Sunday, April 28, 2013

A family lesson at the zoo

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 (NIV)

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
In a continued quest to make good use of the year’s first weekend of truly wonderful weather, we decided to head to the zoo. It was our first trip since the holiday lights outing in December, but Jack opted to spend the afternoon at my parents’ house. That’s not a bad thing, though; the younger two get far more out of the zoo than big brother and it’s good for him to have some down time away from our traveling circus.

The first thing I wanted to see was the giraffes. The herd welcomed a new baby in November, and the now five-month-old calf just experienced the outdoors for the first time nearly two weeks ago. Since Kristie loves giraffes and animal babies, Charlie was in the stroller and Max loves all the animals, no one put up a fight. Plus they’re close to the entrance.

Baby giraffes still are fairly large compared to pretty much everything else at the zoo, but it was easy to spot Dave, the new arrival. While the novelty of outdoor life might have worn off for the little guy (he wasn’t dashing about the enclosure, but was at least as active as the rest of his pals), it was a treat to get to see him up close. My favorite part was explaining to Charlie which one was the baby.

Our little guy took over from there. He could understand the smallest was the youngest — after all, that’s how it works in his family, too. But then he determined one of the taller giraffes must be the dad, just like he has a dad. Logically, another of the tall giraffes was Dave’s mother, just like Charlie has a mom. Charlie explained this too us in his inimitable jibber-jabber (a stream of syllables, from which you can understand “mommy,” “daddy,” “baby” and “my”) and I was thrilled we had this little moment.

Eventually Charlie will realize not every living thing has a mom and a dad. There are all sorts of ways this plays itself out in the animal kingdom, and quite a few varieties among humans as well. In my book the more family members there are to love a little person the better, but it’s not always possible or practical. Neither am I here to define “family” for anyone but my own wife and children, because what matters most is for a child to be surrounded by love.

But for Charlie, his family is a mom a dad and his brothers. The other morning after I changed his diaper he proudly identified himself as the baby brother, even though he also is very quick to loudly clarify he is no longer a baby and that he is, in fact, two. But he seems to enjoy his place in the family, or perhaps just being a part of the family. Somehow, most likely unintentionally or at least indirectly, we seem to have endowed in Charlie a sense of belonging, an understanding that home is a place of comfort and that his parents and brothers are the most important people in his life at the moment.

If that truly is the case — even if it’s not, that’s what I choose to glean from his communication, such as it is — we’re doing a good job. To have a child who feels safe, who feels loved and who feels they belong; to me those are marks of a strong family, and I’ve no doubt God’s role in our life is essential to fostering this environment.

A prayer for April 28:

Lord, it is important to me my children feel loved and that they value family ties. I thank you for helping to make this possible by revealing to me what it means to be truly loved and by opening my eyes to the importance of my biological family as well as my brothers and sisters in faith. Help me continue to work with my wife to make sure our home is a place where our children are safe, valued, comforted and encouraged to live lives worthy of you. And please help me lead by example. Amen.

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