Last September, I watched my athletic daughter zip around our apartment courtyard on her tiny red Trek bicycle with an older friend.
We bought that bike for Hannah at age 2 in Wisconsin, another life time ago. Back then, "economizing" meant buying one expensive birthday present for a toddler in a gender neutral color so that a new bike could last through several siblings.
My Hannah is amazing on a bike. (I'm the family slug who can barely walk without tripping over her own heels. I married a man whose idea of a good time is to hike 26 miles down the Wisconsin Ice-Age Trail in a single day. So far, every one of our kids have inherited their Dad's athletic prowess.)
Another Mom and I sat together on a park bench, watching the street light start to shine one by one over our daughter's bike helmets. I was very quiet, watching my oldest daughter with joy. Hannah had taught herself how to do wheelies, at the age of 6! It's incredible for me to realize that this shiny daughter slipped out of my own body, sometimes.
The other Mom was a Single Mother who I often make ill-at-ease by my incomprehensible ability to slip baby after baby out of my womb and into my 2 bedroom apartment without showing any reassuring signs of an imminent nervous break-down.
As I watched my kid pop wheelies, the neighbor leaned into me and said "Hannah needs a new bike. That old one is much to small for her! They are having a half-price sale at Performance Bicycle this week. You should send Jon over there to pick up a new bike for Hannah immediately!"
My mood turned sour. I couldn't talk. A half-price sale at Performance Bicycle still meant at least a $150 price-tag. There was no way we could swing the price of a new bike in our family budget.
"The only way Hannah can get a new bike is if God hands her one," I thought.
Then I prayed, "Take care of her God."
I hoped God would care for this future nun. I hoped that Accepting His Will, didn't mean watching my pretty, shiny baby getting teased by richer friends for riding a rusty "baby bike" next year. "Can't future nuns love Jesus with their whole heart and still ride nice bikes in their childhood?" I wondered.
Sometimes, when I'm brave, the virtue of poverty seems like such a simple thing to master: just bake all your meals from scratch, hit the Lands End sales, and watch your husband cut his own hair every month.
Then there are the times when the wind ruffles my sail. Suddenly it seems incredibly stupid to have four children without four matching college savings funds. What are Jon and I doing on this path of prayer and trust and patience? Our financial lives are so different from all the other middle class parents who have extra cash for sale-price purchases from Performance Bicycle.
When I listen to the voices from the outside world, a small seed of doubt creeps into my soul. I start obsessing about a missing item- no crib for a new baby, no school shoes in September and no bicycle for a tall 6 year old to ride.
By March, my worry over the missing bicycle had spread to Jon. "We've got to get Hannah a new bicycle for her Birthday" we decided. We priced bikes at Target. The cheapest one was $80. We floated the idea of canceling Hannah's birthday party to divert funds to a new bike. Hannah, my social butterfly who plans out her birthday party themes years in advance, started to cry. So I enlisted Hannah's grandparents help. They offered to take Hannah to Target to pick out a new bike on her big day. It seems like the Spring bicycle crisis was averted.
Then a mere five days before Hannah's party, Jon took out the trash and found a gently used "big kid" size Trek bicycle by the trash. (People move all the time from our apartment complex and the sidewalk by our trash dump has evolved into a local Freecyle site.) He brought it home.
The bike was beautiful. A sturdy mountain bike with little wear. My husband with a lot of bicycle savvy told me a "Trek is built to last forever."
There was only one problem. The bike was clearly a "boy's bike", with bright yellow and black racing stripes. Would Hannah ride it?
My daughter was excited, but hesitant. Her younger brother immediately pronounced it cool. "It looks just like Bumblebee!" he shouted. Thanks to Alex's enthusiasm for Transformers, Bumblebee is a beloved figure in our house. That endorsement was enough for Hannah.
Hannie started riding her new bike that very moment. Within a week she could keep up, and sometimes pass, her Father on their joint bike rides around the city.
Fast forward, a few months. My son taught himself how to ride without training wheels on the old, red bicycle that is sized for 3 to 5 year olds. Last week, my husband took both kids out cycling on our neighborhood bike path.
Jon noticed that Alex's recent growth spurt made riding the old bike difficult. "He looks like he's riding a clown bike," Jon thought.
Then two days later, on the sidewalk next to the trash dump, my husband found it. A beautiful hot pink Diamond Back bicycle for "a big kid", with clean white tires and a price tag still attached. He brought it home.
"Will Hannah switch bikes now?" he asked me. "Or do I try to give this new one to Alex?"
"This bike is beautiful!" I said. "It's a clearly a girl's bike. Hannah will jump at the chance to ride it. What are you worried about?"
The next morning, Jon unveiled the new bike to Hannah. The kids were so excited, Daddy had to make a special bike riding trip with all three kids during his lunch hour. Everyone had fun. The older kids zoomed quickly down the bike path with speed and agility. By the end of Fall, Alex will be also able to keep up with his Dad on his new Bumblebee bike.
The provision of two new bicycles was a marvel to Jon and I. Jon tells me that Trek and Diamond back are the top of the line. We easily got a gift of $500 worth of new bicycles. It seems so extraordinary that the children of two poor Carmelites can have expensive, well-working bikes to ride.
"We now have 4 bikes for 4 kids," I said. In further wonder, I added "I can't think of any way easier to get the older kid's their daily exercise after the new baby comes. I'll put the baby in the Bjorn, put Maria on the comfy stroller Aunt Emily found and calmly walk up and down the bike-path. Meanwhile, the older kids can go as fast as they want on their new bikes!"
Then Jon told me how important biking is to him. It's the one outdoor sport that he's retained after our move to the City. "Now I can pass that love of cycling onto my children!" he said.
I'm reminded once again that "Trusting in God to Provide" is a real concept. It's not some pious truism that is worn out by overuse. God doesn't give us what we want. God doesn't give us what we think that we need in the moment. He reads our heart. He's a loving Father who gives us what we truly need.
Precious Lord, help me to trust more in you!