Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In the late summer of 1999, we were in the early stages of having a porch added to the back of our house.  The first step was to dig the footings, and to save money, we did that part ourselves-----24x24x24, with a piece of rebar extending 12” from the bottom of the hole up into the center of the footing, to indicate the depth to which we had to pour cement.  In case you’ve never spent any time digging in the soil in central Virginia, let me tell you----it does not consist of dirt, but of clay----hard, hard, hard clay.  And in August, it’s even worse.

So what did we use?  Shovels.  Post-hole diggers. Hoes.  Child labor.  A 9 year old, and a 15 year old.  It was HARD work, but there was great pride when those holes were complete.  Square corners.  Rebar perfectly centered and straight-----they were beautiful.  When the county inspector arrived, he barely glanced at our work, and didn’t even seem to notice how perfect they were.  I’m not sure where his priorities were.

But what if we hadn’t had tools?  How would we have dug those holes?  Probably like you often do in the sand at the beach----down on your knees, digging with your hands.  It’s slow work, but it can be done.

One evening in the late spring of 2000, we noticed a turtle digging in our back yard.  Having never seen a turtle in that yard in almost 20 years of living there, we found it curious, so we watched for some time. 

Have you ever watched a turtle dig a hole?  We quickly realized this was a mother turtle, digging a nest.  She basically straddled the place she chose, and used her back feet to dig.  Think about that.  Imagine holding the weight of your body----especially if your body was proportionately the size of a turtle’s body----and you’re pregnant------and digging a hole behind you with your feet.  You can’t see what you’re doing.   Not that it mattered, but it was getting darker outside, so she was literally digging blindly in the dark.  But she kept going.  After a while we realized we could see that she was laying her eggs in the hole she had so carefully dug.   She carefully covered over the eggs and the hole, smoothing the area perfectly flat.  And then she left.

And then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Longer than our research said we would have to wait.  We waited so long that we gave up, and forgot about those turtle eggs carefully placed in the middle of our back yard.

Until one day, MONTHS later, when we saw…….one baby turtle in the yard ……and then another baby turtle in the yard.  We were so surprised.   That mama  turtle had known exactly what she was doing, and those eggs had hatched exactly like they were supposed to.  Why were we so surprised?

Have you ever felt like you were digging blindly in the dark?  Like you were using your feet to dig when it would have been easier with your hands?  And then wondered if anything good was going to come out of all your effort?  Or maybe you had actually forgotten about the work you did, and figured it was all for nothing anyway, and nothing was going to come of it?

Did you know the Bible talks about digging?

Psalm 7:15 (New International Version)

 15 He who digs a hole and scoops it out
       falls into the pit he has made.
Oh, wait a minute, that may not be the most encouraging verse!  Let’s try another one:

Mark 2 (New International Version)

Jesus Heals a Paralytic
 1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

I used this turtle story once with a group of ESL adults, knowing the struggles they deal with trying to learn a very difficult language while managing a job, home, family, children in schools----and a culture they don’t understand.  I could tell you countless stories of people I met who are working MUCH harder than you and I ever will, all the while trying to learn English.  The image of a turtle really resonated with them, because of how slow the learning process was for them----- (And the fact that I had to pantomime the turtle digging probably was interesting to them as well).  But I encouraged them to never give up.  To keep digging.

So what kind of turtle are you?  Are you a mother turtle, struggling to dig?  Or maybe you’re a mother turtle who has completed her difficult task, smoothed it over, and moved on to whatever it is you have to do until the next time?  Or maybe you’re a baby turtle, breaking out of your shell, and climbing through the dirt, only to discover blinding sunlight, and obstacles like grass that you have to learn to overcome. 

 But I think there’s another possibility.  I was going to say, whatever you do, don’t throw your hands up and give up----because for a turtle, that’s not a good thing.  But then-----a belly-up turtle is like the paralytic man.  Flat on his back, unable to walk, maybe only able to throw his hands up in the air---but his friends picked him up, bed and all, and took him to Jesus. 

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