Saturday, August 8, 2015

People and shells, shells and people

     This past week I went on a 3 day adventure with my mom and daughter. If you missed it, you can catch up here : . As I was combing the beaches , sifting through piles, I saw something in the process that I had never noticed before. Shells are an awful lot like people. I know, it sounds like a stretch but just hang in there and allow me to explain.
     Of course, there is the obvious, all shells, just as people, are created by God . All have some of the same characteristics, yet all are unique in their own way. Some are black. Some are white. Some are multi-colored, and the rest are all shades in between. There are many different sizes, some are tiny. Some are large. The rest are in between.

Some shells are smooth. Some are rough around the edges.There are skinny shells and fat ones. There are ones that you can find hundreds of in a short period of time ( like the ones pictured above) and then there are the more rare ones that there are fewer of ( like the ones pictured here.)
No two shells are exactly alike, yet every one of them starts out the same. Seashells are the exoskeletons of mollusks such as snails, clams, oysters and many others. Such shells have three distinct layers and are composed mostly of calcium carbonate with only a small quantity of protein--no more than 2 percent. These shells, unlike typical animal structures, are not made up of cells. Mantle tissue that is located under and in contact with the shell secretes proteins and mineral extracellularly to form the shell. Think of laying down steel (protein) and pouring concrete (mineral) over it. Thus, seashells grow from the bottom up, or by adding material at the margins. Since their exoskeleton is not shed, molluscan shells must enlarge to accommodate body growth. This pattern of growth results in three distinct shell layers: an outer proteinaceous periosteum (uncalcified), a prismatic layer (calcified) and an inner pearly layer of nacre (calcified).
    As the creature inside of the shell grows, so does the shell Once the sea creature living within a shell dies, the empty shell washes up on the shore to be found by someone like me, who finds beauty in them and their purpose.The ocean is unforgiving, tossing everything inside of it to and fro every minute of every day. Shells are hard to protect the creature inside but they aren't indestructible. There comes a time when the constant pounding of the ocean will produce chips, cracks, and gouges. Just as a shell can be broken, so can we. Sometimes the constant pounding of life chips away at us, cracks our hearts, and gouges our souls.The blemishes caused by the storms of life aren't always immediately evident. At first glance the exterior still looks whole and perfect.


A closer look reveals the damage done to the interior.
     There are times in this journey called life that we feel washed up and abandoned upon the shore. Every once in a while someone like me runs across the broken shells that other's may leave laying and I pick them up and take them home because I see beauty in the brokenness. Every once in a while someone will see the beauty in a broken abandoned soul and love it regardless of it's blemishes and even if that never happens, God still does. Our heavenly Father created us , each one of us with some the same characteristics as everyone else, but all absolutely totally different than everyone else. He sees our brokenness even when no one else can. He sees past the chips, cracks, and gouges. He leans down, picks us up in His massive loving hands, and takes us home after the life within us ends.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

For the love of shells

     The ocean...eternally churning, moving forward then receding, tumultuous, magnificent, and salty. For me, the ocean is healing, calming and draws me like a moth drawn to the flame. When I sit in front of it and watch the waves, one after the other, crash upon the sand , I get this beautiful picture in my head. I see God, my father, my rock, my protector, my everything, catching tears, not just mine but everyone who sheds them in pain. As they fill up his mighty hand, they overflow and spill out into the oceans, refilling them . When given the chance, I can sit and listen to the pounding of the waves upon the sand for hours. I believe the ocean to be one of the greatest of God's masterpieces. Surely there must be something like it in heaven. I can hope right? ...and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal ; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures and full of eyes in front and behind. Revelation 4:6 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God Revelation 15:2. I know, taken out of context but I still hope.
     Genesis 1:21God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God created the seas and then filled them with creatures that live within them. I find most of the creatures that live within them fascinating. I have a particular fascination with the shells that some of the sea creatures call home for awhile. God in his infinite wisdom knew that some of his creations were fragile and needed protection for their survival...thus shells came to be.
     I believe that I received my love of shells from my mother. As far back as I remember, a trip to the beach with her meant hours of combing the beach for shells. At times, we would literally just sit down into the piles because leaning over for that long is bad for the lower back. When my step dad was still alive , he and Mom would go to Atlantic beach every couple of years and visit Shackleford Banks so she could go shelling. After every visit, she would tell me how much she loved it and that I really needed to go someday. Frank has been gone for almost 5 years now. During those years, Mom has survived a massive heart attack and breast cancer. At 66 years old , she still works a stressful full time job and shares her home with my niece, her two small children and their father. To say that she knows little peace is a huge understatement.
      By March of this year, I knew it wasn't going to be possible for us to have a family vacation. I am not sure at what point I had the idea, but somewhere between then and May , God placed within me a plan. By Mother's day , all the research had been done and I announced to Mom that her Mother's day / birthday gift for this year was a trip to her beloved Shackleford Banks. The tears in her eyes when she realized I was serious confirmed that I had made a wise choice in a gift this year. It began as a trip for just me and her but grew to include my daughter , Cara.
     August is still peak season so even cheap hotel rooms aren't really all that cheap. By my calculations, the amount I had to spend would cover, a hotel room for two nights , the tickets for the ferry over to the island, gas, and food.The week before our scheduled trip, I talked about my plans in a Facebook post. When I awoke the next morning I had a private message from a dear friend who wanted to generously finance another night for us so we could spend more time together. In addition, my mother's cousin, who lives about an hour away from where we were staying offered to treat us to dinner one night of our stay. Only one word comes to mind...blessed.
     Our short vacation wasn't all smooth sailing and sunshine. Because of a banking issue, Mom was running late arriving at my house Tuesday morning so we didn't even arrive at our destination until after 6 pm. It was just as well because it had rained there most of the day and wouldn't have been the most fun beach day. Our plan was to ferry over to the island on Wednesday morning. The sun was shining through a few clouds so we carried on with our plan. It had been 6 or 7 years since Mom had been to Shackford Banks and she was very disappointed in the condition of the shoreline and the lack of shells compared to previous visits. Because of a storm approaching the area, the tide was ridiculously high and within an hour of arriving, a large portion of the island was flooded with waist high water. A woman who visits there quite often remarked that in all the years she has been there, she had never seen so much water on that part of the island. After being there for two hours, not finding the piles of shells that she was used to seeing, Mom was coming close to just wanting to catch the next ferry back. Unfortunately she didn't have the chance to decide that on her own. With a storm approaching, the ferry made it's last trip for the day and we were forced to leave. By the time we made it back to the hotel, the storm had turned, and the clouds gave way to a beautiful day. We spent the rest of our time that day and the next on the beach looking at the ocean more than being in the ocean because even at low tide, the surf was so incredibly rough that knee deep was a struggle and a work out.
     There were plenty of moments that outweighed the bad. Two hours into our drive down Mom said that she couldn't remember the last time she had laughed so much. That is as much encouraging as it is sad. I was at the beach. I found an awesome new coffee mug. I was at the beach. On day two, I realized there was a Starbucks with 12 minutes of us. (No coffee maker in our room :-( )   I was at the beach. We saw the wild horses of Shackleford and from my understanding they are usually elusive. I was at the beach. We had 3 hours to visit with family that we do not have the chance to see very often. I was at the beach. I saw a side of my mother that I had never seen before . I was at the beach. Since Frank's death , Mom had wanted to return and leave a rose as a memorial to him. I was honored to be the vehicle for her chance to do that.  Did I mention that I was at the beach?
     I am tired but it is a good tired. I have memories etched into my mind that pictures can't document although I did try. This was my first trip to Atlantic Beach and even though I am not a fan of sunrises over houses and prefer the sun to come up over the ocean, if a family vacation can be worked out for next year, we may return. Because the trip over to Mom's island was pretty much a bust, I hope to take her back sooner rather than later to try again.That sounds like a fantastic excuse to go back to the beach to me.