Every Shell Has a Story
I have this little drawer that, to me, is a treasure chest. Opening it, one will find a plethora of seashells in a variety of sizes and shapes and colors. No two are, in fact, alike, and no living thing remains–though each one once held life or was itself alive. The life has either passed or moved on. Still I’m certain that, if seashells could speak, they’d each have much to say.
Perhaps that’s why I love these little treasures. Not only do they evoke sweet memories of vacations with my family, when we’d spend hours combing the sand for these simple souvenirs, but they serve as a reminder:
Anyone who’s ever lived has a unique story, and their stories live on in us.
Take, for example, my friend Kara. She could tell you many stories about her Grandpa Harry–fondly called “Pop” by most. He, only days ago, passed on to Eternity. Born in 1930, he trained as a paratrooper and was prepared for the Korean Conflict, though he was never actually deployed. He loved the Phillies and watching the Eagles and taught his granddaughter all the NFL teams–quizzing her often just to be sure she knew such importances of life.
Pop was an Irish Protestant who married a good Catholic girl. Together, they raised their three children in an idyllic New Jersey neighborhood where the family’s best friends were cousins and in-laws. He loved dogs and bird watching, and, up until several years ago, enjoyed staying active.
About this time last year, Pop was admitted into a nursing home. Though this became his permanent residence, he never lost his fun-loving personality. Even there, he was loved for his kindness and humor. Once, he remarked to a nurse that he was craving a sausage biscuit sandwich, and she surprised him with one, paid for out of her own pocket. Another nurse brought her dog to visit Pop on her day off, just because she knew the pup would make him happy.
Kara and her family will miss him, but she holds within her heart and mind the many stories of his life–his life being, in itself, a story. Though the final chapter has been written, Pop’s Story will continue to be enjoyed–by Kara and others, like me, as we hear the poignant details of this man’s long and full life.
Pop makes me think of the Conch, a shell that is often colorful at first but whose outer brilliance fades–weathered by the years. Though this man’s outer shell may have diminished due to illness and age, much remained within, and the stories of his life will continue to be told for many years to come.
And then there’s our Aunt Amy who lived fifty-four years with a heart that doctors said from her birth wouldn’t last. (You can read more of her story at www.penningpansies.com–“Only the Lord.”) She shone light in this often dark world during all those revolutions around the sun–truly living what Jesus exhorted when he said–
…Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16–NIV).
Though her life was difficult–having to endure many surgeries and medical procedures over the years–she lived with a joy and generosity that bubbled over onto others. She learned to trust in the Lord with all her heart (Prov. 3:5, 6)–figuratively and literally–through her many “close calls” with death, but Amy always seemed to bounce back with even more joy and determination, stating–
God must not be done with me yet. He alone sustains my life.
Like the simple Oyster, Amy’s life produced a pearl of great price–not despite pain and pressure but because of such. Through all those uncomfortable seasons of her fifty-four years, Amy pressed deeper into the heart of Jesus–loving others second only to the love she had for her Savior. The result was indeed a treasure, and those of us who knew her were blessed beyond measure by Amy’s Story.
And then there’s Dad Denny. Though he’s now free from his earthy confines, he lives on in his family and friends. As a husband and father, friend, furniture salesman, director of volunteers, and chauffeur, his story doesn’t simply contain the events of his own life but includes the many stories he gathered from his interactions with others, as his life was intertwined with many over the course of his seventy-three years.
I can tell a story about Denny. I never talked to him about it prior to his passing, and I’m not sure he’d even have remembered. His recollection, however, isn’t really what makes this a part of his story. It’s part of his to me simply because it’s part of my own–our lives connected as they’re been because I’m married to his son.
Once, many years ago, Denny said something hurtful. I know he didn’t mean it. It was merely one of those little side comments that, while slightly snide, was meant to be funny. Likely, he thought I’d laugh, but instead, I cried. Trying to hide the tears, I fled the room, but he’d discerned something was wrong. Following me, he found a wounded young woman. Rather than dismiss his comment with a quick, “I was only kidding,” however, he took me in his arms and, hugging me hard, soothed me by saying, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It was unkind, and I ask for your forgiveness.”
I forgave him immediately, of course, and life carried on. But this particular incident has never been forgotten. It’s become a part of my own story, and is, thus, very much a part of his, as well. Despite the bitter in this bittersweet moment many years ago, all I remember is the sweet–in hearing, “I’m sorry” and in forgiving and in starting again, with even more love than before.
To me, we’re much like the Olive Shell I have in my collection–which has, lodged within its narrow opening, several tinier shells. Time melded us and our stories together in a beautiful manner, and I’m all the richer having been a part of Denny’s Story.
Today, I’m thinking also of Steve and Nicole’s Story. Nicole, a dear friend, recently lost her husband to a massive heart attack which took him in the night as she lay beside him in their bed. When they kissed goodnight, Steve was there; then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, he was gone, and she’s left wondering how life will ever go on.
The other day, my daughter Allie and I met her briefly. I held her close in an embrace that was longer than what’s typical, but she needed those extra moments, I think. To be held. To be reminded that she’s not alone, though I know she might feel at times that she is. Despair washes over her in waves, though perhaps there’s beginning to be that glimmer of hope breaking through the ebb and flow. Certainly, a gamut of emotions vacillate, but I pray that soon she’ll feel hope rise from her despair, loneliness, and anger.
Truth is, life will never be the same for my friend, and this sad experience has now become a part of her story. My encouragement to her, however, will be that life can be beautiful again–as she presses into her family, into her friends. Mostly, as she presses into Jesus. He will show her how to take the next step, painful and dark though it may be, that a new chapter of her life might be written.
She’d perhaps say her life’s a lot like the separated Cockle Shell. Her “other half” gone, she feels alone. Lost. But there’s beauty in her story. Many are here to help her navigate the unfamiliar, uncharted, and scary waters ahead. All that she’s endured in life has broken her, but even now–in this, her weakest moment–Jesus promises that his grace is sufficient, and his strength will be perfected in weakness (II Cor. 12:9).
Finally, I learned the other day that a friend had passed. Eighty-two years old, Jeanette Miller (not related) exchanged her earthly garments for a robe of righteousness and is now free from all pain and sadness. The mother of three sons, Jeanette adopted her granddaughter Kristie when she was only two–forfeiting what many choose in their retirement years for the joy of raising another child.
Jeanette and I became friends when she asked Bill and me to adopt Kristie. She’d been experiencing life-threatening health problems and wanted Kristie secure with a family. We agreed and joyfully began the process of making Kristie’s place with us legal. For more than a year, we had the privilege of having this seven-year old as a part of our family–first, for weekend visits in 2006; then, more permanently over the summer of 2007 as we waited for what we believed would be the finalization of her adoption.
In August of 2007, however, Jeanette had a change of heart. Her health had improved, and placing Kristie with us permanently proved to be too difficult. I’ll never forget how, on a bright and sunny August day, she came to get all of Kristie’s things. In only moments, the presence of one I’d come to love as my daughter vanished, and bitterness ensued for a season.
It wasn’t until I got quiet before the Lord that I finally heard Him whisper, “You need to forgive Jeanette.”
“What?” I argued. “But I don’t want to.” (Truth be told, I’d become rather comfortable in my sorrow. The taste of salt was at least familiar.)
“I can’t heal you until you forgive,” He continued, and then, “And, while you’re at it, you need to ask her to forgive you, too.”
“What on earth for?” It was an honest question, and I really wanted to know.
“You’ve harbored anger in your heart toward her. You need to ask her to forgive you for that.”
I let God’s words sink in a few moments. Finally, “Well, I don’t want to.” I paused. “But I will.”
And so, before day’s end, I’d written and mailed the letter to Jeanette–not one written with any of the right feelings but, rather, by sheer obedience, by faith.
But that’s all God asked of me–to obey. He promised to do the rest–the hard lifting, as it was. To lift from me the weight of anger. The weight of despair. The weight of sadness.
And, in time, He enabled me to experience joy again. He healed my heart and gave me a sincere love for Jeanette, despite any resentment I’d once felt. He gave me a new song to sing in my heart–a song of praise to my God, for His grace and mercy and never-ending love. Though we hadn’t seen one another for quite some time, our friendship was mended years ago–something for which I’m very thankful, especially now that she’s gone.
As I look at the collection of seashells in my little blue drawer, Our Story–Jeanette’s, Kristie’s, and mine, Bill’s, and our boys’–is most like the Sand Dollar. Like this fragile sea creature, it takes dying–to self, to our agendas, to our resentments–to be made more beautiful. The symbolism both upon and within the Sand Dollar is nothing short of a miracle–the evidence of a loving, creative God, who–through His Son–redeemed all of us, imperfect though we all are.
(Read the Legend of the Sand Dollar by Margaret C. Gallatin at https://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/f024_SandDollar.htm)
The Sand Dollar Poem
A rare gift found at a wave-washed shore,
Evidence of the
An everlasting Presence
Created in deep obscurity…
A tangible reminder of the concealed,
Brought to surface through adversity…
A sacrifice embraced.
Now, having left the confines of their earthly bodies, Pop, Aunt Amy, Dad Denny, Steve, and Jeanette, as well as any who’ve known Jesus as their Savior, are flying whole and free. It’s left to us to share their stories–for others’ enjoyment but mostly, for the glory of God.
Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning… You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever (Ps. 30:5b; 11, 12–NIV).
In memory of Jeanette Miller–a friend whom I loved and who taught me more about forgiveness.
For information concerning Carol Jeanette Miller’s celebration of life, visit https://crawfordray.com/obituaries/carol-jeanette-miller?fbclid=IwAR1iInSz7ZUXbt1bhRGhSgU5SuaaAAGOlHIO-BTsO92nKW7fM1huh3RdYUc