In our glorious mess of 7 kids, I think of Julie Lyles Carr – who has eight kids. Plenty of messes. Lots of laughs. And sometimes boatloads of fears, worries, and challenges navigating the uncharted waters of raising and launching eight singular lives, all originals, all fresh characters in the narrative of God. I desperately needed the wisdom of her words today — hear what she has to say. It’s a grace to welcome Julie to the farm’s front porch today…
My husband Michael and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2014 and went on what we called our Silver Honeymoon.
We headed to a beautiful beach resort close to where we went on our original honeymoon and enjoyed several gorgeous days of rest and sunshine.
On one of our final evenings at the resort, we were sprawled on beach chairs, watching the sky move from shades of blue to a kaleidoscope of orange and pink and gold as the sun began to slide down the horizon.
From the corner of my eye, I saw several resort employees making their way down toward the surf, carrying a large plastic tub. Curious, I sat up in my chair. Michael, also curious, got up and walked down to where they were, then motioned for me to join him.
Nestled in the plastic tub were about 150 baby sea turtles, newly hatched that afternoon.
The area of the Caribbean where we were staying is a natural sea turtle nesting area. Our resort, in cooperation with a natural preservation program, monitors the beach for sea turtle nests, protects those nests, and—once the baby sea turtles hatch—helps the babies get off to a strong start by releasing them into the ocean.
It was a powerful example of how humans can protect and participate in the processes of nature.
Plus, baby sea turtles are ridiculously cute. Ridiculously. Like, really. My maternal heart gave a flip as I watched them move their little flippers and clamber over their fellow turtle siblings still snuggled in the towel-lined plastic crate.
Miniature and geometric, their small shells were a gorgeous pattern of deep tannish greens, tiny tiles set in ornate, exact patterns. The resort employees had set the crate about twenty feet up the beach from the surf, and the baby turtles were already pushing toward the side of the crate that faced the seawater, their sense of the ocean as home already in full operation.
And then, as the sun dropped lower in the sky, one of the resort workers called to me. As I walked toward him, he gestured to the crate and motioned for me to pick up one of those amazingly teensy turtles.
Me? Really? Vacation trip made. Right there.
I cautiously picked up one ambitious guy who was trying to scale the side of the crate. Flippers waving, small head craning toward the sea, he felt cool and smooth, the soft leather of his belly and shell a delightful new texture in my hands. I couldn’t believe how strong he was for such a tiny creature. His flippers rasped against my palms, the drive for motion and waves creating his choreography.
I named him Abraham.
He looked like an Abraham.
In a turtle kind of way.
The director of the release program drew a long line in the sand, marking the starting point for the upcoming journey. He explained that the turtles needed to make their own way down to the water, that we were not to carry them to the surf.
We then began to pick up Abraham’s siblings from the crate and set them on the sand at that line, heads facing the sea. By then, a few other resort guests had made their way over to our impromptu zoological lesson and joined us in placing babies on the sand.
As if a horn had sounded to start the race, little turtles began scrambling toward the waves, scaling big clumps of seaweed and pushing their way through uneven sand. Some reached the water quickly, others moved at a more leisurely pace.
A few got a little confused. A few stopped. I set Abraham down at the line and his odyssey to the ocean began.
His nose sniffing the salty air, he made a beeline for the surf, tiny flippers churning up grains of sand, a distinctive trail in his wake. I walked to the water alongside him, mindful to honor the boundaries.
I clapped, I cheered, and yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little teary as I saw that tiny turtle scoot into the water and tumble into the tide.
In the rush of my sudden turtle love, I uttered a little prayer that God would protect Abraham throughout his life and carry him into full adulthood. Yes, I cried over a baby turtle and became a turtle prayer warrior, all in one fell swoop.
It was just profound to see this intricate and pocket-sized being launch himself into the vastness of a turbulent ocean.
I turned from seeing Abraham successfully dispatched into the surf to find more baby turtles making their way through the sand. Most of us onlookers were standing back, watching the varying levels of success and struggle.
A few of the turtles seemed exhausted, overwhelmed by the challenges of the terrain. Others got turned around, heading away from the sea or scrambling in a parallel line to the water.
We watched, a little worried, until dusk began to settle. Finally, one of the resort guests couldn’t take it anymore. She scooped up one of the stragglers and began to carry him down to the water, unable to bear the uncertainty.
One of the employees in charge of the release called after her, motioning for her to put the turtle down, but her overwhelming concern overshadowed his instructions. As she gently placed the turtle in the shallows, her husband caught up with her and reminded her that she wasn’t supposed to help the turtles.
She, on the other hand, was incredulous that we were allowing these turtles to struggle so mightily. She saw her actions as a kindness.
Unwittingly, though, she was participating in potentially tangling the turtle population in protective bubble wrap.
That trip from the sand to the water? That’s critical turtle training ground. It’s what gives baby turtles a better chance of survival.
The best conditions possible had been created by monitoring the nest and timing the release at sunset when predatory birds and scavengers are not as active.
But once those conditions had been achieved, newly-hatched turtles need the trek to the water to strengthen their flippers, to practice the motion that will be required once they hit the water.
They need the experience of heading accurately toward the shore, even if it takes them a bit to figure it out.
These moments of struggle in the sands of their childhood would serve them well during their next hundred years of survival.
What an overprotective heart saw as too hard or too cruel or too tough is actually exactly what a baby turtle needed to up his chances of survival. To cut the journey short, to abbreviate the endeavor, would make the turtles more vulnerable and com- promise their skills for endurance.
The strength is in the struggle.
Hard as it can be to watch. Fearful as it can make us.
Fear, when fed, grows.
Once fear grows, it becomes contagious. And once it becomes contagious, it can limit the scope of a life. But we can’t let that happen. Even when it seems easier to scoop up a struggling sea turtle and carry it down to the shore.
Even when it seems easier to intervene in every schoolyard conflict.
Even when it seems easier to protect and buffer and bubble wrap and round off all the sharp edges of life.
It’s time to trust.
We can never clearly see the threads of purpose in our kids if all we can see is the risk, the scary, the unknown. We can’t raise an original if we raise them on a steady diet of worry.
For our original kids to reach their full potential, we need to model vision, courage, and daring. We need to show the way.
Ask yourself, Am I parenting in this situation, this challenge, this circumstance, from a place of raising my child’s strength and capacity, or am I wrapping him up to defensively buffer my own anxious heart? Am I enabling or empowering?
It’s possible to end a contagion of fear that spreads its tentacles from one generation to the next.
It’s possible to pioneer a new day.
Be strong and courageous. Fear not. God commands us to do so (Deuteronomy 31:23).
Originality is not the provenance of copy cats and scaredy cats.
It’s the territory of the brave, the visionary, the bold.
It’s possible to let them boldly go.
Julie’s most recent book, Raising an Original will provide readers with tools for better communication with their children as well as tools for uniquely guiding and disciplining each unique child. With a helpful and detailed Personality Trait Assessment Tool included as a major part of the book, readers will understand themselves, their parenting style, and their child better. They will also discover ways to improve their children’s communication within sibling groups and with parents themselves – as well as learn how to parent each child according to their own unique needs and personality style.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]