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Even At the Zoo

We had seen it all: lions, tigers, geese and crazy monkeys who loved to sing and holler. We’d had a lovely lunch and were just about ready to head home. There was just one more thing to do…

We had been told when we entered the zoo that certain animals had feeding times at which you could go and participate. When we heard we could feed the giraffes, we all were excited.

So there we stood, waiting in line to wash our hands and receive the carefully torn up romaine lettuce to hand to our long-necked friends. It was a nice place to wait; in the shade and right next to the zebras and warthogs so there was plenty to see.

As we chatted together  – my husband, children and my mom, and I – we recapped the highlights of our trip. That is until a small boy about four years old ran right through the line to get to the zebra exhibit. We watched in horror as he jumped up and threw one leg over the top, ready to hop in and join his striped friends. Without even thinking, I ran over and grabbed him off the wall. He laughed, wriggled free and began to run away.

I can’t remember a time when I’d been so terrified for a child who wasn’t my own. And I was frankly a bit perturbed that his mother would be so irresponsible as to let her son get away from her so drastically. I envisioned some hipster chick with a blue-tooth ear piece and an iPhone stuck to her face as she spent some “quality time” her kid at the zoo. In none too compassionate of voice I called out,

“Whose little boy is this?? Does he belong to anyone??”

Several seconds went by with no response and my frustration only grew. Then I saw her…running to the zebra enclosure, pushing a baby girl in a stroller, fatigue and fear etched on her face.

“Oh thank God! There he is. He’s mine.”

Even at the ZooMaybe I was wrong…just a tad.

“Oh, ok,” I replied. “Just so you know, he tried to climb over into the zebra exhibit. I grabbed him off the wall…I hope that’s ok.”

A look of disbelief and sheer desperation crossed her face. I was suddenly quite aware that this was not necessarily a rare occurrence for this little boy. He kept his mama on her toes twenty-four-seven and she was at her wits end. I tried not to eavesdrop as he begged and begged to say and feed the giraffes and as she explained they had already done several extras and it was time to go home. A fit ensued and that poor mama just sighed, grabbed his hand and began to walk away.

As she passed me, our eyes briefly met. My wrongful judgement gone, I just smiled and before I knew what I was doing I gently stroked her back as she passed and said,

“Hang in there, mama, you’re doing good.”

She paused briefly, smiled a tired, weary smile in thanks and walked away.

I’ve thought of that encounter so many times since that day. I’ve talked a lot here about how we’re all in this together; we’ve got to be there for one another, support each other. We need to reach out even if the person isn’t necessarily asking for help verbally.

Friends, opportunities to encourage someone else are all around us. Everyday. Everywhere. Even at the zoo. Your homework today is to keep your eyes peeled for just one person whom you can encourage. It could be a kind word in line at the store, finally sitting down to write that note you’ve been needing to write for weeks now, a kind gesture for the waitress who’s having a bad day. Maybe it’s that mom at the mall with all the screaming kids.

We’re all in this crazy journey of life together, and our kids need examples of compassion and kindness to look up to and emulate. So let’s get out there and encourage each other today!

Did you encourage a random stranger today? Come back and share in the comments what happened, and let’s keep this community rolling forward in love!

Put Your Hands in the Air

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but raising kids is hard. Whether you have family around or not; a huge church or just a couple of like-minded folks; whether you have one kiddo or ten. It’s heart wrenching, twenty-four-seven, soul-aching-full-of-love hard work.

And like most things that are hard, the rewards are almost incalculable.

Photo by winjohn

When that hard work includes shepherding young hearts to follow hard after Christ, and trying to set an example of how to do that when you yourself are a flawed human being, sometimes we get…tired. We need help.

Join me today at The Better Mom as I share one of my most favorite images found in Scripture, and where I extend a request to you for help – and an invitation as well. I can’t wait to see you over there and hear your story!

If you’re joining us today from The Better Mom, I just want to extend a warm welcome to you. I’m so delighted you popped over today. I hope you’ll join our little community here as we share this journey of life together. Let me know you came by so I can give you a virtual hug, a cuppa tea and get to know you a wee bit better.

{Repost} Messy Faith

There seems to be a recurring theme in many of my conversations of late. These conversations pop up when you I least expect them, and at seemingly odd times. The topics of discussion range from family life to broken hearts to school to abortion. But they all are circling back to one central theme (dare I say truth?).

Faith is messy.

We in the western world like things put into neat little compartments, wrapped up in pretty packages, with nice, clear labels. We like to have a category in which to put everything. A place for everything and everything in it’s place, right?

And when it comes to faith and matters of the soul, we seem to take those ideas and desires for a neat, tidy, pretty, labeled package to the extreme. We want to know what category you belong in. Then we want everyone to know that we are okay, we know what we’re doing, we have all the answers and don’t need any help. We know what to say and when to say it. If we venture into a church with any sort of regularity, we barely have to think about what we say, where we go, what we do. We are in auto pilot. We put on our best clothes, smile our pretty smile, and talk about how much we love Jesus. And that’s the way we like it. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s easy.

But what I’m experiencing in my journey of faith is turning out to look much different than that. My faith is messy. My life, my relationships, my mind is messy. I don’t necessarily mean messy as in messed-up; wrong; dysfunctional. Though at times it is all those things, too. I mean it’s complicated; more gray than black and white; it takes energy, critical thinking, and blood, sweat and tears.

And it desperately needs community. The Bible says that faith without action is dead. But I’m also finding that faith without community is shallow. “Christianity” in the western world has become shallow, cold, exclusive rather than inclusive. It is sterile, impersonal, and lonely. Of course, I’m speaking in very general terms. And I use the term “Christianity” very loosely when it is in such a context.

If people claim to be a people of faith, there needs to be community present along with the actions that accompany that faith. There should be real community, where life is shared, warts and all. Where people are free to talk, discuss, question, wrestle and grapple with the messiness that comes when humans mingle with the Divine. In an atmosphere of true community, there is safety in walking through these questions, issues, and even doubts that are swirling within the spirit of each one of us. Real community is beautiful, supportive, freeing, and messy.

It’s not easy, or pretty, to work through your stuff, whatever that stuff is. But, oh what sweet intimacy and friendship and love that is cultivated when people we put their our guard down and truly share life with one another. Why do we put up the facade that we have it all together? Fear.

If they really knew the real me, they’d never want to hang out with me again.

If they only knew what I really wanted to ask about God, they’d think I’m an idiot.

There’s no way I’d deserve to be loved by God if He, or they, knew my past.

Sadly, most, if not all, of those statements have been proven to be true (other than that God not loving you part) in countless “bodies of faith” over time. Most likely, each of us has personally experienced it.

But the beauty of real community – community based upon and within the unconditional love of a Man who walked this earth and shared His life with all sorts of people – is that in such community, there is freedom to question, to ask, to wrestle, to struggle, and to decide. And the true beauty? No matter the decision, there is always love. Lord, let me be a part of a community like that! And make me the kind of person who fosters community like that.

Photo Credit

The Run

I eased the car to a stop, engaged the parking break and shut off the ignition. My head flopped back onto the headrest. Why am I doing this? I could be at home, under my Snuggie, with another cup of coffee. 

I’m the first one here. I’m always the first one. The sun is up, but only just. The chill bumps on my arms evidence of the frigid morning, amplified by the slight layer of fog and mist still hanging in the air. One by one, the others begin to arrive. All more experienced, all fitter, all of them “real” runners. After a few minutes we set out.

I settle into my stride and find my breathing. Inhale two steps, exhale two steps, inhale two steps, exhale two steps. The gentle pom, pom, pom, pom of footfalls on the pavement put me into a trance, not unlike a hypnotist’s watch swinging back and forth, back and forth.

The first mile marker passes and an energy buzzes through me like electricity in a pool of water. Conversations are taking place all around me; I chat away to the three ladies surrounding me. This energy comes not from the adrenaline of a run, or the buzz from a good workout. No, its from the camaraderie of these dear friends of mine, working together, supporting and encouraging each other.

The last mile is a killer. My lungs are burning, stomach churning. This part of the course is nothing but undulating hills. Sure, the last 100 yards are down hill, but that matters little when I’m fighting to keep my breakfast down with every step.

“Can’t. Stop. Now!” a breathless voice floats on the air in front of me.

“Cross. Road. Downhill!” calls another.

“Well done, Jen. You’ve got it now. You own this. Keep going.” Our group leader has joined me side by side, matching me stride for stride. These words, and company, bolster me and strengthen me when I want to give up the most. Had I not been surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses these dear friends, all on the same path, struggling with the same things, I know I would’ve quit long ago.

Today, I defeated the defeatist in me. And I was carried by a group of regular-ol’ people, plodding along, all wanting to give up, throw in the towel. But because we were there together, moving alongside one another, we all had a strength beyond our own individual capabilities.

If only God had something to say about that….

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