I and Thou: The Labor of a Shell

Do you ever wonder about seashells? How they form? How critical they are to our environment? After reading a few articles, seashells are very important. They are mostly calcium with a sprinkle of protein and form from mollusks. Who knew? In fact, they are so vital that it is against the law in some countries to remove them from the ocean. When I think of a seashell, I can imagine the length of refining it took for what it became rather than how it began. And that sure sounds like labor.

A friend recently posted on lifelong labor, retirement, and the meaning of life. It was a great post – so feel free to check it out.

https://www.facebook.com/robertmullinswrites

Photo Credit: Carol Leigh, “South African Turban Shell” fineartamerica.com

I commented “life is about finding meaning and the worth of existence. The word retirement needs to be thrown out the window and replaced with refocusment (I made the word up) or, perhaps even better, refinement?

Which got me thinking about what refinement might look like. Could it possibly be the process of discovering ourselves in the bigger scheme of existence in relationship to others? If we put others first, a basic tenet of Christianity, perhaps labor would feel less like labor.

As I muddled through life, I performed an array of odd “labor.” I cut lawns, lifeguarded, and babysat so I could pay college tuition. I worked at a sporting goods store for three years too. Then, I was lucky enough to earn a college degree and start my first full-time professional job. What they didn’t teach in college was that a degree in psychology and working in education would never afford you to have any real discretionary income. But it was enough to provide food and shelter. Then, I found my knight in shining armor, or so I thought.

I had been blessed as a stay-at-home mom for nearly ten years while I raised my two boys. Most honest parents will tell you that raising kids is no picnic. But not having to dress in a corporate suit and wear heels every day was lovely. Then, I hit a rough patch of another ten years where it seemed that working was all I was doing. It sure sounded like Joseph telling the Pharoah that seven years of famine would follow seven years of abundance. (Genesis 41). I worked at a grocery store and taught pre-school to pay bills and have food on the table. At the same time, I was trying to launch a consulting firm. I did manage (by the grace of God) to pick up a few consulting gigs at fascinating places – and the best part? I didn’t have to wear heels. And then the money started to flow. My college degrees were finally paying off. I can’t imagine people who have to work to survive over the long haul.

During this almost penniless, having three dollars and forty-three cents to my name timeframe, I had to work with little time to refine. Yet perhaps that whole time spent piecing together four part-time gigs was part of the refining process. I certainly would not be the person I am today; had I not had the experience of being thrown down into a deep dark tunnel only to climb myself out of it with the help of others. Not that I wish that experience on anyone, but it was undoubtedly a testimony to my grit.

It took a village to support and encourage me to take a leap of faith—a leap to Arkansas, where I found peace and my tribe. And, if you are being pulled in a specific direction – take the leap of faith! I miss my tribe dearly – but I know they are all within me and part of the refining process. Kind of like the shell, taking years to form from cells, calcium, and proteins floating in the ocean. Yes, it takes a village; sometimes, it is one person, and at other times, it may be many people. What does your village look like?

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