That’s what my father called me.
It was my “handle” back in the day when we chatted up strangers through his CB radio and rode around in a wood-paneled station wagon with seats that folded up perpendicular in the back.
I savored everything, so the name fit. In fact, it became that charming bit of jab spoken any time I sat too long with a good book, or I lost myself in a daydream, or when I still lacked at sixteen those finer womanly graces that normally accompany the onset of puberty.
A late bloomer.
That’s what Little Turtle was.
But, honestly, I never minded the name one bit. I remember being told the tale of the tortoise and hare enough times to know slow doesn’t necessarily mean last. Sometimes it can even mean winning.
It wasn’t until I was much older that the name began to eat away at me. I can pinpoint it, actually, to my mid-twenties when my mother contracted the mutilating Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). I watched as the slow, crawling, turtle-like progression of that illness stole her ability to speak. Then it deprived her of the mobility in her right arm, the use of her legs, and in the end, the very God-given breath needed to fill her lungs.
There was no winning then.
What I wouldn’t give to have simultaneously sped up the humiliation and indignity my mother endured while at the same time slowing down the disease’s progression to a slithering snail’s pace so we could walk out onto those Midwestern farm fields and pick wild blackberries again or ride around in that old 80’s beater singing our hearts out to the Everly Brothers,’ “All I Have to Do is Dream.”
Dream. Dream. Dream.
That’s what I did then. Yet none of my dreams came true.
After my mother’s death, I consciously remember speeding up. Faster seemed better. Tenacity seemed wiser. The more I could accomplish, the more persistence I could evoke, the more time I thought I had.
Time to live. Time to think. Time for whatever.
It didn’t matter.
Honestly, I just wanted to get back what was stolen. I wanted to somehow manage the ebb and flow of time itself by shoving it into the covered box of busy. I wanted to control it with a white-knuckled grip, and I couldn’t do that unless I dug doggedly deep and hurried up.
I was Mary-turned-Martha, if you know what I mean.
Luke 10:38-42 is where we find their story, the story of Jesus and the two sisters Mary and Martha. It’s where we find Martha busy scurrying about in meal preparation for Jesus, her honored guest. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, sits idly by doing nothing but slowly savoring Jesus’ conversation.
As the story goes, the longer Mary sits, the angrier her sister Martha gets. Finally, Martha in a fit of frustration confronts Jesus, and do you know what happens then? Jesus has the nerve to chastise her, to tell Martha that “Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42 NIV).
That’s a hard truth-pill to swallow.
And so much of the time, we like the story to end right there, don’t we? With the chastisement of Martha? With the praise of Mary? We like to flatten both women, to stereotype them, to give them labels like fast and slow so that we can secretly box time up ourselves. So we can hurry up and move on.
It wasn’t until my own grief struggle propelled me to do some real Martha-style digging in God’s Word that I discovered it’s only half the story.
In John 11:1-44, you see, we find these two women again. This time, however, Martha and Mary are now in the throes of gut-wrenching grief. Their brother Lazarus has contracted a horrifying unspecified illness and, to the shock of everyone, died.
I’m certain these real women would have given anything to quicken Lazarus’ suffering. I’m also certain they would have done anything within their power to simultaneously slow down the progression of that disease if they could’ve too. Anything for more time.
But like me, they couldn’t.
All they could do (all any of us can do) was look to Jesus. To beg Him for understanding, for consolation, for the strength to go on. And for these things, ironically it was Martha who was best poised to receive help. It was Martha, the hustling, hospitality-focused workaholic sister who was better positioned to see a miracle.
In John 11:20, Martha is the one who runs out to Jesus. She pursues Him, petitions Him, pleas with Him to answer her earnest questions. And she does all this while Mary suffers and sniffles at home.
Surprisingly, if it wasn’t for Martha, Mary never would have even seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.
Martha goes to get her.
Martha brings Mary back to Jesus’ feet.
In my grief, I condemned myself many times over for adopting some Martha-like ways. Why couldn’t I just “be still and know…” (Psalm 46:10)? Why couldn’t I “lie down in green pastures” or stay “beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)?
I thought something was wrong with me. That I didn’t have enough faith.
It wasn’t until I discovered Martha and Mary’s full story that I learned it’s okay to be both Martha and Mary, hare and tortoise, fast and slow at different times in our lives. It’s okay to move with life, with the ebb and flow of it, and to embrace who we are in that season without expecting ourselves to be someone different.
After all, the Martha-in-me is what drove me to relentlessly seek the answers I needed. The Martha-in-me kept me going when debilitating grief should have overtaken me. The Martha-in-me propelled me toward my own transformation and restoration.
The Martha-in-me dragged this Little Turtle right back to Jesus’ feet.
We all need to accept ourselves more, to accept each other more, especially in seasons of grief. We need to surrender and realize sometimes the very thing we struggle with might be what God is using to keep us close.
Winning, after all, isn’t about being fast or slow.
It’s all about grace.
And Jesus supplies that in abundance.