I was driving down an Orlando highway when I found myself reflecting on one specific night a long time ago. My son was about five years old. He had gotten a new Flexible Flyer for Christmas, but I had been too busy with night school and my career to find the time to take him sled riding. It was late February, and by now, my wife was losing patience with my long list of excuses as to why I had not found the time to spend with my son. So, I did what most young husbands do when faced with such decisions: I developed a quick plan to make everything right.
Our home was located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a lovely village located east of Cleveland. Not far from our home was a state park. Punderson State Park had a large pavilion located at the top of a long hill. The State Recreation Department would open the park in the winter. The pavilion would sell hot chocolate and have a large welcoming fire going inside. The hill was equipped with a long-powered towrope to pull sled riders back up after their exhilarating downhill experience. To fit my busy schedule, this hill was lit for sled riding in the evening. This was the perfect plan. In one night, I could undo months of wrong by giving my son a great experience with his dad. I could even save my weekend for other projects around the house.
One evening during the week, my son and I went off, sled and all, to Punderson State Park. We arrived to find that this wonderfully equipped facility was practically empty. It was as if the park was open just for us. After parking and pulling the sled to the top of the hill, I placed my son between my legs and got settled for his first sled ride. Now here is where I forgot the most important rule of sledding: never start down a hill when you first look over the crest. As I pushed off, it was just seconded until the significance of this rule became evident. The reason no one was there that evening was because the cold weather, the prior weekend’s heavy traffic, and some freezing rain had converted the hill into a quarter-mile ice rink that ran precariously downhill. Within seconds, we were out of control and speeding down the hill.
My feet quickly bounced off the sled’s handles, so I could no longer steer. Not that it would have mattered, we were out of control. It did not take long for panic to reach me. At the speeds we were going, my small son was about to get hurt. My thoughts quickly went into survival mode. I leaned back, gathering my son in my arms. Thoughts went to protecting him from the inevitable harm about to befall us. It was the longest sled ride of my life. Constantly on the verge of crashing, fearful for my son’s wellbeing. We flew through the air, bounced from mogul to mogul, and through the grace of God, we reached the bottom of that hill, still on the sled.
I do remember thinking about God at that moment. It was something that I did not do too often during those years. Getting ahead in life superseded time for God. It was a good example of how fear drives us closer to our Creator. Just seconds after the sled came to a rest, my deep thoughts were interrupted by my son’s raucous laughter. My son wasn’t traumatized by this experience. I had delivered the best first sled ride any young five-year-old could have hoped for.
Only one other sled rider went down that hill after my son and I. This young boy shattered his collarbone and was rushed to emergency room. My son and I went back to the pavilion to enjoy our hot chocolate and the warmth of a wood fire. This would, in itself, be a nice story, but the real significance of God’s message did not become clear to me until 30 years later. Back on that Orlando Street, I was reflecting on that evening’s experience, and God provided me with the final chapter.
My life had been just like that sled ride at Punderson State Park, often out of control and filled with moments of panic, wondering if I would finish my journey safely. On that day long ago, my son recognized that he was wrapped in his father’s arms. His safety was taken in full faith and my son had the best ride of his life. No fear, no panic, just faith in his father. Isn’t that what God was telling me? I, too, am wrapped in my Father’s arms. I too have the choice to trust Him, to place my faith in Him, and to know that He loves me and would do anything for me. God was telling me to lean back and let Him make my life that “best ride.”