Monday, November 11, 2013

The Language of Broken Shells

By Carla Foote

When I walk on the beach I always pick up shells. I’m not sure why I still do this, since I have hundreds of shells at home. Perhaps because I live so many miles from a beach, the shells are a tangible reminder of time spent slowing down, walking, watching and marveling at the ocean. 

My habit is to collect all types of shells and then sort at the end of my trip, saving my favorites and discarding the rest. As I sorted shells from my latest beach foray, I noticed that there are many variations on broken shells – and I wondered at the forces that caused each to break.  The complete shells are definitely a treat, but I also keep some broken reminders.

There is the shell that looks perfect nestled in the sand, but when I reach down and pick it up and turn it over in my hand, smoothing away the sand, chips become obvious on the edges.  Oh I can relate to this shell – the positioning of life at just a certain angle so that no one sees my cracks.

Then there are the shells stabbed straight through – perhaps broken in the process of becoming prey for the predator. I am always surprised that anything can penetrate the hardness, but I have evidence of shells broken in this way. This kind of brokenness reminds me of sudden grief – quickly and deeply piercing – and all the life sucked away. 

I noticed another kind of shell this trip – not broken but just worn down. Perhaps from the endless tumbling on the sand. The ridges smoothed, not by one big trauma or chip, but by the daily grind of the sand. This is the weariness of broken that didn’t just happen once, but the days, weeks, years of grit – a weary and weathered broken. A “How long, Oh Lord” wearing down. 

Maybe it is a bit strange for me to be a connoisseur of broken shells, but over the past few years I have been drawn to them as much as to the whole shells. Perhaps as I move through the years, I realize there are so many ways to be broken – the hidden chip, straight through the heart or just worn down. But somehow in the process of redemption, the “Christ in me” I have been reading about in Colossians lately, I can live as a hopeful person in the midst of brokenness. In Colossians 1:24-27, Paul is still in the midst of his suffering while he asserts, “… the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Sometimes I am quick to try to discard the broken, especially the weary, wearing down brokenness. Because I sometimes forget that I can live hopefully today, through Christ in me.

Carla Foote has written more about broken shells. Read her “Broken Shells” essay in the last section of The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan. Carla is thankful when her travels take her near a beach. She is the blog manager for FullFill, does freelance editing and writing through and is also Executive Editor of MomSense magazine.


  1. I too collect endlessly, almost compulsively when I walk on the beach. And I agree, the shells that are broken or less than perfect have many stories. Thank you.