Monday, July 7, 2008
The Turtle Perspective Check
Turtles. Not really a creature upon which I'd declare myself an authority. When my sweet friends called wondering if we'd be willing to watch theirs for a week while they went on a mission building trip I was certainly willing...just not really qualified. In fact only a few months prior those same friends blessed us with tadpoles which despite all my Internet research and careful listening to their instructions, I managed to kill in a very short period of time. I mentioned my track record before they dropped the turtle off to which the reply came, "Sarah, turtles are much harder to kill than tadpoles." And with that, the turtle arrived in it's adorable habitat and we were solely responsible for two little girls' precious pet. Two mornings into our care giving I was having a quiet time while the turtle sat on the table next to me having her morning vegetables. Daisy, our cocker spaniel was nestled on the couch. I'd like to say I was so engaged in the presence of God that I didn't hear it at first, but it is probably just that I am rather spacey at times. Irregardless, after a few moments, my mind became aware of the jingling of Daisy's collar. A bug or a stick she's gotten from her morning walk, I thought. And moments later the jingling persisted. Must be a flea that hopped on her outside. And the jingling persisted. That's when it hit me--THE TURTLE! I turned immediately to see Daisy happily eating remnants on my beautiful couch no less! It was like a vacuum cleaner hose was stuck straight down my throat and the air sucked out of me. I couldn't breath. I gasped. I called out loud some sort of desperate prayer. Jumping up, I saw what I can only describe to you as sinew, small bones--tiny little fragile bones--and some flesh of sorts. All I could think is how did she get the shell without me hearing it crunch? How? I wanted to yell at her, but it was my fault. What kind of a person assumes a cocker spaniel and a turtle are going to peacefully co-exist while I engage in a lengthy morning quiet time with two cups of coffee? I looked into the habitat and sure enough--no turtle. I took Daisy outside and told her she'd have to stay out there until I calmed down. My own children were still asleep for which I was grateful. This would buy me some time. How was I going to tell them the little green-shelled squishy creature had been eaten? Dead. It was dead. Apparently turtles are easier to kill than tadpoles...especially when you have a cocker spaniel. As I debated my situation and felt my breath return in the form of hyperventilation and tears climbed up to my eyeballs preparing for a horse race down my hot cheeks already red with the mortifying prospect of confessing I was an accomplice to turtle murder, I concluded the best thing to do would be to go upstairs and bake a pie. After all, isn't that how everyone deals with catastrophe? Cook? Clean? The remains of the little turtle lay patiently waiting on the arm of my couch for me to clean up, but I couldn't bring myself near the debris. So upstairs I went and one chocolate chiffon pie and one house cleaning cleaning later, they still waited. Of course I also phoned my husband and mother for support. My sister called me as soon as she heard the news to offer her moral support. She instructed me to leave the left-overs for my husband to clean when he got home. My mom told me she was just glad the cocker spaniel was okay. What? No help at all. After about an hour of flipping out Martha Stewart fashion, I knew I had to handle it. With hands gloved in plastic grocery store bags and wads of thick paper towel, I headed over to clean up my couch. I won't mention the retching and dry heaving that occurred. As I went to wipe the edge of the couch I saw something in the habitat--what appeared to be just the back of the turtle. The edge of the shell was sticking out of some moss. Oh, please God, no! Did she decapitate it? This is why I didn't hear the shell crack! No. No. No. Retch. No. Dry heave. No. I had to look. What if the poor creature could still feel? I'd have to run over it with my car to put it out of its misery. Slowly I pulled the shell out--completely in tact. The turtle was there; alive and unharmed! Upon closer examination of the habitat I realized what had happened. The owners had put a slice of pizza in the habitat and the dog had found that too difficult to resist. She was eating the pizza! What I thought were tiny bones had been little sticks and debris from the habitat, and the sauce...well I had assumed it to be flesh. While I had run around behaving like a maniac assuming that turtle to have been violently eaten right underneath my nose it had in fact been alive and well burrowed under moss and mud. Romans 8:5, 6 says, "For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. For the outlook of the flesh is death but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace..." Now I realize we're talking about a turtle, but here's the thing, my outlook was clearly defined. I assumed the worst before I ever gathered any information. In fact, I didn't bother to examine the situation very closely at all before I declared the turtle dead and called my family for support. Sometimes I need vivid object lessons for God to show me how I respond to life on a grander scale. It's one thing to laugh about the turtle that I thought was dead, but it's an entirely different matter when it comes to perspecitve on life. In the realm of our daily lives my outlook needs to be shaped, molded, fashioned by the life giving Spirit of God. Have you ever met someone who you could only describe as a "glass half-empty" kind of individual? By what is their outlook shaped? The flesh. Our flesh is in slow-motion decay. We can do everything in our power to preserve it. We can eat without ever indulging, we can exercise diligently, we can have lifts and tucks, we can exfoliate away scandalous wrinkles and we can color away gray but we will never prevent the reality that at some point, our flesh has an appointment with the black soil of earth. Death. If we allow our lives to be guided by the reality of our flesh we will be like perpetual Chicken Little's--the sky always falling. We all face reality and often our realities are in fact laced with death, with devastating circumstances, pain, disappointment, failed efforts and attempts, but that is only one side of our reality. For with every single circumstances comes the life-giving truth that God "works all things together for good for those who love God..." (Romans 8:28) God's Word says that an outlook shaped by the Spirit will be that of life and peace. We experience peace when we trust. It's that simple. If we don't trust, we won't know peace. And if we don't know God, we won't trust. Romans 12:2 reminds us that in order to have a Spirit directed perspective on the world around us we need to renovate our minds. "Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God--what is good and well-pleasing and perfect." If we fill our mind with the truths of God's Spirit then naturally the fruit of God's Spirit within will overflow from our lives. And "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..." (Gal. 5:22, 23a) Two fruit in particular reveal what way we live before we've ever uttered a word. Peace and faithfulness. The word faithfulness was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd always read that passage and thought the meaning was that of an individual who is faithful in their commitments--reliable. But in Greek the word actually indicates being full of faith. Trust. We just can't escape the reality that as we yield our lives to God, as we know Him more and more, as we hide His Word in our heart we will inevitably discover He is worthy of our trust. And when we discover He is worthy to trust, we will be filled with more and more faith. Spiritually speaking we can choose one of two spiralling decisions. We can diligently seek God and in turn our faith grows, our outlook is shaped by the Spirit of God, and as our outlook is shaped by the Spirit of God we will seek Him more, yield to Him more and our faith will further grow. Alternatively, we can choose to rely on ourselves and others around us. As we do, our faith shrinks like a balloon filled with air and then let go. We fly and flit around in a pattern completely unpredictable and out of control. In the end, we will lie worn, deflated, and lifeless on the ground. Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" When my perspective is based on the truth that my Father God is for me in every sense of the word--gunning for me, enabling me, pushing for me, empowering me--I will see events and circumstances as a part of God's life giving plan and peace will reign in my heart. True, it was only a turtle, but now, when I see one of those tiny chartreuse shells toddling across the road or sunning themselves on a log Ill do a quick outlook check. Am I convinced the end of the world is but a cocker spaniel away or am utterly persuaded that my Father God is for me and my future is secure in His hands? Lord, let me honor You by living a life of belief and faith. You deserve my trust. You deserve my praise in the form of a heart that is convinced You are good and You are able and You are working in my life. Shape my perspective, Spirit. Fill my heart that I might reflect your goodness to all with whom I interact. Amen.