Smart and not Afraid: Lessons from a Turtle

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18, New Revised Standard Version).

Giuseppe’s granddaughter and Bill’s mother was a four-years-old when the Great Depression began. One day in 1930 Giuseppe brought home a pair of box turtles for Bill’s mother. Giuseppe fenced in the yard to keep the turtles in. As was for most pets during the great profession, the turtles, ate whatever the family ate. They named the male Horace. Bill, the author of the story said he regrettably never asked why an Italian family would pick such a name for their pet turtle. His best guess was that there had been an Italian poet of some note named Horace.

Bill said he never knew the name of the female who, around 1950 escaped the fenced in backyard. They found the turtle at the neighbor’s home who refused to give it back. So then it was one box turtle, Horace, and Giuseppe reinforced the fence.

In 1990, Bill’s great-grandfather Giuseppe, was long deceased and his grandfather was recently deceased. His grandmother decided to sell her home and Horace’s habitat in New York and get a much smaller place near her sister in New Jersey. She called Bill and asked him to take over the now 60-year-old box turtle. He agreed and with a friend’s help and some books and articles about building an outdoor habitat for a box turtle, Bill did just that.

Over the next 25 years, Bill said he learned a lot about turtles. Horace is on a healthier diet these days. His people don’t feed him table scraps. He eats a balanced died of fruits and vegetables and worms and bugs. The article Bill wrote was published in 2012. About that time, Horace lost a leg to a predator. Bill’s daughter made a comment to Bills story about Horace in 2013 and said Bill came through his hibernation fine. I could find nothing new about Horace since 2013.

Until reading Horace’s story and doing some research for this sermon, I had no idea how long box turtles lived. They are right there with talking birds and us!!!

I learned box turtles don’t travel far from where they are born. If a human picks one up in the woods and carries it home to be a pet, the turtle has some kind of homing mechanism built in and will work itself quite literally to death trying to walk home. Turtles have no concept of glass and will beat itself up trying to get past the glass and go home.

I learned that turtles hibernate. As a reptile, they don’t handle the cold so they hibernate. I always thought turtles like we see around here were amphibians. I never thought about them as a reptile though that one doesn’t surprise me. Their periods of hibernation are vitally important to them and they can lose as much as a quarter of their body weight during hibernation.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the most vulnerable time in a turtle’s life is when they are young. After they are hatched, for several months their shells are not fully hardened. Some predators like alligators and crocodiles can, if they have unusually strong jaws, break the shell of an adult, any can break the shell of a hatchling. Only 20 percent of hatchlings live part their first year. But, if they make it past the first year, living to a very old age improves dramatically. It is not uncommon for turtle to live to be 100 years old.

When I started on this search for turtle data, I wasn’t really looking for much of what I have said this morning. I was focused on finding one thing. I remember as a kid, when me and my friends would play with a turtle, we knew as soon as we picked it up, we would startle the turtle and legs, feet, claws, tail, and head would all be pulled into the shell and that shell was closed and locked just about as good as a bank after closing time. Oh, that was something else I learned, not every turtle can pull itself into its shell. Only the box turtle can close itself up tight.

So I knew a turtle retreated into its shell when it was scared. I wanted to know the other times a turtle hid out in its shell. There were two I found and both are related. Neither was surprising. The first is to sleep. I guess I always assumed when looking at a turtle when I wa a kid that they were still fearful so they had not come back out. It is likely that at least some of that time they were asleep. The other is to hibernate. Since I didn’t know turtles hibernated, I also didn’t know they did that in their shells.

Turtles hide themselves well when they sleep. They bury down and hide themselves VERY well when they hibernate. Aside from their first year, hibernation and sleep are the two most dangerous times for a turtle. Sure, they have the protection of their shell but they are still very vulnerable.

I have give quite a bit of thought lately to the turtle’s hangout, its shell, its house. They are there to hibernate and fight off the cold of winter. They are there to sleep. And, they go there when they are afraid.

In those ways, we are a lot like a turtle only we don’t carry that house around with us. I think of the proverbial story of the tortoise and the hare, no wonder tortoise was slow. More than a quarter of its body weight is that house he or she carries around on their back.

We may not carry a shell around but we still find ourselves seeking the shelter of our homes. Just as the turtle needs the security of its shell to protect it from predators during its vulnerable times, we seek that same kind of security.

The turtle’s world is pretty scary. They have many different natural predators and when those vulnerable times come, they place themselves in the best possible position to survive. The box turtle pulls itself tightly into its shell and seals themselves in. When ready to sleep, the turtle may push itself into a hollowed log or up under leaves.

When we are at home and about ready to go to sleep we go around the house and make sure everything is closed up and locked. We want that additional level of security.

For the turtle, the desire is just like us. The turtle wants to make itself as secure as possible before it goes to sleep. First under leaves or plants or wood, pull in the head and the extremities, close up the shell and then sleep.

Hibernation is a bit different. Because the cold weather makes a difference, the heart rate slows, temperature changes, other things in their body changes. The place where turtles set up for winter may or may not be more secure than where they slept the night before but to bury itself or close the ends of that hollow log added make that place warmer and more comfortable for hibernating. In the cold, with all the physical changes for the turtle, they are at risk to the cold. The best line of defense from predators is to disappear. The best defense from the cold is to add layers of protection around the shell and then pull up inside the shell.

Of course, you and I don’t hibernate. That being said, when cold weather rolls around, we often do sleep longer. We spend more time inside because it is more comfortable. Much like a box turtle, when we head for our sleep time in winter, we do make sure the house is closed up and locked. We make sure that the household heating devises are operating appropriately, meaning off if that is what should happen, and throw an extra blanket or two on the bed. They keep us as warm and the weight gives us comfort. Our Loose Threads group understands that as they regularly sew weighted blankets for autism patients.

The third thing that sends a box turtle hiding in its shell is when something scares it. Fear, and knowing the comfort and safety of its shell will pull up inside.

Every living creature has fears and something they try to do to keep themselves sake. From the turtle’s shell to natural camouflage, to growls, rattles, hand hiding, animals try to protect themselves from whatever they fear.

The human animal is really no different. We all have fears. I know people who don’t name their fears but I am convinced after talking to them that they have fears but don’t want to let others know or want to take control of what scares them.

I have told you before, I hate snakes, but it is more than that. I am flat out afraid of snakes. Yet it is still even stronger than that. I have an irrational fear of snakes. Still pictures of snakes don’t bother me too much but if I see a snake in a movie or television, I hide my eyes until its gone. That snake on the screen can’t hurt me but I am still not looking.

Several years ago, back in the late 1990s, Cindy had a job working in a chiropractor. This guy loved to scare people with his life sized statue of a rattlesnake. He would set the snake on the floor just outside an examining room or office. Then he would hang back for the reaction when someone saw the snake. When it was my turn, I saw him set the snake on the floor. He came back in and we carried on a normal conversation like I knew nothing about the snake. When I left the room a few minutes later, I simply stepped over the snake, turned around and laughed at the good doctor. He said he loved to scare people and that getting scared was good for you.

Until just recently, I thought him to be joking. While preparing for this message I discovered, The Adventure Collection Blog said there are a number of benefits when you get scared.

Fear keeps you safe.
Fear helps you lose weight
Fear temporarily boosts your immune system
Feeling fear-in the right dose-can be fun and exciting
Fear gives you a natural high and a sense of empowerment
Fear helps you manage stress and relaxes you.
Fear helps you stay in the present moment and to focus
Fear socializes you and bonds you to other people
Fear allows you to live life to the fullest
Fear gives you clarity on what’s really important in life

All over the Bible we have people telling others Don’t be afraid. In the Emmaus story, Jesus tells the disciples in the boat, right before Peter walks on water,. “Don’t be afraid.” An angel tells the shepherds outside of Bethlehem.”

Then here, Paul says to, “Work out you own salvation with FEAR and TREMBLING. In other places in the Bible we find places that talk about the fear of God and living in the fear of God. I have long argued that the Fear of God is to be in awe and respect of God. We also know that God loves us. That alone should remove some of our fear.

The bottom line is, fear is not such a bad thing. The thing that makes fear bad is when we let fear take control. If I know there is a snake in the yard, no longer do I want go out in the yard. I seek the safety of my house. But, if I go look, I don’t see the snake. I am not staying in the house because I fear the snake. I am going outside because that is where I feel best. I will not let the snake control my life.

For the past two months we have been staying in. We have avoided just about all things out. I am more than ready to be out. This extrovert needs out of the house and back around people. This preacher is glad to be able to look into people’s eyes today instead of only looking at empty seats and a camera lens. Though I know God is with me, it is still a scary world. I know this, I am not going to let my fears be in charge. Just like a rattlesnake in my yard might keep me out of his way, the possibility of a rattlesnake in the yard tells me I need to keep my eyes open if I don’t want an unpleasant encounter but so can getting out of bed in the morning.

Friends the fear we feel is not a bad thing. I am glad gave it to us. Because of fears, in some settings it causes me to be alert and think about the best way to protect myself should the need arise.

I don’t stay home because I fear the virus. I don’t wash my hands just because it is good hygiene. I don’t wear a mask because I am going out on a robbery binge. I do all these things because there is something scary out there. Because God gave me a gift of respectful fear, wisdom says, I should do all I can to protect people around me and encourage others to do the same. In reality, if by being a bit afraid and use that fear to motivate me to protect myself and be an example for others, that’s what I should strive to do. It’s what we should all try to do.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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