Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A jar of broken shells

I love to walk on the beach, any beach, really. I love to go to different ones because they are not all the same. I also love to pick up shells along the way. I never know what I might find on the beach. Most beaches have one thing in common: lots of broken shells! A whole, perfect, unbroken sea shell is a rare find on most beaches.

Usually the little pieces of shells that line the water's edge are rough. They are not pleasant to walk on. Most of them are odd shapes with jagged edges making it hard to tell what kind of shell they used to be. I notice that when I walk along the beach they often catch my eye, I pick them up, look them over and let them fall back to the ground as they are not worthy of keeping. I can't help but to criticize them for their brokenness. My children, however will pick up a broken shell instead of a perfect one. They will hold onto it, pocket it, and treasure it! I used to encourage them to put the broken ones down and look for the pretty, whole shells instead. I no longer discourage their choice, rather, I have begun to learn an important lesson in life.

One beach that I visited was unusual. I didn't find any broken, rough edged shells that hurt my feet to walk over, instead the broken shells were smooth and well rounded. I bent over to admire them. I wondered what kind of shells they used to be. Even the ridges on their surface were smooth leaving me no hint of their original shape. As I ran my fingers through the layers of broken shells I noticed that they were indeed beautiful. I admired the beautiful colors that shone through their polished surfaces, colors that are usually hidden when the shell is perfect. Although the shapes were uncertain, the smooth texture gave them a new identity. They were broken and beautiful shells.

I imagined the journey that brought them to this beach. They began whole, perfect, beautiful shells full of purpose and life. They were abandoned, torn apart, thrown against rocks. Their shells were broken. Their purpose was destroyed. They were tossed by the waves in the ocean, and tumbled in the sand as they followed the tide. On occasion, they were left in mounds on the sandy beaches to be bleached by the sun until the waves washed over them again forcing them back into the tumbling tide. Each time they were left on the beach, their appearances changed.

Contrary to my usual pocketful, I left that beach with pockets full of smooth, broken shells. I didn't know why I wanted them until I got home. I placed them in a jar. I often stop by to dip my hand into the jar. I love to feel their smooth surfaces and to enjoy the mysterious colors they display. One night I had a dream that I was laying on the ground digging my hands into a puddle. In my grief,I was going crazy. I was feeling lost in my world, out of control, feeling like I couldn't make it any longer. Although I couldn't see inside the hole, I was frantically running my hands through the smooth pebbles and shells that I could feel inside.

I realized that what I live for each day, what I find comfort in when my world is breaking and my "shell" is no longer recognizable, is the hope that I have in the person that God is shaping me to be. I have become a broken shell. I have been tossed in the waves over and over. Each day, the broken edges are tumbled in the sand. On occasion I am left on the beach, to soak in the rays of the sun, to rest. The waves wash over me and I am once again tumbled and tossed, but each time I am left in a different, but better shape than before. I crave the shell I once was, but I am able to endure each day knowing that the edges are being smoothed, and in the end the colors that are within that could not be seen when I was whole will be beautiful!