After our four enjoyable days with our friends Sherry and Greg in Minnesota, Rich and I loaded up the Harley and set off on the next leg of our adventure. We headed west from Brainerd toward North Dakota. The scenery started changing as we approached the border between the two states, becoming flatter and less green.
As was our norm, we stopped for a break and a tank up after about an hour and a half of riding. Then we continued for about the same amount of time until our tummies told us it was time to get some lunch. We had noticed that the exits had grown further apart and offered very few food options, so as soon as we saw an Arby’s we decided to pull off. We are not big “fast-food” eaters, but Arby’s passes muster for a quick lunch.
Once inside, I made my food choices and left Rich to pick up the order while I went to choose a table from which we could keep an eye on the bike. There was only one other couple in the restaurant, and they were seated about three tables away from our window table. They were an older couple and the husband was in a wheelchair, and I could hear them talking quietly from time to time.
Rich bought our order to the table and we quickly got organized and ready to eat. Then, as always, we held hands and thanked God for a safe trip so far, asked him to continue to bless and protect us, to bless the food and continue to feed us spiritually. Then it was time to dig in and eat up.
I guess we were about half way through our meal when I became aware that the woman from the other couple was clearing away their things. Suddenly she was standing beside us and, leaning in toward us, she apologized for interrupting us. We said, no problem, and she carried on talking to let us know why she had come over.
She explained that she was “one of us” and that it had really warmed her heart to see us praying over our food before we began eating. She said that sometimes it was very hard to be a Christian because she felt we were in a minority. She also said that not many people were willing to be public about their belief in God and that as we prayed we had allowed her to feel as though she were “not alone”. It was a very warm moment of fellowship and my heart went out to her.
Rich agreed with her and told her that just a week or so ago we had done the same thing as she had. We had been having a meal at one of our favorite salad bars, “Sweet Tomatoes”, when a woman and her two daughters came and sat at the table across the aisle to us. Once they had settled into the booth, they all bowed their heads and said a prayer of blessing over their food. I remember how heart-warming it felt for us to see that, and as we left the restaurant Rich had paused briefly at their table to let them know how great it had been to witness that.
We exchanged farewells with the woman, and as she pushed her husband out of Arby’s I wondered what their story was. We feel very blessed to have met certain people, complete strangers, on our ride who have uplifted us and shared a God-moment with us. And I remembered that other couple in the rest stop parking lot in Tennessee who had cared enough about us to pray for our safety as we began our long trip.
On the second day of our retirement ride, Rich and I had a very unique experience. We were some where in Tennessee having left Marietta, GA on the Tuesday morning and we were headed toward Paducah, KY. Our norm each day was to ride for about one hundred and twenty miles, then take a rest stop and gas up if necessary. On that Tuesday morning we had taken a break at a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee. I had headed into the building to use the facilities while Rich took a stretch.
I was inside for a while because a bus had made a pit stop just minutes before we had arrived and there was quite a line for the ladies room. When I came out Rich was standing beside the bike deep in conversation with an older gentleman. I hung back a little giving them room for their discussion. Then Rich looked around and saw me there, motioned me forward and introduced me. I very much regret that I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but I can tell you some things about him.
I learned he was a retired Navy man, a Veteran from World War II. He, too, had owned a bike back in the day and had met and married his wife shortly after joining the service. He said that they really enjoyed riding together back then. His wife came out of the building at this point and joined us and we learned that they were from Knoxville, TN. They were very committed to their church back in Knoxville and they told us they were in fact on a day trip with fellow church-goers. We asked where they were going and the gentleman, with a chuckle, said that they didn’t know. They were on a “mystery trip” and had no idea what their destination was!
At this point, reaching out his hand, Rich thanked him for his service to country and said we needed to get going as we had quite a few miles to cover that day. The gentleman grasped Rich’s hand and thanked him in return for his service to country too. Then, to our great surprise, he extended his left hand toward my right hand and asked permission to pray over us. With joy in my heart I reached out to take his hand and he connected with his wife on his other side, and she in turn clasped hands with Rich.
And right there, the middle of a rest stop parking lot somewhere in Tennessee we were blessed to receive prayers of gratitude and prayers for protection from two strangers. He asked the good Lord, our Father, to watch over us, to keep us safe from all harm. He asked for blessings upon us as we continued our trip and prayed that we would have a wonderful and enjoyable ride. With full hearts we said our goodbyes, mounted the bike, and rode off leaving our parking lot friends to enjoy their mystery tour.
Although I do not remember their names, I can picture them in my minds eye. I can see the four of us standing beside the bike, the big tour bus in the background, holding hands and praying together. It was beautiful and was most definitely a highlight of the ride for me. That memory will be with me in years to come, and I hope that Rich and I will be able to do the same for someone else one day as we ride our Harley around God’s creation.
In my previous posting God’s Creation-Minnesota, I mentioned that through the trees on Greg and Sherry’s property you could barely make out two other houses – their neighbors. Connie and Joe live in the closest house, while Deb and Crystal live in the other house along with Deb’s Mom, Mary, and Deb’s younger sister Paula. Deb and Crystal live in the main part of the house while Mary and Paula share a delightful apartment on the lower level which, because the whole structure is built on a slope, is also on a ground level of its own.
We got to meet all the neighbors because on one of the evenings that we were there we participated in a “travelling dinner”. I’ll share details of that event in another posting. Here I want to talk about Paula who is somewhat mentally challenged and is quite a delightful character. She is actually forty-five years old, I believe, but looks like a teenager.
When we entered the kitchen at Deb and Crystal’s, Paula was seated at a table on the far side of the room of the room next to her Mom, Mary. Paula is not very tall, maybe not even five foot. She has rich auburn, curly hair that she wore pulled back from her face that day. Her face is very round and when she smiles her eyes crinkle up, Chinese-style, and she looks like a mischievous pixie!
Richard had stopped at the kitchen island to pick at some appetizers, while I walked around it and went over to be introduced to Paula. She did not look up at me immediately, but then Deb said, “Look at this Paula”, and pointed to my hair. At that, Paula looked up at me and her face lit up in pure delight. She clapped her hands together like a little child and exclaimed, “It’s purple, it’s purple, my favorite color!” Looking into that innocent, beaming face, I felt as though someone had given me an exquisite gift. My heart lurched and I fell in love with Paula right then and there.
She continued to smile up at me and I pointed over to Richard and said, “And that’s my husband, Richard.” Without skipping a beat, Paula looked in Richard’s direction and once again clapped her hands together. Her smile widened and, in such genuine innocence, she exclaimed, “Oh, he’s so cute!” And she chuckled. The whole room seemed to light up and people laughed, not at her, but right along with her, joining in her delight at the situation. And I fell in love all over again with Paula.
Later on in the evening, Paula brought me a piece of cake. I thanked her and kissed her cheek. A dazed look came over her and she slowly put her hand up to her cheek in wonder. As she returned into the kitchen, I heard her say to someone, “I’ll never wash my face again.” The person asked her why and she responded, “Because Margo kissed me.” I felt my throat constrict and my heart welled up with love.
There are moments that I recognize as pure God moments. I know I experienced the love of God in that sweet pixie of a person, Paula. I have often heard people question “why” about many things that happen on this earthly journey, including the “why” of people like Paula. My answer: they help us to experience a special kind of love – if we are open to it. I will remember Paula with great affection and I hope I get the opportunity to see her again.