After a cold, snowy winter, we were in need of some sunshine. My husband and I planned a trip south to visit his cousins who live near a beach in North Carolina. We watched freezing rain hit the windshield as we started off and couldn’t wait to feel ocean breezes and salt spray on our faces.
The beach has always been very therapeutic for me. I grew up spending summers at the Jersey shore where my grandparents lived. One of my fondest memories is of my mom gesturing to my sister and me to grab our sand pails and follow her down the beach to collect shells. We would find everything from horseshoe crabs and beached jelly fish to sea tossed shells and stones. Eventually we would end up in a boardwalk store and beg our parents to buy the gaudy neon-colored shells in the store window. I don’t remember my mom being disappointed in my lack of appreciation for God’s handiwork, but I do remember carrying those store bought shells in my lap on the car ride home like some great treasure. The true treasures were tossed in the back, still in their sand pail with the wet towels and sandy beach chairs.
Fortunately, I developed better taste as I grew to adulthood. Unfortunately, I have become obsessed with picking up shells whenever I am on a beach. I can walk up and down the shore line all day scanning the sand and surf for shells, sea glass and whatever else washes up.
This past week was no different. There had been a storm the day we arrived, but as soon as the skies cleared, I was delighted to find a treasure trove of shells left behind by the waves. My husband’s cousin taught me something new. If you look among the piles of tiny broken shells, you can usually find fossilized shark’s teeth. I had always overlooked those piles hoping to find intact shells, but she showed us how shark teeth tend to shine and have a distinctive shape making them stand out from the pile. For the next few days, as I collected my obligatory shells, I kept an eye open for shark’s teeth among the broken shells. We ended up with quite a haul of both!
Sometimes the teeth tried to hide among the shell fragments. Other times they would be sitting right on top, almost waiting for me to stroll by. Though the shells had been broken by hungry predators and crashing waves, these teeth still held their shape, making them easily recognizable. Over the years, fossilization had turned them a deep ebony that reflected the sun, making them stand out against the paler shells.
Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day is coming up. Maybe it’s because I was visiting with family, but I found myself thinking of my mom a lot that week. She was a petite woman with dark eyes and always up for an adventure even though she was severely weakened by a heart condition when I was eight years old. We lost her when I was only fifteen. My memories of her, more than forty years later, always center on her ready smile and kind heart. But she could be tough! She was a warrior long before the term feminism was ever coined. She was tough, hard-working and gutsy as a Jersey girl should be.
Back on the beach, the sun glinted and I bent down to pick up a shark’s tooth. It was small, but solid, shiny and still retained its sharp point. Think about that – after a millennia at sea, that tooth could still bite! That’s my mom- a beautiful, yet functional shark’s tooth among conditions that had caused the more fragile shells to succumb to the waves.
On our last day, I found an incredibly fragile angel wing shell – pure white and perfectly intact. It reminded me of my mom too – another type of beauty that survived against all odds. As I marveled at the shell in my hand, I reminisced about the past against the backdrop of waves, salt air and sand.
I only found one perfect angel wing shell but there were lots of shark’s teeth if you knew where to look. Beautiful, strong, persevering relics of the sea. That’s how I remember Mom. She persevered against overwhelming odds, displaying a beautiful strength that I can only hope I have inherited.
I know that my mother often felt weak and in danger of sinking under those waves of life. But the strength she exhibited came not from herself but from her decision to stand firm in her Christian faith. She let Jesus be her “anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). And in that decision, she sparkled with the strength of a shark’s tooth among the broken shells of this world.
“…that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured”