Two of Australia’s indigenous creatures, kangaroos and emus, have something in common—they seldom move backward. Kangaroos, because of the shape of their body and the length of their strong tail, can bounce along with forward movement, but they cannot shift easily into reverse. Emus can run fast on their strong legs, but the joints in their knees seem to make backward movement difficult. Both animals appear on Australia’s coat of arms as a symbol that the nation is to be ever moving forward and making progress.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the dwarfs gathered to go up against Smaug, the fierce dragon, to retrieve their stolen treasure. In spite of the dangerously frightening quest, Balin, the dwarfs’ second-in-command, expressed confidence in Thorin: “There is one I could follow. There is one I could call King.” His commitment to the mission, as dangerous as it was, was empowered by his confidence in his leader.
Human beings straddle visible and invisible realities—the natural and the supernatural. I thought about these two worlds when I went out in a boat to watch whales off the coast of New Zealand. A whale would rest on the surface for a while, then breathe deeply a few times, his exhalations creating a spectacular spout, before plunging a mile deep to feed on squid.
Your hair is really healthy,” said my hairdresser after giving me a haircut. “I hope it’s because you use our products.” “No. I’m sorry,” I said. “I just use whatever product is cheap and smells good.” But then I added, “I also try to eat well. I think that makes a big difference.”
For many years I’ve maintained a file folder labeled “Speaking.” It has become thick with articles, quotations, and illustrations that might be useful. Recently I went through it to discard things that are out of date. I found it difficult to throw away many of the items, not because I haven’t used them in a talk but because I haven’t put them into practice. I closed the folder thinking, “These aren’t words to talk about; these are words to live by.”
The lone tree in the field across from my office remained a mystery. Acres of trees had been cut down so the farmer could grow corn. But one tree remained standing, its branches reaching up and spreading out. The mystery was solved when I learned the tree was spared for a purpose. Farmers long ago traditionally left one tree standing so that they and their animals would have a cool place to rest when the hot summer sun was beating down.
The video starts with a puppy at the top of the stairs afraid to go down. Despite much encouragement from people cheering at the bottom, Daisy can’t figure it out. She wants so badly to join them, but fear keeps her pacing the landing. Then a bigger dog comes to help. Simon runs up the steps and then back down, showing Daisy how easy it is. Daisy is not convinced. Simon tries again. This time more slowly. Then he watches Daisy try again. But Daisy still is too scared. Once again Simon goes to the top and demonstrates the technique. Finally Daisy dares to let her back legs follow the front ones. Simon stays beside her. She makes it. Everyone celebrates!
I was traveling with some men when we spotted a family stranded alongside the road. My friends immediately pulled over to help. They got the car running, talked with the father and mother of the family, and gave them some money for gasoline. When the mother thanked them over and over, they replied, “We’re glad to help out, and we do it in Jesus’ name.” As we drove away, I thought how natural it was for these friends to help people in need and acknowledge the Lord as the source of their generosity.
In the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, many people have felt strongly compelled to help. Some donated blood for the injured, some provided free lunches and coffee at their restaurants for workers. Others wrote letters of comfort or just gave hugs. Some sent gifts of money and teddy bears for the children; others offered counseling. People found ways to serve according to their personalities, abilities, and resources.
Where is Mary Poppins when you need her? I know this sounds as if I’m longing for the good old days when cheerfully unrealistic movies featured characters like this fictional nanny, but what I’m really longing for are people with a vision for the future that is realistically optimistic. I yearn for joyful, creative people who can show us the positive side of what we consider negative, who can remind us that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”