I recently had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon with a six-year old. Granted I knew who the turtles were, some kind of super heroes who ate pizza and shouted, “Cowabunga!” But, I’d never actually watched an episode.
The thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is—they mutate.
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo began as four ordinary turtles in the sewer system of New York City, but after coming in contact with OOZE they mutated into these cool ninja-like heroes and were named after Italian painters. But the problem with OOZE is it doesn’t always have positive effects.
There is an episode (trust me, I watched eight in a row) where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mutate into creepish, monster-like versions of themselves. Instead of bringing peace they bring destruction. Instead of working together (“turtle power”) they attack one another.
I find myself mutating sometimes too. I don’t have to come in contact with TGRI (the chemical nickname for the OOZE) to turn into a monstrous version of myself. All it takes is something small and quirky. It might be the train gates clanging shut just as I approach, followed by the longest cargo train ever crossing the tracks to mutate me from my smiley self to an impatient grouch. Or if I spill my dark roast with mocha down the front of my white shirt, I mutate from feeling stylin’ to feeling like an ugly beast and growling a bit for good measure. If I hear a friend has been talking behind my back, I mutate into someone with a hole in my gut, who snaps and says unkind things in return.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed fragments of Vortex Crystal to stabilize their mutations. I need The Word.
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth 1 Peter 3: 11
I read that, and I’m a bit less monstrous. I feel more comfortable in my own shell and don’t’ feel the need to bad-talk those who have bad-talked me.
OR Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be
2 Thessalonians 1:2
And then I’m less grouchy, less negative and less worried if I’m late for a meeting or have dark brown spots down my blouse.
God’s Word reminds me I am not alone, I am loved, I am capable, God will give me strength and stand by my side. I can breathe deeply, shake it off, cross the tracks, take a sip and walk proud, knowing I am stabilized.
Only the Vortex Crystal can save the turtles? What stabilizes you?
Thump. Bump. Thump.
The familiar sound of Howard, my daughter’s pet tortoise, trying to escape his terrarium interrupted my writing. Deciding we both needed a breath of fresh air, I gathered him from his glass home and took him out into the yard. Howard marched over to the mulch to explore. As he rested under my rose bush, my phone rang. “Hi Mom,” I answered.
Mom chatted. I answered, then I scanned for Howard. Where was he? “Me too.” I responded, but my eyes were glued to the ground. Howard is various shades of brown with a tinge of green, perfect camouflage to keep him safe from predators and apparently to keep him hidden from me.
“Sorry, Mom, I have Howard outside and I can’t find him,” I confessed, since I wasn’t engaged in our conversation. We exchanged goodbyes, as I robotically lowered my phone. I really didn’t see him. I’ve lost sight of Howard before, but only for a few seconds, then his bumpy shell always comes back into view. But this time I didn’t see him -- anywhere.
I dropped to my knees and crawled around the flowerbed. “Howard” I called, knowing he couldn’t answer. Why couldn’t he be like a dog or cat who could make a sound, or who might even come to me when I call? Howard could be right next to me and I might not know, or he could be traversing into the woods. I searched the stem of every plant, rummaged through piles of leaves and ran my fingers along the base of the house. Nothing.
What if the whole time I’d been searching the landscaping, Howard was lumbering across the white gravel driveway into the woods? How would I ever find an eight-inch tortoise in the woods? How far could he have gone? That was the question. At full speed, Howard could cover quite a distance, and it had been half an hour. In the woods he could be anywhere. Or what if he’d curled up in his shell to take a snooze? How would I find him if he lay perfectly still?
I know. I know. It’s a tortoise I’m talking about here. But it’s not just a tortoise. Howard is my daughter’s pet, her first true love. She holds him and pets him and feeds him and nurtures him like a mama cares for a baby. My heart raced. Blood pumped to my brain, pulsing, drumming. My adrenaline surged with anxiety. If anything happened to Howard it would crush my daughter. Think of someone you love and the one thing most important to him or her. What if you lost it? That’s how I felt. I didn’t want to be the cause of her pain.
For an hour and a half I did my Katniss Everdeen impersonation. I scanned the driveway for contrast of brown against white. I scoured the yard for bumps or movement. I strained my eyes for signs of Howard. And then I dashed into the woods. Down on all fours I crawled and dug and brushed away tree branches. I’m sure I looked crazy in my running clothes scaling rocky hills and digging through dirt and deteriorating leaves, but I didn’t care. I needed to find Howard for my daughter, for her heart. I pulled out clumps of weeds, hiked down to the creek and back. I strained my ears for the slightest rustle of a leaf, the smallest crunch of a twig and I prayed.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. Matthew 5:4
I begged God to help me find Howard, knowing God knew precisely the spot where Howard was. “Please show me, God!” I pleaded out loud. And as I heard my words, I knew there was more to them than the missing reptile.
“Please show me God!” I implored again. “Please show me what you need me to do. Please show me what I can give up for you.”
And as I begged God to help, He answered, “I don’t’ want you to give up something, one thing. I want you to give me EVERYTHING.”
I’ve been reading Mary De Muth’s new book, Everything, which focuses on dedicating 100% of ourselves to Jesus, but I’ve been in a place for quite a while where I’ve given Him about 80%. I love Jesus. I worship Him. I pray to Him. I trust Him. I read His word, and then I try to take control of things myself.
In the dirt, desperate to find a Russian tortoise, God reminded me, what He really wanted from me, was for me to give it all to Him. Not some, but all.
I crouched, strained, crawled like a cat. I swished another clump of leaves with my fingers. And then I saw it – two brownish, blackish, greenish bumps poked out from a pile of leaves.
“I found him!” I cried, easing Howard out of the earthen hole he’d dug for himself. Covered in dirt Howard was safe. He stretched out his neck and nodded, as if to say, “hello.” I held him up to the heavens, shouting, “Thank you God.”
“Thank you God!” I announced again breaking into sobs. I thanked God for His grace to help me find two brownish bumps in the woods, but even more so, for helping me find myself wrapped in Him and Him living in me 100%, for reminding me that He is my everything.
“God’s heart for us is that we would need Him; we’d lay our heads on His chest like a child needing a daddy after skinning a knee. We cannot experience this kind of relationship with Him if we are proud. We cannot grow to be more like Jesus without brokenness. Ironic, isn’t it? To grow, we give up. We rest. We give God control.” Mary DeMuth Everything
Is Jesus your EVERYTHING? Are you ready for Him to be?
We have a pet Russian tortoise. His name is Howard. Part of why Howard is our pet is because I’m tragically allergic to anything with fur. Part of why he’s our pet is because all he eats is lettuce (I couldn’t stomach the whole feed a lizard live crickets thing – ick!). We also chose Howard as our pet because with an average lifespan of 110, he’ll outlive all of us.
Howard is cute with his bumpy shell and neck that stretches out when we rub under his leathery chin. But Howard is not brave. Instinctively an overwhelming noise, or an unexpected movement frightens Howard. At those times he retracts into his protective shell.
When do you crawl into your shell? When you’re called on in class? When you enter a club or party or meeting or practice where you don’t know anyone, at least not well enough to join into the conversation?
Maybe it’s not a place. Maybe it’s a person. There are certain people who make me feel like I’m five years old. When I’m around them, I crawl back into my little girl shell, shy of sharing my opinions and experiences, fearing my insights are insignificant, uninformed or they’ll be laughed at.
Or it could be a circumstance. Do you pretend you’re texting to avoid a difficult question or socially awkward moment? Do you turn your phone over if the caller equals confrontation? Do you go along with the crowd rather than sticking your neck out and suggesting a different approach or standing up for who or what you believe in? I don’t want to be that person, but sometimes it’s easier to crawl into my shell. It feels safer.
I’m sure Howard is quite happy. The life of a tortoise in captivity is peaceful, docile and rather uneventful. He’s warm and well fed and safe, and for a tortoise that’s enough. We also long to be warm and fed and safe, but God created us craving so much more.
We crave love and acceptance and a sense of worth and knowledge and adventure and usefulness. Yet none of those things can be achieved in the safety of our shells.
In the wild, a tortoise’s shell is a survival mechanism. Instead of being viewed as a meal to animals of prey, they could pass as a rock. Sometimes it is necessary for us to protect ourselves, so we don’t get eaten by this world’s birds of prey. But most of the time, we’d find the things that frighten us – risk of being rejected, risk of being wrong, risk of not making the team or not getting invited or not meeting someone’s approval - are actually opportunities to grow and to shine – to meet someone new, to learn a new perspective, to use our talents, to contribute, to feel proud and satisfied that we gave it our all.
In her new book, EVERYTHING, Mary DeMuth says, “There is always another risk God asks us to take. Always another adventure around the corner. But if we stay in the “good old days,” (I’m inserting ‘shells’ here) we won’t take those risks or live that adventure today. Yet we crawl back there, don’t we?”
It’s true. We let fears overtake the possibilities of today. We crawl back into our shells, where it seems safe and dark and quiet and no one and nothing can find us. But shells are dark and lonely. If we reach out of them, stretch our limbs and our hearts and our very selves, we can move forward and learn and triumph and experience.
DeMuth goes on to say, “Dare to be brave today, and trust that when you extend your wings, you will fly.”
Mark 14: 6-8 But Jesus said, "She has just done something wonderfully significant for me…She did what she could when she could."
What could you do today? Where could you climb out of your shell, reach out your neck and let the adventure begin?
Laura L. Smith