Lessons From When I Belonged at the Zoo

Lessons From When I Belonged at the Zoo

Recently the husband and I celebrated a big anniversary. If I tell you how long it would just tell you how old I am. We are the kind of old where our kids all drive and yet we have no grandkids. This is the age I call the “child wilderness” age. We have no excuse to watch the kid shows, go to the kiddie areas at theme parks, or go to the zoo.

However, the zoo is exactly what I told my husband when he asked what I wanted to do for our anniversary. So, being the caring guy that he is, he raised his eyebrows, closed the mouth that had involuntarily fallen open, and said “You got it”. And just as you might expect, we were the only adults wandering around with no stroller. No kids too exhausted to enjoy the giraffes. No picnic lunch squished in a backpack because we were in no way going to pay zoo prices to feed everyone. But as I watched the mothers who were living that experience, I remembered all the feelings. I had been there. I knew what I wished I could do to help. Push the stroller up the hill. Watch their things while they tried to usher everyone into the bathroom. I remembered the things I would have loved for someone to do for me when I was the fun/exhausted mom.

So that’s probably why I couldn’t help myself when we wandered into the gift shop to cool off on the way out and I overheard a dad standing by his 6-year old son who was looking at animal puzzles longingly. He was trying to whisper, but I have supersonic mom ears so I heard that they had to pay for a hotel last night and didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a special treat.

As we stood across from the cashier to pay for a few things I was so happy to ask her to just charge us for what the little boy was holding. We walked out smiling. And as we had almost reached our car we turned around to a big “Thank You!” yelled from a happy 6-year old and appreciative parents who looked at us with that “Thank you for seeing us”  look.

When we truly understand what people are going through we can help in ways that only those who KNOW can.

As women continue to make up the majority of workers on the field, we can’t overlook their unique needs. Sending agencies historically have men in positions of leadership. And these men in many instances do a great job of seeing to the needs of those they send. But having never been a woman, there are certain idiosyncrasies that will never be forefront in their minds as they make decisions.

Men may not understand the sacrifice that some women feel as they go from no children to raising kids on the field. The death of serving in a way that made them feel like a part of ministry and the entrance of the voice “Am I still making a difference?”

They may not understand the struggles of being a single woman and feeling like you are not accepted as a fully capable team member without a husband.

It may be hard for them to see how to best encourage, support, and equip those women in a Muslim context who are separated from men and hear so many stories of abuse of women as a norm.

So as a woman who was sent, as a woman who now encourages those who are sent, I would encourage sending agencies to have women in places of leadership. Not only can they bring incredible wisdom and insight to the table, but the feeling of being truly known and truly seen by the majority of those they send out.

Do you have a sending agency that does this well? We’d love to be encouraged by that. Share those stories in the comments!

Do you have areas where you wish you were seen? Those are helpful comments too.

We hope that no matter what your experience is with those who send you, you feel seen and loved here.

Photo by Patryk Sobczak on Unsplash


  1. Diane August 15, 2021

    I hope you can be encouraged that our sending org does do this very well. The boss of our department at the home office has always been a man, but the person in charge of personnel is a woman. Also, we have regional coordinators over each part of the country that live in that area – these are the people that we’re in communication with most. In our 14.5 years overseas, this has always been either a couple or a single woman. Right now, in fact, it’s a team of a married woman (her husband has a different job) who used to be the exec director of Cornerstone Counseling in Thailand until they relocated, and a Thai couple. Member care is one area we have been blessed over and over again with our sending org. Of course they aren’t perfect, but they do a stellar job of seeing us in many ways. For the last 5 years whenever I’ve met with our regional coordinator, it’s been a mini-counseling session with an insightful woman who has lived overseas longer than I have and raised her family there. She gets it and it’s amazing. Thanks for helping me see again what a blessing this is and not something to take for granted!

  2. Denise K Beck August 16, 2021

    Thank you! So many orgs are doing a great job and it’s good to hear that first hand.

  3. Sallie Calvert August 16, 2021

    The language is important to me in this season, inclusive equitable language. Who is addressed when speaking to a couple, asking her input as genueinly as his. Am I seen truly seen and valued as an equal, a journey i am on in the corporate world, at times encouraging others dismissive and belittling unfortunately. Thanks for encouraging this shift and nurturing it in faith circles, I am very appreciative.

    1. Denise K Beck August 17, 2021

      So very true. Shifts don’t have to be huge organizational restructuring. Language is a small change that can go a long way to showing value. Thanks for that insight!

  4. Phyllis August 17, 2021

    We don’t have a sending org, but I still wanted to ramble about zoo visits. 🙂 I’m almost at the same stage of life: 20 years of marriage, 40 years of life. Last month we went to the zoo for my husband’s birthday. We had all our BIG kids with us, but I definitely noticed that we were the only family like that there. So many strollers, bags of snacks, and tired parents around us. It was strange to take a step back and watch. At a break time, we were going to get an ice cream for each of our kids, but some of them preferred coffee. We sat there, calmly at a table, sipping coffee; no spills, no running to the toilet, no fussing. I must admit that I enjoyed it, even though I miss those early busy years. Then yesterday the young family we live with was having a very fussy day, and I thought of what you wrote here. I didn’t do anything specific for the mom (no puzzle to buy or anything like that), but I did tell her that it looked like she was doing a really good job keeping them from killing each other. 😀

    1. Denise K Beck August 17, 2021

      Phyllis wouldn’t it be amazing if you knew as an exhausted mom of littles that some day you would re walk all the theme parks and zoos and store aisles with young adult children? Children that can carry their own stuff, map the journey, and stand in line for your drink? I loved every moment and every season but this one is kind of impressive.

      And bringing your kids safely to the point of bedtime each day is definitely a win!

      Thanks for making me smile:)

  5. Colleen August 19, 2021

    As a married woman but without children (and do not plan to have children), I find it very lonely on the mission field because most women I have met are predominately stay at home moms whom understandingly have very different ministry engagements and needs than me. On the field, I have felt like most ministry conversation, mentoring, strategizing, etc. has been done by men for men (perhaps because women are not involved or not nearly as much as men in these areas). Therefore, I have been searching for an online community for women ministers who primarily work outside of the home and/or desire to be engaged in conversations of leadership, theology, ministry strategies, etc. I have not had luck in finding this yet, so I would love anyone’s feedback if they have found this or are looking for it!

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