A stack of aqua-colored sea glass on a pebbly beach, beach glass a metaphor for life, sea glass undersea transformation

Beach Glass–A Metaphor for Life

While there may be nothing new under the sun, everything changes “under the sea.” (Cue the theme song from The Little Mermaid…) I grew up near the rocky coast of Maine, on the amazing Bay of Fundy which boasts the world’s highest tides. And while it’s not especially appealing for sunbathing, surfing, or swimming (unless you’re related to André the seal), few better places for collecting sea glass exist on the planet.

Recently, a little investigation taught me that glass, like us humans, requires specific conditions for a true “undersea” transformation. Our lives are an ever-rotating kaleidoscope, displaying the changes made as the world shifts and the tides turn.

The Transformation Starts with Trash

Because sea glass essentially begins its life as litter, it’s most common in densely populated areas. No one could say Maine is overpopulated or super-industrialized, but there was and is plenty of marine traffic. We’ve seen a lot of shipwrecks over the centuries and plenty of summer beach parties. That bottle tossed off a cliff, a boat, or the end of pier will eventually be tumbled, buffed, and frosted into an exquisite piece of beach glass.

Nobody likes to be called trash, though I can guarantee we’re carrying enough garbage around. But remember our enormous value to the original Maker. And trash is certainly no longer worthless waste when a Redeemer spies it, loves it, and chooses to pick up from a beach full of pebbles. Then it becomes treasure.

“I will make you brooches and toys for your delight Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night. I will make a palace fit for you and me, Of green days in forest and blue days at sea.” –Robert Louis Stevenson, Romance

Transformation Takes Time

The process of “undersea” change is a long-haul project and can’t be rushed. It takes 7-10 years to make sea glass from a shattered bottle. Last week I found a lovely green specimen while walking “my” beach in Coquimbo—for the first time ever. However, I should have thrown it back as it lacked the final grinding. The edges weren’t knife-sharp, but they weren’t silky smooth either. The treasure wasn’t completed yet.

Transformation Means a Tough Process

Lately I’ve been meditating in Seaglass Blog about our lifespan and the perfect timing in God’s plan for us. As spring and autumn often produce the year’s wildest weather, some seasons in our lives bring the trash to the top to be pounded and polished, sculpted and honed into something far better than we’d have chosen for ourselves.

It’s mostly performed beneath the surface. The greatest work in us, too, takes place in our hearts, out of sight, before anyone else notices. It’s the small “undersea” changes no one sees that eventually result in the big-impact transformations in the story arc of life. We’re all in the process of becoming what God means us to be. For example, in my Seaglass Sagas

  • The gringa teenager, Melissa Travis, becomes one of Chiloé Island’s most memorable legends.
  • Angélica De la Cruz, a victimized “little mermaid,” becomes a redoubtable matriarch.
  • The self-proclaimed ugly duckling, Coni Belmar, becomes a stunning swan, one of God’s heiresses.
  • Valeria Serrano, everybody’s favorite baby sister, becomes a formidable warrior in God’s kingdom.

It requires rough surf, the more turbulent the wind and waves the better. Like the Maine coast, where “the breaking waves dashed high/On a stern and rock-bound coast…” (Felicia D. Hemans, The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England). Similarly, hard circumstances shape hardy souls, whether we like to admit that or not.

It functions best on the worst beaches. The same forces that break rock into pebbles create sea glass, and those gravelly beaches trap the treasured glass. That’s why finding glass among the shells and seaweed of Coquimbo’s fine gray tideline stood out as a rare occurrence. Because most of the time, an easy journey never makes a great adventure tale, just as “smooth sailing never made a skilled sailor.”

Transformation Often Finalizes in a Tempest

At low tide following a storm—the bigger and more hurricane-like, the better—is apparently prime time to discover sea glass. While storms don’t entirely form the glass, they churn it to the shore and set it on display. Storms show up the sea-changes.

Though I’d rather bask in the sunshine at the beach, I know the occasional storms are necessary—for many reasons, but moving and uncovering the ocean’s vast treasures is one of the best. And above all, in life, it sometimes takes a storm to reveal our true character and let our beauty shine.

As I understand the Scriptures, there’s no sea in heaven. I assume that means no beaches, unless you count the bank of the river. Seems surprising, when you consider how Jesus loved to walk the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

On the other hand, the fact that “there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1) could be our assurance that the storms of life are over, and in our forever-life we’ll have become a finished design, a jewel of unsurpassed beauty for God’s delight and ours. I choose to trust we’ll never be disappointed in the joys of His eternal palace or the ending of His story.

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