September 23, 2012:
I’ve often heard it said that it’s about the journey, not the destination, that counts. I’ve also heard that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step (or in this case, pedal). Keeping the two of those tidbits of wisdom in mind, I knew from the get go that God would be speaking, teaching, growing, and amazing long before the completion of our 365 miles. My portion of the story began about a year ago, when a group of men from World Relief biked across the U.S. to raise awareness and fundraise for peace in the Congo. I was riveted with each daily email that the team wrote- touched by the reality that we can creatively find ways to bring the Kingdom to Earth. I went to the “welcome home” celebration for the riders, and met new-found friend Lee Daugherty, conversing with a small group about how we need to go get some women out there and do this to. The notion of planning a women’s ride was well-received and one month later, some World Relief staff and Women Who Stand friends gathered in Lee’s living room with a cross country bike route, lots of questions, and the will to make the story happen. I remember going to sleep that night amazed that each of us gets this body and this brain and some days with which to live and find something daring to do with God. What a privilege that is. I remember feeling utterly grateful for the company of others who were willing to dream big, have faith, trust God, do hard things and try.
After several months, meetings, emails and preparation, the ride became official, and with that came spring and summer training. Those rides were teaching moments in and of themselves. I will forever treasure and be grateful for the intense feelings of joy that went along with those training rides; a deep bellowing within my soul that God it’s good to be alive.
It wasn’t long before the training rides ended and the real ride was about to begin as we headed Westward in cars across the state for this five day journey as a team.
I’m not even sure when along the way, exactly, we officially became a team. But it was never a solo team of 11 riders. It was 11 riders, several supporters, encouragers, prayer warriors, generous givers, women halfway across the world. It was World Relief staff in Malawi and Cambodia rallying around us via youtube with words of encouragement. It was churches along the way that did everything from serve us meals to let us use their bathrooms. And I guess that’s the way life goes. Maybe God really did make us all in imago dei, and each of us are one part of one gigantic team. We may not know it yet or sense it yet. But really, really, we’re a team, each of us, the same team, and we need to support and encourage one another because we can’t do life alone.
And so it’s with that spirit of team, and only with that spirit of team and interconnectedness and passion, that I pulled out my journal on the eve of our day 1, and was able to write in big, underlined, capital letters, READY.
The next five days have now mangled into one beautiful memory. All of the days feel like they blended into one. And I am sitting here, tonight, in my pajamas, brain a bit fuzzy, craving nothing but sleep and to relive the journey all at the same time. To cap it together because I don’t want to miss a single memory of it. And so this is my feckless attempt at doing both.
I may not be able to recall the exact day, but there’s so many moments, both on and off the bike, in which I felt like God taught me, taught us, during the journey. 365 miles on a hard seat with no cushion gives you lots of time to think, to talk, to laugh, and, for a closet introvert like me, reflect.
It was in those moments of reflection, on those roads, past all those farms and small towns, I experienced God’s presence in more ways that I can count and was encouraged, through God and through this broad team, to keep growing… to come alive, fully and completely.
To live a life with solitude enough to hear the warm breeze finger its way through late summer corn stalks.
To face the challenge of an unrelenting headwind for miles and miles.
To climb up hill after hill, echoing right alongside Miley Cyrus, that yes, it is about the climb. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes each of us to get there. Or how we get there. Doesn’t matter if you bike, if you walk, if you crawl. There may be some praying, screaming, or cursing thrown in there (Sorry. Just being honest.) as you push on through, but you’ll get there. Promise.
I was reminded that in life, there’s going to be headwinds you have to bear. Yes long, desert-like times in life where you’re shouting at God to make the wind stop and God won’t make it stop because He has something to show you, reminding you just how strong you and the people around you are- even more so when united together. Because even if the person ahead of you is quite far ahead of you, or the person behind you is quite far behind you, and it seems like it’s just you, the road, and a cornfield, for miles upon endless miles, you are, in fact, never alone. You’ve got community and that’s something special, a gift to be treasured.
I was reminded to not take life so seriously. To get a little crazy once in a while and surround yourself with people willing to do likewise. Like our crew team, who donned everything from purple wigs to Darth Vader costumes while cheering us on from the side of the road, leaving town citizens either baffled or motivated to cheer alongside of us. Crew members who broke up monotonous miles with laughter, like when one of our crew members ushered us in to our last turn of the day on the top of a truck wearing a bathrobe with beehive hair in a towel wrap, blasting music and waving like Miss America. Like juggling rocks by the side of the road and shouting to teammates “you rock!” as they pedal onward, amused and encouraged by your antics. Yes, we’ve got good reason to get outside of ourselves. We simply don’t have time to innocuously go through life, adhering to societal mores. We only have time for being a little more crazy, a little more gutsy, so completely unfettered and free; bold enough to ring cowbells from the window of your car, strong enough to shed some tears when you experience powerful, completely moving moments in life, and unencumbered enough to know when to simply let it all go, fly with the wind, and laugh.
I was reminded to live a life where you can stand up on your pedals, going downhill, cheering, whooping it up, singing as loud as you can, even if the caterpillars on the road are your only audience. To just celebrate the gift of life, feel the wind and sun on your face as velocity takes you to a place of joy where climbing hills pays the awe struck dividend in the form of glorious views from the hilltop.
I learned to stop looking at the hill that lies ahead and to enjoy the downhill rush of the hill that you just worked so hard to climb up. To stop focusing on the next challenge, fearing its pain, letting it zap away the precious energy needed to enjoy the current moment. After all, like the song goes, “there’s always going to be another mountain. I’m always gonna want to make it move.” So be here now. This pedal. This downhill thrill of speed. This moment. This breath. This incredible privilege to be alive and moving.
I learned from the example of our team leaders, especially Kris Bailey, to say “yes” to God before you have the full knowledge of how it’s all going to turn out. There’s no way any of us could have been amazed at this journey and all that it entailed if she hadn’t said “yes” before knowing that we would eventually find the support we’d need, be granted safety and sponsors, and know turn by turn which roads we’d be winding down. Sometimes you need to just say “yes” to God and dive in head first and let God reveal things in his timing and go do His God-thing. All you need to do is be faithful in the individual steps, be bold, talk to new people, and watch as He brings all of the details together, making the impossible, possible. I needed to see this example. I’m pretty sure that this has been God’s way of encouraging me to stop whining for the roadmap of where He’s taking me in this season of life, always wanting to know exactly what decision I “should” be making, doing, being, instead of celebrating the question marks, trusting His hand in current situations. Five day bike races across an entire state can happen. So I’m pretty sure God can lead the way too for my measly little life if I would just stop begging for the “answers” and just say “yes” to the things he puts on my heart, knowing that risking is always better than never trying at all.
I learned to celebrate the image of the divine in the human spirit. At a rest stop one of the days, we met a fellow biker named Antione, who just happened to be taking a rest at the same rest stop we were. He asked us about what we were doing, and upon sharing with him, he shared that he took the year off to bike from Quebec to Argentina to raise awareness and funds for public education in Quebec. I asked him where he was staying that night. He had no idea. We asked what route he was taking. He didn’t know. But sure enough he was there, with his bike and backpack, sharing with us his story while we bonded over protein bars and Gatorade. One of the women in our group called a friend and arranged for him to have a place to stay that night. After all, we’re in this journey together, right? We might as well look out for one another. As we left the parking lot, he shouted out something about making it happen. You know. This whole life-journey thing. To go for it. Dream big. Have fun. Explore. Now.
I learned that it doesn’t matter where you live in the world, we can all live out Global Sister and Brotherhood. We just have to get a little creative. We were greeted in the mornings with videos from staff in Cambodia and Malawi as well as the people in the villages where World Relief works. We biked with prayer cards that had a photo, name, and story of villagers and staff in Malawi and Cambodia. And we’ll continue to sponsor community villagers who volunteer through World Relief to reach out to their communities with health and spiritual education and correspond with them to hear about their experiences. We’ll continue to build relationships formed during a Women Who Stand trip to Cambodia a group of us were a part of earlier this year.
And so today, as the miles ended and the destination was reached, I realized I was experiencing the last few pages of a really good story. I’ll still be learning lessons from it, I’m sure.
At the “welcome home” celebration, someone asked what the next adventure will be. I don’t know what it is, but I’m itching for it already and wishing I were waking up tomorrow and re-living this bike ride all over again. But if I’ve gathered anything from this, I know that whatever adventure or challenge lies ahead, it will be about the journey, not the destination, that counts and though the headwinds may blow and the hills will come, my circle of support just expanded ten fold. I’ve only just tasted a bit of this broad community. I’ve only just scratched the surface of tasting a bit of Heaven in the here and now. And so maybe, even though the 365 miles have ended, maybe, just maybe, it’s all really starting. Maybe. But for now I’ll give these tired eyes some rest and my butt bones a break.
Thanks for the support.
You all “rock.” ((Tim Bilezikian – please teach me how to juggle.))
How wonderful. You rode with eyes and heart wide open!
Thanks, Connie! So glad you were with us 🙂
Thanks for sharing your heart. It has been so exciting and encouraging to follow your amazing journey. And what a wonderful thing to be able to share that experience with such a great band of sisters. Thank you for your faith, perseverance, and enthusiasm!
Thanks Tim! And thanks also for your part in sharing words of encouragement via videos! Those daily emails were a huge blessing!
I think about you all in Cambodia often. Grateful for the work you do daily and the positive attitude you do it with! I’m bummed to have missed you when you were here earlier in the month. Hope your time in the states was restful and filled with enjoyment- not sure how long this trip was for you, but alas thanks for spending some of it with Women Who Stand!
How beautifully written! I have enjoyed reading all about this venture for weeks. This was wonderful to read! Welcome home! Surely God is well pleased!!
Thanks for the encouragement and the celebratory welcome! So grateful to be surrounded by such positive influences. What a great group of World Relief staff, friends, supporters, prayer-warriors, Women Who Stand, friends, family… 🙂
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So proud of you Melissa! It is such a gift to have traveled with you in Cambodia and now through your words.
Thanks, Kim! I appreciate your encouragement. Can’t wait to get my hands on your book!! 🙂