The Turtle Shell


The windshield washers swished a grey refrain on the long commute north. Back and forth, back and forth, as washers are programmed to do. Dependable, those strips of plastic, swiping away the rain. It’s like that some days, when our minds are a sky haze and the monotonous radio noise buzzes in our ears.

And in these days I am just a turtle in a shell, carrying with me all sorts of burdens. I wonder why the present state is the present state and when I will again arch my back and see the sun’s fiery center like an egg yolk bouncing and spreading light against the backdrop of sky.

And the saddest thing is that I’m used to being hunched over so, letting the rain and the work and the bills and the savings all weather me, like the copper on my back is turning to an aged and tarnished green. And yet I have no reason to complain, right? There are so many more unfortunate ones. Don’t we all tell ourselves this – that we have no right nor justification to hurt? How dare we complain about our middle-class lives, filled with malaise when there are those who are hungry, less fortunate, without. If thankfulness is the key to happiness, we should be so exceedingly joyful, for we all scratch down our “thank-you-for-toilets-and-ice-cream” praises in journals and Sundays and Tuesday Taco Nights.

And yet when no one is looking we again pick up our tortoise shell and walk heavy, letting the rains beat against us so. We wonder when we can get out of this coal mine or this desk job or this writer’s block or this toxic relationship or out from under our past. We wonder when the boss will let up or when the laundry pile will shrink. We sigh for the heavy and feel guilty for the sighing.

And yet the rich (and let’s be honest – in America in general we are very rich), still carry burdens. That’s hard to grasp, but let’s just give ourselves permission to say it. For then we can figure out how to move away from it. To tell ourselves that yes, we are in fact depressed. We have beautiful children or lovely husbands or wonderful homes with pools, and yet we are so exceedingly sad. For we do not always see God showcase his glory. Sometimes it’s just a long walk through the haze, when tears rise up like natural springs and we have to be mature enough to see the bigger picture.

I was in Los Angeles last weekend. It was a glorious southern California day. The kind of day you wish you could freeze in time and come back later in dark moments to remember. Mark and I strolled the streets and drove toward the Pacific. We marveled at the Bel Air landscape and ate stringy cheese by the Santa Monica pier. And when I got home my children sat down on the floor and wrote me a treasure trove of love notes, wrapped in envelopes with “mommy” scratched across in their beautiful child-like writing. And for a glorious moment the shell was lifted, and life was right and true and beautiful. But of course vacations and weekends and love notes always tend to roll into Mondays, and we begin to hunch over as before.

“Nothing is free,” a girl said at work. Folks in the meeting nodded, like “well that’s about right.” She wore a shell, hunched and sighing. She was tired, and tired of being tired, and was flat-out worn down.

But smiles are free. Snapshot memories taken with your mind are free. Saying a compliment to a stranger, who has their hair all tied up with pins just so? Free. And the love poured out from a body broken, hanging from an executioner’s tree, was also without cost. So sit now, my dear friends with hunched shells. In your work chair or your kitchen table or in your car strewn with water bottles and Starbucks napkins. Sit with the understanding that we all live with fear, and burdens, and the wondering-when-it-will-all-change.

But in these moments, force yourself to smile. Go ahead and get your nice boots on, and make an appointment for your therapist, and drag yourself outside for a walk. Look way into the future instead of the now, and know in your heart there is a love that is more powerful than yourself. Compliment someone, and force yourself to keep writing down those moments of thanks. Do something outstandingly unselfish, walk inside of that nursing home, and write a letter to your children. Take a basket of muffins to someone, or send an email to a colleague. Go all damn day trying to smile bigger and love harder and look ahead more.

I promise you that love is there, all around. The clouds will break, the sun will bob again in the big sky. The Lord above will reveal to you how much you are deeply and completely loved. Not because I say so, because He does. He never, ever fails us in his loving.

Rise up from the shell. It’s sunny out.



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