Beauty in the Brokenness

by Alise


But the shells I like the best are the broken ones. These made me think about the pieces of my life. As I look at these pieces, I can hear my Lord say,
“You’re broken my child, but without this brokenness you can’t grow. As you let me comfort you, you will learn to comfort others.
I love you so much that I sent my one and only Son, Jesus, to die for you.”

Just like I went looking for these shells and collected them; so God came looking for me.
He calls me by name and promises that He will never leave me nor forsake me. What a joy and what a simple lesson to be learned for a few ordinary sea shells, each one different, each one special, just like each one of us is special to our Heavenly Father when we seek a relationship with Him.

~Dana McCoy (my mom), from a piece titled Seashells


My sister and I were standing outside of a restaurant. We had met to talk about my trip to Moldova and to catch up on what was going on in our lives. We were  enjoying a surprisingly beautiful February day and before we said our good-byes, she said, “I don’t think Mom had a stroke.”

We had all noticed that Mom was having some problems with speech over the past few months and that, combined with some problems swallowing had compelled her to see an ENT. However that doctor had said that there was nothing physically wrong with her throat, and he referred her to a neurologist. As we stood there on that clear, sunny day, clouds rolled across my mind as my sister told me that several of her friends had suggested that our mother’s symptoms sounded like they were indicative of amyotrophic lateral sclerois. ALS. Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

I drove home, hit Google, and had the first of many cries.


I was in my car, heading home from a night teaching piano lessons when my phone rang. My mom had undergone a muscle test earlier that day, when the EKG came back clean, showing that there was no stroke. From the tiny speaker near my ear came my mom’s voice, telling me that the doctors had given her the diagnosis that we had all feared. I tried to keep it together on the phone with her as she talked about medications that she would be taking and some of the things that she would be doing moving forward.

But after we hung up and I called my husband, the tears flowed freely.

When I got home, we told our children about the diagnosis, and the six of us huddled on the couch together, crying as we held one another, knowing that it probably wasn’t going to be the last time that we cried about this as a family. Grateful for the comfort that we could draw from one another.


I sat alone in church on Easter Sunday. Big holidays are already difficult for me, and this one felt damn near oppressive. Easter is about resurrection and life, but this year I couldn’t see past the grave. I thought of the jar of broken shells that sat on my dresser, until it fell and the jar smashed, one shell slicing my thumb when I went to clean it up.  My mom sees the shells and they give her comfort. For me, those same shells represent a relentless ocean or a cruel predator breaking apart something meant to shelter and protect and instead turning it into something that could cause pain.

It’s hard for me to find solace in broken things.


I think we’re both right about the shells. Sometimes the shells are broken because what was in them has been destroyed. The life inside has became food for something stronger and hungrier.

But sometimes the shells are broken because they were abandoned. The creature that resided there outgrew the space and needed something better. The shell served no purpose but to be found and admired for its beauty.

I see elements of both in the illness that my mom is experiencing. There are things that are being cast out before their time. Her singing voice has been largely compromised and I know that is a loss that hurts her. She is experiencing physical pain that robs her of rest.

But she is growing as well. She offers encouragement to those in therapy with her. She has experienced kindness from people who didn’t know her. She still spends time volunteering at the nursing home where she worked for most of my life.

I don’t like much of what is happening. It’s not fair. I cry a lot. The brokenness doesn’t make much sense to me.

I’m me, so I’m not going to be able to ignore those things. They are part of how I process. But I hope that increasingly, those darker emotions become a way to highlight the beauty that can be found in the brokenness.

By Wilfredor (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

16 Responses to “Beauty in the Brokenness”

  1. Megan@DoNotDisturb June 4, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    I’m right there with you in the confusion and pain. Thanks for sharing and I pray we are able to see one anther through this.


    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 7:38 am #

      Love you, sister. I know that we will see one another through, but it doesn’t make it easier.

  2. Sarah Askins: Poet-Writer June 4, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    Oh sweet, friend, my heart is heavy for you. Prayers and love.

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 7:39 am #

      Thanks, Sarah. Love back.

  3. Michelle W. June 4, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    I’m so sorry to hear this news, Alise (and I totally understand wanting the time to process it offline).

    I don’t want to offer anything trite or hollow, so I’ll leave it at that.

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 7:57 am #

      Thanks, Michelle. That means a lot. Really.

  4. Ed June 4, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    I’m hurting for you as you go through this season. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. Thank you for sharing how you’re confronting this without simple solutions or platitudes as well as the ways your mom is showing so much kindness.

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      She helps me see things that my cynicism wants to ignore, that is certain. Thank you for your friendship.

  5. bethany June 4, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Alise, I relate to this so much, and it’s exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks so much for being honest with your feelings. Praying for your mom and your fam. <3

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Thank you for your prayers. They are so appreciated.

  6. Diana June 4, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I tell you what, Alise. You have written so bravely and well about this. And I see such lovely echoes of your mom’s kindness and grace in YOU through these and all the other words you put out here. I am so sorry about all of this – and pray with you for peace, and comfort and grace to meet the challenge of this season. It’s a season of lament – that’s the only word for it.

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Lament is a good word. I’m sure we’ll experience different times of lament as time goes by and the disease progresses.

      And I learned a lot about how to love from my mom. It may express in different ways, but she taught me about that more than probably anyone else.

  7. Natalie Hart June 4, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Thank you for this post from in the middle, when your feelings about the brokenness haven’t been resolved all neatly.

    • Alise June 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

      Honestly, I don’t think they probably ever will. There will always be a sense of injustice about this for me. But I also know that there are lessons that can be learned in the midst of that pain, and I want to try to be open to that as well.

  8. Sheila Brennan June 5, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    Alise, I am so sorry. Life is so hard sometimes, and death even harder. And I just don’t know how we’d face any of it without Jesus Who knows all about it (the one Who has truly “been there, done that”). Even as I pray this for myself, I will pray it for your mother – a holy and beautiful home-going. And comfort and strength and perspective and – yes – joy for you in this hard place.


  1. Beauty in the Brokenness - June 4, 2013

    [...] Head over to read the rest. I’m sorry for not sharing about this sooner, but I want to honor my mom’s story and to give her and the rest of my family a little bit of time to process it. I thank you all for this space. [...]

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