It was just about a year ago that the seeds were planted in my mind and heart of joining a Venture Expeditions cross-country bicycling tour for the summer of 2010. I’ve been all over the place, both literally and figuratively, since then. And although the year and the journey have both now come to an end, I’ve realized I’m not quite finished with the latter. So here I sit, at my neighborhood coffee shop in Chicago, taking a few moments to string together some thoughts to help you understand how the 2010 Just+Hope Northern Tour ruined my life.
I will not bore you with the details of my life before the tour, other than to say I had mistakenly come to believe I finally achieved a sort of status that made me something; not that I was anything special, but I could take care of my needs and wants with reasonable consistency. I had gradually and unintentionally become proud of the fact that I led the life of an urban cowboy outfitter gentleman and fancied I would never go back to the patchwork income, the Bohemian lifestyle of my former self.
What I didn’t know then, and do now, is that God had methodically placed people and circumstances in my life to encourage unrest, unrest to the point of action. I won’t get into all the particulars of this dynamic either; the bottom line is that, for some reason which I can’t even now explain, I signed up for something that required me to spend months begging friends and family for money (and raised almost $5,000), gearing up and training to ride my bicycle very long distances (which is honestly not my favorite recreational activity), and trying to prepare myself to leave home for two months with a bunch of strangers to travel to a seemingly unending stretch of unfamiliar places. The only explanation I can give is that I knew it would be different from my usual life, and like I said, there was all that restlessness.
People thought I was nuts. And they kept telling me so.
“You’re doing what? That’s pretty far. And the mountains! That’s crazy.”
In retrospect, I absolutely agree with them; but I have this bad habit of stubbornly biting off more than I can chew, not out of bravery but mostly ignorance. Being from Illinois, I had never ridden a bike uphill, so naturally I assumed that it would be easy. Ignorance.
So off I went, from Seattle to New York on my Jamis Coda. Here are some lessons I learned:
– Miraculous things happen when a group of committed, God-fearing people set out do to something together for the benefit of others.
– This country is full of generous, helpful, and supportive people, Christian or otherwise. If you disagree, you may be looking in the wrong places.
– If you ride a bicycle for eight hours a day, you can:
1. Expect interesting things to happen to your body from the waist down
2. Consume all the ice cream you want and lose weight (true story)
3. Go farther than you probably thought you could, in every sense.
– I have a soul. I realized why you should spend time feeding your body, mind and spirit with good things, tangible things, things that you can’t get in your regular life; your life that trusts in the Internet, always has cellular reception and leads you to believe your status makes you something. Your soul will tell you why this is good, but not right away. At first your knees will hurt.
This business about the soul leads me to my point, about how my life is ruined. My life appeared pretty together. It made sense to most humans, but I’m learning that many things that make sense, seem wise and are comfortable oppose the messages my soul speaks to me when I take the time to listen to it. So I guess my soul is ruining my sensible life, no thanks to the Just+Hope Tour. But this is a good thing.
When I returned home from the tour, I sat on the couch for a few days watching baseball games and Flight of the Conchords on DVD. Then I went back to work, assuming everything was normal again. And I believed it for a while. I drowned out the sound of my soul with work and television and other familiar sounds. But weeks later, God led me to listen to my soul again; my soul that helped my body and my voice do and say so many things over those 3,300 miles. Now the voice of my soul is asking for more than wise, sensible and normal.
This is the voice of God asking me to follow wherever it leads, even if it doesn’t make sense. I find it terribly disruptive and hazardous to my financial stability, my status and my comfort. But I have experienced too much to live that life anymore, the one that makes sense and is easy to explain to people I meet. I have seen first-hand how the divine assimilates with humanity when there is space for it to do so. There is a soul for you to discover, to listen to; and not just for your own benefit, but also for the many people whose souls and bodies are enslaved to evil things.
If you are anything like me, your existence is inundated with “voices” sending you messages that are not true about what is important, what you should value. By joining Just+Hope and separating from the static of my everyday life, I was able to hear the message of truth being broadcast below the interference that normally drowns it out.
Now 2011 is upon us, and whether or not you’re the type of person who makes resolutions or sets goals or flosses or any of those other important exercises, I pray each of you finds the opportunity to see through a window of clarity in your life this year. When presented with the chance to step out of yourself for a while and commune with God, my prayer is that you will choose to open the door for conversation.
I’m excited for what your soul has to say.
Ben Skoda is a schoolteacher and lives in Chicago. In the summer of 2010, Ben rode his bicycle from Seattle to New York with Venture Expeditions to raise funds and awareness for modern-day slavery.