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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!