Does Your Past Disqualify You? A Lesson from the Peabody Ducks

Every morning at 11, and every evening at five, they roll out the red carpet at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The gathering crowd presses against the ropes that hold it back, jockeying to be the first to glimpse the resident celebrities. As the elevator doors open to the lobby, John Philip Sousa's King Cotton March begins to play. The fans inhale, hold their collective breath, and then squeal like giggling teenaged girls at a Justin Bieber concert, “There they are!” 

And the duck parade begins.

The Peabody Ducks (Photo Courtesy of Memphis County Visitors' Bureau)

Photo courtesy
Led by their escort, the official Peabody Duckmaster, the web-footed, tail-shaking mallard ducks (one mail and four females), march along the red carpet in the Peabody’s Grand Lobby amidst the flash of camera lights and the sound of clapping from their adoring fans. One by one they take their place in the hotel’s ornate marble fountain where they paddle happily until the parade is reversed at five p.m., and the ducks return to their rooftop home. People come from all over the world to witness the procession, one of Memphis’s most famous attractions.

The tradition began in 1932, when the general manager of the hotel and one of his buddies returned from a hunting trip with five live decoys and a snoot full of whiskey. With the reasoning ability that only alcohol can bring, they decided it would be amusing to put their live ducks in the hotel fountain. What began as a prank soon became the hotel’s most popular attraction, and the live decoy ducks were subsequently replaced by five permanent residents. 

In 1940, a bellman named Edward Pembroke offered to help train the ducks. A former circus animal trainer, Pembroke soon taught the ducks to march. The duck parade became an overnight success, and he acquired the distinction of being the official Peabody Hotel Duckmaster, a position he held for over 50 years, until his retirement in 1991.

I suspect, when Pembroke quit his job as a circus animal trainer and began working as a bellman at the Peabody, he never planned to revisit that aspect of his life again. Many of us feel the same way.

Perhaps there are parts of our past you wish had never happened--hurts, sins, poor choices, abuse. Many of us who came to faith later in life bear the scars of life without him. Sexual promiscuity, alcohol or drug abuse, self-mutilation, abortion, and depression are all shadows from our former lives that threaten to eclipse our new lives in Christ. To protect ourselves, we lock them in the closet of our past, write Under the Blood on the door, and throw away the key.

But what if God places people in our lives who need to hear our story?

What if the stories of our past and the forgiveness and restoration Christ offers, unlocks the door to someone’s future? What if, like the Peabody ducks, someone is swimming aimlessly around in circles accomplishing nothing, when instead she could be part of something bigger and grander than she ever imagined?

What if Mr. Pembroke had said, “The past belongs in the past. I’ve left that behind”?

Instead he saw potential. He had vision, and he knew he could use aspects of his past to make his world better.

Beth Moore says, “God will often take our pain and turn it into a passion.” She’s a perfect example of this. A victim of childhood abuse, Beth has dedicated her life to helping women find restoration and hope a life by surrendering to Christ. God often turns our misery into ministry when we place it in his hands.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Is there an aspect of your past you’d prefer to forget? Will you surrender it to God today to use as he sees fit? You can trust him, the one who promises to bring beauty from ashes.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Hiding in the Coat Closet with Adam and Eve.

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  1. I have been struggling with this over the weekend, I really needed to read this post. My life before Christ was full of anger, bad choices and selfishness, it is all I ever knew I grew up that way. When I found Christ I laid down my life for Him, but the past decisions still haunt my thoughts and leave me doubting that I am truly adopted by my heavenly Father. As a twenty seven year old new Christian I am learning to trust in the Lord as my savior, I am glad that when I hear those thoughts of doubt, God puts posts like these in my path, I hope that one day God will use me, I already feel like He is starting to as I give over the reigns. Thank you for the reminder. Tara.

  2. What a delightful and empowering story! I laughed out loud at the image of the ducks doing their daily march.
    Yes, there are parts of my life I had thought I had left behind, only to have God nudge me to share them to help others. Isn't it lovely and often amusing how He works? I love that quote from Beth Moore about turning pain into passion. Amen to that!

  3. What a fun and inspiring post!

  4. There have been so many difficult situations that I've just wanted to stuff out of sight. But you're right, and God is turning those difficulties into a passion to help others avoid those difficulties. It can be tricky to write about those circumstances without reliving it all over again, but God is helping. Thanks for the encouragement today, Lori.

    1. True, Meghan, I'd rather go to my happy place sometimes than rehash my failures, but if my story can help someone else avoid the pain, then I suppose it's worth telling. . . Thanks for stopping by Be Not Weary :)

  5. Great post! I have often used the quote from Beth Moore, too. She so influenced my heart transformation as I came to embrace the pain in discovering it as my passion! Thanks for the sweet reminder this morning!

  6. I'm all for this, Lori. I so want the messes I've made in life and marriage to bless someone else--the lessons I've learned anyway. :) I'm thankful for God's redeeming work in my life and in the lives of countless others. He really is amazing! Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Amen, Beth, if God can redeem our poor decisions, and he can, then there's consolation in that. Like Joni Erickson Tada says, "Don't waste the pain." Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Testimony is a powerful teacher. We must never forget that!

    1. Mindy, our testimony is the only thing a skeptic can't argue with. THey can dispute the Bible, tear down theology, but they can't deny what has happened in our lives. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation!" Thanks for stopping by today :)

  8. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Sometimes I feel like sin is a big circle - we think we have overcome a specific sin but then it creeps back in weeks, months, or even years later. Thankfully, I am redeemed by grace, not by my works. Thank you for this post.

    1. You're absolutely right -- we never completely defeat sin, although we have the power to do so through Christ. Remember Paul, "What I want to do, I don't, and what I hate, I do. . ." My husband likes to say, "Believers aren't sinless, but they should sin LESS." I wrote a post about the besetting sins you refer to. You might want to read it here: Thanks so much for stopping by Be Not Weary :)

  9. I loved this post. I have heard of those ducks before. Again, I loved your analogy. It is so true that we can help and encourage someone because of hard things in our past. I don't see how we can help someone without going through something similar. Our trials make us the best counselors when we have surrendered our past to Jesus.

    Thanks for linking up over at WholeHearted Home this past Wednesday. Your posts are always written so well.

    1. Judith, I had never heard of them, but was captivated by the story when a friend mentioned them. To be honest, I wasn't sure where the post was going when I began to tell the story, but like many things yielded to the Lord, I pray he uses it for his glory! Thanks so much for stopping by.