. Things have changed, people have changed and they look at me funny when I talk about this. But it’s who I am and I’ll never change. I have my mother to thank for that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope my boys heard me when I spoke of these things. It is important to me that they uphold the gentlemen’s way. After all, it’s a dying art and as a man, we have our responsibilities. I love you mom!