Bike MS: After the rain

Rain. Just what I didn’t want for the Bike MS: Mason-Dixon Challenge!

But it’s all good. The rain stopped. 35 miles done. $170 raised for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Random thoughts from the day:

  • Bring a small stapler the next time. Attaching the number to the bike is a colossal pain in the neck when you use the twist ties they provide. The darn thing flapped around all day!
  • I tend to start out kind of slow and improve as they day goes on … at least until a point. Doing the longer routes would have been way too much of a stretch.
  • I had to bail out on four hills. The first two were all me. I just didn’t have the engine to get up the hill. The third one was a result of a gear that didn’t quite change correctly. The fourth came after a wrong turn. As a result, I had to make a left turn and go straight up a hill. That meant I lost any momentum I had coming down the previous hill.
  • And about hills. If you know anything about Central Pennsylvania, you should expect hills, especially in the Gettysburg area. After all, any discussion of the battle includes talk about who held the high ground.
  • I passed a house that had nine cats in the front yard. Most of them looked very similar to each other. If I had a couple of cats and one of those cats had kittens to give me a total of nine cats, I know what I would have named cat number 7. If you can guess, you’re a bigger Trekkie than I’ll ever be.
  • I’m an idiot descender. I only know one speed – fast. So, of course, I was probably going too fast on some descents.
  • Somehow, I went much faster in the second two-thirds of the course. Maybe it was the idiot descending skills.
  • I also love riding in cloudy weather. I didn’t even mind that it was a bit chilly and rainy. Would that make me a classics rider if I were a professional.

One last thought that is anything but random.

Prior to riding, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought I wasn’t doing much by riding 35 miles.

That was before I crossed the finish line. There were folks sitting in lawn chairs, cheering as every rider passed by. Volunteers handed out the little medals you see in the photo at the top of the page.

Suddenly, I was a rock star. A rock star who had just completed her longest ride in more than five years … more likely closer to eight years.

So I signed up for next year …

The 35-mile route

Biking, multiple sclerosis and a progression of understanding

I was in middle school when I first heard about multiple sclerosis. It was at an assembly. The presenter was trying to convince a bunch of kids to find sponsors who would pay them to read books – money that they wouldn’t be allowed to keep! The money went to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to help people with a terrible disease that affected their central nervous system.

That was, well, a number of years ago. I remember signing up every year. Honestly, I was probably inspired more by the prize list than by any sense of compassion for people with the disease. I was also such an avid reader that people eventually stopped sponsoring me for each book read and gave me generous donations instead.

Then my aunt was diagnosed with MS.

I really don’t remember how it was diagnosed or too much about the earliest stages of the disease. As I grew up and the disease progressed, I became more and more aware of how it affected her life until, at the end, she was confined to her bed.

Then I met first one person my age, then another … and another … who were dealing with the disease. They’re mommas and wives. Single women and grandmas. One sings like an angel, but sometimes has to sit through choir practice because of the fatigue brought on by MS.

So in just 12 days, I will be riding in the Bike MS: Mason-Dixon Challenge. I haven’t decided if I will do the 30 mile ride or the 62 mile ride. I’ve been off the bike for a few years so I don’t know about my endurance.

As I raise money this time, I know multiple sclerosis better, but not as well as my cousin who took care of my aunt as the disease progressed or the women I’ve met online whose tweets reflect their frustration with flare-ups. It is for them that I ride.

Would you consider helping me reach my goal? I’m trying to raise $150. You can donate online by visiting my personal page.

If you can’t help, would you say a prayer for those with MS?

Thanks.

An act of devotion

Fork

Photo by jcarlosn on Flickr

They slowly followed the young man to the table. He walked well, but slowly. She walked slowly, but not as well with a slight tilt to her head and an arm in a permanent bend.

He smiled at them, handed them menus and helped them settle in — both of them on the same side of the table.

Curious, that. I turned my attention back to the conversation at the table. There is, after all, a delicate balance to people watching.

Their order came quickly. Two identical plates piled high with broccoli.

I feigned interest in the repeated scenes of an empty racetrack and the incessant scroll along the immense television screen mounted on the wall behind and above the elderly couple at the next table. My peripheral vision focused on the action.

An act of devotion. An act of love. An act of beauty.

He gently reached over and cut her meat. Picking up her fork, he jabbed a chunk of chicken and turned the fork, placing it in his wife’s hand so she could eat. Then, he turned to his own plate to have a bite for himself.

The process continued, their gray heads almost touching as the fork was passed back and forth in quiet conversation.

They smiled at the server when she came to deliver their bill and graciously refused dessert before they began the slow journey back out the door.

This. This is commitment.

This is devotion.

This is love.

The courage to say good-bye

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike (Photo credit: Rhys Asplundh)

This is another Five-Minute Friday post. The Gypsy Mama gives us a prompt and bloggers write for five minutes without editing or revising. This week’s prompt is “new.” Click over here to see what others have written.

I don’t have the courage to say goodbye. I can’t gather the sheer unaduterated audacity to get in my car one morning and to just keep going instead of making that turn into work, bidding farewell to the time clock and the routine.

I’d keep heading west, meeting up with another highway, finding myself climbing the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Hours later, I’d call home.

“I’m in Pittsburgh,” I’d say. “I thought I’d have a Primanti’s sandwich before I head home.”

The family would be surprised.

“What about work?,” they would ask.

“It doesn’t matter,” I’d say. “I’ve said goodbye.”

“What will you do?” they’d ask.

“I don’t know,” I’d say.

But, I’d be strengthened and exhilarated and ready to take on all challenges.

Yet I haven’t the courage to say goodbye.

A voice from the storm

I worked late tonight. It’s been a long day at the start of what promises to be a long week. I said goodnight to my coworker and flopped into the car, breathing a heavy sigh as I turned on the ignition and backed out of my parking space.

The radio was on but I wasn’t really listening. I was already thinking about what I had to do when I got home if I had any hopes of getting to bed early.

Then a word caught my attention – Afghanistan.

The man calling in to make a request was in Afghanistan and he wanted to hear a song. I’m not going to pretend to know how that happened or if the show was pre-recorded or what.

Like the DJ, I thought that I soldier charged with protecting supply lines would want to hear something a little more hardcore. Skillet? Thousand Foot Krutch?

But he asked for Casting CrownsPraise You In This Storm. It gets the guys through the day, he says. They’ve had a lot of losses recently and the song helps.

To be honest, I’ve kind of tired of the song. It seemed like every time I turned on the radio it was playing. This time was different. This time the DJ said goodbye to the soldier on the other end of the phone – the soldier half a world away fighting a war that’s gone on for a decade. This time the song became an anthem, a prayer, a whirlwind of thoughts.

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day

God, I was sure by now you would have reached down and brought these men and women home. You can do that. Bring us peace …

But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

Raining bullets and danger on soldiers who are doing their job but desperately want to see their families again …

As the thunder rolls

As the IED explodes and the crowds shout insults …

I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
“I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

So much taken away … so many friends … lost … yet you are there … and here …

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am

On an Afghani mountainside or in a too-silent house on a military base

And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

Lord, my day seems so simple, so easy when I think about what this soldier faced today. But I know you’re walking me through the mundane steps of my day just as you are guiding him through the valley of the shadow of death. I’m sorry that I forget about that. May your peace settle in our hearts tonight and may peace be realized in your creation. Amen.

To the cretin in the pick-up truck …

English: A red bike lane on the side of a high...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m compelled to write this missive to you – an unknown, faceless figure who poked his head out of the window of a pick-up truck past its prime (but not its primer.)

You were driving down a main street in town. I was safely pedaling in the bike lane.

The you made this noise. I suspect it was meant to be a shout of some sort. I’m not naive enough to think it was pleasant.

But I’m fairly certain that physics was never your strong point.

The first clue was the condition of the smoke-billowing conveyance in which you were a passenger.

The second was your blatant disregard of the effect of said smoke-billowing conveyance’s motion on your voice. Simply put, the motion of the vehicle combined with the excessive decibels at which you attempted to communicate rendered your Neanderthal musings incoherent.

Please understand that this does not mean that I need or want you to repeat your message as I suspect it is one that I have heard before from similar people who directly correlate their manhood to the loudness of their muffler.

Just remember this … someday you’ll be standing at a gas station pumping precious fuel into your guzzling gas tank while I ride by thinking of all the money I am saving and the calories I am burning.

Maybe I’ll slow down and shout something at you.

Don’t worry. I’ll speak slowly so you can understand.

Coughing, aching, sneezing, revealing glory

Just then, a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

— Matthew 9:20-23

I say this not to be arrogant, but as a simple statement of an observation I have made over the course of …. well, let’s just say my lifetime and not worry too much about how many years that may be. That is that it takes a pretty serious illness to make me stop what I am doing or plan to do. Stuffy nose, nasty cough, chest congestion — you know, stereotypical winter cold symptoms — do little to slow me down. Migraines can do it, but only if its not a particularly busy day at work. If it is, I go to work and head home when the absolute necessities are finished.

But, when I do get sick, look out! The last time I was for real sick — pukey, tired, achey, stuffy, the works — I admit that the only time I wasn’t whining about feeling like crap was when I was asleep. Fortunately for everyone around me, I was asleep most of the time.

Knowing how I react to a real sickness makes me admire the woman in the Scripture passage above all the more. She put up with her illness for twelve long years. It was an illness that carried a stigma for in the Jewish culture an illness that involved bleeding would have made her ‘unclean’ and prohibited her from temple activities and required those around her to treat her differently.

More inspiring than her endurance, however, is the sheer faith she held in the healing power of Jesus. She believed that he didn’t have to turn. He didn’t have to look at her. He didn’t even have to touch her. All she would have to do is get close enough to him to reach out to him and touch the hem of his robe.

When we’re sick, we have it a little easier. We don’t have to fight through a crowd. Jesus is as near as a prayer. We don’t reach out physically, we reach out with a request for healing. We ask knowing that Jesus has the power to heal us, but acknowledging that not our will but his is to be done even in the midst of our illness.

And, in all things, we ask that God may be glorified, even in our sickness.

Two voices, 1500 miles apart

Powerful new element this year...Photo by Erin at Home with the Boys on the Relevant Flickr stream.

Galveston, Texas • 13 October 2011

Mary is praying with me, for me. Her prayers are animated – energetic even. In the middle of a sentence, she pauses as if looking for the right word then sits bolt upright.

“I’m thinking of a verse,” she says, reaching for her Bible.

“Wait!” she exclaims, twisting around in her chair. “That’s it.”

She points to the banner hanging in the prayer room. The simple, beautiful banner read, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Mary said she saw the word “seek” in big, bold letters. Maybe in red or in a different font.

Just that quick she bowed her head again and returned to prayer.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania • 29 October 2011

I’m surprised the line isn’t longer. Renee Swope was giving away free copies of her book, A Confident Heart, and signing them. I’m kind of lost in thought as I approach the table.

Renee looks at my name tag. In great, swooping letters, she writes first my name, then hers on the title page of her book. Then, she pauses, holds her pen up in a thoughtful pose.

“There’s a verse,” she says more to herself than to me.

Then, in the same great, swooping letters, she wrote, “Jer. 29:11-13.”

At home • 7 November 2011

Maybe Mary had seen that verse all day so it was on her mind.

Maybe Renee wrote that verse in everyone’s book.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that Mary and Renee – two women who don’t know each other, separated by 1500 miles and two weeks – came up with the same verse to share with me.

Maybe.

But I know our God works differently.

There are no coincidences for a sovereign God so there’s clearly a message for me in these verses.

Seek me.

Seek me.

… when you search for Me with all your heart.

This is where the blog post should come together with a stunning revelation.

But it won’t. it can’t.

I can’t share what I haven’t unraveled.

But I can invite you to follow the unravelling …