"Don't worry, be happy. Everything gonna be all right!"
So sang Derek, our bus driver, as he cheerfully transported a dozen tourists, including myself, up Jamaica's famous Blue Mountain. By the time we reached the top he had us all singing it.
It was Wednesday, 3 July, 2013 and I was on this tropical Caribbean island to attend a three-day annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. I always enjoyed the BWA gatherings, which were held in a different country each year. The lectures and seminars — even the Annual General Meeting — were all interesting,
It was a bonus to be able to do a bit of sightseeing on a spare afternoon. (If the program didn't include a spare afternoon I created one.) And now here I was in this rattly Jamaican bus, about to do the famous "Blue Mountain Bike Tour" under warm, overcast skies.
Like most of his countrymen, our driver was laid back.
"Ya mon, no problem!" was the universal saying in Jamaica, and Derek said it often.
Motoring through the lush green countryside, we spotted several small coffee plantations growing on the sides of hills. You've probably heard of Blue Mountain coffee. In the past I'd sometimes purchased it from my local supermarket, assuming it was a just a catchy name for a rather expensive brand. I now discovered there actually was a Blue Mountain in Jamaica where such coffee beans were grown. And I was about to cycle down it!
Frankly, I hadn't ridden a bike much in recent years but I figured this unique experience was worth the effort.
Soon our bus started its ascent of the mountain, up a steep, winding road. (I could see why you only cycled it one way.) At eleven o'clock we stopped for brunch at a roadside restaurant, where we were briefed about the ride we were about to do. At the top we would be given bikes on which we would coast down the mountain from a height of about 5000 feet to sea level. One local guide would lead the bunch and another would bring up the rear. As I was the oldest participant in the group, the helpers were soon calling me "Grandma." Not that I minded. I was about to prove I could keep up with the best.
Ya mon, no problem!
There was paperwork beforehand. Each of us had to sign a waiver that we knew the risks involved and would not sue the tour company if we fell off our bikes and broke a leg or worse.
Then the required safety gear was distributed. As I dutifully pulled on knee pads, elbow pads and a hard hat, I was soon feeling every inch the professional. Sarah Ullmer, the Olympic cyclist from New Zealand, couldn't have looked any cooler, I thought with a touch of smugness.
Nobody would know I hadn't ridden a bicycle since childhood, and I anticipated the thrill of the wind whistling through my hair as I made the tortuous descent. I could hardly wait to be given the green light.
As we waited to start, I reflected on the cycling career that could have been mine if I'd only started a few years earlier. Undoubtedly I could have nailed it. I pictured myself on the podium at Rio, dressed in a black lycra outfit, about to receive a medal while the national anthem played and the audience applauded. Well, dreams were free. If the folks back home could see me now!
Then one of the young tour helpers came up, with a message that brought me down to earth with a thud.
"Darlin,'" he said to me, ever so kindly, "you got your helmet on back to front."
Poof! went the pride.
Sometimes we need a little humbling to restore our perspective. The helper deftly removed my headgear and replaced it correctly, fastening the straps under my chin.
OK, so I was never going to be mistaken for an Olympic cyclist. Not by this group, anyway.
If there was a silver lining to my embarrassment, it was the spiritual lesson it reinforced in me. I had to accept that – much as I enjoyed the odd diversion – I didn't need to aspire, long term, to be anyone other than the person my Creator wired me to be.
Obviously God had wired Sarah Ullmer and me differently, He'd put within her a love for cycling and an enormous talent for it. On the other hand, he'd put within me a love and an aptitude for writing and editing. That was his purpose for my life and I could live with that. So my talents didn't match those of my friends? Knowing what I was gifted to do and what I wasn't was actually liberating.
Paul's words in Ephesians 2 came to mind. I was God's handiwork, created in Christ to do good works which the Lord had prepared in advance for me to do. Imagine having a tailor-made purpose that hadn't been given to anyone else!
It was an awareness that boosted my confidence and wouldn't stop me from enjoying the Tour de France on television.
I squeezed the brakes and was ready for the ride of my life.
Julie Belding is a freelance editor, ESOL teacher and grandmother of five.
Julie Belding's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/julie-belding.html