In August, during our beach vacation, I did just a little beach combing, along the twenty yards or so nearest where my kids were playing, and, as occurs every time I’m in my heavenly happy place, I was struck by how many analogies to the walk of life are present in nature, and the ocean in particular. I collected a number of beautiful shells, but two of the items I discovered moved me deeply and inspired me to share them with you.
This piece of mother of pearl was sitting on the beach, half buried in the sand, and surrounded by many other shells, but the light caught it, and I scooped it up, suddenly overcome by images and analogies, knowing I was going to want to write about it later. It is clearly a piece of a huge clamshell that has been worn almost paper thin and transparent by time in the waves. Even so, it still has a few layers to it.
This got me thinking about my own journey- the last few years especially. It started out big, bulky, seemingly strong, but not very beautiful-or was it that the beauty was just yet to be revealed? As the water and winds and tides tossed it back and forth, maybe it landed on the beach countless times, and then was swept out to sea again, to be battered and worn down more- or was it polished? And how many beachcombers saw it in one of its previous stages and didn’t find it remarkable? Maybe it needed more time, maybe the right eyes to see it, or both. Maybe the beatings and batterings we take in life, from struggles, heartaches, mistreatments can all be used to make us more beautiful, or even more accurately, to reveal the beauty that was there the whole time.
Then I started thinking about how these shells get to be so big and thick, and how they are basically made of layers and layers and layers of this beautiful shiny stuff-on the inside. The clam starts out tiny, and as it grows, it adds to its shell. The substance it makes to grow its shell is the same stuff that pearls are made of when they form around a grain of sand (side note, my name means pearl, and my mother and my husband have always been amused by the analogy of a pearl being formed out of irritation to the clam. 😝) . On the outside, the shell is rough and tough and not too pretty, but the beauty is there, to be seen, layer by layer, on the side that is closest to the soft, vulnerable, tender animal. It’s natural to keep our most precious selves protected and closed, but what a loss that is, in us as people! Unlike the clam, out prettiest gifts don’t have to be hidden for us to survive. Sometimes, though, it takes a lot of wearing away of our toughened outer shells and a lot of polishing from challenges to reveal the gifts inside us. When they are revealed though, to the right audience, at the right time, they can be such a blessing and so appreciated.
When I found it, that piece of shell was about twice as large as it is now, but it sat in my purse too long and got crushed and broken. Even that can bring meaning, though, as an image of how our gifts can seem to be diminished or ruined by not being used, but maybe it just makes it easier to share them. I am going to wrap up the pieces that are broken off and give them as gifts, maybe with a piece of this essay, as gifts to encourage a few ladies who might need it.
A few days later I found the piece of blue glass. As you can see, it’s not yet sea glass. I love sea glass, and I never seem to find it anymore. In finding this piece of almost fresh broken glass, though, the same imagery as the shell, but with a slightly different spin or angle filled my mind. Right now, freshly broken, this piece of glass is sharp, capable of causing pain or injury. But what transforms it into a beachcomber’s treasure? That same battering, smoothing, washing back and forth, over and over. So it is with our trials. At first, when it’s fresh, an experience is so painful either to live through, or to remember-the edges are sharp. But over time, as the waters of life, of healing, of further experience and hindsight wash over and over it, the danger, the pain, the sharp edges are dulled , and frosted, and it can become a milestone of great value. You can look at this shard of life as the moment God started doing something beautiful in you. I’m thinking primarily of one particular thing right now, but if I stretch just a little, my heart has a whole jar of sea glass (as I hope my desk will someday!) I can look at and admire what God has done.
I’m so thankful for both these gifts from the sea, and the God-planted thoughts and inspiration they sparked in me. May my eyes and heart always be open to His gifts.