The Difference

Today, my coworker and I were talking about animal care work being the type of job that you persue because it is “your passion.” So many zookeepers will say that. But then my coworker, who is fairly new to zookeeping, asked me if the passion stays or if it just becomes work after a while. After thinking for a second, I told her about how I used to write all the time. I had so many notebooks and journals with the beginnings of stories scribbled on page after page. Writing has been my longest running hobby and one that I often thought I could persue, if not as a profession, then as something in addition to my job. I continued to write all the way through college and even after I started working, but in the last few years I’ve left it almost completely behind. Sure some of it had to do with life circumstances and changing preferences, but I really believe that a big part of why I lost the urge to write was because I made it more like work. I started taking writing courses, bought books on how to get published, and tried to write with the goal of having lots of people read my words. My hobby was moving into the job realm and it became work. 

Something about my job as a zookeeper is different. I’m not one of those people who quote the adage “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” I’ve had bad days and things about my job that I certainly didn’t like. But overall, I can’t imagine doing anything else. My coworker asked what the difference was. I thought and finally said that the difference was in writing being something I did, while my passion for animals was simply a part of me. My parents tell stories of me as a toddler asking them to catch squirrels so I could hold them. I didn’t develop a love of animals. It was just in me. That was the difference.

As I drove into my church parking lot for Sunday night Bible study tonight, I read the sign out front that asked passers-by, “Do you have a religion or a relationship?” It made me think back to my conversation with my coworker and the difference between a hobby and a passion. When Jesus was on earth, He had many encounters with Pharisees, strict followers of the Jewish Law. Their lives were totally focused on what they did and how it related to their religion. Jesus wanted them to know that His way, the only true way to be right with God, was so much easier. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I used to think these verses were about Jesus carrying our burdens, but I heard the true meaning explained once. Jesus was telling people who were so used to carrying the burden of following the Law that they could drop that load and take up the bundle He offered in exchange. It was a whole lot lighter because it only had one directive to follow: trust in Him. It wasn’t a list of things to do, but a call to a relationship. 

I have friends who have told me that the way of grace is too easy, that there has to be something they need to do. I am thankful that God allowed me to avoid carrying that burden. I was blessed to grow up in a strong Christian home where grace was taught to me since the day I was born. I was so young when I accepted Jesus’ salvation that I don’t remember what it is like to live without Him. Sure, there are bad days and things I come up against that I certainly don’t like. But overall, I can’t imagine living any other way. He is simply part of me. 

The Extreme

One day when I was scanning through the TV channel guide, I noticed that it must be a slow day for the sports channels because one was showing a spelling bee and the other was showing something unique: Extreme Ironing. Seriously, it exists! Extreme Ironing. Apparently, it was started buy a guy who needed to iron, but wanted to be rock climbing instead.

Ever since that day, I’ve joked that I have my own version of an extreme chore: Extreme Gardening. I practice this “sport” when I have to climb the mountains in my penguin exhibit to care for the plants growing in the small pockets of soil along the sides. It can be a bit crazy to climb the mountain with a bag of tools and a roll of garbage bags. It is also crazy trying to climb back down the mountain with tools and full garbage bags.

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Penguin Rock

Recently, I have added a couple of new extreme chores to my list. I was practicing this morning with one of my coworkers who is also training for extreme chores. We started with a session of Extreme Window Cleaning and finished our “workout” with some Extreme Vacuuming. What makes these things extreme? Well, the fact that we have to use SCUBA gear to do them. This morning my coworker and I had to get into our hippo pool (with the hippos locked securely in their stalls of course) and clean the underwater viewing windows before using a pool vacuum to suck up hay and leaves on the bottom of the pool. It can be quite a workout but I find it fun. After an hour in the pool wiping algae off the windows and siphoning the bottom of the pool, I really just wanted to continue swimming around. Instead, I got out of the pool and moved on to more normal chores like feeding birds and washing dishes. Not even in the same league of fun 😉

This got me thinking about some of the things we humans try to do to gain favour with God, or even earn our way into Heaven. Most are “mild” like praying, lighting candles, or trying to live a moral life. Others are much more extreme. In the past, people would punish themselves with itchy clothing or even whip their backs until they bled. Today, there are groups who isolate themselves and live under very strict codes of ethics and rules for living, all to make themselves pleasing to God.

I’m sure there are many more intense ways that people today strive to fulfill the requirements for entering Heaven. But the price is much too high for any human to pay it. God requires absolute perfection and total sacrifice for us to enter Heaven. The good news is that the price has already been paid! Jesus, God’s Son, was born on Earth, lived a completely sinless life, then died in an intense, extreme way, all to pay for my sins and yours. But Jesus’ extreme acts didn’t end there. Three days after being buried, Jesus rose from the dead. The fact that He didn’t stay dead means that His sacrifice was accepted and His work was done. There’s a ticket for Heaven with my name on it, and it is imprinted on my soul so I can never loose it. You can have one, too. All you have to do is acknowledge your need for redemption, accept Jesus sacrifice on your behalf, and ask God to make you His own. No rock climbing or SCUBA required.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that who ever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak, but He is strong.

 

I am broken. Doesn’t He know?

I try to hide it, but it still shows

Still, He came down from Heaven above.

Died on a cross to show me His love.

 

Jesus died to make me clean.

Now my sins cannot be seen.

He rose up from the tomb.

Now He’s in Heaven preparing my room.

 

Yes, Jesus loves me.

My Lord Jesus loves me.

Oh, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

The Morning

Good morning, God. I know it is early and You’ve been up all night, but Your Word says you never sleep so I figured I could bug you now. I had a lot of fun last night talking to a new friend until it was late. Even though I slept pretty well, I’m awake at 5:00 AM with all kinds of thoughts whirling in my head. They’re not necessarily bad things but they are keeping me from resting. Do You mind if I give them to You? It amazes me that You can listen to all of Your children at once and pay total attention to every one. If You can do that, You can handle the song that is looping in my brain, the ideas for craft projects, and my plans for the week. I may not be able to get back to sleep now that I’ve been this awake, but I can rest in bed until I’m ready to get up. Or until my alarm goes off – whichever comes first. Thank You, God, for being there, for listening, and for caring about something so small.
“Casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7

The Little One

 A lot of times when we visit zoos, we like to see the “unusual” animals – the smallest species, the largest, the fastest, or the strongest. In some cases, we ooo and ahhh over rare colour variations like white tigers and albino pythons. As a penguin keeper, I’ve always kind of hoped one of my penguins would hatch out in a unique colour variation called leucism. Leucistic animals simply have less pigment in their scales, hair, fur, or feathers so they are a lighter or sometimes pure white version of the normal colouring. This sounds like I’m describing an albino animal but the difference is that leucistic animals still have the normal skin and eye colour where albino animals have no pigment there either. The white tigers I mentioned before are good examples. They still have stripes but they are lighter brown and the orange areas are white instead, but if you look at their eyes and lips, you will see they are the normal colour. Leucistic penguins end up having white feathers in the normal places and blonde feathers where they should have black or grey feathers. 

 

A leucistic African Penguin among his naturally coloured counterparts


Our colony of penguins has yet to produce a leucistic chick, but we recently had another type of unique baby: the smallest African Penguin I’ve ever seen. His name is Thumper and though all penguin chicks are adorable, he has an extra measure of cute! The average weight of one of our penguins is between 2.8 and 3.3 kilograms (around 7-12 pounds). The other two chicks raised with Thumper, Chip and Marty, weigh right around 3.0 kilograms. Thumper weighs just 2.0 kilograms. Thumper is just small proportioned all over. He has tiny feet, a short beak, and dainty wings. In fact, when we put his identification band on his wing, we only used 4 plastic beads instead of the usual 6 because that would have made the band wider than his wing. I love all of the birds I care for, but I readily admit that Thumper holds a special place in my heart.

 

Left to right: Chip, Thumper, and Marty

 
When Jesus was on Earth, He often picked the unusual people to pay attention to. Not the ones we would pick: the strongest, the smartest, the richest, or the best looking. He chose the weak, the humble, the faithful, the willing, and the child-like. Even His disciples were the “wrong” people for someone who was expected to save the world. Most had ordinary jobs like being fishermen. And yet, God used every single person that Jesus chose for great things. Even if that great thing was just going back to their town and telling their friends and family about Him. It is actually a wonderful thing to realize that God doesn’t need us to be extraordinary before He can use us. He makes us extraordinary when we are willing to be chosen by Him.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.'” 1 Samuel 16:7

The View from the Top

I was cleaning the outdoor area of the Penguin exhibit today when a small songbird flew over my head. I looked up and followed the path of its flight until it disappeared to the other side of the building beside me. But right beside, and far above, the path of the bird’s flight was another flying creature – an airplane. All I could see was its silvery white belly and two long lines of condensation trailing off the back. It looked like a very small toy. Then I thought about what the view from the plane would be like and realized the passengers wouldn’t even be able to see me from that distance. I was less than a toy – a speck. I remembered taking flights on many trips home and on vacations. Looking out of the windows, I would sometimes try to pick out something to distinguish the landscape below me. Usually, I can’t even figure out which giant city I am flying over. From up that high, everything looks small, insignificant, and all so similar.

We usually think of Heaven being up beyond the sky, yet we know that space is above the sky that we see. Even if it were just above the outer reach of Earth’s atmosphere, that would put God much higher above where that airplane was flying! There are times when it certainly feels like God is that far away. What is amazing is that God isn’t that distant. He isn’t looking down on the Earth and dealing with us at the level of countries and cities. He looks down and sees us as individuals. He saw me today, standing on the Penguin island. He sees me right now, sitting on my couch and typing. He sees you, and is right there for you, always.

“So she called the Lord who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, ‘In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?'” Genesis 16:13

The Father

One of the most common questions I am asked about penguins is “Do they really mate for life?” My usual answer is that I prefer to call them “long term pairs.” One reason is that if a bird loses their mate for any reason, they will find a new one. The other reason is a bird named Penelope.

I’ve seen most of my penguins flirt with each other, but Penelope is something else. In the few years Penelope has been in my zoo, sh has had 3 mates, none of which were “lost,” and has had trysts with a couple other males. Because her genes are important to the penguin breeding program, she’s pretty much approved to raise chicks with all of the males she has paired with. The only problem is keeping track of who is the father! We’ve actually looked into having som of her offspring DNA tested to be sure they are carrying the important genes the breeding program is looking for.

As important as a family tree is in breeding zoo animals, it was considered even more important in ancint Israel. The Bible is full of lists of names showing the lineage of important figures. If you couldn’t trace your family, you were looked down on. So you would think that when God sent His Son to be born on earth, He would have chosen a family with a prestigious pedigree. Though the Bible does trace Jesus’ family back to King David as the prophets promised, His parentage was questioned from the beginning.

Joseph must have been shocked when his fiancé told him she was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father and the explanation Mary offered seemed ridiculous. He was ready to break off their engagement. Only a direct message from an angel reassured him.

So, as important as a person’s parentage was, the most important Person in history was considered illegitimate, except by those who put their faith in Him.