The story of the shell with a heart
A few months ago, Maren came whirling in from the bus on a blustery cold day. She was spewing hysterical tears and choking on her words.
I, of course, am checking to see which limb is missing, or whether her backpack is on fire, or if she has been hit by a car.
It was that kind of crying.
She was finally able to splutter out, “I lost my shell!”
I’m thinking, “Shell? What shell?” And then I remembered.
Last summer she and I went on a beach walk together. As we walked and talked, we looked for treasures. We held hands, we leaped over and into the waves, we bent and examined creatures, we carried a bucket with our keepers. By far, her favorite thing that we found that day, and maybe the only beach treasure she took home with her to Ohio, was a small shell with a heart carved into it by the waves. You know how often a particular shape of seashell (I don’t know what they’re called) ends up with a hole at one end … perfect for stringing onto necklaces (tell me I’m not the only one who has done that)? This shell, however, was pretty special in the way that a heart had been carved not in the tip of the shell, but right along the face of it. There is no reason the water should crush across a shell to form that kind of shape. The majesty and magic of the ocean is always overwhelming to me. I remember the look of awe and delight in Maren’s face as the wind swept across her face and she examined it. “How does something like this happen?” she pondered.
“I don’t know Maren. Things like this are nuances that defy explanation. It’s in those strange and magical things that I see God at work.”
She grinned and cupped the shell in her hand. A treasure for a little girl. She took it home with her, and she tucked it into a little silver box that she carries in her school backpack. She often writes wishes, prayers, thanksgivings, and hopes and tucks the notes into her little silver box. She’s a steward of the goodness and blessings around her and putting them in her prayer box is her way of guarding them.
Is she not the most darling little sentimental and thoughtful little nine-year-old you ever did know?
Back to the cold day in Ohio, Maren sobbed in my lap. “I got it out of my special box to show my friend. I heard it plink on the floor. The bus driver helped us look. We can’t find it anywhere! It’s gone!”
I did the obligatory back-patting and murmuring. I silently and selfishly bemoaned the loss of my phone pictures again as all recordings of that beach walk where we found it were lost. I came up with suggestions on how to keep the memory without the item: “Let’s draw a picture of it.”
“Let’s write a story about how we found it.”
“Let’s find a new treasure together.”
I went back to the murmuring and back-patting, but after a while I was bored and frustrated that she was wallowing. She couldn’t pull herself out of her funk all evening. The next morning she was still upset. She missed the bus due to pouting and tears, so when I drove her to school, I walked her directly to her school counselor’s door. (She, God bless her, knows us well and loves us better.) I was over it, frustrated at not being able to help, and questioning my ability to parent in the tween and teen years.
She and her counselor had lunch that day, and her counselor shared a story in which she had lost something special and how it made her heart feel. I’ll never forget the relief I felt when Maren came home that day and was able to make sense of her sense of loss after that conversation with her counselor, after not achieving that sensibility after taking with me f.o.r.e.v.e.r. the night/morning prior. “You see Mommy, my counselor really understood me because she lost something that was really special to her. She helped me to mourn the loss of it and understood me.”
Clearly the emphasis was on the fact that I was not able to make her feel heard/understood. Whoops. I think all I said out loud to her was, “Oh.” I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and inadequacy and village-victory sentiments I was rendered speechless. Good job counselor!
So, our dear counselor friend got her over the hump of the initial loss, but — alas — it continues to be a soft and sore spot for my girl. For the past few months the subject of The Shell has come up surprisingly often. I’m sentimental about stuff; I get that from my dad. I get it. And I felt bad for her. But there just wasn’t much to do to help her.
Every time it came up, I found myself praying for her. I want her to know that her treasure is within her: her character, brilliance, confidence, spirit. Her treasures are not things of the world.
This morning, she emptied her shoe basket in our foyer closet looking for a particular shoe. She came running to me, breathless, “Mom! Look what I found! My shell!” Her eyes were shining and brimming with tears.
“Whoa?! How in the heck did you find it?”
She was frenetic in her speech, “I don’t know how it got there. I heard it plink on the floor of the bus. It shouldn’t be here. But I was praying today and I asked God to show me something, and I think that’s why I found the shell! He hears my prayers!”
I was speechless again. I squeezed her tight and shook my head at the series of impossibilities that put this shell in my girls hand.
I’m so grateful for treasures of the heart. Her heart.