My father sold space when I was small. I couldn’t comprehend pharmaceutical advertising, and I told my little friends he was a “space man.” What mattered was that his calling carried him great distances.
He came home with love offerings: a San Diego Zoo sweatshirt with a bear that squeaked when squeezed, or an otter mother-and-baby made from the ash of Mt. St. Helens. No bauble was more exotic than Turtle Bull.
A Lifelong Love for Turtle Bull
Crossing the universe in Dad’s pocket, Turtle Bull was an ivory individual the size of a walnut, all the more exquisite for arriving in a red silk pouch. Dad found him in Chinatown and chose him for his smile, a gaudy grin familiar to anyone who has ever tried too hard. He was friendly and silly under his curly horns, and even the bottoms of his fat feet had been carved with care.
Turtle Bull has traveled space and time with me for four decades, a distance Dad could not share. When I look at my little artifact now, I’m not sure if I love him more because he’s Turtle Bull, or because we’ve been together so long.
Affection attaches to endurance under changing skies. When moments feel like holograms, browser tabs closing before we can fold our fingers around them, we love what lasts. I have a coterie of tchotchkes and tokens handsomer than Turtle Bull, but he’s the one my small hands would save from a burning building.
We have been through so much together. The time we’ve shared has given him weight greater than a walnut. I have loved him more and more.
Perhaps it’s the littleness of my friend that gives him gravity. The English mystic Julian of Norwich described the world as a hazelnut in the hand of God, precious precisely because it is fragile, exalted only because it is loved. God and the world have been through so much together. This infuriating little nut is a keepsake that has lasted.
God keeps my Daddy, and God keeps the brokenhearted world. Not even my father’s daughter is as sentimental as the Lover.
We Strive to Be Special When We Already Are
But we have all traveled great distances. We bleat in the brambles, stuck on stories we tell ourselves. We writhe to be new, electric enough to earn affection. We run towards the red, filling spaces and pages with cases for our worth. We shout that we are sizable, but we don’t fool ourselves. We throw ourselves away and throw ourselves to the ground.
We forget that we have been carved with care.
We are right to wax nostalgic for knick-knacks and journals, scrimpets of our dads’ handwriting or marinara smudges on our grandmothers’ cookbooks. We forget that we have been with ourselves longer than anything our hands have held, love offerings from a Father who stays.
We forget, or never knew, God’s shameless joy at our arrival. We were designed across the great distance, exotic and original, intentional as a hazelnut or a sea lion or a saint. God has kept us through the tumult of years, wrapped us carefully through each move, loved us with a “more and more” that is never less than infinite.
Time and space, our siblings, know well enough to keep silence.
We Are God’s Treasures
God glories in God’s treasures, wanting everyone to see: “Look! This one has traveled with me 42 years. She has piano hands and bracelets like Saturn’s rings, brave tears and a soft heart like mine.” “Look! This one has been in my palm eight decades. His cheeks are as red as his buffalo plaid shirts, and he forgives his world into the next world.”
There is great distance yet ahead, with relocations and resurrections that will break and mend our pieces. We get to hold onto ourselves, held in a sacred nostalgia. Anything loved so long is lovable. We can neither earn nor lose it.
We get to keep it, kept by the Lover who loses no bashful turtle or brave lamb.
God does care about our appearances, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Listen to this podcast episode for a thoughtful conversation around outer beauty: My Alopecia Diagnosis Changed My View on Real Beauty with Ashley Johnson – 227