Collecting seashells

Beach vacation objectives can vary greatly, person to person.

 

For some, the highlight is a sunset stroll along the shore.

For some, the highlight is eating lots of fresh seafood and key lime pie.

For some, the highlight is relaxing by crashing waves while you catch up on your leisure reading.

 

And then there are those people who go to the beach with the full intention of picking up beach trash, ocean rejects, discarded debris, used mobile homes—a.k.a. seashells.

I’ve seen these people at every beach I’ve visited along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This is how you’ll recognize them: Their eyes will be trained downward, and they’ll be awkwardly grasping a handful of a sandy objects. They will dig in the sand with their bare toes or the tips of their shoes until they unearth what they hope will be the largest, most beautiful find the sea can offer.

 

They will gasp slightly when they raise a big, smooth seashell—its underbelly pink and shiny with Mother-of-Pearl iridescence—to their eye level only to sadly sigh when they see its imperfections, the holes and the sharp edge on one side where it broke apart. They will look wistfully out at the ocean, past the relentless waves, and wonder where its other parts lie buried in the dark and sandy depths.

 

But they will determine that some of these marine discoveries are worth keeping, and the next stop for their treasure trove may be a plastic sand bucket or a Styrofoam cooler. But these collectors won’t be satisfied if the final resting place for their beach beauties is such a commonplace container. No. They have big dreams. Dreams of making seashell jewelry—earrings and pendants. Dreams of filling glass jars with seashells and hot gluing them on picture frames. Dreams that most likely won’t actually come true once the daily grind of not being on vacation sets in but dreams nonetheless.

 

How do I know so much about these beachcombers? Because I used to be one, that’s why. I once collected a bucket full of sand dollars to bring home and make into Christmas ornaments. They stank so bad that my mom made me keep them outside. I bleached them and dried them out until they were brittle and unusable. All that fishy smell and Clorox bleach for nothing.

 

Even though I discourage my own children from bringing seashells on the 8-hour car ride home with us, I still find myself looking for that perfect shell as I walk with them along the beach each day we are on vacation. I will often pick up those fan-shaped scallop shells or the conch shell masterpieces or the bowl-shaped clam shells or the architecturally-mesmerizing nautilus shells and carry them on our stroll.

 

I don’t keep them. Their existence holds no purpose for me in landlocked Murfreesboro. But there’s something magical about their weight my hand. For me, the beach means standing on the edge of something, one foot on the sand and one foot in the ocean. It means a horizon that goes on and on to reveal the most glorious sunsets. It means not hurrying. It means holding hands and not because you’re crossing the street.

And it means a bucket full of seashells that have no value apart from their commonplace remarkability. Beauty in the eye of the beholder. Loveliness often where you search it out.

Sad

There are times when this thought runs through my mind: “I am killing it at this Mom Thing.” I make healthy meals. I sign up for PTO requests. I remember to move wet clothes from the washer to the dryer. I give wise, poignant, balanced lectures to my children about exhibiting sibling love and showing respectfulness to their parents, and my children respond by saying, “You’re right, mom. I’m sorry.” (Okay, just kidding about that last one.)

 

Then there are times when this thought runs through my mind: “This Mom Thing is killing me.” No one likes what I make for supper. I forget to send in money or snacks or permission slips for school. I sit on the laundry room floor against the closed door and play Candy Crush on my phone, hoping the whirring and thudding of the washer/dryer will drown out the sound of my crying. (I wish I was kidding about that last one.)

 

At those moments, I can’t necessarily point to one particular thing that pushes me over the edge and directly into the Pit of Despair. It’s usually a final sass at the end of a string of smart mouth remarks.

 

Maybe I’m especially tired or maybe I’m ridiculously hormonal or maybe there’s been some fresh, new atrocity against human nature about which the world is talking. Maybe this is the collateral damage for someone who feels all the feels. Maybe I’m overwhelmed that on the same day that I start teaching my daughter to drive I buy my first adult incontinence product and it’s just too much. Or maybe it’s just Tuesday, and I can’t explain why, but I’m sad.

 

I tell myself that I have no right—NO RIGHT!—to be this down. Look at all the things you’ve got, you big baby! What’s the matter with you? But that kind of guilt trip self-talk doesn’t help. At least for me, it actually makes it worse.

 

There should be a Bat Signal for this kind of feeling. Some kind of call-to-action that tells people to come around but be careful and don’t really ask what’s going on unless you want to get your head bit off. Just keep moving and act normal and not like your mom has suddenly turned into a werewolf.

 

Once the sad feeling has passed, there’s a residual “blah” that remains. And I notice that my family is tiptoeing around and suddenly concerned about my feelings, so I’m not in a big hurry to start a dance party in the living room. The sulking feels good, in a weird way, until it doesn’t. I try to move on, eventually sleeping it off like a grouchy hangover. In the morning I’m usually back to normal.

 

I say this as a sort of confession and an attempt at transparency. I think we’re all capable of getting to that yucky, dismal place and not just moms. If you have relationships with other humans, you are susceptible to feeling sad. If you want more relationships with other humans, you are susceptible to feeling sad. I think that covers everyone.

 

There are people who need medical care to overcome these moments, and there are people who need time and a few people who care to overcome these moments. Either way, going it all alone shouldn’t be an option.

 

In lieu of sending out a Bat Signal, find a way to let someone know if you’re in a place where you need attention. And while we’re at it, find a way to be someone who can give others attention when they need it. Let’s help each other.

Summer Time (and why it shouldn’t be wasted)

Yesterday my 15-year old daughter approached me in the hallway of our home and asked me a question. With utmost sincerity and concern, she said, “Mom, are we having money problems?”

 

“Money problems? No. We’re not having money problems,” I answered. “Why are you asking me that?”

 

“Because I noticed that this week you keep turning off all of the lights in the house.”

 

“Like in the rooms that no one is in…in the middle of the day?” I asked with utmost sarcasm and cynicism. “Of course I’m turning them off. IT’S WASTING ELECTRICITY!”

 

I couldn’t believe she had asked me that! I mean, she’s lived with me for 15 years so even if I had only said, “Don’t leave the lights on. That’s wasting electricity!” once a week for the entirety of her lifetime that’s 780 times! And I know I say it more than once a week. (It’s from my Mom Playlist which is on constant rotation. Others hits include: “For the love of air conditioning, close the door!” and “Why are there so many shoes in the living room?” and “This is my drink. Get your own.” and for our youngest family member: “Are you wearing underwear?”)

 

There’s just something hardwired in me that can’t stand to waste things—electricity, water, food. It feels so extravagant (not in a good way) to dump half of a casserole in the trashcan because you forgot it was there and now there’s a gray fur growing on it. So much time and effort and cream of chicken soup to be discarded as if there aren’t starving people all over the world! It bothers me to no end.

 

Even Jesus saw the value in leftovers after He fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. He told the Apostles to wander all over their mountainside picnic area and collect what wasn’t eaten. I’d like to think every bit of the contents of those 12 baskets were eventually eaten and savored for the delicious, miraculous leftovers they were.

 

Now that I’m in the slow, sweet days of summer break—a place that really only feels different from the rest of the year if you’re a teacher, a student, or a parent of a student—I feel extra motivated not to be wasteful, and I don’t want my kids to waste this time either.

 

I want them to play in the rain.

I want them to catch lightning bugs.

I want them to lose track of time while they read good books.

I want our family to do things after 8:00 pm on weeknights: start a movie, go get ice cream, play Frisbee or freeze tag or some game we invent on the spot in the backyard and commit to it until it’s too dark to see each other’s faces.

 

We are so often warned to be good stewards of all the blessings we’ve been so graciously given. Perhaps the most abundant yet most wasted gift is time. I will try—starting with the months of June and July—to make the most of what I have.

Fire insurance

Several years ago, my family took a trip to Historic Charleston, South Carolina. For those in our family who are history buffs, it was such a treat to walk amongst those buildings and streets, some 300 years old or more.

 

We strolled through downtown and the outdoor market area. We watched artisans diligently working on sweetgrass baskets, a Charleston specialty, although we only bought t-shirts and beef jerky. (We’re not really very good at shopping.)

 

We took a boat tour and saw Fort Sumter, the location for the start of the Civil War. We ate delicious seafood and we stayed in a hotel that was once a military college.

 

It was a fun and memorable vacation. For me, the highlight of our half-week stay was the horse-drawn carriage tour.

 

We boarded a carriage with another family and listened to the tour guide as she told us interesting facts about the city. She pointed out significant spots—churches, mansions, and gardens. She told us about the strict policies present-day homeowners must obey when renovating these historic homes.

 

On several of the oldest homes, she pointed out “Fire Mark Plaques” on the outside, mounted near the front doors. Our tour guide explained that these plaques indicated that these homes were protected by fire insurance.

 

As the story goes, if a house caught fire, the firefighters would arrive and check for one of these plaques. If there was none, they would leave, allowing the fire to destroy the home. (The tour guide explained that this is an urban legend and the firefighters were actually honor bound to put out the fire regardless of the presence of such a plaque.)

 

If the deliverance of one’s home from fire and destruction did rely on insurance such as this, it would sully the honorable name of those who came to rescue it. Instead, we know that firefighters risk it all for the safety of others.

 

Selfless Sacrifice. This is the recipe for superhuman heroism. And this is also the recipe for a God who was willing to sacrifice His Son for humankind. We don’t have to pay Him insurance fees or ransom money for what amounts to a hostage exchange: Me for Christ.

 

God sent His Son to earth to die thousands of years before there was a “me”. Now, I am grateful to spend the rest of my life in obligation to Him who gave it all. I guess, I am insured against fire, after all.