Turtles and ordinary miracles

By DANA LIPSEY COLUMNIST,

There is phrase taught widely to any college student who has ever stepped over the threshold of a writing class.

“Write about what you know.”

This is a basic 101 concept and it is the honest truth.

If you don’t know something intimately, if you don’t value its worth, if it is not really interesting to you, then whoever is reading it will not believe it, nor will they care.

So, “Write about what you know.”

I know about anxiety.

And, I promise you can believe me.

You may even care, or perhaps even relate.

My anxiety is not always the legitimate kind that stems from the stress of a situation.

Instead, it can be the kind of anxiety that sabotages a perfectly good day for no apparent reason.

This is the kind that grabs me by the front of my ankles when I’m not looking and slowly pulls my feet out from under me.

It climbs heavy onto my chest, and methodically growls into my ear that whatever is going to happen is not just going to be bad, but will also never get any better.

It seeps into my head and I know the thoughts are irrational, but how does one deal rationally with the irrational?

Last Saturday afternoon, as I folded several loads of laundry piled upon the middle of my bed, my mind began to nervously wander. It darted from one horrible “What if” to another, echoing a voice from an unforeseen anxiety that had crept unnoticed from a dark corner of my room.

The voice didn’t let up until all that existed of my thought process was mistakes.

I became a mess.

In a search for sanity, I left the clothes, and aimlessly took a walk outside along the wide path that leads around the lake beside our house, eventually stopping to sit in a spot cooled by shade trees.

Our lake lay in front of me, and the bank of the Sunflower River winded behind me just beyond a patch of woods.

The lake is man-made and somewhere below ground, near where I sat, there is a leak that connects the two bodies of water that no one has been able to fix.

Sometimes, like now, the lake is deep enough to launch a boat. But, during dry spells when it doesn’t rain much, all the water from the lake will completely drain out into the river.

The lake is overgrown with saplings in places so thick you can’t see past them.

Willow trees arch their arms from its surface in clumps and stand tall enough that during seasons of drought a person can lounge on dry ground underneath their canopy of drooping branches and read a book.

I remembered that dry ground now drowned as I sat staring.

Anxiety, invisible but present, reclined in my lap even though my knees were gripped closely to my chest.

I longed to see one of the black Loch Ness Monster sized snakes that strenuously swim back and forth this time of the year, tracing “S” shapes into the water. Maybe witnessing the movement of one of my greatest fears would somehow throw anxiety off its course.

Instead, all I saw was one lone turtle perched on a discarded log.

His neck was stretched out, and his gray-green skin soaked up the warm rays from the sun.

He was perfectly rooted and unmoving as if the whole universe rested upon the back of his shell.

I thought about the ancient belief in some Hindu and Native American religions that the world does indeed balance on the back of a giant turtle.

I’m not making that up, Google it.

The concept always sounded completely silly and ridiculous to me until that moment.

But, sometimes God shows Himself through the silly and ridiculous.

I couldn’t look away from this turtle, statue steady and peaceful, opposing the chaos of my thoughts.

The more I watched him the more something stirred inside me and then loosened, and a small idea beckoned for me to focus all my anxiety into one spherical-shaped ball and lay it down upon the back of that prehistoric looking animal.

It was too absurd not to be divinely given, and so I did not hesitate.

I began to hoist up every alleged mistake and every notion that I was never going to be okay, and I placed them collectively upon that turtle’s shell as if it were an altar.

The voice of my anxiety slowly turned into the voice of prayer, and then, in the blink of an eye the turtle plopped into the water and disappeared.

The painful ache where anxiety had clung was still there, but the weight of it was lifted with each ripple he left behind.

I was reminded then of the Psalmist who spoke of being lead to still waters and having his soul restored.

The next morning during a Sunday school discussion, my twenty-one year old son referred to God as “a great adjuster” of things.

It was an earnest statement and I’m glad I’m getting to put it in print.

God is indeed always adjusting our situations, intimately tweaking the most disastrous part of our personalities, and working all of it out for a greater good.

I don’t know where that turtle took my anxiety.

My hope is that it was swept through that leak that leads to the river and was pushed away like all unwanted debris.

But, I’m guessing it might find its way back and I will have to be readjusted.

Until then I will keep writing about “what I know,” even if it’s about things I do not understand. . . Things like turtles, or the ordinary miracles of God.

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