During the Sixties, dime stores sold baby painted turtles. The little green sea creatures were displayed in a big open tank just next to the tropical fish. Children could pick them up or just watch them climb all over one another. I loved those little turtles and still to this day, they evoke a nostalgic warmth in my heart. I was an animal lover but this was the only sort of pet my parents allowed me to have. I guess having six, closely spaced, and active children were all the wildlife they could handle.
Over the years, I owned several baby turtles. Each one I name Cindy. I always asked my Dad to make sure he picked me out a girl turtle. He would look them over carefully and then when I pointed to my choice he always assured me that it was a girl. When I asked him how he knew, he answered, “I can tell by her face.”
After having children, I understood why my parents did not want one more thing to clean up after, but I’ve always indulged my kids in the pet department. They know it’s not just for them but partly for me too. I still love animals. I don’t love them more than people and I think it’s wrong to pour a lot of money into pets. Yet, they possess a spark of God’s touch–his creation and gift to us. Animals provide, food, warmth, entertainment, work, and companionship. I also think they can lead us closer to God by appreciating the miracle of creation and thanking him for his providence.
Below is a cute little Christmas story from the Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart book, in which a little turtle really does lead his owner to Jesus.
By Brother John Raymond
I’ll never forget my boyhood pet Ernie. Perhaps I did not mean as much to him as he did to me, but Ernie provided me with companionship. Also, I cannot say there never was another Ernie. There were actually several Ernies, each surviving about a year. That was about the maximum lifespan for the pet turtles I delighted in owning–each one named Ernie.
It was not unusual for Ernie to get lost in the house. I often freed him from his bowl to crawl around and see the world. Occasionally I lost track of him. At such times, even my sister helped with my frantic search for Ernie. But one day, in spite of looking under every piece of furniture and in every corner, Ernie remained missing.
When days passed and Ernie, was still not found I thought: “Ernie must be dead where ever he is.” I was sad, but preparations for the coming of Christmas distracted me from Ernie’s absence.
One day, I noticed many of the Nativity figures under our Christmas tree were knocked over. I bent to straighten them. Much to my joyful surprise, there was Ernie sleeping next to Baby Jesus’ manager. Good old Ernie! He knew where to go for comfort and safety.
Is there a lesson in this story? I think so. Like a turtle, sometimes we are slow to find Jesus. Maybe we don’t even know that we are searching for him and yet, whenever we are looking for safety, that is what we are really yearning for. And like Ernie, when we finally find Jesus, we find rest.
Copyright 2011 Patti Maguire Armstrong
About the Author
Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.