UNDERNEATH ARE THE EVERLASTING ARMS
We have a few patches of protruding rocks on our property. When she was four years old, our daughter, Joanna, would go to each one and conquer the summit; climbing, twisting, and reaching her little arms and legs determined to make her goal. As her dad, of course, I’m looking at the slippery flat sides, the sharp edges, and the length of the drop from the top to the grass below. Potential concussions, broken bones and other possible disasters flash through my mind as I keep a firm hand extended beneath her, but just beyond touching her. That’s the rule; I’m not supposed to “help”.
The trees she liked to climb are even more frightening. She’d go much higher, sometimes just beyond my reach. I try to remember how my dad let me do goofy stuff and risk my life. “How else are you gonna learn?” he would say. The question I ask now, reflecting back on his wisdom, is: after I awake from the coma, would I remember what I learned?
I take long cycling trips for a week every summer; largely because the first time was Dad’s idea. I was seventeen, had a ten-speed bike, and often took rides from our home in Baltimore out to the county and back. Why not go a little farther?
Over Labor Day weekend, the family was going camping near Gettsyburg. Dad suggested (without checking with my mother) that I ride my bike from home to the campground after I finished doing my newspaper route. I was on my way. Many of the roads were still rural and traffic was not so bad; but my mother probably aged ten years overnight waiting for me to arrive safely.
It took all night. I had to repair my rear wheel, dragging the bike into a cornfield with a flash light. Later I was chased by dogs. My bike drove like a truck, having over packed the panniers (“saddle bags”); plus everything with wheels was heavy in the 1970's; the wide cars and the steel-frame bicycles.
It was an adventure. I arrived by 10:00 a.m. the next morning. I had survived the night and that meant that my father would survive the rest of the day; the wrath of Mom had subsided at the sight of her son still intact.
I often thought through that long night of climbing hills and slowly plodding along: what was my father thinking? With sweat pouring down my face that summer night, I jokingly grunted to myself: “He either really trusts me or he’s trying to get me killed.” There was just a wisdom in my dad about how much he could trust me; how far he could push me, or let the latest challenge do it. As a boy, he didn’t have a dad around. He and his older sister and three brothers weathered some tough times together. Life is rough, but how else are you going to learn? Learn what? What you can do, what you should – and should not – do, and what it means to take a risk.
That night in 1977, there were no cell phones. Only an occasional pay phone appeared along my route. Who could I call? He had a map, he knew my route. He gave me time. And he waited – just far enough away, but close enough if he had to come. So much of that first trip on my bike was about a son taking a risk on his own because his dad believed he could do it.
In 2006, I rode my bike to Laurel, Mississippi – 1,071 miles over twelve days. But that trip had its beginning almost thirty years earlier because Dad was waiting in Gettysburg. It was his idea for me to try it.
The calling of our Heavenly Father is like that, too. To a teenager named Jeremiah, He said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you . . .” (Jeremiah 1:5 NKJV).
It stands to reason He knows each one of us just as well. We’re custom-built, by Hand. And for what purpose, what grand plan does He envision for the woman or the man He has made of you? To discover that, to explore it, to embrace it, to believe it, to finally devote your life to it, it will begin with a risk. Climbing that rock. Reaching a little higher for that branch. Taking that journey that He has inspired in your heart to try. How cool is that?
One day as Joanna climbed, she reached her foot toward a branch. I warned her not to do it. I could see it was weak. She did; and I moved my hand toward her. Her weight went on to that branch and it snapped. She fell out of the tree. My waiting hand caught her. I believe it is like that with our Heavenly Father. Along the way we will step too far, put our full weight on the wrong support, or take a shot and miss. But He is faithful and is watching and waiting. He knows our potential.
“The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27a).