by Tony Lynn
PLYMOUTH, MI – Mom gently pulled pieces of gravel out of the skin of my bleeding knees and my swollen red palms. She worked one knee then another and then moved onto the palms in a circuit. She could tell by my silent trembling when I had reached my limit enduring the pick, pick, pick. After nearly twenty-minutes of cleaning my wounds the knees were numb, but the palms still burned. I recall my mother pouring peroxide then mercurochrome over the tender spots. Peroxide bubbled, but didn’t hurt. The mercurochrome was red and had a pungent odor; it stung so badly the only cure was to furiously wave my hands in the air or blow continually on the wound until the sting subsided.
My childhood memories come from Flint, Michigan. I passed my earliest rites of passage there. Back then during 1960-something, children roamed the neighborhood freely from yard to yard. We dropped in on friends unannounced. We yelled through the screen doors into the house, “Mrs. White, can Jeff, Bruce and Philip come out to play?” The mother would reply from somewhere in the house without approaching the doorway, “Tony, as soon as the boys get their chores done I will send them down to your house.” A commotion would start-up in the house as the three brothers raced to finish everything on the chore list.
As summer days lingered lazily onward toward nightfall, the parents throughout the neighborhood would instruct their children to return home with the same universal signal. “When you see the porch lights come-on, you hurry your tails back home. Nothing good comes at night.” After returning home, each of the families would gather on their front porch recounting the day’s events to one another. Dad told a story about a mishap at the factory. Mom brought us up-to-date on news from talking with her twin sister over the phone.
On one of those evenings, there was enough daylight left that it was time for me to learn to ride a bike, which required the gravel be removed from my knees and hands. I’m not certain as to the origin of the 1960-something girl’s blue bicycle. It may have belonged to my older cousin who lived a block away from our house. She was older and at times seemed more like an aunt than a cousin to me. I guess that she had outgrown it and passed it down to our family.
The street in front of my childhood house was called Donaldson Boulevard. It sounds impressive, but it wasn’t. It was a simple roadway with gravel, potholes and a gradual downhill slope. It was a perfect practice site for someone learning to ride a bike. My father and mother took turns coaching me from the front porch as to how to roll the bicycle to the top of the street, then position the bike to face the downhill slope. Having a girl’s bike allowed me to locate the pedals so that I could push off when I started my ride. With the lower center bar of a girl’s bicycle, I could easily move my leg across the frame and place both feet on the pedals. By the way, did I mention that when I learned there was no such thing as training wheels?
After almost running into ditches, mailbox posts, and tumbling onto the rough surface I still recall the exhilaration I felt when I conquered balancing the bike without falling. Braking without putting my feet down. Pushing the pedals back to get the bike to stop. Coming to a complete stop without having to jump off the bicycle. In between falls there were moments of success! I was happy and felt like I grew-up a little more that day. My final ride that night was a careful turn onto the front lawn where I laid down the girl’s blue bicycle as the cool of the evening made the grass feel chilly and wet. To be totally honest, as a boy I felt like the cowboy in the western movie who had tamed a wild stallion. My confidence grew tremendously that night.
As the blue sky faded to black, the moon started to shine and the stars started to gleam. I joined my sister and parents on the cement porch in front of our square 30’x30’ house. The porch was still warm from the long summer day’s sunshine. Mom had already laid out a quilt for my sister and me to snuggle on, and wrapped us up like a giant taco. Taking a few seconds, my mother entered then returned from the bathroom medicine cabinet with the peroxide and mercurochrome. Before stepping back onto the porch, Mom turned off the front porch light since everyone was safe at home. When she did the obscure sky turned into a canopy of thousands of tiny white lights above our heads. It was stunning. It was calming.
This month, as all of us in our workplaces, families, churches and communities start to consider re-entering back into what we once called normal life, I hope we can find healthy ways to help our children replace their anxiety with calm and their fear with faith.
I love Psalm 78 (New Living Translation) because it reminds us to build confidence in our children when it comes to God. Verse 4 says, “We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders.” Verses 5-7 amplify that message with, “He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them – even the children not yet born – and they in turn will teach their own children. So, each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.”
In the new days ahead of us we may be able to build up the confidence of our children in the Lord through four simple ways:
Let’s speak prayers of assurance of God’s care over us as we start the day. The Lord is with us when the bike ride goes well and even when we fall braking ourselves with knees and palms.
Let’s read Scripture and biblical accounts of God’s people faced their tough times trusting God: Joseph of the Old Testament, David and his brothers or Psalms.
Let’s listen to and sing songs of praise at home, in the car and in the yard as we play outside in God’s creation. Replacing the news with praise will build up our kids.
Let’s allow older adults to share with little ones appropriate stories of moments when confidence in God helped overcome a personal crisis or obstacle.
Like my parents when I learned to ride a bike, the Lord is near us even during our trials. Children sometimes need to be reminded of God’s continual presence and power during frightful moments. My parents coached me from the front porch. They offered guidance and encouragement. They knew I would carry some scars from learning to ride the bicycle. They had a first-aid kit prepared to clean my wounds.
The Lord will do even more for today’s generations if we will remember to “tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders,” (Psalm 78:4, NLT).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.