January 25, 2015

The Broken Shell~ A Lesson in Brokenness, Beauty, and Strength

Dawn has broken on a beautiful day here at the ocean. I've come to refresh my weary spirit and to refuel my tired soul.

So begins the beautiful book My Beautiful Broken Shell by Carol Hamblet Adams. I love the words in this book. They are tender reflections of hurt and hope sharing a truth that in the hands of God, there can be profound beauty and strength in our brokenness. I have a special connection with the ocean and shells, as they got me through one of the toughest times in my life, so the message of this book and it being inspired by the broken shells along the beach, resonates with me.
The Broken Shell: A Lesson in Brokenness, Beauty and Strength

Hidden Beauty

Have you ever noticed that when combing a beach for shells, we regularly inspect what we find for perfection? How many times have you eagerly found a shell hidden in the sand and dug it up, only to discover it was cracked or missing a piece. We will usually sigh and toss it back out to sea, don't we? We will walk by the big cracked scallop shell to reach for the perfect sand-dollar. In fact most people would rather not pick up ANY shells than one that has a flaw. Why? At what point have we become programmed to overlook the beauty and strength of even a cracked shell? 
Why do we only find value in perfection when it comes to shells?
Have you ever watched children hunting for shells? If you've ever been to the beach I'm sure that you have, even if you've never done it with your own children. Taking my boys shell hunting is one of my favorite things to do at the ocean because hunting for shells using THEIR eyes is a totally different experience. My oldest (age 8) enjoyed doing this while we were in Florida this past fall. We would walk and suddenly he'd stop and eagerly point to a shell. He'd squat down and dig into the sand with his agile fingers until he could pull it out. It was usually just half of a shell. You know. The kind that we (as adults) simply throw back down. But he pulled it out. Turned it over and over in his hand. And just as I found myself saying "that one's broken, let's keep looking." He smiled and said...

"But mommy, look!"

And he'd flip it over to show me that it wasn't just a plain old charcoal gray scallop...no, it was inlaid with the most beautiful mother-of-pearl on the underside. So beautiful and so mysterious with the cloudy rainbow of colors. 

"It's so beautiful, mommy! I don't care that it's cracked! I want to keep it!"

And in that moment, I heard God speaking to me. 

There is beauty to be found even in brokenness. God doesn't look at our flaws, our cracks, our plain old charcoal gray barnacle covered exterior. God looks into our hearts. He sees what no one else can. The mother-of-pearl beauty hiding underneath. 

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Yes, we as people are broken. Oh how many of us have chips and cracks of all kinds and shapes. Going back to the book, the author states (referring to a broken shell):

This shell is people who are hurting...people who have lost loved ones...people who are frightened or alone...people with unfulfilled dreams...

Is that you? Can you relate? I know that I sure can.

Hidden Strength

Just as my son showed me the value in a broken shell because of what was hiding underneath, the author points out something else that made me think deeper...

This shell has had to fight so hard to keep from being totally crushed by the pounding surf...just as I have had to.

Broken shells are put under the same stress as the perfect ones we find. But they were able to make it to the shore even with their cracks and flaws. The very things which would have made them more susceptible to being crushed by the ocean and turning them into the very sand they are resting on. But they didn't. They weren't crushed. They were STRONG! 

It is possible to be strong even when we are cracked. To withstand the pounding surf of this life, even with everything going against us. 

Turning back to the words from the book...

Broken shells are shells that have been tested...and tried...and hurt...yet they don't quit. They continue to be. Thank you, Lord, for the great strength it takes to simply be...even when I hurt so deeply that there seems to be nothing left of me.

Have you ever felt that depth of hurt? When you were just so weighed down that even the thought of putting one foot in front of the other was too much to bear? What got you going? What gets you moving? Who gets you moving?

The author gives a clue...

If anything is still left of me or my loved ones, then that is enough to grab hold of...to keep me going...to thank God for.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves.
Psalm 34:18
In my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from His sanctuary; my cry to Him reached His ears. Psalm 18:6
When I am at my deepest hurt, with the waves of life pounding me and threatening to bust me into a million pieces, God will help me make it onto the shore and into the sunshine. And though I am broken, He still sees the beauty. Because He made me. And He has chosen me to belong to Him. So I cry out to Him. I give Him my flaws, my brokenness, my imperfect self and I ask Him for the strength I need to get through...

this minute,
   this hour,
       this day,
          this week,
              this month,
                  this year,
                     this life.

And He responds.
He always does.

But I've learned that more often than not, His help and gift of strength comes not from taking me out of the ocean, but from being able to ride out the turbulent currents and crushing waves. I will still make it to the shore with His help, and I might still be cracked when I get there. But the pounding and slamming against the sand and the power of the surf, has now made my mother-of-pearl beauty become polished, smooth and oh so lovely. He created in me greater beauty by helping me through my brokenness. 
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Though my cracks never completely disappear (for they never completely go away you know), I recognize that every time I conquer the surf, I have gained lessons in life. Perhaps my journey led me to greater compassion and love, increased patience and kindness, deeper meditation and faith --things I would have never had if I had been lifted from the ocean instead of allowed to roll in the waves. 

It's just a fact of life that perfection according to the world's standard is unattainable, and we kill ourselves (whether in spirit or body) trying to achieve it, instead of accepting that we are going to be imperfect as long as we are in this life (James 3:2 comes to mind). We don't want to accept brokenness or failures as normal and we try to hide our sufferings from others to maintain our own perfect image. But we are surrounded. You are surrounded. I am surrounded. Surrounded by broken people. People who need the comfort of others who have shared experience, people who need the very same strength of the Lord that we ourselves draw on to get through every day. 
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 
My book's conclusion holds these comforting words.

As I look at my beautiful broken shell, I see that it has nothing to hide. It doesn't pretend to be perfect or whole...its brokenness is clear for everyone to see.

Lord, help me realize that I am not the only one hurting...that we all have pain in our lives. Help me remember that in my brokenness I am still whole and complete in Your sight.

Broken yet Beautiful...Fragile yet Strong

Just as my son treasured that broken shell for the secret beauty it held, so also God treasures us. The trials we experience test us just as the pounding waves of the surf test the strength of those shells. We get cracks and dings, but they only show how much we have accomplished and what we have been through. The strength we have gained. Our weaknesses made us stronger because we were forced to rely on God to supply our needs. 

Don't get me wrong, we are instructed to seek perfection by God, but it's perfection in and through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28), NOT the world. We come to Him in our brokenness and know that He will help make us whole. We don't need to hide our flaws or imperfections from the One who made us. He didn't reach out and call us because we were perfect.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
The next time you go to the beach, take a second look at the broken shells. Remember that they too were made by God...they too have a story about the journey that brought them safe on the shore...and they above all teach a lesson that in brokenness there is beauty and strength. 

Thank You, Lord, for all that I learned from my brokenness...for the courage it takes to live with my pain...and for the strength it takes to remain on the shore. ~Carol Hamblet Adams

By Carol Hamblet Adams
ISBN #978-0736908702