The sparkling sunlight shimmered and bounced off the swaying leaves of the tall sycamore trees that bordered the long driveway that lead to our small two-bedroom bungalow directly off Park Street in the bustling suburb of Bellflower, California. Hannah strapped on her tiny, Sleeping Beauty bicycle helmet and wrapped her small hand around the left grip of her bicycle’s handlebar. She had a look of apprehension on her face as I maneuvered the wrench to remove the small nut that fastened her final training wheel to the back tire of her bicycle. After removing the training wheels, I stood up, grabbed the back of the seat, and looked up at the sun. The warm Southern California breeze blew through my hair as the hum from the 91 freeway oddly, and somewhat naturally, blended with the rustling of the sycamore leaves. The faint sound of splashing and laughter wafted over the fence from the next-door-neighbor’s children as they joyously played in their above-ground swimming pool.
“I’m not ready for this, Daddy!” exclaimed my innocent daughter still gripping the left grip of her bicycle’s handlebars until her knuckles were depleted of blood and appeared whiter than the never-seen snow of Southern California.
In my most compassionate and empathetic manner, I gently sat my daughter upon her steel steed, painted pink and purple with Disney princesses posing for their ancient cameras. Perhaps this paint job was intended to calm and appease the fears of any four-year-old attempting to ride her bike for the first time without training wheels. The façade of painted princesses on Hannah’s bike couldn’t provide her with any more true courage and necessary bravado than the eagles, skulls, and flames found on Harley Davidsons can for their riders. She needed the assurance from her father that everything was going to be okay. She needed to know that even without training wheels, her dad would still be there to help her, to guide her, and to pick her up if she fell over. We started down the drive and she peddled hard and fast. She was excited while confidence and courage began to course through her veins. I held onto the back of her seat the first time down the drive; and the second time as well. The third time, however, I let go. Hannah peddled and rode with the confidence of a seasoned biker, until she realized I was no longer there behind her—holding her, protecting her, guiding her. She looked back to see her dad standing at the end of the driveway, wearing a smile that stretched from his huge left ear to his enormous right one, and she immediately tumbled to the hard concrete drive. Screams rang out, tears began to fall, and blood began to seep to the surface of her scratched knee.
“You did it! You did it! You rode your bike all by yourself!” I excitingly yelled as I ran to pick up my fallen daughter. “Let’s get you a Band-Aid and do this again! You want to?”
Of course, the Band-Aid was a must. Doing it again was a never. She was done with riding bicycles. Obviously, Hannah was back on her bicycle the next day and riding it without training wheels by the end of the week. She learned how to ride her bicycle without training wheels and she learned how to trust herself and ride with confidence, without the assistance from her father’s hand. She also learned to trust her dad again…even though that took some time. Hannah discovered that her father wanted her to mature to the next level of bicycle riding abilities. Hannah couldn’t discover the wonderment that comes with riding a bicycle through dirt paths or along the Big Thompson River, if she never removed her training wheels. Looking back, Hannah now realizes that her dad wanted her to experience the freedom and joy that comes from riding a bike on her own.
After bandaging up Hannah’s knee and kissing it for good measure, I poured myself a tall glass of lemonade, sat down on my patio in the backyard, and listened to the hypnotic sounds of traffic on the 91-freeway. The hum from the traffic propelled my mind’s eye into a trance and I began to reflect on an important day in my life only eight years earlier. I was restlessly sitting in my car staring at a payphone hanging off the front of an ARCO ampm convenient store in West Pasadena. I had just descended from the high desert into the smog-infested metropolis of the Los Angeles basin only an hour ago, after spending the night at a North Las Vegas Super 8. I was lost…aimlessly lost. The backseat of my Cutlass Supreme was overflowing with my clothes and a futon mattress; the passenger seat was occupied by a full-backed 19-inch television set. In my hands, I thumbed through the listings of apartments and rooms for rent in the Pasadena area. My only form of communication rested in my wallet—a prepaid phone card. I knew I had to connect immediately with the landlords and owners. I had no way for them to return my phone calls, because I wasn’t going to stand by this payphone outside the ARCO all day. I hoped to check into a Holiday Inn Express that evening and could continue to try calling the listings. I hoped and prayed that God would direct and guide me somewhere—it really didn’t matter where—just somewhere to live for the next couple months and I needed a place soon—very soon!
Up to that point, I really didn’t have to worry about my living conditions. There were always people around who could put me up for a couple nights. God always provided for me—whether that be a job, food, or a place to live. At that juncture—at that ARCO—I realized that my Father had removed my training wheels, compassionately and empathetically set me on the seat of my bicycle, started pushing me toward the end of the driveway, and was about to let go. Never before had I felt so helpless, so abandoned, yet so free. Three weeks later, while I was sleeping in my rented bed in my rented room, owned by a very strange couple, I woke to the shaking and trembling of the Joshua Tree earthquake of 1999. A couple books fell from my bookshelf, so I walked over to pick them up. The peculiarity of my surroundings shuddered into the forefront of my mind in the aftermath of the earthquake and the loneliness I had experienced for the past month flooded my consciousness. I lost my composure and fell to the floor. I was wounded, so I screamed, cried, and asked my Father to bandage the scrapes caused by his abandonment. The paradoxical feelings of freedom and desertion confused me and I began to question God’s providence.
How can my God who promised to love, protect, and guide me leave me to fend for myself? How can my God desert me? How can my God forsake me?
After crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land, God commanded Joshua to circumcise all the Israelite men, because no one had been circumcised during the 40 years they wandered in the Wilderness. After the men healed, they celebrated the Passover on the 14th day of the month. “The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan” (Joshua 5:11-12).
Suddenly, after spending 40 years in the Wilderness, having everything provided for you, God leaves you to manage on your own. I can imagine the people of Israel experiencing the same emotions I experienced when I was left to manage on my own in Pasadena or my daughter experienced when I abandoned her to ride her bicycle on her own with no training wheels. Throughout life, we continue to grow and mature as Jesus’ disciples. We encounter these moments when the manna stops…when it seems God has abandoned us and left us to fend for ourselves. In a way, that’s exactly what God has done. God knows the right time to remove the manna from our life. God knows when we need to experience an emotional disturbance in our life that will help us grow and mature and become stronger individuals. God knows exactly the right time to remove our training wheels, run us to the end of the driveway, and let go of our bikes. When God does just that, we experience the freedom and joy God has always planned for us to enjoy. And when we look back, God is standing there with a smile extending from ear to ear.