I make balloon animals.
I’ve done it for a few years.
It started with Wally Boag. I saw a recording of him performing at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland. I fell in love with his slapstick antics and the joy he brought people through his balloon animals. I decided that I would learn.
I started studying different balloon twists and learning how to make things like a dog, a toucan, a bear, and even an iris. I’d sit at home making animals until they lined our entertainment center. Our kids had more balloons than they knew what to do with. The apartment looked like a latex menagerie.
Somewhere along the line I read the Shane Claiborne books “The Irresistible Revolution” and “Jesus For President”. They are full of prophetic vision. Claiborne and his co-conspirators started the Simple Way, an organization that they refer to as the “new monasticism”. They moved into a reclaimed building in a poor part of downtown Philadelphia and became active members of the community, hosting meals, providing children with school supplies, and engaging in other charitable activities. Beyond that, they became friends with their neighbors, playing and praying with them. They made community gardens and played games with local kids. Claiborne even has special pockets on his pants that he reserves for sidewalk chalk and bubbles, because you never know when the chance to spread a little joy will appear.
Rather than performing their good deeds from a distance, or as good deed tourists, Claiborne moved in and developed lasting relationships.
I decided I wanted to try it.
One day I went on my front stoop and started twisting balloons while my son played with his friends. Before long kids from all over the apartment complex were lining up. I made them swords and ray guns. They chased each other around the complex with their new weapons, laughing and playing together.
It proved good practice. Later in the year my church asked if I would work our annual Halloween festival as a balloon artist. Hundreds of people came to the event and I made balloons until well after dark. By the time I was done my hands ached and I had raw spots on my fingers.
It was worth it. The looks on the kid’s faces were priceless.
I’ve done it at several churches since and it is always a blast. I find it impossible to turn kids away. Even when the other booths shut down, I seem completely incapable of packing up until every kid (and adult!) has a balloon.
Does it change any lives? I doubt it. It didn’t end the wars going on across the globe, or put food in the bellies of the hungry. It didn’t eradicate disease. The kids have probably already forgotten they ever got the balloons.
But for a moment….
For just a moment they were happy. I don’t know anything about the kid’s personal lives. Chances are some of them aren’t very happy, but by doing a little thing I could make them forget their troubles. Even if their lives are fine, it added a bit of joy to the world and God knows we could all use more of that.
My wife Kara started a similar venture. Shortly after the election in November, she decided that she wanted to do something to bring happiness into a world that seemed to be sinking into anger and hatred. She decided that she would start committing random acts of kindness.
Kara loves spa socks. They make her feel warm, comfortable, and pampered. She wanted other people to feel the same. She started buying extra pairs when she went to the grocery store. She hands them out to random women in the parking lot. They way she sees it, the women could be stressed, they could have had a long day at work, could be going through illness or family troubles, and her gift might make them feel a tiny bit better.
We tend to think of kingdom work in grand sweeping terms, but I think a lot of it takes place with little acts of kindness done everyday, with seemingly mundane things that the majority of the world overlooks. A smile. A kind word. An act of friendship.
There’s a scene in the movie version of the Hobbit that sums this up. Gandalf and Galadriel are talking and Galadriel asks him why he chose Bilbo Baggins for his mission. Hobbits, after all, are tiny. They are domestic. They have no grand ambitions. If you were looking to save the world, they are the last people you would select. Fellow wizard Saruman does not see their value. He plots and plans to save Middle Earth by seizing power and using it to force the change he wants. But Gandalf treasures the very traits that Saruman views as useless.
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check but that is not what I have found,” he says. “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
In a world that struggles along in darkness, may we all have the courage to be little sparks of light.
May we all be Hobbits.
P.S. I would love it if readers would share their own random acts of kindness stories in the comments section!