Pedaling Through

Cover Photo:  Pexals

“We come together on this special day
Sung our message loud and clear
Looking back, we’ve touched on sorrowful days
Future disappears
You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never, never old
That’s the way of the world…” 
(1975)  “That’s The Way of The World”  Recorded by: Earth, Wind, & Fire  Composers:  Charles Stepney, Verdine White, M. (Maurice) White.

It was hot that afternoon in May of this year.  My wife and I were busy doing yard work under an abusive Texas sun.  At the time I was using our manual push-lawnmower, when from behind me I heard my name, “Alan”.  I turned around and there, on our side lawn, was a dear old friend from our high school days.  (For the purpose of this blog we will call him, Terry, because that’s his name.)  With a slight jump, I turned quickly to see who was speaking.  About the time I recognized him he said, “You two look like you’re working harder than I am.”  We laughed because we knew that wasn’t so.

There Terry was, straddling his 10-speed bike, decked out in his spandex, gloves and helmet.  Because we stay connected, we knew he was a cyclist, mad for the road.  A good example of his biking adventures, for a lunchtime ride, he recently ate up a little over 18 miles in one hour and five minutes.  That’s saying a lot for the average amateur cyclist, but Terry is my age…60 years old!  Put that in your tank.  We had a good 10 minute chat and off he went like a oiled-up speed demon on Mountain Dew.

man in blue and black shirt riding on bicycle
Photo by Mídia on Pexels.com

During our visit, we found out he streaks right by our house on his trek.  Often, I catch this blur of color wiz passed the front window in a fraction of a second.  “There’s the Terry-streak,” I always shout out.

Terry and I spoke briefly once about how our street has a slight downhill tilt going from east to west.  It didn’t surprise me when he acknowledged the fact.  I am most certainly sure Terry can tell you where each pothole is, the inclines of each road, and the expected traffic of every city street he tackles.  After so many runs, you get to where you memorize these things.  (In healthier days, I was a runner.  You get to intimately know your pavement.)

Road

Whatever road we find ourselves on can be filled with obstacles, dips, and uneven pavement.  Frankly, it can be an accident waiting to happen.  Terry admitted to experiencing a couple of mishaps.  (He is on notice with his wife.)  It seems to me we tend to focus on the tough, jagged miles ahead of us more than the road we have conquered behind us.  Who is to say which view is best at the end of our race in this life?

July 4th is a big deal for the Unites States.  We usually celebrate it with gusto each year as we commemorate the day we declared our freedom from England’s king and his government.  This year’s celebration has been a bit dampened by the pandemic and recent damaging social unrest in our streets.  Oh, we’ve faced hardships and struggles before, although this struggle, and the combination thereof, is somewhat of a different blend.  America is pedaling up a long incline at the moment.  It’s been a hard few months.  It feels like the Statue of Liberty should have a tear rolling down her cheek.  (That is, if Lady Liberty still stands by the time you read this.)  And if all American flags haven’t been burned by the time you read this, you might find they don’t seem to wave as proudly as the year before.

Flag Not Unfurled

We know from past experience, when we learn from history, there will be times of uneven roadways stretched out before us.  We have seen where potholes arise from nowhere.  We have witnessed a nation can run head-on into mobs of traffic going the opposite direction.  Downhill coasting will come along in a nation’s history, as well as an uphill climb.  It’s all a matter of the cycle of the way of the world.  This world, not the next.

Homestead in Graham

As for me, long may she wave through the harsh winds, uphill battles, cloudbursts, and unexpected rocky surfaces.  Through the breeze there is a Divine whisper which says all things are possible with fuel for the race.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”   –  Declaration of Independence 1776.  Penned by Thomas Jefferson.

 

Our Irene

“Farewell, Irene, where your dreams abound…You dream of the north, Irene.  Well then that’s where you oughta be…”  (2016)  Irene.  Recorded and composed by:  Courtney Marie Andrews

WARNING:

As I introduce you to my fabulous cousin, Irene, allow me to lay down a teaser right here.  In a few lines I will deliver a shocker, a twist in my spotlighting of this precious and beloved lady.

When I think of cousins, my memory projects mental Super 8 footage of summer days chasing each other with water guns.  I have snapshots in my childhood haze riding double on horses, bareback through the pastures.  Notably, there’s always visions of playground swings, chasing the ice cream truck down the street, family reunions in the park, and visiting our grandparents together.  Cousins were, and are, so much fun.

Entering stage left, my cousin, Irene.

When I was little, I had trouble calling her, “Irene”.  My understanding the word, “Ring” came out of my mouth.  I was able to overcome that problem.

Over the Easter weekend, the old band got together for a bit of a reunion performance for a Messianic Passover event way north of our home in Dallas.  For a Texan, Oklahoma is north-enough.  I drove myself up to Enid, Oklahoma, in the northwestern part of the state, for our musical adventure.  The long drive gave me lots of time to freshen up my vocals before arriving at the venue in the late afternoon.  We had played there two years ago.  At that time, after a Facebook posting about the gig in Enid, my cousin, Irene, replied with a tad of chastisement for not informing her.  It was my mistake in that I was under the impression she and her husband resided in southwestern Oklahoma, closer to Altus where her mom lived.  Turns out, she lives closer to the Kansas/Oklahoma border, in Tonkawa, OK, just another thirty miles or so north of my turn-off for Enid.  So, I promised her then I would contact her ahead of time if I’m in that area again.  As you can see, we finally got together.  Here’s the beauty with two of her pals and my ugly mug.

Irene (77) Me (58)

(We have Cherokee in our family tree.  The features show up so much more through her branch of the family.  Her mother, my Aunt Evelyn, was very much the same way.)

Although we had kept in touch over the decades, it was always through emails, texts, and Facebook.  Rarely were we hanging out for family picnics.  Literally, the last time we physically sat together was at our uncle’s memorial service in 1977.  It’s such a shame to only see the ones you love at times of sorrow.  Do you know what I mean?

What a terrific visit.  It’s amazing what you can learn about others when you actually sit and talk face to face.  I knew she was an artist, photographer, and an avid activist, a gifted musician, but there’s so much more to my cousin, Irene than I once knew.  Part of her artwork is landscaping.  Her property is a testament to the fact.

Irene Backyard

Irene Front Yard

I must say, it’s vastly different from the natural brush country in that part of the state.  She’s turned it into a showplace.  It reminded me so much of the Dallas Arboretum Park.  (Google for photos.)  Truly a professional would be amazed.

Part of her array of gifts surrounds being active in charity work and fundraisers.  She has donated many items for local charity auctions.  One of the things she is known for is her artwork on chairs.  You saw the cover photo at the top, by the title, of her in action.  Here’s another example of her artsy eye on old unwanted furnishings.

Irene & Gene Doughtery Artwork

(Collaboration Art by:  Irene Ackerson & Gene Doughtery)

Irene Art

These chairs go for a few hundred dollars at various auctions.  You can see why.

Irene stays very busy.  She is well traveled and well educated.  She and her husband were teachers, loving the craft of education.  She is a talented canvas painter.  An active animal lover, Irene rescues dogs, as well as, dog-sitting for others in the community.  Somehow she walks multiple dogs at the same time.  I struggle walking two of them.  My dear cousin collects items of interest, much in the realm of artwork, from all over the world, decorating her home with such.  She’s a volunteer for civic and church events.  She can be found in the throws of various social and charitable occasions.  She probably makes animal balloons, too.  These are just some of the things I have missed out on in not getting to know her better.

We both have a good sense of humor, which has been handed down through our family tree.  One day, back in the 90’s, she got a real kick when I called her the “Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) of our family.”  The resemblance was authentic.  There was a lot of truth to my title for her when we were younger.

Irene & son,

(Irene with her oldest son, Jeff.)

Now for the twister of this story about my cousin, Irene.  We never played in the playground swings together.  We never rode bareback horses through the Texas pastures.  We never chased down the ice cream truck.  Irene and I never once shot each other with water guns.  It’s certainly not because she lived so far north from my stomping grounds.  So what’s the mystery?

If you have seen my Facebook page, (Connect with me anytime – Alan Brown, Carrollton, Texas.)  then you know she’s not shy about her age.  In a recent public post on my Facebook page, Irene mentioned the occasion where we first met.  In fact, there is a photo of the moment, which currently I cannot locate in my stacks of family photos.  It was 1964.  I was four years old, shaking hands with Irene, the beautiful bride!!!  (YES, scroll back up for another look at us from Easter weekend.)  Irene is actually my mom’s cousin, my 2nd cousin.  Not willing to publish her actual age, I will reveal that I will turn 59 in a few days, and Irene is two years older than my mom!  Maybe I should add, she’s never had work done. (Haha)

Let it be known, she can run circles around me.  We had a very sharp aunt who lived to be 103 who walked faster than I did.

Truly, there’s lots to be said about staying active.  There’s lots to be said about keeping the mind youthful and open.  There’s lots to be said about nurturing the body, and keeping it moving.  Irene has done all of that, and more.

I also think love has much to do with the “youthening” process.  Do you agree?  Have you noticed?  Irene pours out love for others as a way of life, including the animal kingdom.  I believe those who chew on hate have bitter, shortened lives.  Frankly, that is a biblical concept.

Jesus taught to love one another as we love ourselves.  He also went further.  He taught we should love the ones we perceive as outcasts, or socially despised.  He said so because that is how God loves.  In following suit, we find life to be more palatable altogether.  Life is sweeter when my mind chooses to love those I normally might not even notice.

Maybe Irene’s teaching days aren’t over.  Turns out, I’ve learned a few things observing our Irene.

Love and youthful endurance are grand products of fuel for the race.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not become weary.” – Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

 

Those Wild & Wacky Weeds

“Down the road I look and there runs Mary, Hair of gold and lips like cherries.  It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.”  –  Green, Green Grass of Home.  Composer:  Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr.  Recorded by:  Porter Wagoner (1965).

We’ve only been married for two years.  Michelle is a green thumber with big landscaping ideas.  She not only talks the talk, but she walks it, too.  Over the last two years I’ve seen her magical touch on our property.  As for me, not a chance.  That’s a talent I don’t have.

Springtime in Texas is sweet and sour.  The sour part would be the pollen, outrageous storms, and the fresh crop of weeds common in mostly central and east Texas.  She has been hiring a lawn care service to do the mowing and edging for some time now, but there’s drawbacks to their work.  They tend to bring unwanted seeds of weeds with them under their well-used mowers, planting our lawn like ants to an ant pile.  Arg!  Again I say, Arg!  So, with a bit of angst from my side of things, we politely discontinued the service.

In Texas we must have hundreds of species of weeds.  The most hated, the most dreaded, prickly thick-stalked dandelions.  They can grow a good four to five feet high if untouched.  Then there are some less visible.  Some are actually kind to the eyes, as some of them have handsome blooms…at first.

Weeds

The trouble goes beyond mowers that just worked over a field of various weeds.  There’s also the neighbors.  Across the street from us, is a lawn doubling as a “weed nursery”.  Sure, they mow them down, but of course they grow back in about six days.  Moreover, the wind blows the seeds across the street to our lawn.  (Have I written “Arg” yet?)

Michelle seems to have some reservoir of energy I was not gifted with.  Her mapped out solution for our growing weed crop is to pull them out by the roots…each and every one of them.  Yes, you read me right…EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM!  “No weed-wacking or chemical spraying at our place,” says the lady of the house.  That would be my way of doing things, right or wrong.  Believe it or not, she finds pleasure in doing it.  I applaud, bring her glasses of chilled water and remind her of sunscreen.  (Michelle is a ginger.)  She sees those pesky weeds as an enemy to be pulled out and bagged before they choke-out our mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass.  If weeds had brains, they would be slick and wise world conquerors.  Bless their little hearts.

Currently, she is hand-tilling the ground, foot-by-foot, and replanting more St. Augustine, while fighting the onslaught of our unwelcomed weeds.  It’s lots of hard work.

St. Augustine Grass

As I was carrying bags of the adversary out to the curb for trash pick-up day, I was hit with a life application.

Weeds are spoken of in the Bible.  And yes, scripture spotlights the fact they were the target of angry farmers.  Jesus mentioned horticulture many times.  When it comes to weeds, or weed-wanna-be’s, He made various teachable moments out of them.

One of my favorites is a vivid, picturesque scene of a farmer planting good seed for the season.  Jesus gave a parable about a farmer tossing good seeds where some found good, unhindered soil for sprouting and growing  Then He told another side concerning a failed crop.  Some seeds were burned out by the hot sun, withering before they were watered.  Other seeds landed on shallow ground dotted with rocks where they never took root.  Some landed well, but the birds, circling above, quickly swooped down and picked the ground clean.  Then there was the batch of seed that landed among thorny bush plants.  (Easily translated into prickly weeds.)  Wouldn’t you know it, the thorny bushes choked-out the growth of the intended crop.

There’s a huge amount of application to the parable, which He spelled out when His hearers asked to explain the meaning.  The seed represented words from God delivered to humanity.  In fact, He stated that people are also like the seeds spread on the ground who are within earshot of the words.  Some will grab hold of God’s love letter, the Bible, and apply the contents to their lives.  Others will not, as the words fail to take root in the heart, the core, where faith resides.  Ouch!  That’s skin off my nose.

When He gets to the seeds which landed in the weed patch, he describes the weeds, or thorny bushes, as the worries of life.  Wow!  The writers and researchers who authored journals on mental health must have read the parable.  As it turns out, after two thousand years of medical studies, they discovered anxiety stunts growth.  Growth in the emotion department, mental stability, and even our physical health can be uprooted by these weeds of life.

There’s a better life meant for us.  A life unhindered.  Sure, we often see the dandelions sprawling in our path, so we strike up the mental mower.  We try everything, don’t we?  A dose of this drug, or a glass of this or that will shake it off.  A date night with someone who promised us the world will be a good weed-wacker…until the morning alarm goes off.  For clarity, we can sit in the lotus position and empty our minds with some suggested introspection for a few minutes.  (I used to do that.)  However, in six days, or six hours, or six minutes, or less, the weeds grow back.  Ask yourself, after you succeeded in wiping away the cares of this world, if they ever came back to haunt you.  Yeah, that’s the same with me, too.  Like little wild and wacky weeds, they sprout up in the tundra of our days.

Frankly, most try to fertilize and water their lives for better days, but the peers, across the street from us, always share their seeds of weeds.  Often they unknowingly share…sometimes strategically sent.  Before you know it, influence occurs and BOOM…weeds are choking us out like an MMA fighter on a Friday night.

Worries are just like that.  As to Jesus’ point, if not careful, they can be contagious.  Hang around a group feasting on anxiety with their social diet and CHOMP….you find you’re being hindered as a person, an individual looking for a better patch of ground to root.  Then again, some worry-warts can be surrounded by an uplifting crowd and still find ways to sour-sack the days.  GUILTY AS CHARGED!  I can be a worry-wart.  It can and will mold my mental, emotional, and physical health.  The medical field has proven anxiety can cause all kinds of physical ailments, including cancer.  If you plant St. Augustine, you’ll get St. Augustine.  If you plant dandelions, you’ll get dandelions.

With all that said, Jesus indicated the weeds in life can stunt, or choke-off my spiritual outlook.  How true.  Have you ever tried to pray during sucky episodes in life?  Honestly, during those times, it feels like I’m fighting to get my prayers to pierce the ceiling, as if I’m talking to the wall.  Other times I wring my hands over a fog of uncertainties, that I have no control over, and find I neglected reading or studying scripture.  Before you can say, “Scott’s Lawn Services”, the dandelions of doubt appear in the turf.  It’s not a surprise that I dwindle in my spiritual mindset as I fight off the weeds interfering with my stride.  The good news is, in scripture, God promised to hear my concerns, even when I only hear the echo of my voice in an empty room.  My ever-growing weeds don’t hinder Him.  He defeated death on Easter.  Weeds can wilt at His voice.  Literally, that happened once when Jesus cursed a fig tree on the roadside.  He was hungry as He scouted out a fig tree which didn’t yield any figs.  He cursed it and the entire tree wilted overnight.  As usual, the witnesses around Him who saw it happen, had to pick up their jaws off the dusty sandals.  Now, THAT’S the One I pray to.

Whatever underlying issues, which feed the roots of worry, they must be yanked out at their source.  You can identify them.  I figure you know yourself pretty good.  Mowing, spraying, and masking only delays the takeover.

Ironically, the worry-weeds surrounding you today didn’t block-out God’s words if you read this post.  Mark, chapter 4 is where you can read His entire parable, along with the applications.  He never intends His words to be a mystery, or indifferent to understanding.  In fact, after He delivered the parable, He showed His intention for you with the following line…

“…He who has an ear let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)

After pulling the worries of life out by the root, it leaves room for a crop of fuel for the race.

“…And other(s) (seeds) fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit…” – Jesus – Mark 4:7 (ERV)  ‘…And others are they that are sown among the thorns; these are they that have heard the word (of God), and the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful…” – Jesus – Mark 4:18-19 (ERV)