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Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: Paying it forward

In the weeks and months that followed my father's death, I found a new version of myself emerge that seemed light years away from the class clown I had been known as. Generally speaking, I was angry and always about a spark away from lighting my fuse.

I hid this new feature of my personality pretty well and it took a few years before it caused more issues for me. I had some much-appreciated help from true friends that made holding my internal powder keg in check much easier. My classmates did an odd thing for me on my first day back to school after my dad's funeral. I entered my first class of the day and was met, surprisingly, with a paper bag full of quarters and dimes.

That combination of change was the price of school lunches back when Fred Flinstone and I were in middle school, which meant that a large number of students did without lunch or brought extra money on this particular day. The bag weighed heavy with their affection for me and I never forgot it. I almost didn't want to spend it but the Now and Laters, moon pies and icees were calling my name and a boy must have his sugar to make such a monumental transition in life.

While I was busy creating future business for my dentist, another blessing found me while I sat in a sugar coma, trying to mentally erase my present circumstances and reach into the past and kill the snake, which inadvertently caused my father's death, with my bare hands. Suffice it to say that my imagination took me on some wild rides.

My blessing was named Wayne Walker and he might have been an angel in disguise. He could create this really mean, macho expression, but he had a heart of gold. Somehow, he became aware that I wanted to learn to ride a bike, so he bought me one, showed up on my doorstep, slapped a set of training wheels on it and said, "Let's ride!"

Over the next several months, my rage abated as Wayne taught me the fine art of surviving a gazillion falls from that bicycle. Oddly, that was the beauty of it. He let me fall. My dad meant well in not teaching me to ride. He feared the falls could cause serious injury and he decided against it.

That didn't keep me from craving the ability to master the two-wheeled monster and if I wasn't dreaming of ways to resurrect my father, I was dreaming of cruising the streets of Madison on two wheels. Mr. Walker was sent by God to make it happen and I loved him for it. He showed up several times a week to train me and I learned how to fall really well. I also learned how to get back up.

Eventually, I was waving to my substitute dad at a considerable distance as I got the hang of magically turning those handlebars to stay upright. As I spent countless hours roaming my neighborhood streets, I also noticed that my bumps, bruises and scabs were gently being erased by the healing hands of time. Light was beginning to creep its way into my dense darkness slowly.

Wayne Walker kept coming to see me for quite a while after completing his mission. For the rest of his life, he called me "son." Out of respect for my dad, I never gave anyone else a fatherly title, but in my heart, Wayne Walker was dad in capital letters. He still is.

In my years of teaching and working with kids, I always looked for those who needed me to pay it forward and be there for them when life's training wheels fell off, leaving them battered and bruised. Sometimes, that meant getting up an hour early for school to pick up two sisters whose mother had recently died of cancer. They needed help with transportation and I would have crawled through broken glass to help them. Actually, getting up extra early is crawling through broken glass to me!

It may have seemed difficult to Wayne Walker to be away from his family for hours on end to spend time with me, but he did it anyway. Jesus never promised to keep us comfortable while being His hands and feet for others. He certainly abandoned all comfort on our behalf.

That's why the scriptures tell us to let the same mind be in us that is in Christ, so that we can feel what He feels and see what He sees. In the midst of Jesus' many trials, He pressed on because of the "joy that was set before Him." That joy came from knowing that we could now be restored to friendship and fellowship with Him, which means we get to call Him "Dad" with capital letters.

Take the time to observe the needs around you. Spend some of your time and money on someone who is hurting. Restoring the broken is time-consuming, but the results will be worth the trouble.

Should you come looking for me one day in Heaven, just ask directions to Wayne Walker's neighborhood. We'll be cruising the streets on our bikes.Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: Paying it forward

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