Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Seashell with My Name on It

I have been fascinated by seashells for as long as I can remember. About a year ago I posted some thoughts about a seashell that my dad had left for me to find in an overcoat. ( Daily I would locate the shell, rub its worn and grooved surface between my fingers, and then put it back. The shell became a reminder of our relationship. In my post I also acknowledged similar seashells that Father in Heaven has left for me to find. After a friend of mine asked for some examples, I thought I would share a few more thoughts on the subject. But first, I want to be clear on what a seashell is and what it is not.

If you have ever walked along an ocean beach that is full of sand, you may have pondered where it all came from. Much of the sand used to be seashells but has since worn down. There are so many pieces of individual sand that they become a collective texture rather than separate objects. I feel that way about blessings in my life – there are so many that it is easy for me to take them for granted. I think it would be an incredible task to try and count every single grain of sand, yet they are known to Father.

Different from sand, there are the pearls of life that are seldom found on a beach. They must be sought for as they are carefully guarded and protected. Once found, they are beautiful to behold from every angle. The round surface reflects its surroundings in a new way. They are worth finding, admiring, and even acquiring.

Seashells, however, are uniquely different from sand or pearls. Once the home for something else, the shell is but a remnant. It is something that was carefully prepared, placed, and worn by time until its rounded edges can be picked up, acknowledged, and appreciated. Many times the only cost to find a seashell is discovery. We have only to look in the right places.

For me, the shells that have been left by Father for me to find may be a unique experience that remind me of a divine heritage. They may be an answer to prayer at the right moment, leaving no doubt in my mind that Father is listening. Sometimes seashells might be a friend at a pivotal point in my life that made all the difference. But one thing that makes them stand out is that they are not typically an immediate response. Like the shells on the sand, they were prepared, placed, and then patiently given some time until they could be appreciated as something special.

One interesting example of such a shell is the small plates of Nephi found in the Book of Mormon. Nephi felt prompted to keep an account of his teachings in addition to his primary record. In 1 Nephi 9:5-6, he said, “"Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not. But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works...." Nephi did not know that part of his translated record would one day be lost. I wonder at the despair that Joseph Smith must have felt when a trusted friend lost the manuscript of Nephi’s record, because of vanity and unbelief. In contrast, what an overwhelming feeling of comfort he must have felt when he continued translating, only to find that Mormon had included the small plates of Nephi with his abridgement of the records of his people. Similar to Nephi, Mormon said in Words of Mormon 1:7, “And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me.”

I believe that each of us may discover similar seashells in our own lives if we look for them. I could tell you a story of how my wife and I met, or how we came to buy our current home. I could also describe how we acquired this car, that job, or passed through a unique trial only to find a new friendship. Each of these has been a special shell that Father has carefully placed with purpose. Some shells are too personal to share, but I feel that is something we all have in common. They are there, ready to be discovered.

This past week, I found a small and simple shell I think worthy of sharing to demonstrate a point. I had taken my family to Philmont in Cimarron, New Mexico, a Boy Scout leadership training camp. At the first of the week, I had received a small name badge. I was excited to keep it as a small memento of the experience. However, not long into the week the badge had fallen to the ground without my notice and was lost.

For practical reasons, I had hoped to find the badge quickly because I didn’t want to be the only one who had to keep telling my name because I couldn’t hold on to my badge. Sigh. I looked without success and decided to pray. It was an awfully small thing to pray for, but I have learned that Father cares more about our faith than the thing we are praying for. I have also been very grateful that Father does in fact answer our prayers.

To no avail, I did not find the badge, nor did anyone else to my knowledge. The week went on and I made due without it. And, yes, I did have to repeat my name a few extra times. At the conclusion of the week, I and my family packed our gear and we headed for home. We were just leaving the training camp when a man came running after us. Marlin, was a friend I had made earlier in the week. When we stopped he handed me my name badge and told me what had happened. He had been eating breakfast in a dining hall when another man came in asking if anyone knew me because he had found my name badge. My friend acknowledged that he did, took the badge, and came to look for us only to find that we were gone. Realizing that we had just left, he ran through the camp to reach us. Luckily, he succeeded.

I thanked my friend for his kind efforts to go the extra mile (or at least a few hundred feet.) Had he been ten seconds later, we would have missed him completely. I smiled, thinking what a trivial thing a name badge is. Once again, Father had answered a simple prayer. It was at the very last moment possible, I think, to prove a point. Father rewarded a simple prayer and a little faith with a little badge. At that moment, I realized that the experience was no longer about the badge. It was about a Father who cares about me, and about all of His children. It was a small reminder that He is waiting for us to come home.

Small experiences like this renew my interest to hunt for shells on the beach, especially the ones with my name on them.

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