Once upon a time, a nice Mennonite girl named Luci made a new friend. Was her friend a nice Mennonite girl too? Or maybe a nice Mennonite boy? A fine clean Sunday-loving demure new friend, with fresh cheeks and blue eyes?
Nope, she was a spitfire. An old woman full of spit and vinegar. Also Native American. And lesbian. A chain-smoking, sharp-tongued, snappy-eyed vixen. A tiny, wrinkled old lady with a colorful history and straight black hair and stories she would never tell.
Her name was Charlene.
Charlene’s personality crackles and hisses off the pages of a new book by Lucinda J. Kinsinger, Turtle Heart: Unlikely Friends with a Life-Changing Bond. One moment Charlene is tender, another moment sad, another viper-mean, another radiant. You never know what’s coming down when you walk through her door.
Turtle Heart is a true story that made me terribly uncomfortable, and I honestly think it was meant to.
Luci’s love for Charlene is one part open-hearted-young-girl-who-has-never-been-hurt, and one part I-am-going-to-win-you-for-Jesus-please-if-you-don’t-mind. Charlene’s love for Luci is one part cranky-affectionate-old-woman-with-a-long-history-of-hurts-and-regrets, and one part alarmingly-lonely-and-intimate, while innocent Luci sashays forward, oblivious to deeper meanings long after the reader is not.
Luci remains independent and childishly pure, not to mention heterosexual, but she becomes a different person along the way, forever changed by the friendship of a woman entirely unlike her – and yet like.
Turtle Heart raised questions for me about events and belonging long after The End. How did Luci settle back into normal life and relationship, after such an intense, time consuming, all engrossing, heart engaging one? What did she lose along the way? How was her view of love changed in future relationships? What was it like to attach to the man she later married, and spend all her days with him, after the cattier tangled-up love of a woman?
Those questions aren’t answered, but someday Luci and I will cross paths for coffee and I will get to ask them. I can feel it, in my left little finger.
One of my favorite descriptions of Turtle Heart was penned by my other Luci friend, Luci Martin. She said, “In Luci’s story I often felt just like her in one moment and just like Charlene in the next.” Yes, I get that.
Turtle Heart has its own good lines – my favorite was this.
“Mary said you have COPD… What’s that?”
At home, I look it up online. Apparently, when you don’t watch television, you miss a lot of things, such as the Smurfs and the names of pop stars and the number three killer of Americans.– p. 118
Luci and Charlene’s story is just that – a story – but along the way it tackles some big questions, not only about sexuality but also about purpose and ministry. What is the role of a believer in this world? How do we bring light? When a naïve and evangelistic Christian meets a seasoned old scamp, who blesses whom?
As Luci sings blithely while gardening, or plays recordings of four-part, a cappella, culturally approved music (hoping Charlene is listening and feeling called), or as she stumbles into descriptions of what heaven is like and what it means to be born again and which Scripture verses are relevant, we watch nervously, hoping neither woman will corrupt the wholeness of the other.
In reading, I strongly recognize the first time that my own world opened to include someone who was my “Charlene” – not an individual, but a family with whom I couldn’t help but lovingly identify, a family who broke apart my neat categories of who was good and bad in this world, who was saved and not saved, who was the Helper and who the Recipient. They pulled me into the world of being human. Just human. And honestly it was the saving of me.
Because Charlene loves God too. She calls him the Creator. She lifts her face into the rain and says, “We gladly accept whatever you send.” Maybe she will teach Luci as much as Luci will teach her. But you will probably have to read the book to find out.
Prepare to be slightly uncomfortable. Good relationships tend to do that to you.
I was given a copy of Turtle Heart in exchange for my honest review. The thoughts contained in this blog post are my own. Turtle Heart is available on Amazon, where Luci’s previously published books are also sold – Anything but Simple: My Life as a Mennonite, and The Arrowhead, a picture book for children. Luci blogs at Properties of Light.
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