Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shell Hunting

Last week, on the beach in South Carolina, Princess and I took a walk, hunting for seashells. I carried the bucket, watching her fill it, carefully choosing shells based on texture, color, shape... but rarely (surprisingly), based on perfection. Princess was enamoured with shells, and pieces of shells, that had been beaten smooth by the waves and sand. She loved pinks, oranges, blacks and browns. She especially liked finding "families" of shells -- those shells of similar shape and color but a variety of sizes.

We spent nearly an hour scouring the shoreline, admiring each other's finds, weighing down the bucket with bits and pieces of the sea.

I noticed the difference in our hunting styles. Often, I overlooked the broken pieces, ignored the cracked shells, and kept searching for the "perfect" shell. Princess didn't care about cracks and brokenness. She noticed shape, color, texture. She saw beauty in the ordinary.

We walked along, side by side. My five year old exclaimed over "imperfect" shells and proudly added them to our growing collection. I considered a black and white oyster shell. It was mottled and marked. Dents and nicks betrayed a life of challenge, of being beaten by the waves, broken open, but still, somehow, held together. I bent to pick up this shell. I held it in my palm, caressing the pocks, the smooth patches, the cracks.

How like my own life this shell is. Dents and nicks, gray hairs and stretchmarks, hurts and resentments all leave their marks on me. I, too, have been beaten by the tides. I have been broken open. I am filled with cracks, imperfect and mottled.

I consider my life. The ease with which I give in to temptations. The simplicity of my sins. The overwhelming amount of imperfection that makes me me. I placed that oyster shell in the bucket. This imperfect, mottled shell was my find that afternoon.

Yesterday, I admitted that I struggle with perfection. I often shut down and walk away when perfection seems unattainable. A reader, Carrie, reminded me of this:

The universe was created "in a state of journeying" toward an
ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it.

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 302

That shell, me... both of us were created "in a state of journeying." We were created "good" and imperfect.

That shell has a special place on my nightstand... the place where I keep my devotionals, where I begin and end each day. I am trying, however imperfectly, to let go of my ideas of perfection: in shells and in myself. I run my fingers over the bumps of the shell and pray for the Grace to love my own imperfections, to find beauty in my own dents and bruises.

For it is here, in my imperfections, in my weakness, where God can shine most clearly.


  1. We do well to remember that perfection simply means being what one was created. As humans we have been created for love. If what St. Paul says is true, and His power is truly made perfect in my weakness; if my imperfections are how He desires for me to decrease that He might increase ... well then I say, praise God!

    The Lord does something interesting with imperfections when they are offered to Him -- He recreates; He resurrects. The Lord is not content with imperfection, for He desires for us to be like Him, but we cannot perfect ourselves; we must allow Him to do it.