Biker Chick, or If At First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Still a little dark...glad I don't have to leave any earlier

I rode my bike to work this morning. It was lovely. It takes about the same amount of time as driving my car – though the fact that going to work is downhill means I get a nice little workout on my way home- and it allows me to turn my focus more toward appreciating the beauty of God’s creation around me (rather than trying to avoid hitting said creation, especially the meandering “we own the road” deer that seem to outnumber the human residents of this town). If you had known me as a child, this would be a shocking revelation. Me? On a bike? Without needing medical attention? Not possible.

The Bike and I, a play in 3 acts

Who doesn't want handlebar streamers?

You see, I have always had a love-hate relationship with that two-wheeled monster, the bicycle. My first bike was a fantastic creation with purple wheels, neon stickers and colorful handlebar streamers. But it was not the pink bike I had clearly specified on my list for Santa. Eventually we made up, and I learned to like my bike, especially when I discovered that I could leave purple skid marks on the sidewalk. It seemed like the bike and me might be a match made in heaven after all. We did have our little squabbles, like the time I tried to go all Evel Knievel and ride my down the hill from the front yard to the back. The boys next door did it all the time, and it looked so cool. My first grade understanding of physics wasn’t all that great, and I neglected to notice the fact that our side of the hill was signifcantly steeper than the neighbors’. Needless to say, It was a good thing my mom insisted on me wearing my very uncool helmet, because otherwise I would have several nifty scars on my forehead, and probably some serious brain damage. But in general, the bike and I got along well, and I even got to ditch the training wheels. I was well on my way to the Tour de France. Or at least the Tour de Block.

It didn't look exactly like this, but it seemed about this intimidating

A couple of years later, I got a “big-girl” bike. A purple and hot pink mountain bike. It was totally rad, to use a phrase of the times. I rode it a grand total of about 10 times before it tried to kill me. I was trying to steer, really I was, but there was an irresistible magnetic force to the rolls of discarded carpet in the church parking lot where I practiced my fancy riding. I had always dreamed of flying, but that wasn’t quite how I imagined it. Mercifully, the bike was stolen during a move later that year. And there, with my narrow escape from death-by-demon-bike, my riding career was apparently over. Once in a while I would be at a friend’s house, and would end up borrowing their brother’s bike to try to ride to the 7-11 for a slurpee, but I pretty much thought I was going to die each time. I developed a type of sour grapes philosophy about biking, deciding that it was a dumb way to get around, only slightly better than running (both of which I knew should never be done for fun).

Shade is definitely a good thing when riding in the East

Fast forward about 15 years. While living out East, we discovered a beautiful trail through the woods not far from our house. It was great for walking or jogging (for others to jog, not me!). On a trip back to our hometown, we retrieved our bikes from our respective parents, and came home to ride the trail. It seemed like a good way to spend time together and get some much needed exercise as well. My first time on the bike, I managed to get about 100 yards before I realized that I needed about 30 feet to go around other people on the trail, and that trying to ride over the bridge across the river was like trying to ride through a herd of longhorns in a cattle chute. But my sweet husband was encouraging, and I kept practicing. Later that weekend, we decided we would ride our bikes down to the cute little island in the middle of the river. We got about a quarter of the way there when my bike went off the edge of the pavement, and in trying to correct my path, I ended up flipping my bike over and landing in a mangled mess. No permanent damage was done to the bike or to me, but I had a sore ankle and a nice bruise on my knee for several days. And yet, I didn’t give up. It’s sad to say as a grown woman, but I was really excited the first time I made a 5 mile roundtrip without a) falling over or b) having a heart attack.

In Which I Move to Hippie-land and Become a Biker

My beautiful trail

Not too long after that, we decided to move ourselves West, to a beautiful small town that is incredibly bike-friendly. There are trails all over the place, and in spite of being in the mountains, the town is really pretty level. Actually, bike-friendly is an understatement. Every shop downtown has a bike rack out front, it’s not surprising to see several children or small dogs in trailers behind bikes, and even tiny children are seen riding their bikes to school each day. Bike-crazed is a more appropriate term.  I started researching commuting and grocery shopping by bike, and got really, really excited. When we were house-hunting, one of the requirements was that it be close enough to ride our bikes downtown for events and shopping. When we finally found a house, it was not only close enough to downtown to bike everywhere, but it was also only about 100 yards from the entrance to the main bike/hike path through town. It was just over a mile from work, and a mile and a half from the grocery store or the main drag downtown. As they extend the trail system, I’ll also be able to ride my bike to Wal-Mart. I love the idea of the bicycle trifecta – green transportation, money saved on gas, and exercise without adding much time to my schedule.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall…

All ready to go...

And so, just days into the school year, I decided I would ride my bike to work for the very first time. I had my brand new basket on the front holding my lunch and purse so charmingly. I left plenty early so that I would have time to enjoy the scenery. I kissed my sweetie goodbye and pedaled off down the street, so proud of myself. I turned onto the bike trail, reached up to adjust my helmet, and then everything went wrong. Apparently the adorableness of my basket had thrown the balance off, and when I tried to single-hand it, I sent myself skidding off the edge of the trail. As any physicist will tell you, inertia is an absolute bear. The bike went sideways, and I went down and forward. I landed in the gravel and prickly grass at the edge of the trail, immensely thankful that there was no one around to witness my divinely appointed comeuppance.

One of two crash sites

I picked the gravel out of my palms, dusted off my khakis and beige sweater as best I could, and got back on the horse…er, bike.  “I can do this,” I thought, with only the slightest of tears of pain and embarrassment welling in my eyes. I continued on bravely. “Woohoo! I have conquered the bike…yeah!” went through my mind as I turned the corner to the street my school is on, followed shortly by, “Uh-oh…you’ve got to be kidding me!” as the gravel shoulder of the road reduced the coefficient of friction that had been holding my bike upright to nil and I crashed, yet again. I picked myself up quickly, lest a passing motorist (heaven forbid a parent or student) see me in my shame. Now feeling summarily reduced from my normal 5-foot-11 stature to about 3-foot-6, I pedaled very, very carefully the last tenth of a mile to school. Somehow I managed to make it on time and without severely noticeable injuries to my person or my wardrobe.

Safely parked at school

I was left with a healthy fear of the road and a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my leg, which lasted for a good few weeks. My shiny new basket still fit on the front of my bike, but had acquired a peculiar crooked tilt. I also had the pleasure of going back over the entire trail searching for my cell phone which had made a McQueen-esque escape from said basket. In all, though, there was no lasting damage, if you don’t count the basket’s re-alignment.

The Moral of the Story

Lesson learned, I was very cautious as I biked to work over the next several days. I felt quite accomplished when I was able to ride home from Safeway with a full basket and a bag of groceries to boot. My dear and I began making a habit of biking to the farmer’s market each Saturday morning, and quickly realized that we were going to need more baskets and racks if we were going to continue bringing nature’s bounty home each week. Just as I had planned, we were spending time together, getting things done and moving our bodies into a much greater state of health.

Who wouldn't want to ride here?

One day, I realized that I didn’t think biking for fun or for transportation was so dumb, like I had when I was a kid. Not only was it acceptable, it was something I really enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those die-hards that I see here biking up mountain passes in the snow. I still hold on to my vestigial laziness and comfort-seeking behaviors. I’ll ride to work as long as it’s not actively snowing or raining, the temperature is above 20 degrees and the wind is under 30 mph (which can sometimes be an issue here!). I feel stronger and healthier each day that I ride, and I also feel something else – a sense of accomplishment. I had failed and failed, and finally I had succeeded.

When we fail at something, especially early on in the process, it is easy to convince ourselves that we just don’t have what it takes. We deceive ourselves and give up because we don’t want to fail again. Isn’t that the worst kind of pride? We can’t bear the thought of being a failure, so we refuse to fail. If only someone could show us all the wonderful things we are missing by not adjusting our methods and trying again. I imagine that seeing those possibilities laid out before us would revolutionize our way of thinking about life. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “A righteous person falls seven times, and rises again…” If we give up the first time we fall, we are not exploring the full potential that God has created us for. Will the falling still hurt? Well, sure it will. Will we run up against things that are really difficult? Definitely – that’s a part of life. But if God calls us to do something, then nothing can stop us. Please don’t think that this means that anyone can do anything just because he or she wants to. Not everything is good for us, or part of God’s plan for us. Sometimes we will reach a point where we are right to give up and try something else. But that point is never after the first fall. God is reaching out His hand to help you back up. Will you take it, and try again?

May your heart be glad!

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A Serious Heart Condition

Welcome back. I hope that you have had a restful (or at least joyful) weekend. We’ve been fighting several dread diseases around here, so it was good to take a break, though I have missed you all.

Alright, I have a bit of a confession to make. My heart was not particularly glad for much of this past week. I could make some excuses: sick students, lack of sleep, lots to do, blah, blah, blah. Or it could be the time of the year. We’re a couple of weeks out from spring break at school, which means we are in a time of meltdowns for everyone, teachers and students alike. It’s like lap 402 at Daytona, week 37 in a pregnancy, or mile 24 of a marathon; you’re bored, tired and ready to be done, but you can’t give up now because it would make all the struggle thus far absolutely worthless. It can be hard to find joy when you’re in one of those seasons. The weariness can cast a shadow over all the great things that are in your life.

If I am honest as I look back on my week, there were several heart-gladdening things – the afternoon bike ride with my husband, the 2 nights of fabulous sleep, the evening spent enjoying the company of friends – and yet, I woke up Friday with clouds forming right over my head. I was like a walking thunderstorm. Husband not paying enough attention to me? Bang! Lightning bolt! A 6-year-old not displaying as much sense and maturity as I would like? Pow! Another bolt! Stubborn student? Crash! The storm is in full force now! One mildly critical comment? Crack! Another day destroyed.

But then, in a completely unexpected way, which I didn’t quite grasp at the moment, God taught me a really important lesson. What was the means of this great teaching moment? A playground merry-go-round and a handful of squealing little kids. Usually, I’m just an observer at recess. Especially on days when I’m not in the best of moods. But for some reason, I decided to give into the kiddos’ pleas for me to push the merry-go-round.  And then, in a real moment of spontaneity, I jumped on and joined them in the dizzy-fest. They were thrilled and giggling, and I laughed like I had not laughed in a long time. it was the silliest thing I had done in weeks. I was also incredibly joyful.

And here is what that ride on a merry-go-round taught me: If you are going to have a glad heart, you simply cannot take yourself too seriously. I realized that those moments when I was the most cranky or downright angry were the moments when I was so sure of my own importance, wrongly believing that I was the most important person in my world, that it was only me who could be counted on to make my students who they need to be, that I was too good to be worthy of any suggestions for improvement. The times over the whole week when I was happiest were when I was focused on others, when I completely abandoned any thought of my own image or importance.

So what about you? Have you been taking yourself too seriously lately? How has it affected the joy level of your spirit? Let me challenge you this week to make a point of taking yourself less seriously. If you want extra credit, here is your assignment: Do something this week that is completely silly and lacking in dignity. If you need some help, I would suggest you find your nearest and dearest 5- or 6-year-old; I am sure they can give you a few good pointers!

May your heart be glad (and just a little silly)

Spring is a Cruel Mistress

I’ve always liked Spring. My birthday is in Spring, Easter is in Spring, there are flowers and baby animals that come out in Spring. Spring is charming, beautiful, smells of clean breezes and flowers, and is warm and delightful. Spring is also fickle, teasing, volatile and unpredictable. Basically, Spring is the woman that every mother warns her son about. Spring is the cruelest mistress of all.

I am learning that principle like never before. When we lived on the East coast, Spring came around each March and wreaked her havoc until mid-May. She blossomed and bellowed in cycles, brought sunshine and rain alternately and generally made lives glorious and miserable as she saw fit. We’ve all met that woman, right? Now that we are in the West, I’ve discovered that Spring, Western-style, has adapted to fit her environment. Just as everything out here is a little more wild, a little rougher around the edges, so is cruel Lady Spring.
I usually enjoy Winter. I like pulling out my sweaters, drinking hot chocolate, waiting for Santa (or my husband, whichever brings more goodies), baking cookies and playing in the snow. But as any of you from high latitudes or high elevations will doubtless agree, there comes a day, about mid-way through February, when Winter suddenly gets old. You can’t bear to look at another pot of soup, you scream, “Whyyyyyyyy?!?!?” when there is snow in the forecast, and you get excited if the mercury rises above 40. Other than wanting to ski once or twice more this season, I am so over winter. So over it, in fact, that I would even stoop to breaking up on Facebook just so I don’t have to actually see Winter again.
 
You see, I’ve got my eye on this pretty young thing called Spring. I think the attraction is mutual. She’s been quite a flirt lately. The temperatures have been in the 50’s and 60’s since Sunday, I’ve been riding my bike each day (without donning my ski gear!), there are birds singing as the sun rises, and little buds are adorning each tree. The only problem is, she’s playing hard to get like a champion. Just today, the skies clouded over, and the weather stations predicted a combination of snow and rain. There will be another cold snap, I’ll have to put the bike away for several days, the flowers will take for—ev—er to bloom, and Winter will stick around like an ex who just doesn’t get the message. But Spring has caught my fancy, and now I’m hooked. People keep warning me not to get to excited, that Spring is just going to break my heart. I know she’s no good, but I keep hoping that she’ll change for me, that it will be different this time. Those people can be disparaging all they want, but I know Spring is going to come around and settle down. And when she does, I’ll be here.
As I thought about my new obsession with the arrival of Spring, I realized that it is such a metaphor for the way most of us view life. We are continually in a cycle of longing for something, receiving it, and then becoming bored with it. Speaking from a female perspective here, we break our life up into milestones that we think will make life complete when we reach them. We tell ourselves, “I’ll be really happy and content when…” When I get a boyfriend…When I graduate…When I get another degree…When I get a husband…When I get a house of my own…When I have a baby…When the kids go to school…When the kids all get married…When we get to retire…When we finally have grandkids…the list keeps going, until your at the end of your life. Perhaps it is okay at the last to say to yourself, “I will finally be truly happy and content when I reach Heaven,” for that is the only one of these “When I…” statements that is true. I’ve made it through about half the list, and indeed, each milestone has brought joy, but I am still not completely content. I still wish for the next thing in the list. I’ve been convicted though, that I need to stop putting so much emphasis on next. 

To be sure, the movement of life is exciting and rewarding. The possibilities that lie before us are part of what keeps us going when the here and now is discouraging. However, when we put the greater balance of our mental and spiritual energies into focusing on that which has not yet come, we harm ourselves in a variety of ways.
  1. We harm ourselves by diverting our attention from those things in our current life which do bring joy and blessing. It is as if we are being given birthday presents, and we only care about the one we will open last. How foolish! We need to be focused on being grateful for the gifts and gladness that we have been given in the present (insert your pun or cliche of choice here).
  2. We harm ourselves by trying to escape from the refining and perfecting effects of our present troubles. James 1:2-4 tells us that we should count or consider our troubles as joy because of the strength and endurance they can produce in us if we allow God to use them in our lives. Just as a marathoner has to run miles 1-25 to get to mile 26, we have to experience all the parts of life to experience any of them.
  3. We harm ourselves when our attention is distracted from the present because we are likely to miss opportunities for joy. We sometimes are unaware of a chance to take advantage of our current circumstances in a way that will bless either ourselves or others because we are only thinking about the future.
  4. We harm ourselves by setting ourselves up for disappointment. We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched.” When we spend our mental energies dreaming and planning for the future, we run the risk of creating a fantasy for ourselves that can overtake our reality. When, as is often the case, real life does not live up to our fantasy world, we find ourselves depressed, discouraged and in despair. This is not to say we should have no hopes for the future. But we must be careful to avoid letting our hopes become driving, consuming fantasies.
The future is a wonderful thing, full of hope, and possibilities, and potential. We should all look forward to the future with joy and anticipation. Let us not be caught in the trap of living only for the future, though. We have been given the incredible gift of time, in that we can hold on to parts of the past through memories, we can enjoy the present moment, and we can hope for the future. Keep in mind that the only one of those times that we can actually live in is the present, and as such, it should be our main focus. Enjoy the present, for it is indeed a gift.

It’s The Little Things…

Specifically 10 “Little Things”. The ones I spend 8 hours a day with,  5 days a week. In this current chapter of my life, I teach in an elementary school. Anyone who spends all day with any number of young people can tell you, children have a 6th sense for raising blood pressure. Can I get an “Amen” from my fellow teachers and stay-at-home moms? Only children can ask the same question 8 times, get the same answer each time, and still feel the need to ask a 9th time. They can be completely convinced that it is a reasonably good idea to put goldfish crackers in strawberry yogurt. They can make a hangnail seem like an injury on par with having your spleen removed with stone-age surgical tools. I have named knots in my back and shoulders after particularly trying precious students. And yet, they can bring joy to my spirit and a smile to my face in so many unexpected ways. Care for some examples?

  • When you’re faking your death because the classroom is so messy, and 9 kids are laughing at you, but one says, “I don’t ever want you to die; you are the nicest teacher.” I’m glad at least one of my students doesn’t want me dead.
  • When a little boy chooses a princess pony out of the Friday Treasure Box instead of choosing a Nerf football, just so he can give it to his little sister.

  • When someone is complaining about their schoolwork, and you hear a little voice say, “You should be happy to be at school. Education is great!” And they mean it!
  • When you find the one or two 8 year-olds that you can actually discuss classic movies and literature with. More than you could with your friends in college.
  • When a little someone hands you a whole bouquet of dandelions, and it is more precious to you than a thousand roses.

  • When you get letters in the mail from past students and they make the same spelling mistakes that you nagged them so much about when they were in your class, but this time you’re glad they made them. It feels familiar.
  • When you read a story by a 2nd grader that manages to combine aliens, fruit and God along with at least 3 instances of the word “awesome”.
  • When a 2nd grader suddenly can explain the properties of multiplication…even though she can’t spell “multiplication”

  • When you’re standing outside the library and you hear your whole class singing a song about the Bible, and you didn’t even suggest it to them.
  • When you read Anne of Green Gables to your class, and the little red-haired, freckle-face boy in your class can’t get enough of it.
  • When the boy who could barely read at the beginning of the year is now the last one in line – every time – because he can’t put his book down.

  • When you get to explain that there is no “Specific” Ocean, and that “cinnamons” are not words that mean the same thing. And then you start using those words because they’re just so funny.
  • When you get that one kid that everyone thinks is just too much trouble to do something really great, and you see the pride on their face.
  • When you get invited to an 8 year-old’s American Girl themed birthday party, and she really does want you to come. And then you show up, together with Samantha, whom you’ve had since you were 8. And Little Miss thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.

I could go on and on. No matter how rough a day at school has been, it’s very rare that a whole day goes by without some ray of sunshine.  And even if I can’t think of anything else that has gone right that day, there’s always the fact that they are going to home, sleep it off, and start over again the next day.

May your heart be glad!