“Oh, that’s cute,” a co-worker said, looking out the window a couple of weeks ago on one of the first sunny days we had after our long, rainy spring.

I looked out and saw a guy on his bike. I was puzzled, trying to figure out why she’d called him cute but then, coming slowing behind him - and with a good 10-foot gap - was a wee little guy on a wee little bike, complete with training wheels. His dad kept looking behind him, making sure that the little guy was safely on the sidewalk, not tipping over into the lake or scraping up his knees. It was the picture of summer, the definition of Minnesota the moment the sun comes out. And yes, it was cute as could be.

I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 10, which is rather embarrassing. I had a bike, I just couldn’t ride it. It was a dirt bike. The kind with a blue, sparkly banana seat. I used to lean it against the fence and climb onto it and try to figure it out. I don’t know why I didn’t ask my mom or dad to help me. Or my sisters. I guess they were all off doing their thing and just weren’t around when I wanted to learn. My dad was gone half of every month for the Air Force, so that didn’t help.

One day my neighbor and good pal, Gretchen - yep, that was her name - came across the street and her dad came with her. I have a feeling they’d been watching me from their living room.

“Get your bike,” Gretchen’s dad told me.

I looked at Gretchen, and she nodded her head. “Come on!”

Gretchen’s dad, I will admit, was a little intimidating to me. I’m not sure he’d ever spoken directly to me in my life. Together we went down the dirt road, me walking my sparkly bike, unsure what was about to happen. A little way down the road, just past Gretchen’s grandparents’ house, there was a gentle slope and then a long, straight run. It was good hard, packed dirt, with no potholes and a bunch of dandelions along the edges.  

And occasionally a dead mouse.

We stopped at the top of the little hill and Gretchen’s dad said, “Get on.”

I obeyed.

Then he took hold of the back of the seat and said, “Pedal.”

Again, I obeyed.

It took about three tries, with him holding on to the back of the bike, running beside me, until I could ride all by myself.

It was that easy! I was that ready.

After that, the two Gretchens could be found riding our bikes around the neighborhood almost every day. There was a steep hill nearby which I could only conquer by zigzagging up it. I used to listen very hard for traffic - it was a quiet neighborhood - and I’d start zigging and zagging my way up. I was grateful when they lowered that hill by 10 feet, blasting that almost insurmountable height into oblivion.

I can’t really think of summer without thinking of riding my bike all over the neighborhood and, indeed, far beyond. I am forever grateful to Gretchen’s dad for that push in the right direction. For taking the time - and it wasn’t much time - to help.

It’s not hard to lend a hand. Sometimes we just need to step outside and say, “Come on!”

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8 NIV


Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.