Justin Ricklefs


It Ain’t Easy. But Stay In It.

Today had been circled on my calendar for months. It’s been over a year since the last time I’ve gotten together with some of my closest high school and college buddies.

Besides my dad and brother, these are the guys who have been by me almost every step of the way.

Stood next to me at our wedding, held each other’s kids in hospitals, attended funerals of each other’s’ loved ones.

The “haven’t talked to you for months but then catch up in minutes like no time was lost” group of guys.

Rolling in from all corners of the state, we met today to be together. One of the guy’s dad has access to 20 acres way out in no-man’s-land.

He also has some fun toys that make loud noises and rip up paper targets.

As we drove out on the bumpy, gravel road, one of the fellas was talking about our 20-year reunion he’s helping plan next summer.

20 years.

By then, we’ll have been out of high school longer than we were old when we graduated.

More than double our lifetime.

Pretty sobering reality, especially as we consider what all has taken place for each of us in those 20 years.

When we were do-whatever-we-wanters at 18 with the world at our fingertips, then picked up a few more close friends at Mizzou that are part of the crew now, I don’t think any of us would have thought things would be as beautiful as they are now.

Or as hard.

We spent a couple hours in the cold, shooting things that don’t move, laughing, asking about kids and wives and jobs and life, telling old stories, remembering how we didn’t have cell phones until our senior year in college, just being together.

Like old times.

At lunch though, the conversation turned heavier. To really face the stuff we’ve all gone through caused some sobriety.

Frankly, some sobriety we’d probably like to wash away with a few beers.

We talked about marriage, and money and parenting and friends who lost their way and damage that has been caused.

A sip of an IPA followed by one of the guys saying, “fellas….it ain’t easy…none of us knew it would be this hard…”

It ain’t easy. That’s for damn sure.

I’d put this group of men up against any other guys in the country in terms of character, love, friendship.

But we’re broken dudes in a broken world.

And 20 years has a way of dragging you around and scraping you, like the way the tops of your feet get scraped on the bottom of a sandy ocean when you get tossed and turned by the tide.

You come up and you’re still alive. Still at the beautiful ocean. But the gift is accompanied by a wound.

The sobriety about each of our parenting challenges, marriage struggles, friendship issues, and family hardship rang as loud as those shotgun shells did a couple hours earlier on that farm.

But the guys gathered around that table didn’t judge or condemn.

They simply loved. And said, “yeah…me too…it’s really hard.”

As we went back our separate ways this evening, to each corner of the state, to our own responsibilities, excitement, dreams, fear and struggles, this text from one of them summed it up perfectly:

“Fellas, still really dig you guys. Stay in it.”

I loved the text and then realized, he’s right.

It ain’t easy. But staying in it is worth it.

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