Friday, June 5, 2015

The Bike in the Bushes

The summer after I turned nine, my family moved to Rotorua, New Zealand. We moved into a little house at 3 Totaravale Street. I have incredibly vivid memories of living in this house. I remember a tree in the front yard that had perfect Y-shaped limbs. I would climb up into this tree with a pillow and a book, and I would rest my pillow on the upper branches of the Y to lie back on and read Nancy Drew. The backyard had red clay, and I dug it up by the handfuls, positive that I would be able to make my own dishes out of it. I was sorely disappointed when I went outside after two days of letting my clay cups sit in the sun and they were still clay-like. No handmade dishes for me. I also recall wetting the bed in this house. I was old enough to get up, change my own sheets and clothes, and pray that no one noticed. Lots of funny kid-like memories here.

But the thing I remember the most about the house on Totaravale is the hill. If you walked outside our front door and turned to the right, there was a slight hill that led up to a cul-de-sac. It was a bike rider's dream. We hadn't been in New Zealand very long when my dad found a deal of a group of used bicycles. There were, at the time, five kids in our family, so purchasing bikes for all of us was a costly thing. But everywhere we ever lived, my dad made an effort to make it home by purchasing bikes and trampolines and whatever else children needed to pass the time. So we got new-to-us bicycles. For whatever reason, I will blame it on being the middle child, I got a bike with faulty brakes. And by faulty, I mean that it had no brakes. I was not a daredevil, and so for a while, this suited me fine. I would ride slowly down the street, dragging my feet when necessary to slow down and stop.

Then there was the hill. We all learned to love to ride down the hill. It was fun without being too steep. It was the perfect balance between cautious and carefree. I always chose to ride on the sidewalk because the street was just too uncertain. There were too many things that could go wrong riding in the street, especially without brakes. There was next to no traffic on our street.  I mean, the house number was a single digit. Just a handful of houses on a quiet little street. So the danger was more imagined than reality. Even so, the sidewalk was my safe place. Until.

One Wednesday- I remember it was a Wednesday because we had church- I was at the top of the hill, and I braced myself for a thrilling ride down. I began to pedal slowly and started to gain momentum. Then I saw it. Straight ahead of me, a car was pulling out of their driveway. They were backing out slowly, and I noticed that they saw me and stopped short of pulling into the road. At this point, they were blocking the sidewalk with their vehicle, and in my head, I was left with only two reasonable choices. I could veer to the left and ride my bike into the street, missing their car completely and probably safely returning to the bottom of the hill. Or I could swerve right and land directly in their bushes. A normal person might have chosen the street. Not me, though. I was nine, and I was scared of everything. I chose the bushes.

The next moments were humiliating. They got out of the car and helped me up. I managed to roll my bike back across the street to our little house, and my mom felt so bad about my scrapes and bruises that she let me stay home from church that night. As a preacher's kid that was in church at least three times a week, it felt like a nice consolation prize. But that day, I let my fear of the unknown supersede logic. Logic would have said to ride into the road. Fear said to choose the painful thing because then at least you know what's coming.

I am 38 years old now. Most days, I am not the fearful kid I was when I was 9. Most things don't scare me like they used to. But I still hate uncertainty. I hate walking a road when I can't see what comes next, and unfortunately, that is most of life. And since February 17, my dad's life has hung in the balance. Following a traumatic brain injury, he has sat in a coma and the outcome is no clearer today than it was the day of his accident. We have no idea how this will turn out.

We go to visit him regularly. We walk ourselves through the motions, telling him that we are there. We check his monitor and allow his blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels to tell us how he is. This is how he speaks to us. We get warm washcloths, and we clean his face and tell him stories about our day. I apologize profusely for having to impose on his personal space like that, and I remind him that he often did this for me as a child. We read Scripture and play music and pray over him. And we cry, even though we try not to sometimes. It feels terrible to leave him, and I always feel pangs of guilt as I go back to my car and my ability to speak and walk and drive. And he is just there in bed, helpless. It's the hardest thing I have ever done.

I have to tell you, that it is not getting easier. We aren't adjusting to life without him. We are missing him more and more each day. Faith is harder to come by at week 15 than it was at week 1. Hard decisions are having to be made. He is going to be moved into a Skilled Nursing Facility next week, and that just feels like too much. We have prayed over and over that it wouldn't come to this and yet, here we are.

Can I just be honest with you here? On my most faithless days, I think to myself

God, if you are going to take his life, just let him go now. Let him be reunited with his mom and dad. He has served you faithfully for over 40 years. Let him be at peace now. 

And in part, this is for him. But it's also for me. Because even though it is not the answer we want, it is an answer. The uncertainty of what comes next feels like an unbearable weight. Some days, I would rather ride right into the bushes and just feel the pain of the crash than have to ride into the street and not know what comes next.

There are lessons to be learned in the street, though. And while I do not believe for one moment that God allowed all of this to transpire because we all need to learn lessons, I think every hard situation we walk through is an opportunity. To exercise our faith. To grow our trust. To learn to rightly navigate deep waters. To realize our complete and total dependence on a Sovereign God. To learn to suffer well. (Thanks, Angela, for this reminder)

So we ride in the street. No brakes, no control. Moment by moment. We are given grace for each day. And I want to walk this way always. I don't want to walk away from friendships because I feel like a friend may be pulling away from me first. I don't want to walk away from a dream because I am afraid of failing. I don't want to shut down the potential for growth and change because it feels hard to do. I want to choose faith and hope.

We're riding on, Dad. We are believing in, praying for, and counting on healing for you! You are so loved.

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