Riding a Bike

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

They say, “…it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

They’re wrong.

I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember lobbying for my first ten-speed. I accompanied my friend when her dad bought her a Nishiki; she got burgundy, and I got blue.

We rode those bikes for what seems like forever, at least until puberty and junior high took us down different trails.

I don’t remember the last time I rode my bike. I do remember riding a rental with a high school boyfriend and a crew of others at one of San Diego’s many coastal trails. I felt way too wobbly. How could I be so insecure on a bike after such a short time? Isn’t the one skill in life you never forget?

Was that it, the last time I rode a bike? Q14 has been chiding me for some time, the only one in our family without a bike, that I have to ‘learn’ to ride. Biking may be his favorite form of physical activity and I miss out on sharing it with him.

The guys rented electric fat-tire bikes. We met along a quiet, flat street. Guy lowered the seat to my height. He showed me how to engage the motor and the brakes.

That’s all there is to it, right?

It was both too easy and too difficult. The motor propelled me forward and distracted me from pedaling. I had to break before I could put my feet down and manually turn around to go the other direction.

Q14 shrieked as he whizzed past: “Look at my MOM learning to ride a bike!” My nephew aimed straight at me in a game of chicken as I begged him to stay out of my way. Q14 laughed and told me to watch him, to follow him, as he showed me how to turn. I stopped, and laughed and watched and said, “Ah, no thanks. I’d fall…”

I’m not a big risk taker. You laugh, too, because riding a bike isn’t a big risk (although the scars on my legs that haven’t faded since childhood might be evidence to the contrary).

This bike felt scary to me. Even on this short, flat street—not so scary and also scary. The frame seemed too big. The motor and pedals, too many things to manage.

Yet, the motor made the bike worth the rental. Worth the risk. We probably wouldn’t have rented regular bikes. And if the guys had, a regular bike wouldn’t have intrigued me into trying it.

I took a very small risk, and it was fun. Exhilarating, and just enough. They had an absolute blast and I can’t recall when I have seen that gush of unmeasured joy on Q14’s face.

I may need to rediscover how to ride a bike.

Bigger Than a Bumper Sticker

Last weekend I was One Proud Mama, overflowing with joy, as Teen had what may well have been the best weekend of his seventeen years.

It began with a rugby end-of-season barbecue where he won a coaches award for Most Improved player in his position. The coach spoke of Teen’s hard work, determination, and playing all in both before—and more significantly—after his six-week injury. He laid it all out for his sport and his team, and it showed.tournament 1

Racing home, Teen had 20 minutes to shower and change into his brand new Calvin Klein tuxedo complete with a tie-it-yourself bow tie for Junior Prom. It took Dad and Kid (consulting YouTube) a few tries, but he looked sharp—and he knew it, with that sweet arrogance of youth. This may have been one of the few times he did not complain about Mama taking too many pictures. He patiently smiled and posed, on his own, with his stunningly beautiful date, in this spot and that, and with friends. We even got a couple of family shots. I kept thinking: who is this good looking young man, and what happened to my rascally kid?prom

But Sunday was the best, a culmination of years of diligence and small achievements along the way. Sunday Teen’s Boy Scout Troop celebrated its 53rd Eagle Court of Honor to present eight new Eagle Scouts with Scouting’s highest honor.

Teen and I sat in the front pew of our church during Scout Sunday when he was just eight years old, not yet a Cub Scout. He watched older boys—shoulders back, heads held high—lead the service and share stories of adventures, brotherhood, and faith. He turned to me and declared, “I am going to be an Eagle Scout in this troop.” And he is.

Like most worthwhile pursuits, it hasn’t been an easy road. The troop prides itself on being boy-led, which means each Scout must play his role and take the leadership failures and successes at each level. Which means that, if you’re a Scout—or a parent of a Scout—in a patrol where the leader fails (it happens often), you feel the bumps. The learning curve is huge and yet, from this vantage point, I can truthfully say it has been the best long-term leadership training we could ever have hoped our son would experience.

During the private pinning ceremony, we presented our son with a blessing of words before we pinned the Eagle Scout pin on his uniform, right over his heart. We expressed gratitude for this Troop which has developed his leadership while allowing him to indulge his passions for the outdoors and for animals.

We told stories of his perseverance (he designed the District award-winning patch with the theme of Perseverance)—climbing out of his crib and over two stacked childproof-gates all the while whispering, “I can do it. I can do it.” At times, Scouting itself has felt like a sky-high mountain of switchback trails, and yet he has persevered.

We told stories of his gift with animals—just two examples, book-ending his Scouting experience:
his first Troop hike, accompanied by the Scoutmaster Emeritus, during which Teen safely caught and displayed (and released) countless reptiles and opened the Scoutmaster’s eyes to how many species of reptiles inhabited a trail he’d hiked for 34 years…
his kayaking trip last summer, when he was the only person deft enough to catch one of the many turtles populating the river.

During the Court, his Scoutmaster shared Teen’s outstanding qualities: kindness, thoughtfulness, his desire and gift for mentoring younger Scouts. A family friend told about Teen as a preK who, much like the Croc Hunter, insisted he come along while Teen narrated a critter-filled walk around the block. Teen’s spectacular gift is to insist that we notice critters we might never see otherwise and help us appreciate them for their God-created place in the ecosystem.

Passionate, exuberant, spontaneous to the point of recklessness… For most of Teen’s life I have been his advocate, helping others see the strengths in what, at times, seemed like weaknesses. On this afternoon, I listened as others spoke to the beauty of these strengths and how they will be gifts Teen will use to change the world.

These eight new Eagles form an impressive group. Two high school seniors and six juniors, they have a combined total of 387+ camp outs. They include the ASB President and Vice President and the Quarterback of the championship football team. They have demonstrated their duty to God through 24 trips to work among the poor in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. They are scholars, athletes, musicians, and leaders in several arenas. While several have shared significant friendship beyond the Troop, together they share in a unique fraternity.2016Eagles2

Teen has participated in over 48 camp outs, including 5 week-long Wilderness Camps, a 3-day Mini Backpacking Trek, 2 Orange Torpedo Kayak Treks in Oregon, 2 Bike Treks, and a 50-mile Mt. Lassen Sierra Trek. For his Eagle project, Teen refurbished and built exercise stations for the Raptor and Reptile Rehabilitation Grove at Lindsay Wildlife Experience, an animal rescue/rehabilitation organization. In the words of the gentlemen who reviewed his project and approved his Eagle Scout application, “he didn’t build just another bench.”

A hawk working out on Teen's refurbished exercise equipment

A hawk working out on Teen’s refurbished exercise equipment

After the post-Court reception, after the post-reception dinner, after the cards and gifts had been opened, Teen explained to his grandparents the meaning and experiences behind each patch he had received on the road to Eagle. Tremendous experiences, so many memories, some hard and many glorious. At the end, I watched as my son turned his head aside. I sat on the floor at his feet and I wonder if anyone else heard as he almost whispered, almost to himself: “I set a goal, and I achieved it.”

There are very few goals of this caliber one can set in childhood and achieve during adolescence. Fewer still are goals of this caliber that will last into adulthood. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. He has accomplished something that will hold him in good stead throughout his life. He should feel proud of himself, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Jumbled

My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.

Jesus: The Way

As we planned and lived last year’s Costa Rica summer, guides took on an importance like never before. Before we left we had maps and guidebooks and websites, all of which we continually referenced throughout the trip. But once on the ground, we also relied on new friends and strangers to point the way; just after we picked up our rental car a friend of our new landlord met us at a major landmark so we could follow her to our summer home. We would never have found it on our own.

We would have driven in perpetual circles without the GPS we bought for our rental car; Costa Rica has no street names or addresses; roads to major tourist destinations are two-lane, seemingly insignificant, and ill-repaired – without the GPS we definitely would have thought we were going the wrong way and, even still, sometimes we were. More than once we came to roads overrun by streams and in one case a river had completely washed out the road to a highly anticipated hiking destination.

We never left home without our copies of Fodor’s See It Costa Rica to direct and inform our itinerary and The Wildlife of Costa Rica to help us identify the magnificent creatures we encountered in air, land, and sea. It’s a wonder we didn’t wear out the covers of these books as each one of us thumbed through them almost daily. The kids in particular used the wildlife book as a treasure hunt, ticking off the animals they’d seen and setting goals to see others. Another important reference book: our Spanish-English dictionary. Its heft made it unwieldy to carry around so we made note of words and looked them up when we returned home.

Of course we also had tour guides. We went to several animal rescue centers, including Proyecto Asis near Arenal Volcano, and the Jaguar Rescue Center and the Sloth Sanctuary, both on the Carribean coast. These amazing people are working to make Costa Rica – and the world – a better place by serving animals and educating people.

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyeto Asis

Carlos & spider monkeys at Proyecto Asis

Staff & guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 3-toed sloth

Staff/guide at the Sloth Sanctuary with an injured 2-toed sloth

We visited several ministry sites (Abraham Project, La Montana Camp, Roblealto Children’s Homes) and met with followers of Jesus serving the people of Costa Rica.

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park - no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

Phil at Abraham Project and the site of their upcoming stadium sanctuary/skate park – no kidding, this is out-of-the-box creative ministry!

We spent one remarkable day with Prudencio and his five-year-old son Leandro in Yorkin, a community of the indigenous BriBri people. Entirely in Spanish, Prudencio spent the day explaining to us how his people live: schools, organic farming, chocolate production, making thatched roofs, hunting and fishing by bow and arrow.

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio at the entrance to Yorkin

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

Prudencio & Leandro teaching us to thatch a roof

You can’t travel to Costa Rica without adventure, so we also had adventure guides – white-water rafting guides, scuba and snorkeling guides, tranopy and ziplining guides, and hiking guides. Stanley, our snorkeling guide, offered to take us on a true locals-only Costa Rica frog ‘hunting’ hike: his goal was to find three frogs, one found only in that particular region of Costa Rica, and indeed he did find all three on our hike. Greivan, our host at the Jaguar Rescue Center’s La Ceiba jungle house, took us hiking three times in two days looking for animals. A PhD candidate in herpetology, he was a special gift from God for our budding herpetologist.

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

Grievan & a kinkajou at La Ceiba

And finally, it took us a while to figure out that the people barking orders at us as we arrived at different destinations weren’t beggars but parking guides, a culturally acceptable way for people to make money in a country sorely lacking good parking. We had a unique encounter with a parking guide at Guayabo National Monument, an archaeological site. He directed us to park along the street (typical), but the spot was on an odd angle. When we tried to leave the car slid sideways towards a rock wall. We had to climb out of the car and wait until the folks parked in front of us returned to their car, and then several men came and helped to push the car out of danger. Only then did we notice that the parking guide was blind!

All this thinking about the importance of guides for life in Costa Rica caused Guy and I to reflect on important guides for the life of faith. We need a guidebook, the Bible, and other reference books/websites can be of great help. We need a GPS, the Holy Spirit who directs us even (especially?) when the road seems out of the way. We need tour guides, mentors and friends to walk the way with us. We need adventure guides, people who help us take new steps of faith in service or mission. We need parking guides, the church in which we regularly park our patooties to worship and learn and engage in relationship.

All of these guides point us to The Way, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

In An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling writes:
“What if, instead of a road map, God is offering to be my guide? What if I let him decide where we are going? … He would prefer to guide me as my companion for the journey rather than hand me directions that I’d be tempted to run off with, leaving him in the dust. Maybe I could learn to ask less for God’s guidance and more for a sense that he is being my guide; to ask less for help and more for the awareness that he wants to be my helper; and to ask less for strength adn more for confidence that he is my stronghold” (p176).

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus said:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

And then in John 10:9-10 He said:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus Christ, true God and true man who lived, taught, died, rose again, and reigns at the right hand of the Father, is the way to abundant and everlasting life. His road may be bumpy and pot-holed, out-of-the-way and not well-traveled, but I’d rather walk His road to life than an easy road to destruction. Walk with me?

Connect
When you meet someone new, do you introduce yourself by who you are or what you do? What do you say, and why?

Study
Read aloud Colossians 1:13-20.
What does Paul tell us about what Jesus does?
What does Paul tell us about who Jesus is?
Describe Jesus’ role in salvation (vv. 13-14, 20); in creation (vv. 15-17); in the church (vv. 18-20).
How does Jesus show us God (v. 15ff)?
Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (v. 18). What does Paul’s description of Jesus say about what might be Jesus’ priorities for His body, the church?

Live
When you think about Jesus, do you think of Him primarily in terms of God (Paul’s cosmic description in Col. 1) or human? Explain.
What most stands out to you from Paul’s description of Jesus, and why? Which, if any, are most difficult to accept, and why?
How might this description of Jesus change or challenge your view of Jesus? Your relationship with Him?
Read Matthew 16:13-18. Who do people today say Jesus is? Why was Peter’s answer such a big deal? Who do you say Jesus is? Who does Jesus say you are?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will grow in knowledge of and love with Jesus.