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.