Truth from a Turtle

Everyone says California is a land of fruits and nuts. While I was hesitant to believe this statement at first, it was quickly verified a few months after we moved.

A stranger knocked on my door, asking if I had lost a pet turtle. At the time I was homeschooling our 4 and 5 year old sons, and because I was completely unstructured (we didn’t last in the homeschool realm), I decided that a field trip up the road to learn about turtles was on the docket for the day.

When we reached the top of our road, what we saw left us in shock and awe. Walking down the middle of the street was no turtle, but a giant tortoise, one that looked like it may have escaped from the San Diego zoo. As I was retrieving my cell phone to call the zoo or animal control or whomever one calls when one finds a giant shelled animal older than one’s grandparents, I saw a woman approaching us with a dolly and a giant tupperware container (the kind in which you store your artificial Christmas tree).

Nonchalantly, the woman lured the tortoise into the tupperware with some leafy greens, grumbling under her breath something to the effect of “Oops, I guess he escaped again,” and proceeded to dolly her larger than life pet away, presumably back to his turtle house in her backyard.

Definitely a land of fruits and nuts. No doubt about it.

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It turns out that this tortoise pet roams the canyon behind our house on the regular.  In a way, he has become part of our family. He has a slew of nicknames, and he eats more from our garden than we do. Whenever we hear the dog barking frantically and attempting to jump the fence, someone screams, “Turtle.”

At the cry, as if responding to a fire alarm, everyone drops what they are doing and runs to the neighbor’s yard with kale, tomatoes and peppers in tow. We scramble over the fence and hang out with our turtle friend.

Our friendship with said tortoise is both maddening and magical. Magical for the obvious reasons; who doesn’t want to hang out with a giant tortoise? Maddening because you can never predict his visits. He usually comes when you least expect him and almost never comes when you just need some turtle time.

We can go for weeks without seeing him or thinking of him when life gets busy. However, when life is slow and we have margins wide enough to catch his roaming, our turtle visits resume.

We know he lives close by, we know he will come again, we know the delight we will have when he does. Yet, we cannot control him or conjure him.

Yesterday, Phin wanted to see if we could find the turtle. We littered kale all around the canyon. Nothing. Phin called for him. Nothing. Phin prayed, “God I see turtle.” Still nothing. Then Phin did something I am often unwilling to do, he just sat down and said, “We wait.”

The story doesn’t end with a ribbon and a bow, because Phin has the attention span of a gnat and needed a nap. However, the Lord had used his expectancy to challenge me.

So often I want God on a schedule. I want to know the times and occasions of His visits with me in fellowship. Something regular, predictable and controllable like “Office hours Monday-Thursday between 9 and 1” would be ideal. I’d even settle for the cable company windows of time. “Sometime Friday between 7 am and 7 pm.”

But God is a wild God and won’t be controlled or tamed. He will come to me, teach me, visit me, challenge me when and how He sees fit. My job is simply to have margin enough to wait and respond.

I want to be like Phin, eager, expectant and willing to wait. I want to have margins in my life enough to sit before Him in stillness and in the spiritual disciplines, expecting a tender visit with Him. I don’t want to be so busy that I go days or weeks without even checking to see if He may be there.

He will come. When He comes, it is always a joy, always worth the waiting. And He doesn’t ask us to bring anything to the meeting, not even kale or tomatoes.

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