Throughout A Year of Centuries, I have prayed that God would do good things. My intention was for these good things to be on behalf of the people and animals served through my 12 charities. God has answered these prayers but – in typical fashion – in an even bigger way than I anticipated. I myself have been so blessed this year! On this last day of A Year of Centuries, I’d like to share a few of these blessings:
1) As A Year of Centuries was just getting started last January, Robert and I went on a cycling vacation in Costa Rica over the week of New Year’s. One of the books I took along to read was Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, which describes his founding of TOMS shoes and the ideals the company is based on. TOMS doesn’t just make comfortable, fun shoes (of which I happily own several pairs); for every pair of shoes that a customer buys, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a child in need in another country. What a fabulous business model! This turned out to be a really inspirational book as I started A Year of Centuries because it’s not just for entrepreneurs; it encourages all of us to look for ways to give in our everyday lives.
Our cycling trip was an organized event that included about 20 people from across the U.S. and even a few foreign countries. Robert and I made a great new friend named Jose, who is from Spain. Jose works for a company called Stravalue, which advocates good corporate citizenship, i.e., giving back to the community in addition to making a profit. This is exactly what I was reading about in Start Something that Matters! I told Jose all about TOMS and gave him my book at the end of the trip. He was also interested to learn about A Year of Centuries because it's about giving back at the personal level. Jose has been a big source of encouragement to me throughout A Year of Centuries - all the way from Spain!
2) On March 2nd I participated in a community event called “Seuss on the Loose.” It was a fundraiser for the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, my September charity, but I also got to promote Bicycles for Humanity (B4H), my March charity, at the same time. I set up a booth at “Seuss on the Loose” based on Dr. Seuss’s book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Bicycles were the perfect tie in! An amazing thing happened. I spoke with a fellow Jasper County resident named Bruce, briefly describing the work of B4H. It just so happens that Bruce is the housing director at Kennesaw State University. At the end of each term, students leave behind perfectly good bicycles. Bruce had a warehouse full of about 70 bicycles that he needed to get rid of. I was able to put him and B4H in touch with each other. Those bicycles made up a significant portion of a shipment that went to Namibia, Africa in June. The people of Namibia have a great need for bicycles for transportation. I still get excited when I think about being in the right place at the right time on that day back in March.
3) In April I rode one day of the BRAG Spring Tune Up. I especially wanted to ride that weekend because it was the perfect chance to meet the BRAG Dream Team, my May charity. About a week later, BRAG posted on Facebook a beautiful picture of a field of flowering canola plants from that weekend. The photo was taken by Bonnie Chislett, someone I worked with over 20 years ago when I was a co-op student at Law Engineering. I commented on knowing Bonnie, and she saw my post. We’re now reconnected as Facebook friends :)
4) A Facebook page called “Why I Ride” was launched in late February. I started following it shortly thereafter and have enjoyed reading the wide variety of reasons why everyday people like me like to ride their bicycles. Sometimes they are fighting back from difficult circumstances, or they might simply get a rush from feeling like a kid again. I submitted my own story about my crash and how it led me to do A Year of Centuries.
As the one-year anniversary of my crash approached in April, I tried not to make too big a deal of it in my mind, but I’ll admit that I had a slight uneasiness that day. Can you believe that that was the day that “Why I Ride” published my story? (Somehow, I don’t think this was a coincidence.) What a gift to read all the affirming comments from so many people. It reminded me that we all need to encourage each other and share the positive as much as possible.
There’s even more to the story. The creator of the page “Why I Ride” is Stephen Auerbach, director of the film Bicycle Dreams. This movie chronicles the Race Across America, which is a bicycle race that covers the entire U.S. in about 10 days. Stephen Auerbach is now compiling a book of “Why I Ride” stories from Facebook. It may be published as an e-book rather than a hard copy book, but either way, I eagerly anticipate reading it!
5) Bat Conservation International (BCI) saw my blog, sent me an encouraging message through Facebook, and asked for more information about A Year of Centuries. They happened to contact me just a few days before my July century on behalf of BCI. I gave them a brief description of A Year of Centuries and said that I would be posting a ride report the next weekend. Afterwards, BCI shared my report on its own Facebook page! What thrilled me the most about this was the list of people who liked BCI’s repost of my ride report. I could tell from the people’s names that they come from a number of different countries. One “like” even came from a nonprofit group whose name was in Hebrew! I love that, even in this smallest of ways, I am connected to people all around the world whom I don’t even know and that bats helped make that connection.
6) Over the summer, my pastor Rindy planned a series of sermons to help our congregation start focusing on our upcoming 185th church anniversary, which will be in 2014. She even asked several members to deliver the sermon on a few of these Sundays. I was one of those members. Rindy was going to be out town with our middle school youth on a mission trip, and because of A Year of Centuries, she thought I would be a good substitute to speak on “Transformed by Grace: A People Called to Serve.” I was humbled and pleased to do so, but I have to admit that I’m glad that I don’t have to preach every Sunday. As my friend John Stork said, “It’s a lot easier to ride a bicycle a hundred miles than it is to preach.” Amen, brother! Despite my nervousness, I pray that my words were God’s words. That day’s worship service certainly was a blessing to me. Rindy had prepared the order of service before she went out of town, and later I found out that she selected the particular prayers and hymns with great purpose. (There was even a prayer by my hero St. Francis.) I had told Rindy that I would be preaching from the entire chapter of II Corinthians 9. However, I don’t think she knew the significance of the particular verse that she chose for the front of the bulletin that day. I had first noticed this verse right before Easter when there was a bulletin insert for a special offering called One Great Hour of Sharing. It made such an impression on me that I adopted it for A Year of Centuries:
7) Later in July, Robert and I went to North Carolina for a weekend of cycling. He did a road race, and I rode while he raced. The finish line was on a mountaintop. I could climb the backside, which offered me a great workout without having to get on the racecourse. Before I started my ride, I hung out for a little while with a few friends in the local coffee shop. When I went back outside to my bicycle, a young man asked me if I was familiar with roads in the area. I replied, yes, a little bit and described the route I was about to do. He explained that he was with the Changing Diabetes team. This team consists of young people who all have Type I diabetes; being on the team helps them to manage the disease. Many of the members are from other countries. One of the riders was a 16-year-old girl from The Netherlands. She had ridden in the pro race earlier that morning but got dropped, and so she wanted to do some more riding. The man asked if she could accompany me on my climb to the finish line, and I enthusiastically said yes! Her name is Susanne, and I thoroughly enjoyed riding with her up that mountain. It was that unexpected but wonderful ride with Susanne that particularly opened my eyes to God’s goodness and graciousness on every single ride. In fact, that day I adopted a new motto for myself: Expect Adventure.
8) On August 29th I posted about Bruce McDonald, a fellow greyhound and cycling enthusiast who lives in Indiana. Bruce had a personal cycling challenge called Climb for the Hounds that benefitted two terrific greyhound rescue groups: Greyhound Pets of America – Indianapolis and Prison Greyhounds. I was so excited to hear about Bruce’s Climb for the Hounds. I sent a donation for both greyhound groups. Bruce wrote me the nicest note, and he also made a donation to Southeastern Greyhound Adoption, my April charity.
As a follow-up, you’ll be happy to know that Bruce did successfully climb Mont-Ventoux on his bicycle – six times in one day! Amazing! He is now a member of “Club de Bicinglettes,” a group of only 69 people (and 2 Americans) who have accomplished this feat.
9) Although I personally know most of the people who have “liked” my Facebook page for A Year of Centuries, a few are strangers to me. They come from several other states, and recently I even got a “like” from someone in Brazil! I don’t know how everyone found me, but I’m thrilled that they have come along for the ride. I wish them all the best on their own journeys.
A common thread runs throughout these experiences. That common thread is the importance of connections: connections with God, connections with each other, and connections with all of creation. As much as I love the solitude that I often find on my bicycle, these connections are what matter most in the end. (And riding my bicycle energizes me to stay connected!) It’s like we’re all pieces of a giant quilt that is sewn together to make a whole. Each piece is important and necessary to complete the picture, even if we don’t see right now what that picture is. It might turn out to be a crazy quilt, but it’s still beautiful. Our job is to attend to those places where the threads are loose. As Neil Peart puts it in Rush’s song “Entre Nous”:
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes fear to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow.
I could fill many more pages with the blessings that I have received through A Year of Centuries. My greatest wish, however, is that God has blessed many people and creatures of all kinds in hundreds of ways that I’ll never even know of. Ride on!