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Riding Double January 29, 2015

I’ve been riding doubles since I was a child: perched on the back of my dad’s motorbike as we sped down the rural roads located just minutes from our home. I can feel the wind twisting beneath my leather jacket and smell the aroma of the new-mown hay.

While I now have my own motorcycle (an old Yamaha that once belonged to my mother – the last model they built with a kick start), I still enjoy outings with my father. One hand gripping the sissy bar like a bull-rider and the other wrapped tightly around his waist, holding onto his pocket as though it might save me in the event of a wreck.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to take a STAR Course (Skills Training Advantage for Riders). It was pointed out that riding doubles is inherently dangerous. The second rider makes the bike less stable and control becomes a challenge. For this reason, I thought I’d take this week to share a few tips that I’ve learned over the years which help to, at the very least, reduce the risk:

1. Stay with the bike. It’s the rider’s job to lean, not the passengers. With this in mind, the best way to prevent one’s self from doing the leaning is to always look in the opposite direction of the turn.

2. Stay close to the rider. Sudden acceleration or obstacle avoidance can throw a passenger off the back of a bike. For this reason, I usually press my body closer to Dad’s when I know he’s about to hit the gas. Bracing myself against his back guarantees that I won’t be left behind.

3. Keep your eyes on the road. More than once, I’ve caught my mind wandering. While this isn’t a major problem, it can lead to a collision between my helmet and my dad’s when we hit a bump. So I always try to keep my attention focused enough to allow me to see potential hazards. Then I brace and rise up on the footrests just as I would if I were in control.

4. Dress to drive. A bug smacking you in the hand or face hurts just as much when you’re a passenger as it does when you’re the rider. A sudden movement in response to the discomfort can throw off the driver’s balance. So take the time to dress like you’ll be the one driving.

5. Watch the tail pipes. I’ve always been safety conscious. My instructor’s wife always wore a full-faced helmet. I got to see what it looked like after she creamed out going 35 mph. I’d hate to have seen her face had she not been wearing that headgear. “What’s on your head, reflects what’s in your head.” That said, what’s on your legs may reflect whether you have them or not! Tail pipes get hot and as a passenger, you run a high risk of getting burned. While you may not wear leather as the rider, I definitely recommend it if you’re on the pillion!

6. Enjoy the ride. Doubles requires confidence and faith – confidence that the person in charge of the bike has the skills to keep you safe and faith that they love you enough to want to! That said, if you’re going to ride on that second seat, make sure you’re doing it with someone you trust. Riding isn’t worth it if you’re more worried on the back of the bike than you were standing in your driveway!


On Text Messaging January 22, 2015

Filed under: Etiquette — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

I’ll admit that I wasn’t initially too keen on the idea of text messaging. The tiny keys on my phone made the task difficult and the only real use I could see for it was that it allowed the teens I was teaching to contact me quickly in an emergency.

As time went on, I got better at the art. I could read and write the abbreviated messages and what had once been a burden became fun. Perhaps, too much fun. Texting, I discovered, was better than a phone call.

I finally had an outlet for all of those short, but stimulating thoughts that I had throughout the course of the day. In an instant, I could share a reflection with a single friend (or a group of friends) in a way that did not intrude upon their time (the way a vocal message might) or my privacy (as with Facebook). It was like having my friends right there with me all the time.

My anticipation of a response to these messages is limited. I send them to make people laugh (as in the case where I discovered that using Facebook and Google Maps does not guarantee that you’ll end up headed in the correct direction), to share encouragement (a verse or a quote), a prayer request, or a general update that does not merit a prolonged conversation. Friends who receive these messages may or may not respond… and I’m O.K. with that. It’s simply my way of connecting.

Since most of my friends aren’t as keen on texting as I am, I have had to make a few adjustments. To begin with, I always text in full sentences (though not always with proper capitalization and punctuation). This allows my less non-English savvy friends (primarily those who fall into my parents’ age-range) to read the message with ease.

Secondly, as with Twitter, I have had to learn to share my thoughts in a concise manner. One friend complained that each message I sent got automatically divided into multiple texts. He had to learn to “read backwards” to make any sense out of my comments and, at one point, spent nearly ten minutes trying to figure out what the message “nd!” meant. (It was the final two letters of “Have a great weekend!”) So I now try (though not always with success) to keep the messages limited.

Thirdly, I’ve taken time to clarify to my friends that “group texts” aren’t like posting to Facebook. While they may see a lot of the same phone numbers repeat themselves, I actually do hand select who gets each message. (I simply find it challenging to retype the same question six times on those tiny keys!)

Finally, I’ve had to acknowledge the importance of occasionally retyping the same question six times on those tiny keys. I do this simply to let my friends know that they are loved enough for me to take the time to do that… that in my heart, they aren’t part of a generic crowd, but a very special group of people with whom I am privileged to share my life.


Chaplaincy and the Art of Listening January 15, 2015

I just wrapped up another volunteer shift at the local hospital. I’m in a pretty good mood (as can be attested to by the church secretary who has had the distinct honor of listening to my melodious whistling). There were only a few dozen patients to see today, each with a story to share.

I used to think that chaplains were spiritual guides of sorts – pastors without a church. But that view has slowly morphed as the number of hours I’ve volunteered have increased. Indeed, the most religious activity I perform is to offer a prayer (something which I consider a great honor – particularly when it is requested by someone who is not a person of faith).

Instead, most of my time is spent listening. I walk into a room and introduce myself, then stand and listen as words begin to flow. I lend an ear as each individual explains their situation and shares their struggles. I empathize with those trying to balance life at home and work with the extra burdens associated with the unexpected hospitalization of a loved one. I smile as a wife shares about her love for a husband. And I feel the pain of couple awaiting test results that have the potential to completely alter their lives. Perhaps my badge should read “volunteer listener” rather than “volunteer chaplain”.

The work is deeply rewarding – if only because I understand how much it can mean when someone listens, truly listens, to my own struggles. More than once, the deepest comfort I’ve been offered has come not from those desirous to “fix” my difficulties, but from someone who was more interested in just sitting with me in my grief or distress. It is those who have shared my pain who have encouraged me most. The greatest reassurance I’ve received has come from those who “have ears to hear”.

So this is what I offer others: a pair of ears and a willing heart. As a chaplain, I become a repository for the stress of those facing a delay in their plans for life. I offer a safe place to vent the frustration that accompanies a long hospital stay. And, when asked, I share in the joys and struggles of an individual’s faith journey as well.

Truthfully, there are no “quick fixes”. Healing takes time (if and when it takes place), and that time is filled with defeats as well as victories. The road is not an easy one. While I can’t offer the reassurance that difficult times aren’t in the future, I can offer the reassurance that those who face them are not alone. Someone is there to listen, to support, to hold their hand, and to offer a prayer.
Perhaps my work is spiritual after all.



Living Apart: Part IV January 8, 2015

Filed under: Family Issues — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

My fiancé lives 2,000 miles away. We get to see each other twice a year for two weeks at a shot. My separation from him causes my heart to ache, but there are blessings as well.

Our time apart has strengthened us in ways we never expected. It has required that we exercise and expand our communication skills in ways which simply wouldn’t have happened if we lived near one another. It has tested the strength of our friendship, expanded our ability to think creatively, and confirmed our love for one another.

In two years, my fiancé will finish his education. Thanks to where he lives and the school he attends, he will be able to secure not just a job, but a good one. He’ll have the opportunity to pursue graduate level studies and have the satisfaction of knowing that he can support his own family with his skills. It’s a long wait, but in the end, it will be worth it.

In the meantime, here’s my own advice on long-distance relationships:

1. Mark the milestones. It helps if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Break your time apart into easy to handle blocks, and celebrate when you’re half-way through or there’s only a week left.

2. Find friends. Even if they don’t entirely understand your situation, a good friend can do a lot towards helping you keep your time apart in perspective.

3. Communicate. Few things build communication skills as well as distance. Set aside some time each day to write, phone, Skype, or Facetime with your significant other.

4. Find things you can share long distance. My fiancé and I read books together. Sometimes he reads to me, other times I read to him. Sometimes we both read separately, then discuss what we’ve read. However we choose to do it, knowing that the other is absorbing the same thoughts and ideas can go a long way toward building a sense of connectedness.

5. Learn to date. Dating via Skype or Facetime is easier than you might imagine… if you’re willing to think creatively. Get dressed up, light some candles, and share a nice supper together. Watch the same ballgame on TV or the same shows on Netflix and text each other as you do.

In the end, separation from your significant other isn’t easy. It tests the strength of your relationship and your commitment to one another. But when used properly, the distance can build up rather than destroy. I have chosen the former.


Living Apart: Lori’s Story January 1, 2015

Filed under: Family Issues — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

Finances can be a major issue when spouses are forced to live apart from one another. That’s why this week, we’ll be taking a look at the story of Lori. Unlike the other two women in our series, Lori didn’t meet her husband until her late forties. They had been married for just three years when Joe was laid off and, when he couldn’t find work locally, he was forced to move out of state. “I thought we’d be looking forward to retiring in 10 or 15 years, buying a little RV and seeing all of the National Parks in the country. It had already taken me a long time to find this man. Now we were going to be separated and I was going to turn 50, too! This isn’t what I thought it would be!”

The separation was only supposed to last for a year while Joe adjusted to the job and Lori tried to sell the house, but what started out as a brief time apart turned into ten years… ten years in which they faced an intense financial struggle. “When we got married, Joe went over our finances. We didn’t have a budget. We didn’t look over the bills together. We just bumbled along like 80% of Americans.

During that time [when he was laid off], all of our expenses doubled. We got discouraged and went back to living from paycheck to paycheck and not saving for the future. I almost didn’t let myself dream anymore.” And that’s when God intervened.

A financial class at their church helped to put Lori and Joe back on the right track – starting with the creation of a budget. “If we were going to change anything in the budget, we would have to call an emergency budget meeting. We’d talk on the phone and change the budget. It was helpful.”

Lori would agree. At the time she and her husband began living apart, she believed in God, but had lost the sense of personal connection. “To be perfectly honest, I was mad at God. I’d ask, “Why did Joe lose his job?” “Why is the only job we can find 200 miles away?” “Why are we in this position?” “Why when he lost his job and we came to you begging and praying that we would get something here did it take so long?” The last 2-3 years have been a huge time in my life personally as far as growth. I’m becoming much better in my prayer life, being able to talk to God and knowing that He’s always there.” As Carol would put it, “sometimes God is doing a lot of stuff in spite of us.”

Asked for her top advice for couples who are separated through no fault of their own, Lori replies:

  1. Keep your relationship with God vibrant. “You never have to be alone by yourself.”
  2. Pray. “God doesn’t mind us telling Him what we want.”
  3. Voice your respect. “Let your husband know that you cherish him. He needs to know you support him and respect him.”

Where does all this leave me? Find out next week when we conclude our series on living apart!



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