This weekend my fiancé, Justin, wanted to hit some bike trails.
He has been an avid biker for decades. My biking experience is not quite as versed.
Oh sure, I can handle a 10-speed road bike with no problem (well, at times there are problems as my clumsy and often disaster-prone genetics kicks in). But mountain biking? On a mountain?
Dirt, rocks, twists, turns, trails where you cannot see three feet ahead of you, uphills that never end, downhills that make your brakes smoke, that is a whole different game…this new-found hobby of mine, mountain biking.
Yet, reflecting on our recent adventure in the woods, I realized just how many life lessons one can learn from the vantage point atop two wheels, a very small, pointy seat, and far-reaching handlebars.
The early morning summer day started warm and sultry. Humidity in the air and an anxious trepidation coupled with excitement at this, only my second time, on the dirt trails of southwest Missouri. Our very own Fellows Lake is known for the primitive beauty of rocky trails and has recently added even more trails for those mountain bike loving adventurers who desire nothing more than a jaunt off the beaten path.
I had taken great care early this Saturday morning to coordinate my helmet, shoes, gloves, and lipstick.
Yes, I wear lipstick when I bike. It doesn’t always last (it rarely, if ever, lasts), but I am old-school. If I am going out, it is gonna be my utmost attempt to at least have a splash of color on my face (and hope it is Maybelline, not Type O- blood (though that would be a beautifully vibrant lipstick hue).
Armed with my brand-new turquoise backpack (you know, the one that holds a plastic container of water with the pliable straw hanging off one’s chest). Yes, I looked like an expert rider. Until…I climbed atop the one-size-too-big-for-me bike of my fiancé’s, and nearly toppled over while trying to figure out the quirky seat dropper post.
We wound our way out of the parking lot, across a concrete jungle of cars, through a flat grassy noll and toward the entrance of the first trail. Feeling confident, yet somewhat anxious for the adventure ahead, I constantly reminded myself, “You got this!”
Minutes later, we entered the darkly dense shadows of the forest, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees, my eyes were trying frantically to adjust to the darkness compared to the brilliant sunlight just seconds before. My fiancé had the bike speaker up as loud as it would go so that I could enjoy the tunes on our early morning ride.
Immediately ahead of me was a berm the size of a small city (maybe a slight exaggeration), followed by what appeared to be a barely visible path chalked full of viciously treacherous pointed boulders, tree ruts, and rivets, all descending on a very steep downhill grade.
Seeing this sight directly in front of me, my anxiety rose through the non-existent roof of the wooded forest. I had a slight panic attack. Words of, ‘I can’t do this! It’s steep…it’s rocky…it’s scary…I can’t hear instruction from my co-rider with that horrid music blaring…I CAN’T DO THIS!’ sprang forth in my already high and steadily increasing blood-pressurized eardrums.
Apparently, these touts of doubt were not only in my head, as my fiancé stopped, pulled over and engaged me in a nice little team chat; a Come to Jesus moment, if you will, about how this ride was going to go.
He, patiently and kindly, assured me that this was no rougher a trail than my initial entrance to the mountain biking world just one week prior.
He promised to turn off the music and go just a few feet ahead of me so he could alert me to any jutting rocks, dangerous tree roots, or sharp turns, so that I could be somewhat prepared for the mystery that lay in front of my two tires. He also assured me if we got to a path that was too narrow or with too steep a drop-off, we could get off the bikes and walk that section of the trail.
Taking as deep a breath as I could muster, everything in me wanting to shout, “Let’s just forego this and have a Bloody Mary brunch followed by some good old-fashioned shopping at the local farmer’s market.” Instead, with a calmness I certainly did not feel, I uttered: “I’m good. It’s good. Let’s do this.”
The first loop I concentrated on deep breathing, looking ahead of me, and putting my faith in my partner to call out any ruts I should avoid.
The thing about mountain biking is that you need to know what is immediately in front of you, but it is often more important to know what is coming up ahead, in the near distance. I tend to get hung up on the rocky path that is inches in front of my tires, when it is the more distant path that requires my attention.
As I was reflecting upon our mountain biking excursion, it occurred to me how very much like real life mountain biking can be.
Often, I concentrate on the present, or even the past, what, or whom, is behind me. When Jesus, my partner and friend, is asking me to put my faith and trust in Him for clues as to what is lying around the next bend.
Often, we at Christians get so hung up on what is directly in front of our focus, that we fail to see the larger, perhaps more dangerous terrain, lying in wait just beyond the next sharp turn.
“The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”Deuteronomy 31:8
What a comfort I felt, knowing my fiancé was ahead of me on this unknown rocky path we traveled. He was faithful to call out any objects that may be dangerous, to give me a chance to avoid popping a tire, falling off my bike, or worse, rolling down the hill and into the great lake lying at the bottom of the mountain on which we rode.
In the same way, my Lord, my Savior, my Jesus, goes before me.
He protectively takes me by the hand and walks daily with me; at the same time, he encourages me and warns me of impending danger. He whispers in my ear when the path ahead hosts danger, strongholds, rocky terrain, or just plain straight uphill climbs He knowns will result in a wariness of my soul.
Loop One was a bit of a learning curve for me. By the time we finished this loop, Justin gave me the option to quit for the day or try one more loop and put my new-found mountain biking skills into action.
Well, of course, I wanted to prove, to him (as well as myself) that I did learn something and was ready and willing to show it off.
Thus, we headed toward the second loop around the lake. This time, I felt more confident, I was able to comfortably pick up speed, while at the same time, revel in the beautiful scenery surrounding me. I felt comfortable knowing that the ground on which I traveled was safe, for my fiancé would certainly tell me if I needed to avoid any treacherous terrain.
On this particular loop, we saw three deer, two of which still had those adorable white baby dots. We saw a frolicking squirrel playing tag with himself and chasing his bushy tail. We saw a brightly colored woodpecker, rapidly flying from tree to tree, marking every piece of bark he could, seemingly in a race to show the other forest woodpeckers which trees belonged solely to him.
I enjoyed the sound of gravel hitting my tires. I marveled at the glistening water of the lake in the distance. We even stopped at one point to climb down closer to the lakeshore and take pictures on the large, jutted rocks overlooking the cliff just below our feet.
This second half of the mountain biking journey was truly glorious. To think, I would have missed it had I given into the fear and panic I felt at the first entrance to the trail just hours before. Picking up the pace, feeling the wind gently hit my face, and hearing the insects and birds sing their last songs of summer, was a delight I cannot acutely express. Watching leaves falling from the trees, an imminent sign that fall is quickly approaching and while the day was sultry, there was a distinct feel of autumn hanging high in the air.
Just as Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
It was as if, Jesus Himself, reached out and spoke to me on this early September morning. “Trust me, I will show you beauty you have never known. Listen, follow, obey, and trust.”
Those are the words I imagine Him saying to me on that very new, anxiety-ridden, rocky and tumultuous turned exciting, enjoyable, and breathtaking pillage through the forest with my love. How thankful am I that I listened!
The pleasure of gifts deep within the very nature God breathed into being centuries ago are still here, ready and waiting for His blessed children to embrace. Life often holds rocky, pointed, jutted, treacherous seasons: seasons of heartbreak, loss, illness, infertility, divorce, abuse, financial ruin, to name but a few.
If we as Christians know that for each jutted, rocky, dangerous trail, there is a smooth-dirt path leading to an overlook of the crystal-clear blue water below, we would be better able to simply ride out the bad and longingly head toward the good.
Every loss, heartbreak and season of discouragement will assuredly be replaced with joy, hope, laughter, love, and bountiful blessings flowing down like the manna from heaven God provided to the Israelites stuck wondering in the desert for 40 years.
The only thing required of us as Christ followers is to take His hand, listen to His voice, follow His commands and trust, even with faith as small as a mere mustard seed as I had in the beginning of this biking adventure with my fiancé, that with Christ’s gentle leading, we will end up at our majestically awaited destination. In paradise, in the arms of our faithful, protective, immeasurably loving Lord.