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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Courage, Trust and Riding a Bike...

Riding a bike in firemen boots...
"Do you know what courage is?" I asked my 8-year-old son in frustration, after repeatedly trying to get him to trust that I wouldn't let go of his bike seat if he started pedaling.  "It's when you're afraid but you do it anyway."

"Everybody is afraid of something," I continued, "But courage means you trust in God and do it anyway."  (Pot up the Hoosiers or Rudy theme song here!)

Except, the record player would play a few promising and uplifting notes, before sounding like the needle scratching across vinyl (Did I just date myself?).  My son looked at me blankly (like if asking internally, "What the hell is he talking about?"), pedaled once, and put his foot down.  He just wouldn't trust me!

Our younger daughter, who is 11, gave it a shot.  She tried reasoning, telling him that when she learned to ride, I held the seat of her bike and didn't let go until I was sure she was balanced and pedaling.  She then began coaxing him into pedaling over to her, who stood a few feet in front of him.

He couldn't do it.  His foot would hit the pavement involuntarily, sort of like Pitbull saying "Dale" in one of his songs.

Notwithstanding his apparent willingness and determination to learn, it wasn't working.  And, to me, it started to feel all too familiar.

It's taken me several tries to teach my kids to ride a bike.  My oldest daughter learned with my father, after several failed attempts with me.  Our middle girl, also took a couple of tries and frustrated efforts.  And, my son, well, let's just say, the last time, which was about a year ago, ended with him stumping off, yelling, "I don't want to ride a bike!  I don't ever want to ride a bike.  I don't care!" (He's a bit dramatic.  It must be from my wife's side of the family!)

And, so now, here we were again, at his own request, after Sunday Mass.  Yet, no matter how I or his sister tried, he wouldn't trust me to hold his bicycle upright.  

It was exasperating.  My patience was waning (a common denominator in all my failed attempts at teaching my kids to ride a bike!).

Maybe, I waited too long!  I learned to ride a bike on the day I got one, when I was about 5-years-old. My uncle took the training wheels off, put me on the bike and told me to pedal.  I ran into the wall of the front porch of our house but got up, took the bike down to the front yard and started pedaling again.  After falling several times, I learned.  Unlike my son, my parents say I wasn't afraid.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...
In fact, I was fearless as a kid (not that I knew any better!), to the point where, at about the same age, maybe a bit younger, I thought I was Superman and, thinking I could fly, jumped off the top of the stairwell that led to the roof of my Great Grandfather's house.  I was immediately introduced to gravity, while tumbling on my head, shoulders and back like Peter falling down the stairs in Family Guy.  I ended up with a huge bump on my forehead (but no broken bones!).    

Getting back to our story, I left my son practicing on his own in the driveway, one pedal, foot down, two pedals, foot down, one pedal, foot down, two pedals, foot down, and so on, as I went to light the barbecue to cook dinner.

It was Divine Mercy Sunday and, as I sat there with a glass of wine in my hand and burgers on the grill, thinking about how little trust my son had in me and how little patience I had with him, it hit me.

"Jesus I trust in you."  The words that St. Faustina Kowalska had inscribed on the image of Christ, as He had appeared to her, inspiring the Divine Mercy devotion.  We had just heard about it at Mass.

My son wouldn't trust me and I was too impatient.  Yet, here I was at the tender age of 52, at a crossroad in my life, since soon my kids will be going off to college.  I have thirteen, maybe, eighteen earning years left in life (God willing!).  I have debt up to my eyeballs, like Stanley Johnson, the guy in the Lending Tree commercial (sans the two-story, four-bedroom house and country club membership).  I have little savings, despite a good paying job that, while earning more than my parents ever did (together), will never afford me three college tuition, and wondering, where do I go from here, like the old Alan Parson Project song, Games People Play, queried.  So, I have to ask myself, do I really trust in Jesus? Do I follow His lead, even if it means taking the road less traveled and having to crash and scrape my knees a few times along the way?  Or, do I constantly stop and put my foot down like my son? Moreover, how impatient is God with me, as I am with my son for his lack of trust?

The words of our parish priest that day came to mind, "The Lord is so much better to us than we actually deserve.  He gave up His life for us, even though we offend Him all the time, even though, we killed Him."

A sense of shame overcame me; not enough to stop grilling or sipping wine, mind you, but shame nonetheless. I prayed for more patience with my son and vowed to teach him to ride a bike and to stop putting my own foot down with God.    

I sometimes feel like the father, whose son Jesus heals of an evil spirit in the Gospel of Mark, who says, "Lord, I do believe!  Help my unbelief."

As for my son?  Talk about God's mercy!  I guess, He didn't want to test my patience any longer.  By the time I got home from work on Monday, he was riding a bike by himself.  He apparently had more trust in my Mom!...

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