Life’s lessons through helium balloons

By Al Earley - A Religious Point of View

Larry Walters led a fairly normal life as a truck driver in southern California until July 2, 1982. On that day, Larry turned himself into a legend. Growing up he always dreamed of flying, but his eyesight kept him from flying in the Air Force. So one day he came up with a plan. He went out and purchased forty-five weather balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store, tied them to his tethered lawn chair, which he dubbed the Inspiration I. He then filled the four-foot-diameter balloons with helium. Then he strapped himself into his lawn chair with some sandwiches, a six-pack of Miller Lite, and a pellet gun. He figured he would pop a few of the many balloons when it was time to descend. Larry’s plan was to sever the anchor and lazily float up to a height of about 30 feet above his backyard, where he would enjoy a few hours of flight before coming back down. Instead, he streaked into the Los Angeles sky as if shot from a cannon, and didn’t level off until he reached 16,000 feet. He didn’t think it was safe to start shooting balloons at that height, so he stayed there, drifting, cold and frightened, with his beer and sandwiches, three miles above the ground for more than 14 hours.

Larry’s flight pattern took him over LAX, and everybody from pilots to traffic controllers were talking about the man floating in his lawn chair. Eventually Larry gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons, and quickly descended into a Long Beach neighborhood, got caught on a power line, and blacked out the neighborhood for 20 minutes. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring feat asked him why he had done it. Larry replied nonchalantly, “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.” Larry Walters became a bit of a cult hero in the years that followed, but it was the kind of legacy that didn’t bring meaning and purpose in life. He struggled in life until he committed suicide at the age of 44. Leaving behind a meaningful legacy is a long, and sometimes difficult process. For it to be a Godly legacy can be even harder. That is what I want to challenge you to today.

The first place most of us have a chance to leave a lasting legacy is with our children. The kind of legacy we leave behind will affect them and their family for generations to come. Wise parents know that children are like helium balloons. In the early years we hold them very close to protect and guide them carefully. We only let out a little bit of string under careful instruction.

As the child gets older we let them have a little more freedom, letting a little more string out so the balloon (and child) can grow and mature as their own person. Eventually there comes a time in every parent’s life when our job as custodial parent is complete, and we must let go completely of our children and entrust them into God’s care, just like we let go of that helium balloon and watch it fly free! We see a beautiful scene something like this in the apostle Paul’s relationship with an early Christian minister Paul is mentoring named Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (II Tim. 1:5)”. It was this faith Paul saw in Timothy that led Paul to invest in Timothy as one of the important young leaders of the early church.

I think passing on our faith to our children and others is the most important legacy we can leave behind as we invest in other people’s lives. There are many other ways that we can have an impact on others as well, through our church, as a Christian business leader, volunteering in the community, just to name a few, that we can leave a lasting legacy in the lives of others.

In what ways are you having an impact on the lives of others? Have you ever thought about how you can leave some legacy behind through the others your life touches? Have you ever prayed to God to use you to have an impact on others? What ways might God choose to use you as a living legacy for others?

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By Al Earley

A Religious Point of View

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