I have accumulated a lot of trophies over the years; especially as a kid and a teenager. Baseball, oratorical contests, and even a citizenship award. In later years they were all clutter to me, and so I disposed of them. But one small trophy remains.
It was my first trophy. A marble block with a gold plated plastic cyclist mounted on top; first place for a bike race I won when I was nine years old. It was at Federal Hill in South Baltimore, on the circular drive that is now covered over for a playground. In that park, twenty years after that milestone race, I proposed to Marcella. And then, twenty years after that, that bicycle was proudly ridden by our eleven year old daughter, Elizabeth. What a story it could tell.
The trophy takes me back to the Christmas morning when I saw that "big" gold bicycle with the shiny chrome fenders and steel training wheels sitting in front of the tree. It was a Sears Roebuck, single speed bike, with twenty-four inch wheels and white wall tires. I was almost seven years old, probably eight, when Dad took off the training wheels and coached me in the back alley. I only fell once. My dad had imparted to me a skill that (forty-plus years later) would take me on a twenty-one speed bicycle from Maryland to Mississippi and Indianapolis to Clear Spring, Maryland over tens of thousands of miles, and through countless towns and cities.
That very first evening, just getting me to negotiate the alley from one end to the other was a victory. Then there would be the race, the trophy, and other adventures. I mastered that gold steed in riding and caring for it. Dad helped me with my first flat tire and other repairs.
My dad could fix anything, but there came a time in my adult years when I brought house and car problems to him, but he brought the bicycles to me. In that, I think my dad taught me discipleship. He was wise in many things, but once he introduced me to the bicycle, he encouraged me to become the wise one. For him, a bicycle was a toy; he helped me to learn how to play with it and take care of it. But being a city boy who longed to be in the country, that bike for me was a ticket to freedom, adventure, and discovery. Like a cowboy and his horse, there I was with my bike. It was no mere toy to me.
So, when I look at that little trophy, it means more to me now than it did when I was nine.
I don't remember the race. I do remember Dad teaching me in the back alley to ride. I recall our working together on it. So the trophy wasn't about winning the race. It represents how my father invested time in making me proficient enough to enter the race. If he was alive today, I think I would have to admit that the trophy belongs to him. Dad would say it was no big deal.
The trophy also reminds me of when Elizabeth was six and I told her that one day she would ride that "big" gold bike. And a few years later, though she received a brand new pink bike with flower designs and a basket, she chose to ride the gold one. She would do tricks, riding it for miles, mastering it as if it had always been her own. When she rode it I would vicariously ride it again through her. I knew what she was experiencing.
I imagine Mom and Dad in that Sears store in 1966, picking out that bike for me. They could never have known that one day their granddaughter would love that bike and make it her own.
Trophies are like memorials. While celebrating an achievement, they help us to remember all that went into and led up to that victory.
When Joshua led the Israelites through the parted Jordan River into the Promised Land, he set up twelve stones, as a memorial to remind later generations of what God had done for them. When future generations see it and ask, "What do these stones mean?" the story would be told of how God dried up the Jordan just as He did years earlier to the Red Sea. Then "all the peoples of the earth (will) know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty" (Joshua 4:19-24).
Look at your trophies and awards. Ask, "What does it mean?" Winning the prize is not just about being better than your competitors. It's also about being better than you were before; and fully appreciating how you came into that race... and with whom?
And why does that matter to you now?