Every now and again I come across a book that is a classic for all time, a book that I love to read over and over, and want to share with others. My Beautiful Broken Shell – Discovering Beauty in Our Brokenness is just such a book. Illustrations by Bobbie Wilkinson help me to settle into the words in a relaxing, comforting way as if the beach sand sifted between my toes and sea spray dampened my pages as I read.
Adams’ book began in 1982, she writes in her preface, when she learned that her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She went to the beach, a refuge for so many of us when life presents challenges. Walking and gathering seashells along the way, she noticed a broken scallop shell and tossed it away for its imperfections, and then upon reflection went back to pick it up again, noticing the similarity between her brokenness and that of the shell.
“God spoke to me about my brokenness, and I put His words on paper,” she writes. And so it is. A reflection, a prayer, a poem, a metaphor for life filled with inspiration, comfort and solace, in times of uncertainty. It is a celebration of our brokenness in a time and culture, when the pursuit of perfection is priority. In sharing these reflections, I think Adams seeks to help all who are broken or even scuffed up a little, in any way, if only for a time, to honor that brokenness and to know that through the strength of our human spirit and through prayer, we can thrive. She does this in a gentle and inspirational narrative that takes the reader along her walk as she discovers her own, beautiful broken shell.
This small, yet powerfully insightful read is written for people of any faith. The author addresses her higher power as Lord but I believe her intention is not specific to any particular religious tradition. I don’t believe the spirit of the book would exclude people of other faith traditions who could definitely find it purposeful regardless of whether or not they use the term Lord. One could easily interchange the prayer to read, Dear Buddha, Krishna, Vishnu, etc. This spiritual text would be well suited for anyone who at the very least, believes in some higher power, regardless of what you call him or her. It is easily relatable and earthy in its ability to touch people in a foundational way that can be transformative.
Part of the charm of taking this journey with the author is the organic simplicity of both the illustrations and the words. Images by Wilkinson evoke remembrances of meandering beach walks past, seeing the dark shadow of a mermaid’s purse, the sway of the dune grass, a piping plover, starfish and sand dollars, sand pails and shovels and even footprints in the sand.
There is only a simple, single thought on each couple pages, leaving time for reflection to ponder the invitation to embrace the experience. She first tosses away the broken scallop shell and returns to consider it further. So much like our life, we seek perfection, in ourselves, in others, in life. And we are sadly disappointed. We are challenged to see the beauty in that broken shell, the ones on the beach and the ones that we call life. Why is that? Upon reflection, I’m not sure I care for the word “broken” in this context but that is personal preference. We are not broken in our struggles, challenges and heartbreak. We are “in process” and we are given the opportunity for our lives to take on new shape, new form, just like the shoreline, forever evolving, and forever beautiful.
Adams offers a prayer of thanksgiving, “that I haven’t been completely crushed by the heaviness in my heart...by the pounding surf,” and she recognizes that despite that heaviness of heart, there is value in all of life’s experiences and how they shape and transform us. She writes of the strength and courage necessary to keep walking and to not be afraid of moving on, and the way that our broken shells inspire others with their resiliency, in a unique and special way. Her prayer continues reminding us to have patience during times of struggle and that anything is possible…including healing. The gifts on the beach are many as they are in life and Adams invites the reader to be themselves with no need to hide their pain. She notices sea glass and sandpipers, a lone starfish, a veritable jewel box of nature’s treasures and with her heart steeped in gratitude, she is filled with inner peace.
She prays, “Let me not destroy the beauty of today by grieving over yesterday…or worrying about tomorrow.”