Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chester and Wilson

This is the story of Chester and Wilson, as requested by my Kimberley and my Holly. :)

My husband, Jeff, has two turtles. The first arrived to help Jeff mourn the loss of a pet turtle who'd met an unfortunate death. Jeff named his replacement baby turtle Chester, after his predecessor.

Shortly after Chester came to us, we inherited another miniature turtle in need of a buddy. He'd been born and rescued in Florida, and he flew all the way across the United States inside a kind benefactor's lidded travel mug.

I named him Wilson, after my favorite children's book of all time, Chester's Way, by Kevin Henkes. A little boy, Chester, has a buddy, Wilson, and the phrase 'Chester and Wilson' is repeated all throughout the book. So how, in the same tank as a turtle named Chester, could Wilson have any other name? He could not.

For a year we watched our two turtle buddies splash, play, sun themselves under the heat lamp, and chomp down turtle food as they grew to maturity. Chester and Wilson, Wilson and Chester, that's the way it was.

Until the day we discovered a rather awkward predicament. Wilson was not a he. He was a she. We had a girl turtle with a boy's name. But I could not change her name. So she became Rita Wilson, and we call her Wilson for short.

As Chester and Wilson grew, they developed REALLY long claws.

The first time I saw Chester use his claws against Wilson, I was so incensed I called Jeff at work. "Chester climbed on top of Wilson and he's trying to scratch her eyes out! We need to separate them so he'll leave her alone!"

Jeff wasn't too concerned. He said Wilson could take care of herself. I frowned and implored Wilson to throw the chauvinist off and demand respect. She would not. She just sank to the bottom of the tank and lay still, blinking rapidly at the claws fluttering at lightening speed in front of her eyes as Chester bore down upon her.

I soon became numb to this daily activity, powerless to do anything about it. But deep inside, I resented Chester for his domineering treatment of poor, defenseless Wilson.

Jeff's mom explained to me that Chester was attracted to Wilson, and this was his way of showing it. That was sweet, in a sadistic kind of way, but couldn't Chester tell that Wilson was not interested? Why couldn't he take no for an answer?

My family agreed with me. Whenever my cousins and sisters came to visit, they'd watch the turtle tank with deep frowns, their lips pressed into thin, disapproving lines.

I'll never forget standing in my kitchen and hearing in the next room my sister, Kimberley, suddenly cry out with righteous wrath, "Leave her alone!! She doesn't like you!!"

Or my sweet mom putting her face up to the turtle tank glass, tapping as hard as she could, and scolding in the voice that used to turn *me* to mush, "NNNNO! Bad turtle!"

Or my cousin, Angi, chuckling and saying, "Wow...he's really got a thing for her, doesn't he? Poor guy. She's never going to warm up to him if he doesn't change his tactics."

Or my cousin, Sam, cheeks flushed, blurting, "Chester! Gosh! This is SO not good!"

Or my sister, Andrea, reasoning, "You know, maybe Wilson needs to take some self-defense classes...she's just sitting there on the bottom of the tank. Stand up for yourself, Wilson!"

This went on for about four years. Like I said, we pretty much ignored it. But each time my family came to visit, both Chester's behavior and my girls' responses seemed to escalate, until during one visit, five or six impassioned, compassionate, rescue-prone women stood in a semi-circle around the turtle tank and pondered what in the world could possibly be done to correct the situation.

Finally, my sister, Andrea, got to the bottom of it. She went online and did some research. I'm so glad she did, because if she hadn't, I'm convinced the rest of us would still be standing in front of the turtle tank, arms akimbo, brows furrowed at Chester with deepest scorn, scolding like a gaggle of angry geese.

What did my sister discover?

Yes, it's true Chester was trying to get Wilson's attention. We'd known that all along, thanks to Jeff's mom.

It was NOT true, however, that Wilson was uninterested or unresponsive.

You see, in the wild, when the male turtle swims over the top of the female turtle and says, "Look up here! Look up here!" with his funky claws, if the female turtle WANTS the male, she burrows herself down into the sand or mud to show she is receptive. As if she's saying, "Come on in..."

Boy, did THAT ever take the wind out of our sails.

What had appeared to us to be cruel and unusual male advancement was, in fact, God's perfect plan. Chester pursued, and Wilson received, each in their own special turtley way.

After a few moments of receding adrenaline, our calmed and comforted hearts ceased trying to usurp the natural world. We stopped beating on the glass of the turtle tank. We quit reprimanding Chester as if he were a misbehaving toddler. We left off name-calling ("Cad!"). We put an end to dishing out threats of wrath and punishment.

At long last, we accepted God's plan for Chester and Wilson--a plan they'd each been following obediently all along. (Unfortunately, they'll never mate because Chester is a cooter and Wilson is a red-eared slider, and different breeds of turtles can't, well, breed.)

Now, Chester and Wilson keep each other company in their cozy tank for two, putting on a good show for our guests and merrily thumping the glass of their home with their hard shells at all hours of the day and night.

And everyone's happy.

Sometimes it's very difficult to grasp God's plan, isn't it? If it took us four years to figure out God's plan for a couple of turtles, imagine how intricate are the workings of His plan in our lives and the lives of those around us.

What about when a friend dies suddenly? What about when a very heavy load of circumstances labors on changelessly--far beyond our capacity to endure? What about when someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness? It sometimes seems, doesn't it, that God is being cruel. Or at the very least, silent.

Just like with Chester and Wilson, we often look at circumstances in our lives and think we can see exactly what is wrong and exactly what needs to be done. We turn to the Lord and say, "Okay, God. Do this, and this, and this. That will fix everything."

What happens when He doesn't meet our demands or even grant our humble requests? What happens when it feels like the cries of our hearts fall on deaf ears?

I don't have all the answers, but I know a few things for sure. The first is that God is not deaf. He is listening. He is actively present and participating in every circumstance we face. Isaiah 40:27-29 says, "Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."

The second is this: God has a plan. And even if He gives us a tiny glimpse of that plan, even in our most enlightened moments, we are seeing only a muddy reflection in a blurry mirror. His plan is so much bigger and better than anything we could ever imagine. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'"

The third is this: God is good and He loves you. Jeremiah 31:3b says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you to Myself with lovingkindness."

Just like our limited perspective on Chester's behavior toward Wilson, it may seem to us that what we are experiencing right now could not POSSIBLY be God's plan. But I think when we get to heaven, God will show us clearly, just like our turtle research revealed, that His plan orchestrated our lives and our circumstances all along, beyond our ability to comprehend. And as He promised, He worked it all out for good (Romans 8:28).

We can rest in that.