When I was about 7 years old my dad took my siblings and I to our elementary school field so that I could learn how to ride a bike. We lived in southern California at the time, so the day was bright with hope. We arrived at the large macadam lot littered with hopscotch, handball courts and old metal jungle gyms. I was a little bit of a late bloomer when it came to standard childhood accomplishments. My two older siblings were a little more fearless when it came to learning to swim or ride a bike. My older brother Nick mastered swimming at the age of 4 and riding a bike shortly after that. It was the same for my older sister, Stephanie. I was a little more hesitant when it came to those two defining moments. I wasn't quite as athletic as the two of them. I blame that on the abnormally large head that I've had my entire life. I think it was a miracle that I was even standing and not toppling over like a slinky down the stairs.
But I remember the day the training wheels had been removed and we walked from our house on Olive Street to the macadam playground of Schmidt school. My siblings had ridden their bikes the whole way there and burst into the open area with speed and a wildness that I could only dream of having. I walked my bike from the house filled with trepidation and fear of embarrassing myself on a public street. Even when we arrived to the empty playground I remember feeling the fear of embarrassment. I was terrified and my dad knew it.
We walked to an open area and he said, "T.J. I am amazed you can even walk with that abnormally large, freak head...” Just kidding. He did not say that but I am sure the thought crept into his head from time to time during my youth.
He said, "I will run behind you holding your seat as you peddle. I will only let go when I know you are steady. At first it will be just like riding with the training wheels."
I heard, "You will have to ride on your own over a fire pit, through a jump, down the steepest hill you've ever seen all while zombie spider clowns riding horses chase you."
So, with much hesitation I got on my blue and black huffy bike that my dad had found in the trash on one of his runs and passed from kid to kid. I triple checked to make sure my father was holding the seat and then began to pedal. I was moving forward and could hear his breathe behind me as he ran and kept my wobbly wheels steady. I wasn't gaining any confidence as we dashed across the asphalt. Anxiety and fear were flooding my little heart, that was beating a mile a minute, as I feared the moment his hand let go and I was on my own.
Then my dad, who loved me since the moment I existed, let go. Within in a split second, I realized it and my large, helmeted head lead as I crashed to the ground in a pile of metal, tears, screams, fears and the idea that riding bikes has and will forever be overrated. As I fell, I declared that I would rather walk everywhere for the rest of my days than ever mount that foul beast again. It took approximately two seconds for my brain to realize that my dad had let go and I was unable to ride a bike.
As I sat tangled in my bike with tears streaming down my face and blood down my newly scrapped knees I looked up to find my dad coming toward me. After a few heavy sobs and declarations that I was done learning how to ride my dad picked me up, examined for any breaks and said, "Let's try again." After a couple of seconds of hesitation and refusal I realized that "no" wasn't going to be an acceptable answer so I mounted the blue huffy once more.
After several more tries and a few more crashes we made a run that ended with joy instead of despair, with laughter instead of tears and with hope instead of fear. Finally, at the age of seven, I was riding a bike without training wheels. I felt my grip tighten, my eyes open and saw the open playground in front of me as adventure instead of obstacle.
What I remember most about that day was not the crashes, the fear, or the eventual success; it was my Dad. He was there the whole time. He was the one that originally took the wheels off. He was there on the walk to the park. He was there holding the seat. Eventually, he was there after he let go of the seat, jogging behind me as I wobbled and swayed.
I know that at different points in life I have been in a similar situation. I have felt the training wheels come off and the hand loosen from the back of my seat as I plunge into the unknown with a lot of fear, but I am so thankful that I know this: God is with me even when I don't feel Him. He is always there, slowly jogging behind me, letting me wobble and sometimes even letting me crash. He is there for me to wipe the blood from my knees and tell me to try again. He is there on the first crash and on the tenth crash. He is there when all seems lost and hopeless and He is there to raise His hands in triumph when I finally get it and succeed.
He is there for you even when you don't feel Him. He is there waiting for His perfect timing to come to you, dust you off and encourage you to try again.
So as you look at life with your training wheels off and what seems like miles upon impossible miles of empty macadam, terrified of failure and embarrassment, know that a great God is there for you. He is encouraging you, guiding you and helping you. He is there loving you and protecting you. It may not always feel like it, but He is. Ride on with confidence and when you crash- try and try again.