Family Rides to Heaven on Mutant Bicycles

Last week's post about Summer Themes for Families generated a lively response: my Facebook groups and inbox filled up with clever and touching responses of parents sharing their own families' summer themes. Next week this blog will move on to other prayer-related topics, but today I wanted to chronicle the latest episode in my own family's theme: Summer of the Family.

Last night, in the spirit of the Summer of the Family, we decided to go on a family bike ride--to get ice cream, of course. When the children were younger, we regularly took family bike rides around the neighborhood, so when I proposed a Summer of the Family bike ride, nostalgia and the promise of ice cream prompted an enthusiastic response.

After the dinner dishes were washed, we gathered at the shed to divvy up the bicycles. We have acquired an impressive collection of hand-me-down bicycles in various stages of disrepair, so we felt sure that, given a few minutes with an air pump, socket set, duct tape, and WD-40, we would all be ready to roll.

A "few minutes" turned out to be more like a half an hour, and the result was pitiful. One child had a bike seat covered with ancient duct tape (from a prior fix-up session, no doubt); somehow the silver tape itself had disintegrated, while its adhesive residue could not be removed or made less sticky. We accepted that the pants atop that seat would be permanently gummy and moved on to pairing the next child with a bicycle: our 17-year-old high school graduate cheerfully embraced her old kindergarten bike. Prying the warped metal chain guard away from the pedals and removing the training wheels made this two-wheeler pinkalicious once again.

Miraculously, seven helmets fit seven heads, and we were off like a mutant parade.

With such a variety of two-wheeled conveyance, we weren't able to stick together much. Our neighborhood is pretty hilly; we have named one particular stretch of road "The Hill of Death." It's a workout to get a bike with changeable gears up that hill; one-speed bikes haven't a chance and are customarily walked up to the summit. But eventually, with only minor incidents, we all rolled into the bike rack at the ice cream store.

A few minutes later, sitting peacefully with my ice cream cone on the outdoor patio, I was attacked by birds, kind of like this:

But no matter! We had made it. We made it back home, too, in time for evening prayer together.

Our evening prayer time tradition invites each member of the family to mention something for which he or she is grateful. Last night, everyone thanked God for the gift of the crazy bike ride. Later, as I reflected further on our excursion, I appreciated its rich symbolism. I noticed that various elements of our bike ride reveal truths about our family life I would like our children to ponder:

  • Hand-Me-Down Mutant Bicycles: Children, we often can't provide the nicest, fanciest, most fitting material goods for you. But, with a little improvising and the help of generous friends, we do just fine.
  • Bike Helmets: We may fly by the seat of our pants on occasion, but in some areas there's no room for compromise. We give you children the tools to make healthy choices, and as long as you are under our care, we will insist on safe and morally healthy behavior.
  • Hill of Death: Life is not easy. We all face our challenges, our hills, in different ways--sometimes we have the wherewithal to switch to a lower gear and muscle over the hill; other times we must come to a complete stop and walk up the hill panting. Remember that we are waiting for you on the other side, even if you can't hear us cheering for you.
  • Ice Cream Store: Our goal is Heaven. It is delicious. We may arrive at different times, but there is a place reserved for you in the bike rack. Never lose sight of your heavenly goal; it will give you hope and a purpose.
  • Evening Prayers: The habit of reflecting on the day's events is critical. And always begin your reflection with gratitude for the gifts of the day. As St. Ignatius of Loyola says, "ingratitude is the most abominable of sins . . . the cause, beginning and origin of all sins and misfortunes." Cultivate this daily habit of examining your day, asking God to show you how he has been present in the events and interactions of the day. Practicing this kind of reflective prayer will help you be attentive to God's presence and discern God's beautiful plan for your life.
Each child has a plan, a purpose, a unique way to serve and love in this world. Strong families give children the space and support they need to discover their giftedness. My hope is that this blog continues to strengthen parents in their life's work: Family.

A Prayer for Families from the Apostleship of Prayer 

God of love,
Thank you for the gift of family.
Help us to look for you
and to find you
every day.
Draw us into your Heart.
Help us to love like you.