A few weeks ago, Megan and I were driving from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Lafayette. On the side of the interstate, there were signs that read, “Hold Baby Alligators.” On the plane to Lake Charles, we had kinda joked (but were kinda serious) about going somewhere to see alligators. So, when we saw these signs, we thought, “Why not?” On the way back to Lake Charles, we turned off the interstate and followed the “Baby Alligator” signs to a Jeff Davis Parish park.
We pulled into an almost deserted parking lot. Off in the distance, cars were whizzing by on the interstate. Did they know this little shack resided here? How many were passing up this opportunity to hold a baby alligator?
The little shack of a building was quiet when we walked in. Megan and I stood there waiting . . . .waiting . . . waiting, until a volunteer finally walked in. In tow behind her was a mother and her son. The son was about 8 or 9 years ago and was super excited about holding the alligators and getting to see the bigger alligators. (Yes, there were two bigger alligators and a huge snapping turtle just hanging out in the pool.)
The volunteer was a retired school teacher and principal who spent her time volunteering at various places in the community. Her attention was mostly on the mother and her son. She was able to squeeze in some time for us while we were standing there, to hand Megan a baby alligator. While the volunteer was still having the conversation with the mother, she rattled off a few (probably important) things about holding a baby alligator, which went mostly unheard because of the broader conversation.
What we did hear was that we shouldn’t worry. The alligator would not open his mouth because there was no oatmeal around. The baby alligators, when they are first rescued (yep, rescued), are bottle fed. Afterwards, they are fed a diet of oatmeal. We’re talking about vegetarian alligators.
After a few minutes, Megan handed the baby alligator to me. The volunteer explained to us that in a 24-hour period of eggs hatching, the mother alligator will leave with the babies that had hatched. Sometimes there are unhatched eggs left behind. These baby alligators are rescued and raised at the park and when they are grown, are released.
The mother and the son were still with us during this whole time. The son stood next to me as the volunteer explained some things to us, listening as if he were hearing it for the first time. As I held the alligator, he would pet it, like it was a puppy. Every few seconds, he would tell me something he had learned from the retired school teacher turned baby alligator raiser. Finally, he would declare, “Alligators are my new favorite animal.”
As we stood there taking turns awkwardly holding this baby alligator, the mother of the mother-son duo, was talking loud and fast. She was telling us that she and her son were on their way from Houston to Alabama. They were leaving the home they had in Houston for a new start in Alabama. She began to share the series of unfortunate events that led to this journey. (It was very Thelma and Louise.) No journey that a son should have to go through.
As Megan and I left the little shack, we were struck by how open and honest the mother was in telling her story. And the more I’ve pondered that moment, I have to come to realize that the loudness and the quickness of her talking wasn’t as much because she was anxious about what was happening and in telling her story. But because she was excited about being on a journey, literally, to a new place.
Not all of us have the courage to embark on such a journey, much less to talk about it with complete strangers. It is difficult for us to find the courage to leave a home we’ve always lived and move to a new one. The same is true about our spiritual lives. It is difficult to leave behind the comfort of knowing what we know and journey deeper in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. It takes courage.
It is the courage of Ruth, who left behind her home country to journey with her mother-in-law. A series of tragic deaths had left Ruth, her mother-in-law and sister-in-law widowed. She was faced with a choice: To stay in her home town, or to follow her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem. She choose the long journey of loyalty.
It was a journey to new life. A new beginning for Ruth. A new marriage with Boaz. A new family with deep roots, that would eventually lead to Jesus – the One who gives new life.
Ruth had the courage to embark on a journey that led to a new life. Our journeys don’t have to be across the country, but we too can embark on a journey that will lead us to new and deeper spiritual life. The question is, do we have the courage to start?