Shells of Wonder

Last month my family embarked on a 5-week, 8,000-mile road trip around the United States. Through flaming deserts, sticky swamplands, verdant valleys and hills, and endless miles of corn (so much corn) we drove. A newfound sense of awe and wonder for the beauty, diversity, and vastness of our country was sparked. However, no sight or city captivated my imagination quite like the seashells.

Coming from Oregon, where a summer day at the beach involves jackets and blankets and a stalwart resolve to enjoy the frigid water pouring over my toes, the blazing sun and unflinchingly warm water of Gulf Shores, Alabama, was wonderful enough. But in addition to these marvels, this stretch of beach is home to miles of intact colorful shells. For two days I combed through the swath near our house, and a new curiosity grew… What types of animals lived in these? Why are identically patterned shells all different sizes? Do the animals shed their shells or does the shell grow with them? How are the shells perfectly symmetrical? Why do many of them have a small round hole bored through them? Why do some of them have a long smooth groove marring the pattern? 

My wondering led me to read as much information as I could find about these mollusks. (I did remember that much from freshman year biology.) The shells are an exoskeleton made of calcium carbonate and the animal does not shed them. Rather as it grows inside, the external shell grows from the margins to create more room, layer upon layer, creating growth bands, which over time form the lovely patterns. I learned the shells I was most drawn to were the scallops for their beauty and color. 

I also was reminded that sometimes wonder and terror coexist. The perfectly formed holes I spotted in many shells were made by moon snails that bore into the shells and ate the soft bodies within. The smooth notches were made by a bristle worm that secretes acid to etch away the grooves and create a cozy resting spot for himself on the shell. 

Instead of satiating my curiosity, this newfound knowledge ushered me into awe. I discovered a new (to me) sliver of the world that was brimming with design and beauty and life and death. I marvel at the fact that these same patterns are present in  countless ways throughout the earth. I realized I know almost nothing about anything, and I appropriately sensed my own smallness. But the wonder of all wonders is this: I know the One who made it all and knows it all, and He knows me. 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

    and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

Paul Tripp wrote on Christianity.com, “Every word we speak, every action we take, every decision we make, and every desire we entertain was meant to be colored by awe. We were meant to live with eyes gazing upward and outward. We were meant to live with hearts that are searching, and hungry and being satisfied.”

A distinctive characteristic of awe is that it is outward and upward focused. I heard someone once say that no one stands on the rim of the Grand Canyon and thinks about how awesome they are. No. As believers, we stand (or even kneel) in reverence, admiration, and holy fear for the powerful hand that carved this majestic sight. It affirms our position before a holy God. He is greater than I. And thus, awe should always lead to worship.

Why then, does it seem in our modern, technological age, despite nearly unlimited access to data and information, that our wonder and awe are often lacking? I think sin, distraction, and massive amounts of information can numb us and cause us to become blind to the glory of God, which Isaiah 6:3 tells us fills the whole earth. It is easy to lose the proper and fitting sense of awe that should accompany the knowledge of His greatness, His creativity, His splendor. This enormous world can feel small and uninspiring when I don’t have to wonder about anything. I can google a picture of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls or almost any other place on earth, and not only see it, but read a library of information about it as well. The impossibly grand becomes unremarkably common. 

And yet, God’s incredible creation is anything but common. The seashells remind me that His glory is plainly on display in every corner of the world, ready to point me to Him if I will only take the time to wonder. 

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; 

where morning dawns, where evening fades, 

you call forth songs of joy. 

You care for the land and water it; 

you enrich it abundantly. 

The streams of God are filled with water 

to provide the people with grain, 

for so you have ordained it. 

You drench its furrows and level its ridges; 

you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 

You crown the year with your bounty, 

and your carts overflow with abundance. 

The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; 

the hills are clothed with gladness. 

The meadows are covered with flocks 

and the valleys are mantled with grain; 

they shout for joy and sing.

Psalm 65:8 -13


Kara is the wife of 20+ years to Caleb and the mother of 5, including 2 through the miracle of adoption. She and her family live on 8 acres, raising cows, goats, chickens, and turkeys, as well as a large garden. She is passionate about hospitality, mothering, the intersection of farm-life and faith, and finding beauty in the commonplace. She enjoys her classics bookclub, walking her country road, and traveling with her large family. She occasionally blogs at goodgiftsfarm.com, but you can keep up with her more regularly on Instagram @good_gifts_farm.

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