The beauty of the oyster bed

January 25, 2010


I grew up living on the water. My parents were lucky, smart, blessed (you pick the word) and bought a waterfront lot on a relatively undeveloped Florida barrier island in 1971. 

I loved growing up on the water. Fishing, swimming, sailing, I was blessed to be able to do them all and often.

Our backyard was at the end of a canal on the intra-coastal waterways. A mangrove tree hovered  over the corner of our seawall and a large bed of oyster shells grew below. I never thought these shells were particularly attractive. In fact, we deftly avoided them when we ventured below the mangrove branches to launch a boat or go for a swim. If you’ve seen an oyster bed then you know they’re not beautiful. Oyster shells aren’t like the star fish or conch shells that tourists and natives alike seek as they walk the white sandy beaches of Florida.

Lately though, I’ve been re-thinking the attractiveness of this rustic and under-appreciated shell.

It started when I re-read a chapter of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. In it Lindbergh compares the stages of love to different seashells she finds on the shoreline. She likens the intial romantic stage to like that of a double sunrise seashell, a beautful, delicate bivalve; each side mirrors the other and is held together by a fragile band that’s easily broken.

For Lindbergh, the middle stages of love and marriage are like the oyster shell. An uninviting analogy, at least I thought so when I started to read her book. But now, as Scott and I move into our 15th year of marriage, I find her description of this season of married life familiar and even comforting. So much so that I’m sharing a few of her words with you (ok, more than a few, but they’re worth the read, so keep reading)…

The sunrise shell has the eternal validity of all beautiful and fleeting things. But surely we demand duration and continuityof relationships, at least of marriage. Not necessarily continuity in one single form or stage; not necessarily continuity in the double-sunrise stage.

There are other shells…here is one I picked up yesterday, an oyster…Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life– here a sleeping porch for the children and there a veranda for the play-pen; here a garage for the extra car and there a shed for the the bicycles. It amuses me because it seems so much like my life at the moment, like most women’s lives in the middle years of marriage. It is untidy, spread out in all directions, heavily encrusted with accumulations…

Yes, I believe the oyster shell is a good one to express the middle years of marriage. It suggests the struggle of life itself. The oyster has fought to have that place on the rock to which it has fitted itself perfectly and to which it clings tenaciously. So most couples in the growing years of marriage struggle to achieve a place in the world…In the midst of such a life there is not much time to sit facing one another over a breakfast table. In these years one recognizes the tuth of Saint-Exupery’s line:

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other (one perfect sunrise gazing at another!) but in looking outward together in the same direction. For in fact, man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction but working outward.” 

Observe the steady encroachment of the oyster bed over the rock. Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base. (Try and pry an oyster from its ledge!) 

Here the bond of marriage is formed. For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm.

The web is fashioned of love, yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments. It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of a lack of language too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physcial and mental. It is a web of instincts and intuitions. The web of marriage is made in the day-to-day, living side by side, looking outward and working outward in the same direction. It is woven in the substance of life…

In the oyster stage of marriage, romantic love is only one of the many bonds that make up the intricate and enduring web that two people have built together.

I am fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptibility and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes my tears. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves which have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand.

Today, at Claire’s request, we went for a family jog. Before returning home we stopped for a rest at the bridge a few blocks away and peered over the seawall.  A large oyster bed was nestled below.

I marveled at the the beauty of these shells and the life-sustaining nature of each oyster. Each oyster strong and unique. Each shell protecting the life within. Each one clinging to the solid rock underneath.

“They’re kind of  beautiful, aren’t they Claire?” 

“I’m not so sure Mom.”

“Oh, but I am.”



September 20, 2009

“Vita communis est mea maxima penitentia.”

St. John Berchmans

Translation: Life in community is my greatest penance.

I laughed out loud when I read this quote. I’ve been known to say that if I didn’t have to deal with people I would be a really holy Christian (that should give you some insight into the depth of my self-love and pride). You know, that whole love your neighbor as yourself  thing can sure be a stumbling block to living the Gospel message. Oh yeah, that is the Gospel message isn’t it?

James Martin says that upon hearing this quote one of his Jesuit brothers aptly responded by saying, ” Well I wonder what the community thought of him. “

In light of my flesh, I’m not sure I’d want to know what the community thinks of me. Perhaps St. John Berchmans didn’t either.  🙂

Hide and Seek

February 16, 2009


A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.

-Max Lucado


Dear Claire and Ella:

Today you’re too young to fully understand this quote. Right now you’re far more interested in jumping on the trampoline with your daddy and playing hide and seek with your friends than you are in matters of love. But, when you are older, should you decide that God is calling you to married life, I want you to remember this quote and bind its truth to your heart.

There will come a time when men will seek after your heart and try to win it with their charm and the things of this world. And when they do, remember this, you are a beloved daughter of God, hidden in Christ Jesus. And this is where your heart should be–hidden in Christ and set upon the treasures of heaven. 

If you hide your heart in Christ you will not be impressed by men with earthly treasures. You will not be swept off your feet by vain ambition and temporal attraction. If you hide your heart in Christ He will rescue you from such worldy distractions as well as the pain and disappointment that comes from following after them.

My beautiful daughters guard your precious hearts and heed the wisdom in these words… hide your heart so deeply in Jesus so that only a man who seeks first Christ and his Kingdom will ever have a chance of finding it.




‘Til Death Do Us Part

February 14, 2009


Self-love dies only with our body.

St. Francis de Sales


I read this quote from one of my favorite saints before siting down to catch up on folding a week’s worth of laundry (don’t ask how I got behind by a whole week). 

I’m folding away while thinking about how when I die one thing I won’t miss doing is laundry and the sad fact that only when I die will I be rid of this flesh and the self-love that comes with it.  Yes, laundry and self-love have deep spiritual connections.

Actually, dealing with my self-love is a lot like trying to get all my laundry done. As soon as I think everything is clean, folded and neatly put away  I look down and realize the clothes I’m wearing still need to be washed. The pervasiveness of my self-love is just like the over flowing laundry basket in my house.  And both never cease to amaze me.

Just when I think I’ve conquered some aspect of this self-love I find it rearing its ugly head in another area of my life. It’s that struggle that St. Paul talks about in Romans 7:21-23…

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

Could he be talking about self-love? After all, what’s at the root of most sin: self-love and pride, right? It’s always right there inviting you to choose self over others, self over self-sacrifice, self instead of the obedience that comes from a deep abiding faith in Jesus.  

It would be easy to get discouraged by the fact that self-love will be with us until the day we die (as well as the fact the laundry will never really be done). But, St. Paul reminds us that there’s something else going on with this battle inside.  I like what he says about his inner most being delighting in God’s law.

My youth pastor taught me that verse when I was a teen (thanks Randy). And I’ve clung to that truth many times in my faith journey. It’s my saving grace –this desire to delight in God that sits deep within my soul–and it’s only there by grace. It’s the thing that keeps drawing me to Him with true repentance and keeps me fighting for true love when self-love wages war against my heart and mind.

God’s Will

January 27, 2009

The blood of Christ reveals God’s gracious will, which neither wants nor seeks anything but that we be made holy. Whatever he gives or permits is given out of love so that we may be made holy in him.  This is how the truth is fulfilled.

St. Catherine of Siena


Your will for me God is holiness–that is, for me to love like you. So, whatever comes my way, whether it be good, bad or even tragic, help me to accept it as a means to that end. Let my heart always be prepared to love no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost. Give me eyes that see this eternal purpose in each situation I encounter today and give me the grace to follow the way of love through obedient faith.  Amen.

True Love

January 19, 2009

What I’m thinking about today…


True love always comes with the ability to renounce self.

It comes with the ability to sacrifice.

And then that sacrifice becomes concrete love.


-Mother Elvira Petrozzi



Concrete Love

Concrete Love



It’s all about who?

January 6, 2009

The primary philosophical and spiritual problem in the West is the lie of individualism. Individualism makes church almost impossible. It makes community almost impossible. It makes compassion almost impossible…I need to recognize that I’m in a river that is bigger than I am. The foundation and flow of that river is love. Life is not about me; it is about God, and God is about love.

-Richard Rohr


Individualism leads to a rights based mentality. That’s obvious by the state of affairs in our country. But Christians aren’t immune to this. In fact, individualism and this rights based mentality run rampant in the Church. 

So often Christians make the Church all about their preferences for the man in the pulpit, the music or the people in the pews. Or they make their beliefs about their personal interpretations of Scripture and their service based on what is comfortable for their flesh.

Many Christians adopt the “it’s just me and Jesus” mentality and fail to see we are called to submit to the authorities God has established over us and to one another in love. As Rohr says, we’ve fallen for the the lie that the Kingdom of God is about our rights and individual preferences. We’ve made the Kingdom of God about our individual freedom when it’s really about community and our responsibility to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.