Life’s Ups and Downs

Ups and DownsGosh, it seems like my biking friends and I are making good progress getting, but I feel an emptiness. I don’t know if it’s because I was outvoted about not staying in Hurricane and Apple Valley, Utah, or if I’m just feeling road fatigue. My mind thinks back when it was just me. I went as far as I felt like going, stopping where my heart felt content.

Now, I have these great people helping me achieve my goal, but as with anything when more than one is involved you have a difference of opinion. I didn’t feel like I’d expressed my discontent with traveling the forty-three miles to Colorado City, Arizona, but they all seem to be leaving me alone. And as with any bad day one has, I’ve put them in a lose/lose situation. If they rode close to me and tried to have a conversation, I’d probably tell them I needed my space. But they’ve already figured that out and have given me my space. I don’t like it.

Could I grow up some and simply ride up with them and start a conversation? Yes. Will I do that? Probably not today. I need the time to get in touch with myself, with God, and with all that surrounds me. I need to make sure I know how lucky I am to have these fine people watching over me, giving me a place to sleep, never asking for money for room and board, but just being good-hearted people. I need to look at the beauty that surrounds me and thank God for all He’s given me. And I need to give myself a quick kick in the behind and tell myself to get out of my funk. Life is too good to waste on such petty occurrences.

As we approach Colorado City, Arizona, my heart lightens. Carol slows up enough to say, “Hey, I know you were wanting to stay at those towns. I’m sorry we didn’t, but I’m glad to have those miles behind us.”

“I’m OK, Carol. I’m glad to be here in Arizona. I’ve spent way too much time on this trip already. It’s time to get some serious mileage behind me.”

“Well, we’ve decided that you get to pick the next town we’ll be staying in.”

I laugh, knowing Tuba City, Arizona is the next town, and that was 190 miles from here with not much in between. It was then I realized how important it was for me to be with my blessed friends. At least we’d have the fifth-wheel to stay in even if it were on some country road in the middle of nowhere. My heart lightened, and I gave Carol a hug and said, “We are a team. I choose to do what’s best for the team.”

That evening, after thanking my friends for taking such good care of me, I crawled into bed and thanked my Lord for ALL He has given me.

And in my real world, my ups and down came yesterday when I had to have my fifteen-year old sheltie euthanized. It wasn’t a hard decision for me, for I knew he was sick beyond repair. And that became evident when the first shot that simply relaxes them almost took him out. He was not only sick, but he was tired and old. His life had come to an end.

I mourned my dear friend, but awoke this morning knowing his misery was gone. He’s probably going around heaven right now telling all the other dogs that there are rules to rules to be followed. His cousin, Zu, is probably creating the rules as any good German shepherd does, but Sparky is ensuring that all the other dogs are obeying those rules.

And I know I’ll now have the time to focus on my needy Irish setter, Vanna. She loved her “mommy time” last night. She’ll be having her ups and downs, too, as she morphs into being the one and only, but once she figures out she is the queen bee, she’ll have a perfect life.

So when you are facing the ups and downs of everyday life, know that you aren’t the lonesome stranger. We have to have those down times to appreciate the good things we have that we’ve ignored. And I find it’s best to give someone you love a big hug. They’ll help you through those down times.

Peace to all of you and let’s keep going the distance.

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What Kind of Tea is This?

teaI am still soaring from my recent jump out of a plane. Never did I ever think I’d be brave enough to do something like that. But when Mac reminded me that I was brave enough to start this trip ALONE, I knew jumping out of that plane was a whole lot safer.

Now, as my biking friends and I pedal our way to St. George, Utah, I think about other things I’ve been afraid to try. I know instantly what my next adventure will be.

I ride up alongside Martha and say, “Will you and Bart be playing golf in St. George?”

“Why yes we will. We golf wherever there’s a course and whenever we can. Will you join us this time?”

“I think I will.”

“Good. Like I said, I think you’ll be great at it.”

I think to myself, “I wouldn’t count on that, but I at least want to give it a try.”

We get into St. George around 1:00 p.m. With all of us helping to get our camp site setup, we head to the grocery store to buy tonight’s meal. I buy the ingredients for a mock crab pasta salad, a nice accompaniment for burgers.

While I make my salad in the fifth-wheel, Carol offers me an iced tea. I’m ready to tell her I’m not much of a tea drinker, but decide this might be another thing I could learn to enjoy. I accept her offer and take a sip. It is unbelievably good, no bitter taste yet not overly sweet.

“OK Carol, what’s your secret. I don’t usually like tea, but this is really good,” I say.

She smiles and says, “I infuse fresh citrus while I’m steeping it. It adds the sugar and somehow cuts the bitterness. It’s an old family tradition.”

“Well,” I say, “it’s a keeper.”

My salad is a hit that night, but my mind continues to wonder how well I’ll do on the links tomorrow. I doze off, dreaming about that hole in one.

The next day, all of us head to the golf course. Bart gets me setup with clubs that fit my height. Then he gives me a quick lesson on what clubs to use and why.

I think, “This isn’t so hard. Why did I fear playing golf so much?”

I tee up my first shot. Using the information Bart gave me, I pick a 5 wood and set my stance for my first swing. I raise my club behind me with the confidence of Tiger Woods. My arm comes down, my eyes look towards where I want the ball to go and BAM! A big chunk of sod goes flying leaving my lonely ball sitting on the tee.

Bart says, “You do know what you did wrong?”

I think back to what he had told me earlier. I chose the right wood, I stood with my feet apart, I swung the club back behind my head bringing it back around at the same arc and…

“Um, I took my eyes off the ball.”

Smiling, Bart says, “Correct. Now let’s try it again so we can finish this game and get back to camp for more of Carol’s fine tea.”

I wonder if he truly means iced tea or if he’s referring to the iced tea we used to drink on vacations years ago. That tea was a little more adult-beverage than Carol’s tea.

I set my feet again, swing the club back, and bring it back around while keeping my eye on the ball. WHACK! The ball goes soaring. I lose track of it, but Bart doesn’t.

“Good golly, woman. I think you’re going to get a hole in one!”

He was right. There was my ball landing on the green just past the hole. It started rolling back towards the hole as we stood there watching it roll ever so slowly. PLUMP! I’d done it. My first hole in one. Of course, it was my last hole in one and the rest of the round was pretty sorrowful. I ended up scoring a 110. Bart tried to tell me that was a good beginner’s score. I knew differently, but I didn’t care. I had tried another thing that I had avoided for years.

Much to Martha’s surprise, I didn’t enjoy golfing as much as she did. “I like walking the course with you guys, but I just don’t think gold is my forte.”

That evening, Bart answered my silent question about what sort of tea he was referring to. His drink of choice that night was Long Island Ice Tea. I went to bed knowing that God had given me these fine friends to help me come out of my shell even more than I already had.

And in my real life, like skydiving, golf has intrigued me, but I doubt I’d ever get that hole in one. And to end with a score of 110 would seem fabulous to me. I’m quite sure golfers behind us would be wishing I’d just leave the course. So I don’t see myself taking up golf any time soon.

I do remember my mom learning to golf with my dad. They went to the local golf course and my mom did get a hole in one on her first swing. They enjoyed the time together, got to know some of the other golfers, but eventually the golf green fees became too much on Dad’s meager salary. They found other hobbies to do together, like fishing, that not only was cheaper but could provide food for their family.

More importantly, my parents realized the importance of doing things as a couple. I’ve known a lot of married women over the years who complain about their husbands being football junkies. Many a Monday morning at work was filled with complaints from these women that their husbands sat in front of the TV all weekend watching football. I asked one of them why that angered her so much. Her comment was, “Because he wasted the whole weekend when he should have been with me.”

“Did he not allow you to be in the room with him?” I asked.

“No, he actually did ask me to sit with him, but I hate football.”

“So did he force you to sit with him then?”

“No, I went in my sewing room and made curtains for the house.”

“So you were doing what you wanted and he did what he wanted, correct?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point.”

“So what is the point, that he needs to do everything your way?”

She had no answer for me. I do realize that guys can sometimes spend a little too much time watching their favorite sport on TV, but if a woman would realize this is their chance to be with their guy for hours, she’d be rewarded in ways she probably couldn’t even imagine.

I’ve learned to love baseball, a sport I despised for most of my life. Now I can’t wait for baseball season to start. It’s no longer a dreaded season that lasts way too long. Now it’s not long enough for me.

How you look at something determines whether you’re going to enjoy it. If you look at being with your guy all weekend watching sports and eating good food a waste of your time, then it will be. But don’t condemn him for doing what comes natural to a man. Go off and do what you want to do like my co-worker sewing those curtains. Granted, she was mad at her husband, but when I pointed out that he allowed her to do exactly what she wanted to do while he watched football, she softened. She lives in Texas now. I can’t imagine her not being a Cowboy fan.

So try looking at all the different ways one can view a situation. You can see a glass of tea as something bitter, you can see it as something refreshing, or you can see it as that drink that could put you under the table if you drink too many of them. Life is what you want to make it. The choice is yours. God bless, and let’s keep going the distance.

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Soaring With the Birds

eagleWith eighty-six miles ahead of us, I say a quick prayer that we have good weather and good roads. God, being the loving person He is, answers my prayers in ways I could never imagine. The sky is cloudless and a perfect sky-blue. Of course it’s perfect, it’s from God.

I see an eagle flying to places unknown. I imagine what it would be like to soar with the birds. The beauty of those outstretched wings that look like they could be four to five feet across from tip to tip, mesmerizes me so much that I almost run into Carol’s bike.

“Hey, where exactly have you been?” Carol says with a smile.

“Um, I guess I was thinking about what it would be like to soar with that eagle. Then I wondered where it was flying to.”

“Well, you may get that wish. Mac and I were just saying we’d like to go skydiving when we get to Mesquite. Do you want to go with us?”

Panic overtakes me. My mouth drops open as I say, “Are you nuts? Jumping out of a plane and hoping the chute opens is not something I care to do.”

Mac laughs heartily and says, “C’mon Wonder Woman. You set out of a trip like this ALONE, but doing a little tandem jump out of a plane scares you?”

“Wonder Woman?” I ask.

Carol laughs and says, “That’s what Mac’s been calling you for the last one hundred miles.”

Mac says, “What do you say, Wonder Woman. Are you going to let a little jump get the better of you?”

Mac seems to know just how to get me over my fears. I succumb to his enthusiasm and agree to at least go with them. My thought was, “If it sounds too iffy, I can back out then.”

It takes us two days of biking to get to Mesquite. Bart, Martha, Pete, and Faith all want to do some golfing. Bart is a huge golfing fanatic. Martha shares she used to be a golf-widow.

“Then I decided to quit complaining and join my husband. I immediately fell in love with the game. You should try it, Betsy. I think you’d be good at it.”

Shaking my head, I say, “Ah, but Carol and Mac have other plans for me today.”

“Oh?” Martha asks quizzically.

Proudly, I say, “Yes, we’re going skydiving.”

“WHAT!” they all chime in.

“Yes,” Carol says, “Mac and I have always wanted to try it. At one of our stops, Betsy talked about what it would be like to soar with the birds, and now the three of us will see what that’s like.”

Bart says, “I doubt it will be anything like soaring with the birds. Birds don’t drop like rocks from the sky.”

Martha rolls her eyes and grabs her clubs from the garage of the fifth-wheel. “C’mon Tiger, let’s get moving.”

The golfers gather their gear and head off to the various golf courses in the area. Carol, Mac and I walk Dolly before heading to Skydive Mesquite. Mac had pre-paid for Carol and him. I was ready to say I couldn’t afford it when I see Mac paying for me. I knew it was time I face this fear of heights.

We are given jumpsuits to get into. Then we are hooked up with the tandem gear needed for the jump. After an informative instructional brief by a tandem master, we head to the plane. My tandem master assures me that everything will be fine.

My breathing becomes labored. I fear I’ll faint, or worse, puke. I think, “If I puke, won’t it fly up before it falls?”

My tandem master must read minds fore he says, “Don’t worry, I’ve only been puked on once.”

We are at 13,000 feet. It’s time for the jump. Mac and his tandem master go first. I’m amazed that he has such courage to jump without fear. Carol is next. I can tell she’s a little nervous for she hesitates briefly until her tandem master says, “It’s now or never.”

Carol gives him a thumbs up and out the plane they go. I look at my tandem master who gives me the warmest smile.

“Hey, if you really don’t want to do this, no prob. You wouldn’t be my first to back out at this height. But I have to say, you’ll experience nothing like it the rest of your life.”

I think about that eagle again and decide I want to see the world from his perspective. We hook up and before I can change my mind we are free-falling. I don’t remember much about the free-fall. It all went so fast. I couldn’t see anything because it was all just a blur. And then the chute opens up. We are initially pulled up as the wind catches the chute.

I think, “Dear God, please don’t let these straps break.”

And then we begin our descent back to earth. My tandem master points out various things. I’m in awe of the beauty surrounding me. I, again, think of that eagle and smile knowing that God has allowed me to have a quick glimpse of what our winged creatures see every day.

Our landing is a bit rough, but I’m still in one piece. My tandem master unhooks us and asks, “So how was it for you?”

I give him a big hug and say, “Thank you so much. I felt like an eagle soaring through the sky.”

He smiles then begins to gather the chute. A jeep picks us up and takes us back to the building. Mac talks non-stop how he’d like to do a solo jump.

Carol informs him that will NOT be happening ending the conversation with, “We did it. It was fun, but we must get back to our middle-age life.”

That night, we all share tales of what we did in Mesquite. I knew Mesquite would now hold a special place in my life, for it was here where I soared with the birds.

And in my real life, I must admit skydiving has never been something I ever thought about doing. I don’t think there is a soul on earth who could convince me to try it. I’ve heard it’s exhilarating and freeing, but I’m not about to find out. I’ll simply take your word and will continue believing that if God wanted me to jump out of a plane, He would have given me wings.
To all of you out there who have been brave enough to try skydiving, I applaud you. You’re a braver person then I’ll ever be. I can’t even be as brave as my alter ego by taking a state-by-state bike trip. I prefer to ride my miles in the comfort of my home. Thank you very much.

So as we go through life soaring like an eagle or sitting on a stationary bike, let’s continue to go the distance. God bless you all.

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Some Things Will Not Stay in Vegas

VegasMy heart is racing as we near Las Vegas. Traffic increases and it becomes evident that bicyclers are not a welcome sight on these highways. Bart pulls over to the side of the highway and puts his flashers on. I think, “What’s going on?” I soon discover the answer to my question.

A state patrol car siren blares right behind us. The officer asks us to pull over. We ride up behind Bart’s truck. Bart is already standing outside with his driver’s license, insurance card, and vehicle registration in hand. The officer gets out of his vehicle and approaches.

He says, “You can’t ride your bikes on this road. It’s illegal.”

We look at each other in total amazement that we had not thought about this before now.

Pete quickly says, “We are so sorry, officer. We didn’t know.”

“Well, you’ll need to get off this road now.”

Bart walks over and says, “We’ll load the bikes into my rig. These guys can ride in the truck with me.”

The officer looks at Bart’s truck then back at us. I can see he’s counting bodies and available seats in Bart’s truck. “You realize you have too many people for the number of seats in that truck.”

“Yes,” Bart says, “One rider will need to ride in the fifth wheel.” The officer is ready to challenge this notion as Bart continues. “If you want to check, it’s legal for passengers to ride in a fifth wheel because of the way it’s attached to the truck.”

The officer is not buying it. He says, “I will not allow you to do that, legal or not. One of you will have to ride with me.”

Since I am sort of the outsider, I volunteer. Carol wants Mac to take my place, but I insist. She pulls me aside and says, “Bets, let Mac ride with the officer. You shouldn’t be alone with this stranger.”

I laughed and said, “Carol, he’s a cop. He’s supposed to protect us.”

She gives me her best “mom” look, which tells me I need to concede.

After the bikes are put in the garage area of Bart’s fifth wheel, Mac heads to the patrol car, and the rest of us climb into Bart’s truck. Dolly is none too happy having to lay on the floor by our feet. How dare us for taking her comfortable seat. Dolly gives a huff making sure we knew she was disgusted.

Faith tells Dolly, “Oh hush, Dolly. You are not the princess you think you are.”

Dolly obediently lays her head down.

We make it to the Desert Eagle RV Park and help Bart and Martha get their rig setup. The officer hangs out with us for a few minutes, asking each of us where we came from. He was amazed that I had managed to ride from Aspen, Colorado, to Las Vegas taking that northern route out of Colorado.

“Young lady,” the officer says, “You are doing this ride alone?”

Before answering his question, I have to laugh at the absurdity of him calling me a young lady. I am probably older than his own mother, but I politely answer, “Yes. I know the perils of riding alone, but I’m not really alone. I have God with me.”

I can tell the officer is not pleased with me. I think, “Lighten up, mister. You are way too young to be so negative.” But I guess being a cop probably quickly ages a person. He says, “Will you be traveling with these fine people from now on?”

I look at my friends and say, “I’m not sure.”

Carol pipes up, saying, “We’ll make sure she gets to her destination, sir.”

That seems to please the officer, and he leaves. Once he’s gone, I ask, “I know you all want to stay here a while and do some gambling. I’m sort of wanting to get moving on, so maybe this is where we need to part ways.”

Carol, emphatically says, “We will NOT be allowing you to travel alone anymore. Sorry, but you are stuck with us.”

I want to protest but realize I have no backers. All of them are shaking their heads and saying, “You left time clocks back in Aspen.” They were right. Besides, I already knew how dangerous it is for a single person to travel via bicycle alone. I accepted the gift God gave me, knowing He was telling me to stay with them. Besides, I liked sleeping on their couch instead of the hard ground, and meals were a lot better when a group of us were preparing them.

We head off to the casinos. I’m not much of a gambler, but I certainly had fun people-watching. Martha and Bart weren’t much into gambling either, at least not this day. We positioned ourselves in comfy chairs by the entrance and watched the array of people walk by. There were businessmen, families, newlyweds (I won’t tell you how I know they were newlyweds. Some things do need to stay in Vegas), and a lot of people simply looking for a good time. It pains me to watch this married man take his wedding ring off and slip it into his shirt pocket. He is trolling now, looking for a good time. I say a silent prayer that he realizes his good time is back at home where his family is. God must be close by today, because the man gets a cell call just as a scantily clad woman approaches him. A smile comes on his face and I see him mouth, “Hi, sweetie. How’s Daddy’s little girl?” The woman does an about-face leaving the man alone with his daughter’s sweet voice. I said a quick “thank you” to God for being so timely with His ever-present help and guidance.

My gambling friends don’t fare as well. Mac loses five hundred dollars in blackjack, Carol loses fifty dollars at the slots, and Pete and Faith break even. I believe the man and his daughter are the big winners in Vegas today. As we leave the casino, I overhear him talking to his wife, at least I’m assuming it’s his wife, as he says he’s on his way home, that he loves her very much, and that he’d never miss a play his daughter was in. I wonder what prompted this man to get that close to the edge of infidelity, but I’m over-joyed he chooses to not stay in Vegas.
We head back to the RV park after Bart treats us all to a fabulous dinner at Emeril’s at the MGM Grand. What a treat that was. Mac states he’s in no mood to lose any more money in Vegas. He suggests we all head out on the road tomorrow morning stating, “Some things just don’t need to stay in Vegas.”

Carol says, “Yeah, like our money.”

I’m glad to be able to move on. Vegas is nice, but certainly not a place I want to spend a great deal of time. And the road was calling out to me. I fall asleep that night grateful of all of God’s blessings. He certainly knows how to keep us moving down His straight and narrow path. Thank you, God.

And in my real world, my only experience in a gambling town was when my sister, brother-in-law, and I drove out to California and stayed in Reno, Nevada, for a night. I was shocked at how many elderly people sat at slots, plunking in their coins, hoping for the big payoff. Some were in tattered pajamas, others had unkempt hair that looked like it hadn’t seen a brush or even shampoo in years, and a few actually looked lost. I felt so bad for them for they were sucked into the notion that one could get rich quick. For most of us, that just doesn’t happen. Most of us, when gambling, are simply handing over are hard-earned money to the person with all the false promises.

If you gamble for the fun of it, and I mean taking a set amount of money you are willing to part with, to go have fun with friends and family then there’s nothing wrong with gambling. But if you go with the rent money, grocery money, or even your kid’s lunch money, then you need help. Do some spiritual soul-searching for better answers on how to stretch your income.
The very definition of gambling is taking a risky action in hopes of a desired result. If you want to do something risky, try having faith. So as we continue on our path in life, leave behind the transgressions you have had and move forward with God. And as always, let’s keep going the distance. Peace, my friends.

Just a side note here: My first novel, “Going the Distance” has now been published. The book follows the same path I’m following on this blog, but the story is much different. Follow Martha and Jake as they travel from Aspen, Colorado, to Lincoln City, Oregon. Feel their emotions as they learn about each other and life along the way. You can purchase it from Amazon at this link http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500552607. Thanks, and let’s keep going the distance.

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Total Strangers

total strangers
I’d love to tell you all that my ride was easy since leaving Hawthorne, Nevada, but that would be a lie. The temperatures feel like 150 degrees. My friends and I have been stopping a lot to hydrate and just trying to keep from getting heat stroke.

At one point, none of us was okay to ride on, but we were lucky enough to find a nice farmer who allowed us to stay on his property. His wife fried up a bunch of chicken and served it with mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh out-of-the-garden green beans. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. They even allowed us to use their bathroom to shower. It amazes me that total strangers could be that hospitable. I know I’m not that way. I was raised to be cautious of strangers, almost to the point of ignoring strangers. And growing up in the city, that was sound advice coming from my parents, but I doubt it’s truly the way our Lord wants us to live our lives.

I’m not saying “throw caution to the wind”, but I do think we’ve all become too self-absorbed in our own lives to even notice the needs of others. Luckily, this bike trip was teaching me to be more open to strangers. Not just those who could help me, but also those I could help.

The next day, after Bart tries to pay the farmer and his wife for their hospitality, we head back out on the road. The weather is on our side with overcast skies and cooler temperatures. We make our way to Tonopah, Nevada. We find the Tonopah Station RV Park, a small rv park that looks more like an extension to the parking lot of the casino it’s attached to, and get checked in for the evening.

That evening, a couple of the young local kids are having fun tearing through the parking lot in their souped-up cars. Carol insists Mac call the cops. He doesn’t. Instead, he, Pete, and Bart walk down to them and start talking “shop.” One can see there is an instant connection with the young men. The young men’s arms are waving as they describe all the things they had done to their cars. Hoods are popped open as each car owner points out how great their engines are. Mac, Pete, and Bart absorb it all, and then invite them to have dinner with us.

Carol and Martha are about to protest when Faith quietly says, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Carol and Martha are not pleased with their friend’s astute observation, but they accept it. We all head into the rig to make up the salads and other side dishes we’d be sharing with our dinner guests. And, as it so happens, these boys, or should I say young men, were practicing for a race they’d be in in a few weeks. The owner of the RV park knew the boys, and had agreed they could practice in his lot. My only thought about all of this was it would have been nice if the owner had let us know about this when we checked in. That way, we wouldn’t have assumed they were simply being an annoyance to weary travelers.

As the evening wears on, I am surprised at the stories these two young men have. One of them, I think he said his name was Derek, is 24 and is taking a break from college before entering med school. To look at him, you would never guess he had the desire to heal people. And to watch him drive that car, one would think he was on a death mission. But Derek was passionate about healing people. We shared our story about the man who died in Hawthorne, Nevada. This story had Derek’s undivided attention. I could tell he was going to make a great doctor with a great bedside manner. The other lad, Mike, (I remember his name because it’s the same as my nephew’s), just turned 23. His father had been killed in Viet Nam. Mike is the youngest of six kids.

He laughs and says, “Yeah, I was sort of an oops, but my mom is sure glad she had me since I’m the only one who hung around here. She depends on me a lot.”

I silently think, “Yeah, I know how that feels.”

My mind wanders off to the moment in my life when my mother had told me I was her oops. I’m not the youngest, but I was unexpected. Yet I was the one who was there for her and Dad for many years. I got some help caring for them from siblings, but there were many times that dealing with their elder years was left totally up to me. I wonder if Mike realizes what he faces in the future since his mother is a year older than me. She’s not exactly a senior yet, but she’s knocking on that door. Will their relationship remain solid or will they become strangers to each other as age pulls seniors into a sometimes silent world?

After dinner, our two young friends thanked us for our hospitality and went on their way. All of us were happy we had not remained total strangers with these two fine young men.

And as I lie in bed that night thinking about Derek and Mike, I thought, “I really have to be better about putting myself out there like Bart, Mac, and Pete did. Had they not gone over to talk friendly with Derek and Mike, we would have never met them. In fact, we probably would have spent the night worrying that they were just a couple of punks who were out to rob us blind.”

And in my real life, I don’t often have to go over to the Marian House Soup Kitchen while their guests are waiting in line, but when I do, I try to treat those I come in contact with, with the respect they deserve. Some are so introverted that you couldn’t get them to look at you if you tried, but others will smile and say “hi.” I will always acknowledge them and give them a smile back. I don’t always succeed at not assuming a total stranger could be dangerous. There are still times I find myself pulling my purse in closer to me, crossing a street to avoid a possible confrontation, or simply being like some of those introverted soup kitchen guests. But I am working at not being this way because I don’t want to meet my Maker some day and have Him say, “Betsy, do you remember the time when I was down and out and you ignored me?”

So as we go through life, try not to keep everyone we come in contact with a total stranger. Some of those strangers may play a big role in your life, an unexpected life-changing role. God bless and let’s keep going the distance.

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Choices in Life – How Many Do We Really Need?

life choicesThe weather in Nevada is starting to heat up, so it’s decided we shouldn’t push ourselves too hard. Hawthorne, Nevada, is the next town, but I fear there will be little there for us to choose from. I find that to be somewhat true once we arrive in Hawthorne, but I also discover that life doesn’t really require a lot of choices. We humans think we do, but when you stop and allow God to show you the way, the playing field becomes very small. And you discover your life is easier to handle; less decisions that need to be made.

Finding an RV park was the first easy choice for the day. After checking the ratings of the various campgrounds, it was decided the Whiskey Flats RV Park was the place for us. It rated high in reviews, had decent size pads, and the bathhouse was highly rated by previous visitors. AND they were close enough for pizza deliver, which we all decided sounded like a good P L A N, another good choice for the day. Plus it was located right off the highway we were on. One really couldn’t ask for more.

But then God must have decided that we all needed to make a few more choices in life for He gave us a big one to make. Once the fifth wheel was setup, Bart did his usual visiting with the neighbors. The ones right next to us was a young couple with two young kids. The kids were fascinated with Dolly, and took her for many walks. The poor dog probably just wanted to rest, but Faith was good about letting the kids take Dolly around the park as long as they promised to pick up after her.

The neighbors next to this couple were an elderly couple who didn’t seem to be all that friendly, but Bart managed to get both of them to come out of their rig and sit a spell with him. Oh, how Bart reminded me of my father, who was always called the camp diplomat. I have such fond memories of that man. He truly had a heart of gold.

Well, we discover that the husband had emphysema and a bad heart. I wondered why they were still full-time rving but figured that was none of my business. Bart, on the other hand, simply asked, “So why are you here? Doesn’t the dry heat exasperate your condition?”

The man’s wife said, “My husband grew up here. He wants to die here.”

I stood there in disbelief. Why would they choose to live in an RV when the man was dying? I understood him wanting to die here, but why not rent or buy a place. Then I hear her say, “This isn’t where I want to be, but I’ve chosen to give my husband his last wish. When he passes, I can simply walk away from this rig and head back to Ohio where our children live.”

Little did I know that night would be our neighbor’s last night on earth. We are awakened to sirens. The EMTs are putting our neighbor into the ambulance as we walk over to see if his wife needs any assistance.

She meekly says, “If you would be so kind as to drive me to the hospital. I’m not sure I’m up to driving right now.”

Of course, Bart’s decision to drive this woman is an easy decision to make. Martha and I tag along, just in case the woman needs a woman’s shoulder to cry on. I couldn’t believe how stoic the woman was as she watches her husband take his last breath. It almost seems like she’s happy to be rid of the burden of caring for her husband, but then she chooses to change my mind. Okay, so maybe God chose to change my mind, for what I see next is the woman gently kissing her dead husband’s forehead and whispering, “You are at peace now, Bear. No more treatments, no more surgeries, no more pain and suffering. I’ll love you forever, and I’ll see you someday down the road. Count on that.”

I thought, “This woman was living a living hell, watching her husband die a slow death. I had no right judging what was going on in her heart when she stood there watching him die. Her love for him far exceeds any love I’ve probably had for anyone, for she chose to give him his last wish.”

Then I think about how Jesus chose to honor His Father’s wishes by dying on the cross to save all of us. Would I ever have the courage to make such noble choices in life? I doubt it until we all got back to the RV park.

I give the woman a big hug and say, “If I could only learn to love just a fraction of how much you loved your husband. I’ve pretty much lead a selfish life, only thinking of me.”

The woman says, “Honey, that is an out and out lie. You have given of yourself over and over. I’ve read it in your blogs. You are giving of yourself with each person you’ve come in contact with on this noble ride you’ve chosen to take. You are doing God’s will.”

I stood there in awe of the words she spoke about me. I’d never thought of my trip as being noble, and I especially didn’t think I was doing God’s will. But when I thought about all the people I’ve met along the way, I thought that maybe God was working through me somehow.

It became obvious that we were all tired, so we headed back to catch a little more sleep before morning. And even though we were up early, our widowed neighbor was already gone. I wondered about her husband’s funeral. Had it been his choice for her to leave before he was buried? Or maybe he was to be cremated and his remains sent back to Ohio. I would never know the answers to those questions, and I knew it basically didn’t matter because those were their choices.

After a hearty breakfast, we left Hawthorne behind. I could feel God surrounding us with His loving hands. God was still directing us, guiding us, making our choices in life easier to make. Life was good.

And in my real world, me and my siblings have had to make some hard choices the past couple of weeks. My mother is suffering and dying from COPD. Because she is in the end-stages, we had to choose to put her in a nursing home where she would get better care and would be safer than living at home. This was not a choice my mother would have made for she wanted to die at home, but unfortunately, it was a choice God made for us. For whatever reason, God did not want my mother dying at home.

It has been a difficult time for my brother and his family. They are still in quite a bit of denial. My sister’s heart is heavy, knowing Mom’s time is drawing near. Me, well I’m pretty much like the woman in the above story that lost her husband. I’ve watched Mom try to recover from the loss of the only man in her life, my father, who died ten years ago. I watched as she mourned the loss of her younger brother last year. I’ve watched as her body continued to fail with each passing year.

She had made choices in life to not exercise and to rely a little too much on prescription drugs to make her aches and pains go away. Did these choices cause her to fail enough where she’ll be dying in a nursing home? I don’t know, but I do know that when she takes her last breath on earth, she will be reunited with her soul mate. No longer will she be struggling to breathe; no longer will she have to worry about money, or what her kids are up to. Her body will be healthy and vibrant again.

All of this makes me wonder what we’ll look like to our other family members should we be lucky enough to make it to heaven. Makes me think that I need to be wise about the future choices I make, so that someday I, too, will be reunited with the rest of my family.

So as we continue down life’s path, make the best choices possible for everyone, not just yourself. And let’s keep going the distance. God Bless.

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Tough Love

Tough LoveAs my new biking friends and I make our way from Carson City, Nevada, to Yerington, Nevada, I find out that Carol and Mac are Catholic, Faith and Peter just lost their dog to the same cancer that took out my Irish setter, and Bart and Martha might have to leave our group because their daughter may need help with her seventeen year-old daughter who was being a typical teenager. Okay, so maybe she was being a little more than a typical teenager, but my thoughts are, “Her parents needs to learn about tough love.”

You see, the daughter was experimenting with drugs, nothing major, so Martha tells me, but the worst part of Bryce is her defiant attitude. She seems angry all the time, hates living at home, and desperately wants to grow-up fast and move out.

I tell Martha her granddaughter sounds like a typical teenager to me. “Maybe,” I said, “all she needs are some boundaries that are enforced.” Easy for me to say, I’m not the parents dealing with an angry teenager.

Martha isn’t so sure boundaries were the solution, but she thanks me for my opinion before falling to the back of our pack. Carol rides up to me and says, “Martha’s granddaughter is a monster, but you’re right when you suggested she needs boundaries. Unfortunately, those boundaries should have been in place when she was a child. I’m afraid boundaries now would be like throwing gasoline on a bed of embers.”

I knew Carol was probably right, but I hold firm that the girl needs tough love. Bryce would be turning 18 in a month. She’d be a legal adult at that time which would allow her parents and grandparents to give her what she wants, her freedom. Then they could see if she makes it in life or fails. My guess is she’ll fail because she’s done nothing to learn about the real world. And then, if she has any smarts at all, she’ll swallow her pride and listen to her parents.

Bryce needs to learn that adults aren’t trying to mold her into what they want, but to mold her into what she’s capable of being. But then maybe Bryce’s parents are trying to mold her into what they want her to be. “If that be the case,” I think, “then Bart and Martha need to do tough love and let their children and grandchildren work it out.”

As we pedal down the highway, we notice Bart pulling off the road and getting out of his truck. Martha rides up alongside the rest of us. “Now what’s he doing?”

We keep pedaling until we meet up with him. In the ditch is a bedraggled collie. Bart is trying to coax the dog up to him, but the collie is having nothing to do with him. Faith, being the extreme dog lover she is, gets off her bike and walks right into the ditch.

Peter yells, “Faith, what are you doing? That dog may be mean.”

Faith ignores Peter and continues walking toward the collie. I can tell the dog isn’t mean by the sure look in its eyes. Faith kneels down and pets the dog’s head while the collie wags its tail. Faith carefully assesses whether the dog has any injuries but finds none. She tells Peter to get some water from the rig. Dutifully, Peter does as he’s asked while I dig in my saddle bag, pulling out a granola bar. I knew it wasn’t the best thing to feed a dog, but the poor thing looked hungry, too.

I walk down to where Faith is and let the collie sniff my hand before offering it the food I had. We discover the collie is a female. She scarfs down the food before lapping up the bowl of water Peter has brought to her.

The collie’s tag says her name is Dolly. I think, “Dolly the collie, how cute.” The tags are well worn, so it’s hard to see where this dog lives. Bart, in his infinite wisdom, has already Googled vets in Yerington.

Faith doesn’t want to take Dolly to the vets for fear they’ll know who she belongs to. Peter tells her, “Hon, you know this is exactly what we need to do.”

Faith knows he’s right and agrees to take Dolly to the vets once we get to Yerington. Bart allows Dolly to ride in the truck with him. She lies down on the back seat and instantly falls asleep. The rest of the ride to Yerington goes by quickly, although all of us were quiet for those final miles.

We check into the Greenfield Mobile Home and RV park. It’s a nice park right off the highway. Bart phones the vets to make an appointment. We’ll have to wait until Monday, which pleases Faith. She and I head to the grocery store to get some dog food and a leash. Faith also picks up a dog bed.

I say, “Why are you doing this to yourself, Faith? You know there’s a strong possibility the vets will know who Dolly belongs to and will contact the owners.”

Faith stands in faith. Back at the campground, Faith asks Carol if she could go to church with us tomorrow. That evening, Faith and I go to work brushing the mats out of Dolly. My grooming experience from my dog showing days comes in handy. Before long, Dolly is looking like she’s ready for the show ring. Dolly opts to sleep in her bed beside me, although it’s clear Dolly has bonded with Faith.

The next day, Carol, Mac, Faith, and I head off to church. Holy Family Catholic Church is an older church that serves several of the small communities in the area. It reminds me of some of those churches I attended as a child while growing up in Nebraska. The parishioners are friendly, something I didn’t expect. So often in these small towns, visitors are stared at like we have cooties, but not here. We are welcomed in such a way that almost makes a person want to stay for a while.

During the mass, I can tell Faith is praying she can keep Dolly. I simply pray that the best thing for Dolly happens. Then I pray that Bryce gets the help she needs. And finally, I pray in thanksgiving for the wonderful blessings God has bestowed on me. I can feel His blessings in my life.

When mass ends, the parishioners gather in front of the church to talk with their neighbors, just like they did in the small town my mother was from. As a kid, I hated all the kibitzing, but as an adult, I see the benefits of sharing our lives with our neighbors. And what better place to do the sharing than outside a church that recently inspired all of us.

Mac is telling a local about Dolly. The local nods and says, “That’s Tom Hadley’s collie. Tom passed away two weeks ago.”

The local explains how Dolly meant everything to Tom, and how Dolly sat outside the church howling during the funeral services.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in that church. It was heart wrenching, because Tom also meant everything to Dolly.”

Dolly was placed in a foster home awaiting adoption, but she ran away the first night. They found her lying on Tom’s grave. The family took her home again, but Dolly, once again, escaped, but this time they were unable to find her.

“I don’t know where Dolly was headed,” the local says, “but I can assure you no one in town is going to want her. She’s a difficult dog who was spoiled rotten by Tom. He fed her table scraps, never brushed the poor thing, and I’m not totally certain she ever saw the inside of a vets.”

Faith proudly says, “Well, she’s brushed now, and she’ll be seeing a vet tomorrow. She’s found her home.”

I stood there comparing Bryce with Dolly. From things Bart had said last night regarding Bryce, her parents had spoiled her, too. Now both Bryce and Dolly were trying to find their place in life. Faith knew Dolly needed some work, but she was worth it. Just like Bryce was worth it. A little tough love for both could bring them back from the brink of Hell.

The next day, Faith and I take Dolly to the vets, who give Dolly a clean bill of health. They comment on how well Dolly looks compared to when Tom had her. Contrary to what the local thought, Tom had been good about vaccinating Dolly, he just wasn’t good with her diet and grooming needs. Faith asks about keeping Dolly.

The vet says, “She’s yours if you want, although she’s always been a roamer. But she does seem to have bonded with you. Good luck to you, and thanks for being a good pet parent. We need more parents like you.”

Again, I think about Bryce’s parents. What were they doing for Bryce? Was she getting the treatment she deserved? It will be several years later before I find out that Bryce quit school, left home, got pregnant only to find out the baby’s father wanted nothing to do with his child or Bryce. Her parents had remained silent during these years, allowing Bryce to experience the life she thought she wanted. They were doing the tough love thing.

Bryce struggled to raise her daughter on her own. Because she had quit school, the higher paying jobs wouldn’t even consider her because she didn’t have a high school diploma. She and her daughter were evicted from their low-rent apartment. She had nowhere to go. It was Bryce’s tough love wake-up call. She phoned her parents who promptly told her they had never stopped being her parents, never stopped loving her, and never wanted her to have to go through all of this.

Bryce and her daughter returned home. She attended GED classes where she met the man of her dreams who accepted Bryce’s daughter as his own. Bryce continued on with her education becoming a child advocate. Funny how tough love can quickly open your eyes.

And Dolly, well, Dolly the collie spent the rest of her life with Faith and Peter. She never once tried to run away, and she lived well beyond a collie’s average age limit. I guess the love and care she received from Faith and Peter extended her life. For me, I’ll always remember that day on the highway into Yerington, Nevada, as the day I truly learned about tough love and how it can be a good thing.

And in my real world, I’m grateful my parents parented with tough love. Dad always gave us three strikes before we received our just punishment. His words weren’t idle threats. He meant every word he said, yet my parents were two of the most loving people I have ever known. Their punishments were given as loving directions to make us better people.

So as we go through life, know that tough love doesn’t represent being mean and hateful. It means what God did for all of us, “I care for you enough to give My only begotten Son.” God bless you all, and let’s keep going the distance.

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