SHELL MOSAIC PENDANTS
As you can probably guess, these pendants are NOT made from shells found here on our farm. They are, however, made with shells I personally gathered on beach trips back before we were farmers who never take a vacation! (There's actually a personal story that goes along with them, which I'll attach below for anyone who's interested.)
Most of these pieces are made with shells that I carefully cut and sanded into assorted shapes, then fit together in mosaic patterns. But a few are made with "Micro Shells", which are the micro-sized (but fully grown) versions of well known shells like Olive Shells. (I don't know why, but I find micro shells fascinating!)
The following is a story I wrote about my encounter with God while on the beach many years ago. At the time I was still very much dealing with grief of losing our first child to SIDS while also preparing for the approaching birth of our second child (Will). A shoreline full of broken shells became the path thru which I reconnected with God for the first time since Hannah's death, and the idea to use broken shells to create jewelry was eventually born out of that experience. This is the first time, however, that I've actually placed that jewelry up for sale. I'll send a copy of this story with any piece that sells, just in case you're giving the piece as a gift and would like to include it. Here's the story:
THE BROKEN SHELLS
The weather couldn't have been more perfect on the morning of October 18, 2003. Crystal pools of water stranded by a low-tide sea were surprisingly warm and inviting, as my husband, Danny, and I casually explored the shoreline of Fernandina Beach. We were on our first true vacation in years, and couldn’t help but feel as if we’d stumbled into paradise.
Even so, I couldn’t shake the suffocating melancholy that wrapped itself around my heart. The day before should have been our first child’s first birthday. Instead, Hannah died at only seven weeks old. That was the true reason for our “vacation”. We ran away to the ocean in hopes of escaping the daily reminders of our loss. But broken hearts travel as easily as the rest of the body, so our pain had simply packed its bags and headed to the shoreline, too.
As I strolled along, I could feel a six-month-old baby nudging my belly from within. It reminded me of how exciting that sensation had been the first time around, and I wished I could go back to that innocence. Being pregnant again, although an unquestionable blessing, was also a stark reminder of our loss. I sighed heavily and kicked at the water. Danny silently reached out to give my hand a knowing squeeze, and I smiled in response. But inside, my heart began screaming:
"Okay, God, enough is enough! This hurts too much and it’s not getting any easier! Even this beautiful view is overshadowed by sadness. I didn’t expect the hurt to magically disappear when we reached the beach; but I guess I hoped that out here away from all the distractions you could finally show me what to do with it! I need your help, God! I want to find peace….I want to understand, and to forgive you for not waking me up when Hannah first stopped breathing. But how can I do that if you leave me all alone in this? Where are you?!"
With those words I looked ahead several yards and saw a huge embankment of shells. It actually consisted of several piles deposited side by side, each more than a foot deep and maybe five feet wide. Although we’d walked that same path many times before, I'd never noticed them. Shelling is pretty much a joke on Fernandina Beach. The rough seas leave few unbroken, and you have to be equipped with huge stores of patience if you want to find a real treasure. But I still loved the hunt, and we’d spent several hours a day searching (with a small handful of “keepers” to show for it).
Ever optimistic, we decided to try our luck in the huge piles up ahead. Danny could tell that I’d be there for a while and lay his towel down along the edge of the embankment so he could stretch out for a more casual search. I remained standing and used my toes to rake through the pieces. Oddly enough, the first item I felt inspired to pick up wasn't really a shell at all--or at least, it wasn't anymore. It was a nice shade of yellow-brown, but it was riddled with holes and was no longer fit for anything----except, possibly, getting ground into sand! Without even consciously realizing it, though, I dropped the humble scrap into my shell-bag. Before long I was “in the zone”, aware of little more than the hunt.
About half an hour later I realized that my first bag was getting heavy, so I stopped to peak inside. There cowered some of the most pitiful excuses for shells you’ve ever seen. A few could still be recognized for the types of shells they once were, but most were unidentifiable in their distress. I furrowed my brow, confused over why I’d bother to save any of them. There wasn't a perfect shell among the bunch. They were all broken.
"Broken, just like me," I heard myself whisper. Then, staring hard at the tattered contents of that bag, I said with a laugh, "Yeah! That's exactly what they are! Broken like me!"
Realizing the attraction I must have felt, I couldn’t help but grin: The shells were perfect---a perfect representation of the very broken me! I looked back into the bag, suddenly overwhelmed by the tiny glimpse of magnificence each shell fragment somehow managed to retain. Through remnants of brilliant color, and hints toward original size, I could tell that each of the shells had once been a real sight to behold. But now? Now they were pummeled down to worthlessness. Even so, out of all the perfect beauty along that shoreline, only those pieces managed to bring a true smile to my face! As I stood contemplating that fact, I heard what sounded like a voice whispering within. It said:
"These broken shells are you---you, and everyone like you. When first born, you were flawless, touched with the beauty of my hand. Now you’ve grown and matured in a way that pleases me, but I still see so much more in you. I want you to reach a potential that can only be found through trial by fire. And when your life has reached its fullness, and it's time for you to leave the ocean depths and rest upon my shoreline, I want you to have had the chance to live The Great Story and learn the truth."
My hands literally shook in response. It had been a very long time since I’d felt so compelled to listen to the words bubbling up from my heart. It was as if I was listening to God, Himself.
"The story and the truth? What are you talking about?" I asked out-loud, before I could stop myself. (Luckily Dan was dozing and we were alone on the beach!) I stood frozen in place, both awaiting a response to my question, and questioning my own sanity for doing so! But sure enough, that same voice welled up inside again, and I heard:
"It's The Story of The Broken Shells, and it's as old as humanity. Within it lies the truth. I'm going to share them with you now, and if you listen closely I believe you'll find the peace you’re after:
"Just like with people, many shells manage to live out their lives coasting along the crest of the wave. They rarely have time for me, feel the need to know my love for them, or care to learn my vision for their lives. I leave them alone, because that's what they want. By the time they reach my shoreline they've often amassed great treasures of wealth and personal beauty. Many are widely known, respected, and admired as true beacons of greatness in this world. But in MY Kingdom, they have no significance at all, and are essentially forgotten.
"On the opposite side of the spectrum there are the shells who never even touch the crest of a wave. Some are quite lovely, others rather plain, but they all share a common spirit of defeat and have resigned themselves to join the nameless masses that line the ocean floor. There, those pitiful souls are completely at the mercy of the currents, thrashed against debris and coral reefs, and ground up by rocks. I love them as much as every other shell, and I'd gladly step in to help them in their suffering. But they don’t know to look up and call my Name for help…..and they completely ignore the hand that I leave outstretched for them. With great sadness, I eventually leave them to their chosen fates. And in time they, too, are more or less forgotten, reaching my shoreline in the form of unrecognizable grains of sand.
"Then there’s the third and final group of shells, the ones I call My Chosen. To me, they’re the loveliest of all, even though each and every one is broken. Many of them, in faith, have already placed their lives completely into my hands. Others are still strangers to my Kingdom, but are drawn to me in ways they neither understand nor fully realize. I know that when the time is right they, too, will choose to place their faith in me!
With this last, eclectic, group of shells, I use difficult circumstances to either draw them close for the first time, or to allow their faith and understanding of me to reach otherwise unattainable depths. I do not CAUSE the trials they endure, but I work within them to uniquely mold each shell into a shape that is truly beautiful!
I’m always present and involved in their day-to-day lives—although often in ways they don't recognize. When storm-fueled waves drive these shells against rocks so strong that bits and pieces of themselves are broken away, and they cry out for me to calm the seas and mend the damage, I do hear them and draw nearer. I silently whisper my love into their hearts, and courage into their spirits. But the very same pain they cry about is also smoothing down their jagged edges, and chipping away their areas of weakness and fear. So I will not end the storm as long as they are strong enough to endure it (and they are far stronger than they could ever imagine).
Silent though I may be, my hand is right there in the midst of it all. In many ways I am, in fact, the very rock that breaks them. I drill the holes into their multicolored surfaces. I chip and grind at them until they no longer recognize themselves. They don't know what's happening, or what the end result will be…..but I know. I know that they are becoming more beautiful every day. And I know that if they endure the suffering of these stormy seas, their resulting value in my kingdom will surpass their wildest dreams. I know. But I also know that what I ask of them is no easy task.
"You, child, are one of those precious, broken, shells. And I need you to have faith in me when all the world, even your own flesh, seems to have turned against you….no matter how far away I might seem to be. Trust me, my battle-weary shell, when I say that I understand the depths of your struggle, and that I quickly forgive any times you lash out at me in anger and confusion. I also know that if the pain goes deep enough, if it stretches on for long enough, that anger and dismay can turn into despair. Seemingly lost in the storms that have broken you, you might find yourself questioning my love…..even my existence. But this is part of the process---MY process---not something to be ashamed of. Your darkest hours of doubt don’t make me disappointed in you. If anything, they make this Father’s love burn ever more fiercely! So pour out your hurt, anger, and fear before me! Share with me the dark thoughts that haunt you, and I will pour compassionate understanding over you!
“In a world that only really finds value in the seemingly perfect, I know it can be difficult for you, my Broken Shells, to embrace the true beauty of your battle scars. You tend to assume that the splinters, fractures, and holes in your hearts are signs of personal weakness. Embarrassed, some of you will try to hide yourselves…..both from the world, and from me. The weight of that self-imposed shame can be overwhelming. Left unchecked, it’ll sink you all the way to the ocean’s floor where, over time, you’ll find yourself buried beneath layers of sand. You might even become convinced that you’re part of that worthless sand pile. But it simply isn’t true! Whether you lay buried there for hours or for years, you will never stop being one of my precious broken shells! So if you can manage to keep my Name alive deep within your heart (even if you don’t understand how, or why, you’re doing it), when the time is right, I’ll reach down to sift you out of that sand and gently guide you back into the faith you feared was lost. And if you choose to take the hand I offer in the midst of your deepest despair, rather than turning away from me, you’ll be taking another huge step toward the beautiful purpose for which you were created……and toward finally understanding the truth!
"Unfortunately, too many broken shells never fully realize the truth until I explain it to them face to face, on my shoreline. Despite the great accomplishment of having triumphed over despair, and although they may try very hard not to be, those shells are still haunted by shame. Overwhelmed by the agony of perceived failure, those broken children fall, weeping, to their knees when we finally meet. But it’s my great joy, then, to lean in and whisper the following truth into their tired hearts:
"Child, only with your many flaws are you finally, truly, beautiful. You allowed your life to be shaped by me, even after learning how painful that process really is. So I am proud to claim you as my own! You’ve been refined according to MY taste, and have achieved exactly what I’d hoped for! In my kingdom, you don’t shine in spite of your brokenness, but BECAUSE of it! So here on my shoreline, we welcome you home as a hero of faith, and a masterpiece to behold!”
With that, the voice became silent again. I’d entered a sort of trance-like state while listening, and it took a moment to regain awareness of my surroundings. The first thing I noticed was that I was smiling, and I couldn’t seem to stop! I finally felt certain that although I had been hit by the random cruelness of this life, that wasn’t the end of the story. God, himself, believed I was able to weather that storm, and he intended to use my suffering to bring about something beautiful. Surely that was something to be proud of! Up until that moment, I’d wondered if the circumstances of my suffering were some sort of punishment, or if maybe God had simply forgotten about me. After crying out to Him in anguish night after night with no discernible response, I couldn’t help but feel abandoned. But I’m neither being punished nor forgotten---I’m being prepared for greatness in his Kingdom!
The pain is fierce, and often it’s all I can do to keep from being swallowed up by it entirely….but it’s pain with a purpose. There is a plan for my life, and I’m living in the middle of it! I don’t have to like the fact that God uses my pain instead of ending it altogether (and, really, who would?)! But I do accept that he does so, and I acknowledge that this is the only way to shape who I am, today, into who I’m meant to be. After all, every slab of marble must become a “broken” version of its former self before the priceless statue can emerge!
After taking a moment to process God’s message to me, I finally became aware of what my busy hands had been doing while I listened to it……there on the ground sat three grocery bags filled to the point of bursting with broken shells!! My first thought was, “Oh, my gosh, what have I done?!” But it was quickly followed by my second thought: “And why didn’t I bring more bags with me?!”
Suddenly, as far as my eyes could see there were amazingly unique, beautiful, broken shells----and I didn't want to leave a single piece behind! Having been more than patient, Danny urged me to turn back for lunch. But I hesitated, worried that if I left the water’s edge I might somehow forget everything that just happened. More than anything, I didn’t want to lose the peace that had finally worked its way into my heart! It was like I’d been desperately craving a rich dessert, and now that I finally had a taste of it I wanted to stay at that table forever! Only when I considered the possibility of writing my experience down so I could maybe share it with other hurting hearts, was I able to drag myself away. I couldn’t leave behind the bedraggled shell bits that I’d gathered (despite the fact that each bag weighed a ton), so we somehow managed to haul them home with us. I still have them, too. In fact, over the years I’ve amassed quite an impressive collection! Every broken shell on the beach now serves as a reminder of God’s wonderful, mysterious, love for me, and I can’t help but treasure them!
A Final Note:
It took many, many years for me to figure out that I could use those shell pieces I collected to create Broken Shell Mosaics. The best part is that even the process of making them has proven to be incredibly symbolic of the story:
First, I select a shell fragment from the hundreds upon hundreds that I have. Then, I painstakingly break and grind it down until it’s the perfect size and shape to fit exactly where it’s meant to be. For that shell, this process probably seems likes endless, and meaningless, suffering. But the final result is that it has gone from being just another anonymous bit of “shell trash” on the beach, to being proudly displayed as a key figure in a meaning-filled “masterpiece”! (No, I do NOT actually think my mosaics are masterpieces! I’m just saying they SYMBOLIZE the actual masterpiece that GOD is creating with each of our lives!!!)
No two of these broken shell mosaics are ever the same, so you can look at your piece and know that it’s every bit as unique as you are! Also, it may interest you to know that although I’ve gathered a few more bags over the years, many of the shell pieces in my mosaic jewelry really do date back to that fateful October day!
A Broken Shell