Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Dad, A Son and His Bikes

I may have mentioned once or twice that Chad and Shane are into bicycles. Well, not "into" bicycles—they practically live to ride bikes. Chad got into cycling because of a friend; Shane got into cycling because of Chad. Both of them possess a natural talent for racing bikes, but they are different types of riders. Chad is a long-distance racer, and Shane is a sprinter. Chad started his serious racing after he went to college; Shane started racing his junior year in high school. With Shane racing in high school, I got to drive him to races. We built considerable memories at those races that I still enjoy thinking about.

In November of his junior year, there was a mountain bike endurance race held at Erwin Park in McKinney. Shane thought it was a good idea for him to enter the six-hour division and asked if I would be his race support. I agreed, not knowing that it would be a six-hour endurance test for me, too. My job was to make sure that he had water, Gatorade, and snacks during the race. The morning of the race was clear and bitter cold, and Shane and I settled on the plan for me to carry a backpack full of water and Gatorade bottles and snacks. I was to be in one of two clearings at the park. The plan was that, as he passed in one clearing, he would tell me what he wanted. I would then run to the other clearing and have it ready for him when he got there. For six hours we did this, and we made a good team. When he crossed the finish line for the last time, we were both proud of what he accomplished. Oh, yeah, he won.

Early in the spring of 2008, Shane was in desperate need of a new road bike. One Saturday I asked him if he wanted to go look at bikes to see what they cost. Off we went to the first bike shop, but he did not find anything there that he liked. We headed for the really big bike shop where we knew the selection would be better. He looked around for a bit before finding a red and white Specialized bike that he liked. We talked to the sales guy for a bit about the bike, and then I looked at Shane and asked him, “Is that the one that you want?” He had a great "you-are-kidding" look on his face, and 30 minutes later we were loading up his new bike.

Shane did not get to race much in 2008 because it conflicted with high school baseball, but he decided that during his senior year he wanted to race bikes. Shane and I spent the spring of his senior year loading up his bike and anything else he needed and driving across Texas so that he could race. His main goal that spring was to race in and win the Texas High School Racing League. I had a lot of fun watching him race that spring. Each race he got stronger, and when he decided it was time to go, he would just ride off from the other racers. That red and white bike carried him to a lot of wins that spring, and he brought home the overall first-place trophy from the state championship in Amarillo.

Two weeks ago Shane called. He had crashed in a race and the impact was so hard it had broken the frame on his bike. Thankfully, Shane only suffered sprained wrists, but the bike was history. Later that night as I thought about that bike, I began to tear up a little. I thought of all of the places we had taken that bike and all of the races in which Shane had ridden it. It was like an old friend was gone, leaving only memories behind. That bike had carried Shane from a CAT 4 racer to a CAT 1 and into his second year of collegiate racing. I know that it may be silly to think that way about a bike, but that bike took Shane a long way and carried a lot of memories for both of us.

Thinking about buying the bike and the time spent with Shane going to races, I have to say that, undoubtedly, that red and white bike was the best investment I ever made.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In the Cloud

Looking back over these past few months, there have been times that I am certain the life I am living is not mine. There have been days that as soon as I wake up, a cloud descends on me and I go through the day going through the motions. I go to bed at night just praying that when I awake the next morning that the cloud will lift, and I will find God's plan in all of this and the nightmare will cease. As of yet, that has not happened.

Sometimes the cloud is of my own making. I can retreat into the cloud away from the doctors, nurses and loud machines. I can find myself remembering times before cancer when breathing was easier and there was no coughing to remind me. I am finding that if I stay in my cloud too long, that is when the self-pity begins, and my cloud can become dark and depressing.

Other times I think that the cloud is from God. These are the days that I have to depend on Him to get me through the day. I believe that most of all that is what He is trying to teach me: to increase my dependence on Him. That does not make this any easier, but it helps to know that when the fatigue sets in, He is there to carry me.

One thing that I have continued to struggle with is worshiping God in all of this. I know that if these clouds would lift, then I will be able to worship God for what He has done. But I have been reminded that that is not always how it works. When God gave Moses the instructions concerning the temple in the final chapter of Exodus, then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting. This was to be a sign that God was there and the people were to stay and worship God in that place.

On occasion I have wondered where God has gone. Now I know that He has always been right here in the cloud with me.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Greatest Man I Have Ever Known

I still remember the assignments in grade school where we were instructed to write about the person who had had the biggest influence on our young lives. My first inclination was to write about my sports heroes from the world of professional sports. However, I really didn’t know them, and as time has elapsed, I have realized, that in most instances, their character has not stood the test of time. I always suspected that these assignments were a veiled attempt to get us to talk to our parents and learn about them; but most of us kids would have nothing to do with that and would either learn just enough about our heroes or make something up. Looking back, I can find only one man who has passed the test of time.

I am now 46 years old and have known the man I write about for all of those years. In this time he has certainly grown wiser, braver, more intelligent, and bigger than life itself. I can’t say that I know everything there is to know about him, but I have learned enough through the years to say that, without a doubt, he is the greatest man I have ever known.

I honestly do not know much about his younger years. He grew up on the family farm in West Virginia with his three brothers and sister. He was the oldest of the five children, and I am sure he had to bear all of the duties and responsibilities of being the big brother. The family worked this farm throughout the depression, and I am confident that this period in his life shaped his attitudes concerning financial dealings and hard work.

After graduating from high school, he joined the Army Air Corp. In 1941, he was stationed at a base in Kansas. On December 7, 1942, he had gone with a buddy to Texas for a weekend. That’s where they were when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that all enlisted men were to return to their bases. He spent most of World War II in the states learning to maintain B-29 bombers. Although I am still not quite sure what his function on the bomber was, I know that he held the rank of Technical Sergeant. The flight crew he was in was sent to Okinawa the day the Japanese surrendered, saving them from making any bombing runs. Even though he didn’t see any “active duty,” the more I have learned about this period in our country’s history, the more amazed I have become at the willingness of this man to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

He married a local West Virginia girl during the war, and they moved to Oklahoma after he was released from the Air Corp. The Corp had asked him to re-enlist, but he told them that he had promised his wife that he would be coming home and that’s the way it was going to be. They settled in Stillwater where he took a job at a gas station. They started a family, and he was able to get a better job working at the Post Office. The family grew to six kids (three girls and three boys), and he took a second job on the weekends working in the body shop of a local car dealership.

I remember him always taking great pride in the way he looked in his uniform. His trousers and shirts were always pressed, with his shoes and bill of his cap shined. He was a representative of the U.S. Government, and he was in no way going to be the one to demean it. That’s the way he went to work until he retired from the Post Office in 1976.

I can remember at his retirement party the people coming up and reminiscing about him carrying their mail. He always walked his route and knew all of the people by name. He would take time to say “Hi” to the kids playing out front and would check on the older folks to see if they were doing all right. He had no tolerance for dogs that were not penned up, especially if they were unfriendly and thought he was lunch; friendly dogs he might stop and pet. I never knew that he was known by any other name than his given name until that party; seems as though people on his route used to call him “Red”--must of had something to do with his red hair.

After retiring from the Post Office, he went to work full time at the body shop. He possessed the talent to take a wrecked car and with hammers, sanders, a little body filler, and paint make it look like it just rolled off the lot. I can remember him rebuilding the car he drove to work. He did most of the work in his garage, only taking it to the shop for the final paint job. I was so disappointed the day he sold that car that I cried.

The owner of the car dealership once referred to him as a “craftsman.” This is a fairly accurate description, but probably more accurate would be a “Jack of all trades.” There was never any project that was too big for him to tackle. From putting air conditioning in their house to fixing toys, there was nothing he couldn’t do. When the family outgrew their two-bedroom house, he added a two-story garage, converted the old garage into a bedroom for the two oldest daughters, and added a bathroom and utility room. That was their home until 1978.

He and his wife had been married 60 years when she passed away. From what I have related here, this may seem like an ordinary life to most. He never achieved great financial success, and he had to work hard for every penny he ever made. He never possessed any political clout, nor did he ever seek any. “So what,” you may ask, “makes this man so great?” Let me try to tell you.

Together he and his wife raised six kids to be productive members of society. None of those kids ever became involved in drugs or spent any time in jail. All of those children were taught to respect their elders and that to achieve something through hard work was nothing to be ashamed of. Although this family was never wealthy by worldly terms, they certainly never thought they were poor. The children were taught to be thankful for what they had and to always take care of the “needs” before worrying about the “wants.” Many fathers have either taught or strived to teach their children these same lessons, and, in the minds of most, this does not qualify as greatness. I’ll try and explain better.

What makes this man different is that he is my dad and, more importantly, he is where I got my vision of what my Heavenly Father is like. I know just like my Father above, my earthly dad has been disappointed in my actions, but he has never stopped loving me. I know at times I wandered from the path that my dad wished that I would take, but he waited patiently for me to find my way back. Oh sure, there were times when I was spanked or otherwise corrected, but it was done because he loved me too much to let me stray too far.

My dad taught me what it means to be a father and husband. I will probably never know the number of times he went without so that the family could have something it needed. He taught me that being a father and husband was sacrificing yourself to make the family whole and that family is everything.

The most important thing he taught me was to keep your faith and God first. I remember him studying his Bible every night. We were in church every Sunday, where he led the singing, taught Sunday School, and was a Deacon and Elder. Every other week my dad would sit at the kitchen table and make out the checks to support the church or various missionaries around the world. He always made sure to give the tithe or more. Not only did he support the missionaries financially but also, when they would stop in town for a conference, they would get one of our beds for a while. I am confident that when my dad gets to heaven, he will meet people from all over the world who are there because he cared enough to support all of those missionaries.

On April 17, 2005, my mom passed away. During her final days with us, my dad continued to teach me, not by his word, but by his actions. He taught me during those days about love--what it means to love another so deeply that, although in your heart you long to keep them with you, sometimes it is better to let them go.

On February 5, 2006, just ten months later, the ails of this world have taken their toll on his fragile body. Even as his body was beginning to fail him, he still taught me. This time he is taught me to suffer with dignity.

I know that when Daddy closed his eyes on this earth, he opened them in heaven, and there to greet him was Mom. Now the two of them, together for 60 years here, will spend eternity together.

This is the man that I have come to see as great. Granted, as I was growing up, that was not always my opinion. Now that I am married and have two boys of my own, I hope that I can be the father to them that he was and still is to me.

Thanks, Daddy, for showing me the way. I’ll see you in heaven.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6