With every new step in the lives of Sam and Nate comes a new lesson. Sometimes the lessons are meant for them to learn, and some of them are for us, the grown-ups. One such event happened in our house over the weekend. The boys had been asking when they could take off their training wheels for quite some time. In their minds, they were ready the minute we got the bikes home, but Gina and I had other plans. After a few spills and near-misses, we knew this would have to wait. In fact, we both discussed using our time off over the summer to teach them how to ride without training wheels. I guess we both thought it would take long stretches of time to accomplish this new skill.
We were both wrong about that. We walked over to the church across the street from our neighborhood, and within 15 minutes they were both riding in circles. This was a pretty amazing moment in their lives, and a memory I will never forget. In the midst of all the excitement, I was struck with a few big ideas that have continued to resonate with me a few days after the thrill of bi-pedaling has subsided.
- Have a goal. This is probably the best place to start. Everyone needs to have something to shoot for, whether it is riding a bike or writing a book. I have always assumed everyone has some big goal they hope to accomplish, but this may not be true. Everyone has something they can work on, so what's holding you back? Write it down, tape it to your mirror, tell someone, start blogging. Giving your goal a name is the first step in working toward it.
- Don't quit. This is a cliché, I know, but this is a lesson I think we all need to be reminded of daily. When we fall, fail, hurt, forget, miss, drop, or miscalculate, don't use it as an excuse to revert to your comfort zone. The comfort zone, I have found, is a dangerous place. I have tried to settle here more than once, whether it was my teaching, exercise, or relationships, and every time I have been left with a lack of growth and emptiness. This affects not only me but everyone connected to what I'm doing. On more than one occasion, Sam and Nate lost their balance, or couldn't stop, and fell off their bikes. This got to be quite frustrating for them, and they would show signs of giving up. With some encouragement (and the promise of a snack from Sonic) they tried it again, and they did better the each time until they were riding around the parking lot with no help from anyone. Later that evening, when I asked Nate what he liked best about riding his bike, he told me, "I like that I didn't quit and never gave up!"
- Keep pedaling. The first thing the boys noticed when they started pedaling without training wheels was the value of momentum. At first, they would just stop pedaling when they got tired. With training wheels, this is no big deal. The bike stays up and essentially becomes a chair. Without training wheels, you fall over. I was constantly telling the boys, "Don't stop pedaling, don't stop pedaling!" This may seem obvious, but the lesson is pretty important. Eventually, no matter what you are doing, moving forward and staying upright has to be the result of your effort, not someone else's. We all have moments when we want to coast and rely on others to prop us up, but once the training wheels come off this is no longer an option. We must keep our legs moving in a steady motion, one after the other, until it becomes part of our lifestyle. The good news is, when we ride without training wheels, the bike actually becomes easier to maneuver and we experience a completely new level of freedom.
- Look where you want to go. I learned this lesson as a kid when I was learning to ski in the trees. My friend, who had a lot more experience skiing than I did, would tell me, "Look at the space between the trees, not the trees themselves. If you look at the tree, you will hit it." This lesson was reinforced in college when I took a mountain biking class. The instructor told us to always keep our eyes focused on where we wanted to go, not on what we were trying to avoid. Sam and Nate experienced this truth when they started riding their bikes. They would get close to a curb or the edge of grass and start staring at it. Eventually, they would drift into the very thing they were trying to avoid. I kept telling them, "Look ahead, look up, watch where you want to go!" The simple rule of biking and skiing applies to life as well. Keep your eyes on where you want to go and don't focus on the obstacles. They aren't going anywhere, trust me, and it's wise to know they are there, but don't make them the center of your attention. Whether your goal is to uphold a standard, maintain a healthy relationship, or be more like Jesus, don't focus on all the things impeding that goal. Look straight ahead and watch where you want to go.
- Celebrate. The most memorable thing about this experience for me was Sam and Nate's reaction to riding independently. Rather than shrugging it off or asking what's next, they both had the same reaction. They yelled and squealed with joy! Nate kept yelling, "Daddy, look at me! I'm riding a bike! I'm riding a bike!" Sam's response was similar: "I can't believe I'm doing it! I'm not using training wheels!" There was no hint of coolness or inhibition. Just pure joy and getting lost in the moment. It's amazing how easily those of us who are supposed to know so much forget this. There is so much in life worth celebrating, worth cheering about. Don't act like something doesn't matter when it does. You never know when your next victory will come.
This experience has been good for everyone. Sam and Nate know how to ride a bike. Gina and I got to experience yet another milestone. I also was given a reminder that every day, every event, is a gift. The only thing we have to do is recognize its presence and take some time to unwrap it.