Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Battle of Snapchat Bridge



Travis couldn’t see it, but the battle for his life was being prepared for as he was driving home. Angels and demons were gearing up, dressing for battle in the way soldiers did in ancient times.

If he could have witnessed the preparations, he would have noticed they started their armaments at the bottom and worked their way up. Lightweight sandals were put on, then greaves, made out of a metal he’d never now the name of. A belt buckled around the waist, then a breastplate, something that looked heavy, but didn’t appear heavy in their experienced hands.

Finally, a helmet went on. The helmets looked Corinthian, and again, heavy. Once on, the angels each grabbed a shield and a longsword.

One of the angels – Jeff – was on the hood of his truck like an ornament, and he was obviously the leader. Jeff was crouched low, and wind should have been whipping through his hair, but with a helmet on, whipping hair was hard to achieve, and he was not happy about it. He had amazing hair.

There were two angels on the roof of the truck, one on the driver side and one on the passenger. The one on the passenger side was supposed to be riding shotgun inside the cab, but he had eschewed that duty for the roof because, simply put, he liked it better. His goofy grin hid the nervousness he felt about the coming battle.

The last four rode in the bed of the truck, heads low, discussing tactics and potential scenarios. These were the footsoldiers, the untested, the “bullet-stoppers.”

It was dark, and Travis had just worked a sixteen-hour day. He was exhausted. 

The road he was driving home on was monotonous, traveled thousands of times since he was first given a license. 

Nothing exciting ever happened on the road, except that one time when a deer jumped unexpectedly in front of the car he and his family were traveling home in. He had dodged the deer expertly, earning rare praise from his wife. “Good job, Travis, that was close.”

But tonight, no deer.

The road climaxed in a one-lane bridge. The bridge was ancient, and had recently been the subject of an investigation that had ruled a new bridge should be built. Construction would start any day. But tonight, the bridge would be traversed.

Travis had the windows down and the music blaring, blissfully unaware of the passengers congregated across his truck. He was singing along unashamedly to Taylor Swift’s “22,” because it was 11 p.m. and not a soul was on the road with him.

The proverbial troll under the bridge sat just a quarter mile away…under the bridge. He spoke in hushed but firm whispers to his troops.

“Tonight’s the night,” he said. “Tonight we take him. He’ll cross the bridge momentarily, and we attack. His truck will be defended with…” he spat on the ground, “…His people. They’ll know we’re here. Prepare yourselves.”

His soldiers nodded quietly. They rarely won these battles. There was a running joke among their kind that the least-wanted demons were used for these battles, and the word expendable was tossed around a lot. But tonight, they had a leader who had fought many of these battles. While his success rate was mediocre, he’d never been killed. That had to count for something, right?

They took their positions.

“Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel was next, something Travis would always sing along with as well. He sang a lot. In fact, recently, he’d taken to recording himself singing on Snapchat and posting it for his friends to see.

It was 11 p.m., but some of his friends might be bored, so why not?

He pulled his phone out of the cup holder it had set in most of the drive home, and he opened the Snapchat application. His iPhone was big, but then again so were his hands, so tapping the screen at the top to switch the cameras usually wasn’t a big deal. Tonight though, the long day caught up with him, and he dropped his phone in the floorboard of his truck.

He murmured a profanity and bent down to grab it.

The loud clank of his tires striking one of the steel plates on the bridge was his only indicator that this whole driving thing might be something he needed to pay attention to.

“NOW!” cried the demon and angel leaders simultaneously.

The battle began.

Jeff launched himself off the hood of the truck, not yet seeing the enemy, but knowing they would appear. In the moments after the battle, Travis would assume his quick reflexes had taken over, and he’d applied just the right amount of braking power.

He hadn’t.

As Jeff was flying through the air – a feat greatly helped by the fact that he had wings – he spotted the first demon clambering over the bridge. Unfortunately for the demon, he was paying too much attention to clambering, and as he looked up, the first – and last – thing to go through his head was, “Wow, I’d like to look through that armory.”

That was the only easy kill of the evening. The rest of the battle went back and forth, and the demon leader made short work of two of the angels who were so busily preparing in the bed of the truck.

Then Colin, the grinning roof-rider, met up with the demon leader as Jeff was finishing off five or six of the expendable guys whose only legacy would be to perpetuate the rumor currently circulating that it was absolutely not better to rule in Hell than it was to serve in Heaven.

Colin and the demon leader’s swords clashed. Sparks flew. Later, Travis would think that his truck had kissed the steel beams of the bridge ever so slightly and had thrown a shower of sparks. But when he got home, his truck would be untouched.

What Colin lacked in swordplay, he more than made up for in confidence. Confidence tended to come easy when you spent your off days in the presence of Him. He never took a defensive stance, constantly staying on the offensive, persistently moving toward the demon leader, pushing him back.

The rest of the battle had stopped. Angels and demons gathered and watched the swordfight as it continued. This temporary truce was interrupted only once by one of the more subversive demons trying to sneak around Jeff and cut his throat.

It didn’t work.

As Colin backed the demon leader to the end of the bridge, things began to look bleak for the demons. But the demon leader had not survived thus far without gaining an intimate knowledge of angel tactics.

Angels didn’t get tired, per se, but they did get sloppy. In his constant and confident offensive, Colin got sloppy.

And a few moments later, he paid for it with his life.

An audible gasp rippled through the crowd of onlookers equipped with the eyes to see the killing. Travis would later mistake this for a gust of wind bringing a thunderstorm.

He was wrong.

The demon leader roared, and his comrades roared with him. Travis would attribute this to the thunder on the horizon.

He was wrong.

The demon leader looked at Jeff, pointed at Travis, and said softly, “He is mine tonight. I’ve won.”

Jeff hadn’t yet taken his eyes off Colin’s lifeless form, but after the demon leader spoke, he raised them slowly, in a manner calculated over many eons to bring fear to anyone on the receiving end. The gaze alone had been known to kill, and was, in fact, responsible for several deaths of humans in biblical times when angels had been allowed to comingle visibly with mortals.

The demon leader didn’t die, but immediately recognized that he soon would if he continued his present line of thinking. He murmured something under his breath, something that sounded an awful lot like “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and promptly disappeared.

Alerted by the loud clank, Travis jerked his head up just in time to see the oncoming car at the other end of the bridge. He braked, remarking silently on his amazing reflexes, then felt a bump and saw sparks at the front of his truck.

“Crap. It’s new,” he said.

He backed his truck up and allowed the other car to pass.

By the time he fished his phone out of the floorboard, Sister Hazel had been replaced by Family Force Five, and the feeling of singing self-promotion on Snapchat had passed.

Another loud clank signaled that he had crossed the bridge, and to those with the eyes blessed – or cursed – to see, he appeared to drive right through the ghostly figure of a man crouched low, cradling the limp body of someone else.

They weren’t visible when the truck drove away.

With Sister Hazel in his head, and the recent lesson of paying attention to the road flying ungratefully right over his head, Travis grabbed his phone and called up Twitter.


At least he was awake now.   

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To Kill a Cardinal

For those of you who don't know, I recently (six months ago) bought a new truck.

I haven't blogged or bragged about it a lot because when I brag about things, I lose them. Like, if I'd have posted a picture on Facebook the day after buying the truck, the dealership would have called and said, "It's the dangedest thing, but the financing fell through, and we already sold your other truck, so all we have here is a Ford Focus...that's pink because it's an Avon car."

So I've been pretty hush hush about it, but I did post this on Instagram/Facebook the other day, after spending four hours detailing it.

I scratched the piss out of the driver side fender in the back because I'm an idiot. 
There has been a problem with the new truck though. And it's a problem that's led to me naming the truck CK3. 

Cardinals (the birds, not the dudes in funny hats that tell Catholic folks how to vote*) love my truck. 

Now I know that seems super weird, but give me a moment and I'll explain. 

Since I have gotten the truck, it's been responsible for the death of three cardinals, and instrumental in the injuring of two more. 

CK = Cardinal Killer; 3 = The death count. 

Two of the deaths happened while I was driving, and there have been several more close calls. What happens is, lady cardinals dive-bomb my truck, and I hit them doing 65 miles per hour. 

Here's how I explain that: 

You see, lady cardinals are looking for mates. Naturally, they want the biggest and strongest mate out there, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to seduce them. A little known fact** is that they also like the reddest color they can find on a mate. 

My truck is big (from a cardinal's perspective), it is strong (it's a truck, not a Prius), and it is very red. 

In short, lady cardinals want to bang my truck. 

In shorter, they do actually bang my truck, but it's not really how they want it to go. 

"Oh hey baby, you look good, my word you're big and strong, watch this dive bomb right here, this is how I got my third and fourth husbands, oh wow hey you're not a...THWAP." 

The end. 

But it doesn't stop there. 

Our house has an enormous window in the front. I don't think it's a bay window because I refuse to watch the DIY and HGTV, so I have no clue if it's a bay window or not. But it's big. 

I park my truck in the driveway. 

There is a tree cardinals like to land on in front of the house. If they land on the tree, they have the following view: 

You see that red thing looking all big and sexy reflecting in the window?  Yep. 
So here's what's happening. 

No less than three times since I've had the truck, we have been sitting quietly in our living room and heard an enormous thump on the glass. 

Because I am not a hero, each time it happens I jump up from my recliner and yell, "SAVE YOURSELVES IT'S HAPPENING!" 

After my family got me calmed down the first time it happened, they finally talked me into going outside to see what happened. I grabbed the biggest gun I own and nervously stepped outside with my finger on the trigger. 

A lady cardinal lay dead in a small pool of blood on our porch. 

CK2 was now CK3. 

The next time, I never found the cardinal, which means it survived. 

But, as I was sitting at the house this morning (I called in sick to work because I have a headache, don't judge me), I heard a loud smack on the glass, spilled my coffee all over myself, and had just started to panic when I remembered CK3. 

I glanced out the window and saw this: 

A cardinal. He's a bit shaken up, and sitting in our azalea bush trying to figure out what just happened.
Here's what I can't figure out though. This is a dude cardinal. A male. As in, lacking the romantic desires the female normally possesses. 

So while I'm thankful I didn't have to change my truck's name to CK4, I think the much bigger question here is:

Is this cardinal gay, or was he trying to fight my truck? 

I suppose it's entirely possible that the last female my truck murdered was this dude's side piece, and when he found out the truck was responsible, he flew hundreds of miles and tracked down countless empty leads before finally spying what he thought was my truck but was really the same image that caused his super sexually charged lady friend to fall to her ultimate demise. 

Basically a Nicholas Sparks book only with no cancer. 

Or he's gay. 

We may never truly figure it out, but if I see this bird anywhere near my truck again, I plan to take evasive action. A bird that committed to either avenging his dead girlfriend—or making the sweet love to another male—is not to be trifled with.

*I have no idea if Cardinals influence voting among Catholics, I was just saying things
**I am basing that on nothing but my own opinion, and I think it was a Trivia Crack question once

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Addressing Wounds

This may be the shortest blog you've ever seen me write.

I left the gym this morning after being tortured by my trainer, and as I walked out the door I spotted a woman in the vestibule.

She was black, maybe middle 30s, and she had on a tattered coat and pajama pants. Then something else caught my eye. She was wearing flip flops.

It was 40 degrees this morning, and she was wearing flip flops. White flip flops with little flowers on them.

I said hello, and asked her how she was doing. She asked me what time it was, and I told her. For whatever reason, I asked her if she needed a ride somewhere. She told me she was waiting on the bank to open up, and I told her they wouldn't for another hour.

I opened the door to leave, and as I did a woman came in with a scarf and a plastic wrapped piece of food.

Without a word, she wrapped the lime green scarf—obviously new—around the woman's neck, and placed the food in her hand.

"There you go honey," the woman said.

The woman in the flip flops didn't say a word. She stared into the distance as the scarf was wound around her neck, and wordlessly accepted the food.

I'd like to step back from the situation for a moment and talk about a couple of things, because what the Good Samaritan said to me next kind of hit home.

As we were walking to our vehicles, I said, "Thank you so much for doing that. That's so awesome."

And she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "There but for the grace of God go I, you know?"

I thanked her again, and turned towards my truck, tears piling up in my eyes, then tracing cold paths down my cheeks.

"There but for the grace of God go I."

We all make choices in life. And I know bad things happen to good people, and I don't have any explanation for it, but I still choose every day to believe in a God that allows those bad things to happen.

I'll never understand it.

I saw a post on Facebook the other night where a friend of mine said something to the effect of "Religion doesn't work, so until god figures that out, I choose love."

This morning, I saw both at work.

When the Good Samaritan saw the dying man on the side of the road, there was no religious obligation for him to stop. When he addressed the man's wounds, he was showing love. When he took him to the inn and asked the innkeeper to look after him, he was showing love.

The Good Samaritan this morning didn't tell the woman about Jesus. She didn't ask her if she was going to sell the scarf later, and she didn't try to get her to come to church. She simply acted. She showed love.

And I serve a God who can take it from there.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trust.

The rock staircase was steep, but adventure was calling. The Youngest couldn't resist the siren song of adventure, and his older brother and sister were already halfway down, yelling and having fun. 

He decided he'd do it on his own. 

"Daddy, let me." 

"Go for it son. Be careful." 

***

I got the phone call on Wednesday morning. I really want to give you more details than I can right now, but I can't. I have to be careful how I say and word things, but in a couple of months, hopefully I'll be writing the blog that reveals all. 

The call was from Alicia. She was crying. 

"Travis, he picked the hard way. What are we going to do?" 

To be honest, I didn't have any clue. I immediately starting thinking of ways I could fix it, ways I could make it better and create a world where I didn't have to get phone calls like this. 

"Things will work out," was all I could say. 

I hung up, and immediately got another phone call from another side of the state. The side of the state where the problem was. 

The person on the other end of the line told me the same thing Alicia did, but also gave me more bad news, news I had to give to my wife.

"Alicia, here are a couple of problems. I know we thought this would be easy, but it turns out it won't be as easy as we thought."

Then it was my turn to ask. 

"What are we going to do?" 

***

Independence did not suit The Youngest well. 

He started struggling on the very next step, then tripped on the next one. He stood there for a moment, examining his options, looking for another way down, fully exercising the extent of his independence. 

Finally, he reached a conclusion. 

"Daddy, help me." 

And he held out his hand. 

I grabbed his hand, and the second I did, his descent down the staircase was transformed. He leaned out, taking the steps as fast as he could—as fast as I could—pursuing the goal with reckless abandon, his thoughts now only on the fun.

He trusted me. And in that trust, he found no fear, only freedom. Freedom to take chances, and freedom from doubt. 

***

I hung up the phone with Alicia and I sat there, wondering. 

I didn't pray, although I'd like to say I did. I was too busy thinking of ways I could fix things. I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to fully exercise the extent of the independence I have in my Savior. 

"Daddy, let me." 

But there was nothing I could do. No way for Travis Sloat to handle it. 

I stopped. 

"Daddy, help me." 

Then the phone rang. 

The call was from the other side of the state. And this time it was incredible news. 

"Travis, he picked the easy way. We don't know why, but he changed his mind. It's going to be the easy way." 

***

Making that second phone call to my wife is on the top five list of the best moments in my life. It might even crack the top three. 

We both sat there on the phone sobbing like idiots, completely lost in the massive mystery that is God. 

I told someone later that it felt like God reached out, gave me a friendly pat on the back, and said, "Hey. Hey Travis. I don't need your help. I got this." 

When all hope has completely vanished, when the road ahead is dark, scary, and twisted, and when you stop, look around you and wonder how you're going to go on, all God wants is your trust. All he wants is you to look back, hold out your hand, and say, "Daddy, help me." 

I have no idea what the future holds for my family. 

But I know that right now, I'm leaning out, testing the firm grip of the One who knows my future, and I'm pulling Him as fast as He'll let me go. 

God is big. We are His. 

And so are you. 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finally.

Good Lord I'm a dork. 
 I've wondered about the title of this blog for four years. As it turns out, I didn't even have to think of it. This morning, while I was getting a glass of water from the refrigerator, my son walked in and said, "Yay! Daddy's graduating today!" 

My daughter looked up at me, smiled, and said, "Finally." 

***

Thursday night was bad. 

I kept having dreams where I died. I'd drift off to sleep, and wake up gasping, having just crashed an airplane, fallen off a cliff, or having been pushed in front of a bus. 

I cried Friday morning when I was watching the news before class. Someone paid off someone else's layaway, and I got all weepy. 

So of course I texted my wife and told her what was going on, and she was very succinct with her reply: "You need to calm down." 

I didn't believe I would make it. I really didn't. When I started college four years ago, I honestly thought I'd quit again. I mean I'd tried it twice before, and I left both times. I don't mean I dropped out, I just left. My grade point average was abysmal. 

But I started again. 

And I slugged along. I took some classes I really thought I'd like at first, just to pick up the momentum. I took elementary algebra four times, and I took intermediate algebra four times. I won't tell you how I got through college algebra. 

I fell in love with literature. I decided against a journalism degree, then decided against a computer science degree, and finally settled on English Education. Teaching. Geez. 

I quit my job after my second semester. I burned an enormous bridge at Connors State College, simply because their math department (certain faculty, really) is the biggest bunch of idiots God ever put on earth. 

We got a couple of kids. Then we got another kid. We went through a really rough patch in our marriage, and I genuinely thought it was all over. Then I learned how to ask, "How can I help?" 

I've worked 16-hour days for an entire semester now. I've gained an enormous amount of respect for high-school teachers, and not only them, but the students as well. I fell in love with those kids (totally not in a weird way), and I'm sad I only have one more week with them. 

I interrupted the semester with a trip to Washington, D.C. for an amazing reason. I had a wreck my second day of my internship. I got sick for like the second time in my entire life. I yelled at my daughter for making a C when I was struggling to keep up a C in a class myself. 

"You're a Sloat. Sloats don't make Cs. Sloats don't make Bs. Sloats make As." - Brian (and now Travis) Sloat

I ran out of gas halfway through the semester, then got an email from my wife that changed everything. 

And, while we're on the subject, can we just take a moment to enter my wife in the "Best Wife of the 2010s" contest. The woman is amazing. While I've been slugging away at my internship, then working nights at the paper, she's been raising three kids essentially by herself, and, not only that, actually tried to sleep with me a few times too. 

You know I still remember the first day I actually noticed her. I don't remember much, I truly think I'll have dementia in about a week, but I remember noticing Alicia for the first time. I can tell you exactly where I was, and exactly where she was, and almost exactly what she had on. 

God, in His amazing and infinite wisdom, completely changed my life when He let her fall in love with me. She is a rock, and I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life trying to thank her for these last four years in particular. I love you, Alicia. 

***

I woke up at 7 a.m. 

I rolled out of bed to get in the shower, and Alicia asked me, "What time are you leaving?" I replied, "I need to leave in about 45 minutes." 

"What? You told me it started at 9:30!" 

"Yeah, but I have to be there an hour early." 

She made some sort of noise, and then I honest to goodness didn't see her the rest of the morning. Somehow, she got all three kids ready, herself ready, and ironed my clothes in 45 minutes. Did I mention she's amazing?

Just before we left, I remembered something. In my sock drawer, there's an armband with some initials on it. B.R.S. Brian Ronald Sloat. I had it made for basketball after he died. I grabbed it, and slid it on under my shirt sleeve. It just seemed right dad should be there with me. 

We made it to the event center. We didn't die. 

The separated us at the door, and ushered me around the building where I had a moment of sheer, unadulterated panic when the lady in charge of the cards with our names on them couldn't find mine. It wound up being the only one in the pack stuck to the back of another one, and if that right there doesn't prove to you that The Lord has a sense of humor (a sick one, sometimes), then I don't know what will. 

I met my friends, Krista and Katelynn, who have been with me through this whole thing, and don't seem to find it weird that they have attached themselves to a 32-year-old man who has a penchant for being inappropriate. 

I freaking love you guys. 
We teamed up with Bret, another fellow English major, and we lined up. 

I didn't die. I didn't trip. But I was sweating bullets. 

My mom sent me a text. You see, she got married today in what was the biggest scheduling SNAFU of 2014, and couldn't be at the graduation. I'm okay with that, because I like the guy she married. I think, for the first time in 14 years, I'm cool with finally calling someone my step-dad. 

"Congrats on your graduation today! Sorry I'm not there to see it, just know that I'm SO proud of you! Your dad would say, 'Good job, son.' Love you." 

And now, typing that out, I'm crying for the first time today. I'm honestly surprised it didn't happen sooner. 

My dad would be proud of me, just like the rest of my family is. But I honestly think he'd laugh a little, and smile at me the way he used to, the way I can see so perfectly in my mind right now, and he'd say:

"Finally." 

***

I walked in that gym, and I had my chest out and my head high. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I waved to my friends and family. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I sat through a commencement speech that I can't even come close to remembering now. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I stood up when my row was ready. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked to the stage. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I heard my name: "Travis Gene Sloat." I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I shook the hands of two people and got my degree holder. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked out of the gym and into life as a college graduate. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

***

I found a professor I've really grown attached to and I shook his hand. "Thank you." That's all I could say. 

I found some friends and hugged their necks and shook their hands. They congratulated me, and I thanked them, looking all the while for my family. 

I finally got a text message from Alicia. "We're at the truck." 

You know, I didn't even pause. I just started walking that way. I completely missed Krista and Katelynn, and missed a couple of other professors I wanted to thank, but I didn't care. I just wanted to be with my family. 

We got in the truck, and we went out for a celebratory lunch. Mexican food, because what else? 

I looked at them, gathered around the table. Aven, who was of course distracted by everything; Akeeli, who is just about the cutest little girl on the face of the planet; The youngest, who we're hoping to finally have a chance to adopt in a few short weeks; and, finally, Alicia. 

I smiled and took a drink of my beer, completely satisfied with my life at that point. 

"Finally." 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fuel for life

"That's it, we're out."

The bad news came from Travis, the driver of the vehicle, and he delivered the news to his wife with a slightly disappointed voice, although he tried to maintain a carefree demeanor.

"We're not out," she replied. "There's always more in these old trucks, the gauge never tells you the truth. Try it again."

Travis tried it again. The engine coughed, sputtered, tried to come to life, but then didn't, and as it ground to a halt it ground the hopes of ever making it out of The Pit.

Funnily enough, Travis had created The Pit, back when he had too much time on his hands. He'd borrowed a backhoe from a friend, took it slow and steady at first, and then when that hadn't produced the results he'd wanted, he'd bought some dynamite and blasted a hole deeper than he'd intended, but it was a hole nonetheless, something he could be proud of. It all seemed like a great idea at the time.

Now that pit was a trap.

It wasn't just Travis and his wife in the truck, their three kids were with them. They'd stocked enough water and snacks, as well as more diapers than you can imagine, for the trip, but not enough to account for extra time.

Help wasn't on the way. Travis had spent many hours alienating friends while digging the hole, so no one would be coming around to check on them. Not hearing from Travis was more common than hearing from him.

Travis looked at his wife.

"I think that's it. It's just not going any further. I don't know what to do. I know we're close to being out, but it's still too steep for us to climb."

Then he finally admitted, "Also, I don't have any clue what to do when we get out."

His wife was slow to reply, but when she did it was with a smile.

"Hang on, let me check something," she said.

She hopped out of the truck—the truck he'd driven so recklessly—and went to the back, rummaged in the bed for a few moments, removed something, and then walked back to the cab.

Smiling that same, calm smile, she motioned to the item she'd pulled out of the bed of the truck.

It was a gas can.

"Where did you get that?" Travis asked.

"I don't know," she answered. "I just thought you might need it. You think it'll be enough to get us out of here?"

"We don't need much," he said. "So I bet it will. At any rate, it'll get us closer than we are now."

As Travis refueled the truck from the can, he thought about all the times he'd wondered whether God actually heard his cries, his pleas, his fervent whisperings in the night for a woman he could spend his life with, a woman who'd share his fears, his happiness, his life.

Looking up, he caught his wife's eyes in the rearview mirror. She winked.

He closed the gas cap, slapped the side of the old truck—the truck he knew he'd miss—and hopped in the driver's seat.

"Alright," he said, glancing at his wife. "Let's try to get out of this pit."




Monday, July 14, 2014

The Bike Ride.

"As I went down to the river to pray,
studying about that good old way.
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way." 


Today I went for a 10 to 15 mile bike ride through a Latvian forest. I'm not sure how long it actually was because several Latvians have given several different amounts of kilometers and the only conversion I know with kilometers is that a 5K equals three miles and I base literally all my conversions (including temperature and money) off that.

This is me pre-ride. They had to give me a short bike with chunky tires.
If I could go back in time I would tell pre-ride Travis several things that would probably make him not go on the trip, and miss views like this:


And this:


I would have missed seeing a forest floor covered in wild blueberries, I would have missed the fellowship that can come from commiseration, and I would have missed some spiritual wisdom from a Latvian brother and sister who refused to let me finish the ride alone. 

I would have also missed the pain I'm currently in, which is ridiculous. I don't want to gross anyone out here, and if you're a lady you might want to skip this part, but my taint is like a train wreck. The last time I was on a bike was about 16 years ago, and I can distinctly remember not being in as much pain down there as I am now. I know I weigh about 100 more pounds than I did then, but have we seriously not reached the point in our technological advances that where we have a bicycle seat that doesn't make it feel as though you've been split in two at your nethers? 

After riding for what seemed like two hours, we stopped at a halfway point which turned out not to be a halfway point and let everyone (me) catch up. When I got there the guide person said in English, "Anyone who thinks they can't go on, raise your hand." About half the group suddenly turned to look at me, while the translator asked the Latvians the same question, and then the other half of the crowd looked at me. 

I wrecked the bike. 

I was driving along, going at a cruising speed, i.e. making gravity work for me, when I hit a root from a cedar tree. My bike immediately stopped, and once again that stupid first law of motion came into effect and I didn't stop, and I slid over the front handlebars of my bike, then the bike started moving again and flipped over my shoulder, but I'm here to tell you I landed on my feet. I have a witness to that. 

I got my blistered backside right back in the saddle and I kept going. I griped about it, but I kept going. 

Lucas and Elizabeth, two of the church members here in Latvia, stayed right beside me as I struggled along, and never really let me quit. Through incredible patience and long-suffering, they allowed me to take tiny breaks, but they wouldn't let me quit. 

As we were pedaling down the "last two miles" which Lucas said every two miles after the halfway point, he looked at me and said, "There is opportunity for much spiritual wisdom here. This bike ride is like relationship with God. You must keep going. It's okay to complain, but you must keep going." 

Sometimes I wonder who is ministering to who on this trip. 

Lucas and Elizabeth, my heroes. 
The sweetest words I've ever heard anyone say are "We are here." We weren't really there at all, in fact I think we probably pedaled another mile after that. But it gave me a second (or third...or fourth) wind when I so desperately needed it, and I finished "strong." 

When we arrived at the campsite, I drank more water than any one person ever has a right to. I was pretty disappointed at the fact that I was stone cold last, especially after I bragged to everyone that I wasn't going to be last. 

Then the announcement came. Two of our group members were lost, and no one knew where they were. 

As people looked around worriedly, I said, "Oh, so I guess I wasn't last after all. That's cool." 

One of these days I'll learn how to not say things. 

The Latvians had gathered at an overlook on a river. 


They built a fire, and because there were men present, meats were roasted on a stick over the fire. 


There was no way I was going to be able to eat sausages after that endurance test they called a trail ride, so I helped myself to some watermelon and some pickles and I looked for places to sit down then tried to sit down and realized I may never sit down ever again. 

We all talked about the ride and prayed for our lost comrades and sure enough a few minutes later they showed up. I thanked both of them for obviously getting lost just so I wouldn't feel bad about finished last, and they looked at me in such a way that suggested they wished I was the one who'd gotten lost. 

Then, as I was trying to transfer my phone to Courtlyn (who is making me put her in this blog), it fell and the screen shattered, which is always the perfect way to cap off the evening. However, at least it still works, and I'm grateful for that, because without a way to communicate with my wife I might try to sneak home early. 

All in all, I walked (limped) away with a great story to tell. Because I did finish that ride. And on the way, I got to see some ridiculously amazing creation, and learn more about the God who put it there through broken English and dogged determination. 

Tomorrow we go to a couple of small villages to do the English and basketball camps. If I can get out of bed, I'm looking forward to it. 

"Shall we gather at the river? The beautiful, the beautiful, river. Gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God."