LaPlace, Louisiana was the location. The task was to learn how to ride a bike. The parsonage was a small three-bedroom house. It was the first house on the street. We lived across from a racetrack. When you live that close to a racetrack, you know exactly when the cars are running. I gonna guess the church got a good deal on it — location, location, need I say more? The front yard had a ditch that always flooded when it rained. On an average day, it held enough water to be full of crawfish. I spent many a day catching those crawfish. I remember my sister and brother coaxing me onto my bike. It was faded pink with pink tassels on the handlebars and a pink and white banana seat. As we went down the road, I remember screaming, “Do not let go! Never let go!” My sister and brother would take turns running with me and I remember my dad coming out to give them a break. They would run along side the bike. I screamed the whole way, “Don’t let go.” They screamed, “keep peddling” and finally they would let go. The bike and I would wobble for a few yards and then crash. One thing I remember distinctly was my fear. How I hated the feeling of no control of my bike, of my entire life in that moment. I hated it more than liver and onions. My mom liked liver and onions, but I digress. I hated it more than a cold. I hated it more than when I split my pants at school right before recess and had to wait in the principal’s office till my mom dropped off another pair of pants we called gouchos (they were in fashion at the time.) I hated fear more than being dumped by a boy in my adolescence. I knew what fear looked like and I did not want anything to do with it. And then one day riding the bike was easy. The fear was gone. The next thing I remember about biking was riding down thrill hill in my next home in Many, Louisiana. There I remember riding with all of the neighborhood kids. We gave each other rides on our handlebars. Riding on a friend’s handlebars, now that should have caused great fear but nothing like learning how to ride could compare.
Since then I have had moments like that experience, when fear takes hold of me. It is as if someone grabs me around the neck. And it seems to squeeze all the good stuff out, and everything goes black, except of course the fear. I remember that same fear finding me on Mount Magazine in Arkansas. We were on a youth outing called “Senior Summit” and I was about to dangle my body off of a rappelling rope that disappeared off of the edge of a 150 foot cliff. Words cannot adequately communicate the fear I felt stepping off of that mountain It felt like death and I could not get my breath, like things would never be right again. I remember halfway down the mountain, I finally enjoyed the descent. As quickly was the fear had come, it was gone–like the onset of hiccups–there they come and there they go. Poof the fear was gone and I was in the middle of joy.
Last week, our family was in central Illinois visiting some of our extended family from Ron’s side. Some cousins were riding bikes and doing jumps off of a ramp and our oldest son Max, who we have only seen ride a bike with his training wheels, jumped on one of there bikes and started riding. I do not mean trying to ride, I do not mean learning to ride—he was riding, There was no mom or dad holding on. There was no yelling or wailing and gnashing of teeth. In Chicago, we learned an expression that Cubs fans use. When a homerun is hit completely out of the park (on the left field side), it lands on a street called Waveland Avenue. Max did more than just kind of ride the bike, he “hit it onto Waveland.” He glided past us and I remembered when I was 8 and I remember how hard it had been for me. We clapped and celebrated. Fear had passed over him on this one and he was captured not by fear, but by joy. There was a simple beauty in the moment.
Some things are just going to be easy and others so awfully difficult and we do not know which will be which. This past year I watched the show “Lost.” Why someone who travels on planes would watch that show, I do not know. The season started with a plane crash. One of the characters talked about fear. He said he gave fear only 5 seconds. He really felt the fear with all his being and 5 seconds was all the time he was going to give it. I thought about that concept.
In my life, I can jump in without fearing fear. I can refuse to be afraid that I will fall apart or break or somehow get stuck in fear. I can survive moments that seem scary, because I have seen the joy that lies beyond. So I trust that joy waits, out of sight on the other side. When I have felt that grip, the next thing that follows is a prayer that usually begins with, “help me please…” and ends with “…thank you Jesus.” Sometimes life is as easy as gliding and other times I am holding on with white knuckles, but I try to remember to breathe, and to remember that God is with me in both the fear and the joy.