Hope you are having a great Friday! Fall in Tennessee is spectacular. See the pretty leaves surrounding my clown bike above? Perhaps the bench gives you some idea of how tall this bike is, but it may not. It is gargantuan, like something out of a circus.
How did I come to own this clown bike? Well, it’s kind of a funny story.
In the summer of 1999 I was a summer associate at a law firm with offices a block from the White House. It was the Seattle-based firm named in part for a famous partner — the father of Bill Gates. Summer associates are treated roughly like royalty. The wining and dining just hardly stops. One day I was in New York with senior partners watching them argue an appellate case and eating at Seinfeld’s favorite deli, the next I was in New Hampshire reviewing documents and savoring fried lobster in a hole-in-the-wall place I’m still hoping to get back to. We went to dinners and shows, and to partners’ houses for parties. The firm’s summer associates from every office were also treated to a few days in Seattle. We met with different practice areas and learned about the culture of the firm, but mostly we just socialized and ate incredible food. But then there was an odd excursion: a cycling tour of wineries near Yakima. Have you been to Yakima? It may surprise you to know it’s a desert. I had never pictured a hotter-than-heck, nothing-but-sunshine desert so near Seattle, but it exists. Oh my does it.
Biking between wineries in a desert never struck me as a brilliant idea, but I wasn’t in charge. I was just trying to go along to get along, and at the end of the summer get an offer for a real job. So we were issued our bikes and we headed out. Surprisingly, we weren’t given bottles of water, nor did we have coolers of water following us around, or even communal cantenes. In fact, I don’t remember having any water, or any beverage other than wine, and I didn’t have much of that because it wasn’t exactly thirst-quenching. After a couple wineries, I do remember being in the middle of the pack of the cyclists and starting to feel exhausted. It was extremely hot and extremely dry. I didn’t know how the associates ahead of me just kept pulling away. Man, they were fit! Even the ones that didn’t look fit. It was kind of embarrassing. But then I remembered that there was a whole group behind me. Ah, it felt good to know there were quite a few worse off than me. I biked on, relishing not being last.
I biked and biked and biked. “Good Lord,” I thought, “How much farther is this next one?”
The company that ran this “excursion” had a rescue van, and the van had the audacity to pull up next to me.
“How’s it going?” the employee in the passenger seat asked, smiling with her head out the window.
“Uh, well,” I stammered, breathless. “It’s going.”
“Well, you don’t have to finish. No shame in getting a ride. We can grab your bike and you can hop in.”
“I’m good,” I lied, wondering why on earth they were asking me, someone smack in the middle of the pack.
They didn’t like my no, and kept at it, trying to convince me to get in the van.
I could not be deterred. I biked on.
I don’t know how much further I rode, but when the van came around again, the next winery was still not visible.
“Don’t you want to be with your group?” they suggested this time.
“Well, sure, but there’s a whole group behind me.”
Stone silence and then after a moment, a cheerful “Nope, you’re it!”
“There was a whole group behind me,” I said, confident I had not imagined it.
“Well, there was,” the van people admitted. “But they turned off to a different winery a while back.”
I had been naively bringing up the rear for God only knows how long. Obviously my bike and my sorry butt ended up in van, and rather quickly too. Even at this point, I don’t think I was given a sip of water. And truly my embarrassment outweighed my thirst anyway.
I had a miserable time at that last winery and count the bus ride back to Seattle as two of the worst hours of my life. I gave praise to God as I stepped off that bus that I had not hurled a single time en route. It was miraculous! With my head in a vise and every sound and movement causing a new wave of nausea, throwing up seemed inevitable. God was so good to spare me that encore of embarrassment.
It was a humiliating experience to be sure, but seventeen years later I’m glad I didn’t just keel over and die. People do die of dehydration and I sort of wonder how close I was to not making it out of that desert alive.
You may be wondering how on earth this wretched desert experience could have anything to do with the clown bike. But it was actually the birth of the clown bike, its direct cause. I felt so defeated by the whole thing that I came home to Arlington, Virginia with resolve: I will never again be rescued on a bike excursion, I thought, possibly still suffering the effects of dehydration. My solution was to buy a bike, which seemed simple enough. The problem was I had a salesman talk me into buying a bike tall enough for my long legs to fully extended while pedaling. He claimed this was important. It may be. I really don’t know. I do know that if you have legs as disproportionately long as mine are, and you buy a bike that will allow your legs to fully extend while riding, you too will own a clown bike.
There are so many spiritual principles at work in this story, I could write a whole “Lessons from the Clown Bike” series. In fact, I may do that. But last night as I prayed about it, a primary lesson emerged, one that is always on point and timely.
Romans 12:3 says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
The picture of the stubborn, dehydrated girl suffering in the desert is a picture of someone thinking of themselves more highly than they ought. My judgment of myself was “middle of the pack” — a sober assessment not only would’ve drained my pride earlier, it would’ve allowed me to accept, maybe even seek help.
This is exactly how life plays out every single day. A little voice in my head tells me I don’t need help, I don’t need rescue. I’m doing better than them. This is NOT the still small voice of God!
The still small voice of God is more likely to say, “Sober up, Beloved, in this area, you need help. But I am here and I love you.”
May I realize today how needy I am, how loved I am, how my God is not at all impressed when I stubbornly stay on the bike.
Praying for sober self-assessments for all, near and far, even all the way to The White House.
Love to YOU,