FIRST-PERSON: Lessons on a motorcycle

by Terri Stovall , posted Thursday, May 02, 2019 (3 months ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- People are often surprised to learn that I ride my own Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

I don't know if their astonishment is fueled by my 5-foot stature, the fact I am a woman, or that my day job just doesn't fit the image, but I always enjoy their responses when I show pictures of me on my bike.

Spring is my favorite riding season because the sun is out, the wind is still cool and the Texas highways are dotted with bluebonnets.

When I ride, I do a lot of thinking and, honestly, God and I do a lot of talking. The past 12 months of life have been quite the ride. I have felt like God has had me in an intensive, one-on-one classroom with Him. Between some unexpected challenges coupled with the ongoing desire to effectively lead those with whom God has allowed me to have influence, I have learned many things about myself, about leadership and about God. On a recent motorcycle ride, God used our conversation to do a little lesson review.

Preparation for the ride is important.

Before ever getting on the bike, I put on long pants to protect me from flying rocks, debris and other dangers. I wear gloves to make sure my grip is secure. I strap on a helmet to protect me from the most fatal of injuries. And finally, I lace up my riding boots. They help me keep my feet firmly on the ground when I stop. (OK, they at least keep my tiptoes on the ground.) If I do all of this before ever swinging my leg over the bike and starting it up, what preparation should I make before walking out the door each morning where the dangers are even more prevalent? Have I put on each piece of God's armor (Ephesians 6:10-18)? Have I clothed myself in the garments of one called holy (Colossians 3:12-17)? Preparation to face each day is the first and most important step to leading as a woman should lead, and being able to stand firm in the face of whatever scheme the evil one wishes to throw my way.

My actions and reactions are the only thing I can control.

Terri Stovall (front) and her husband Jay riding their Harleys.
Photo from Facebook
On an earlier ride, the tire treads peeled off of a vehicle ahead of me and landed directly in my path. Because of traffic around me, I had no other recourse than to ride over the tread at 60 mph. I could not control what obstacle came my way or where it was placed, I only had the ability to control my own action ... or reaction, at this point ... to successfully maneuver over an unavoidable hazard. (Yes, it was a little heart stopping!) When riding, I have no control over what is around me, other than my instincts based on the preparation I have made before and the ongoing process of honing my skill as a rider. Similarly, in leadership, I cannot control the actions, responses or emotions of others. Likewise, I never know what obstacle might come my way in any given day. I can only prepare myself daily with the Lord, continue to hone my skills as a leader, and then hold on tight to do what needs to be done.

Sometimes the best place for the leader is in the back.

When my husband Jay and I ride our motorcycles, especially on the freeway, he almost always rides behind me. This puts him at the best vantage point to watch out for me and intentionally ride as my protector. If we need to change lanes, he changes lanes first giving me clear passage. If someone tries to move over on top of me, he quickly moves up to protect me. His riding in the back allows me to ride with my own style, at my own speed, and gives him the best vantage point to step in as leader and protector when needed. Isn't this a true picture of servant leadership? Being a leader does not always mean being out in front. Many times it means being in the back where you're breathing the exhaust, moving slower than you would like, but propelling those whom you lead forward (Matthew 20:25-28).

Freedom comes through vulnerability.

When I ride, I experience such a feeling of freedom but also an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. There is nothing between the road and me but about 10 inches. There is nothing between me and the car next to me except a little white stripe (or less!). Yet in the midst of being vulnerable, there is a great sense of freedom. The wind in my face and the power of the bike is the most amazing feeling. This is probably the hardest lesson that I have had to learn (and am still learning today). It is only when I am completely vulnerable before God that I find true freedom. I am not in control. I am not invincible. I am not superwoman. When I can stand totally stripped and vulnerable before God, He becomes the wind in my face, the power on which I ride, and I become a conduit for His work through me. In Psalm 104, the psalmist sings the praises of the Lord's creation and providence. Verse 3 declares the Lord is one, "Who walks on the wings of the wind." Being vulnerable before God makes me able to walk on the wings of the wind with Him and experience the freedom that comes with complete surrender.

I love riding my Harley-Davidson and the winding roads of my life. I don't ride fearful but I ride prepared. I don't ride scared but I ride aware. I don't ride alone but with my protector. And I ride vulnerable and free, walking on the wings of the wind!

Terri Stovall is dean of women and professor of women's ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at the seminary's Biblical Woman website (biblicalwoman.com).
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