I have recently moved to Wilmington, North Carolina from Alton, Illinois. Alton is a small Mississippi river town near St. Louis, Missouri. As beautiful as the drive is down the Great River Road, it just wasn’t the ocean, which I so desired. After spending forty-six years in the Midwest, I decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer, living near the seashore, and getting in touch with a certain spirit of peace and tranquility that for me, seems to linger there; a source of inspiration to move the soul with a sense of conviction that only by grace we are blessed with such beauty and awe.
Once I arrived in my new home, I couldn’t wait to get up every day and hit the beach, with pen in hand, in hopes that source of inspiration would be just that, and ignite my creative juices. But every time I went, I found myself beachcombing instead. You could say I got a little obsessed with seashells. I would walk slowly, with my head down, eyes focused and panning across dozens and dozens of seashells. I would find one that satisfied my opinion of the perfect shell. As I would find one I liked, I would pick it up and carefully inspect it to make sure there were no blemishes and that it was whole. There was one I picked up that was partially buried under the sand, and once I freed it from its sandy resting place I noticed it was broken, and without a second thought I tossed it back to its seashell graveyard.
After several weeks of this endeavor, this seashore ritual, something happened. I walked along the shore as I had so many times before, but that day was different. As I combed the beach, I picked up the pretty ones and tossed away the ones that just didn’t pass inspection. And upon my quest, I heard a voice of sorts, a whisper on the wind so to speak, and it said to me, “Pick up the broken ones and hold them close.” I stopped walking and moved my glances to the horizon and listened closely. I was by myself that day, and as I gazed out into the vastness of the sea, I was nearly hypnotized by the constant roll of the waves. Sometimes I felt as though I started a relationship with the seashore. It was like I missed it when I was away. I even felt there were moments when, just as my feet sunk into the warm sand, I understood I was there, somehow, by invitation only, to this sacred ground; as I felt very blessed to be in its presence. A grace, as though it was somehow waiting anxiously for me, also. For I believe it was the rush of the waves crashing onto the shore, each one following in perfect harmony, the sound echoing off the breeze of the salty air that its message was sent; a message sent for my ears only: “Pick up the broken ones.” And it continued to whisper … “Remember, friend, it was not so long ago when you were scarred and broken. Where would you be now, if God forbid, those who picked you up cast you away, deeming you unworthy?”
My eyes began to tear, a lump formed in my throat and I swallowed hard. A lump of humility I presume, as it went down as slow this time as it did so many times before, when I felt as though the Lord was speaking directly to me through His magnificent glory. A little reluctant, but with a humble understanding of the grace that makes that very next swallow much, much easier.
I glanced around at this playground for the senses. I could smell the salt in the air, my eyes full of wonder at the sunlight dancing off the waves, strutting its beauty and leaving behind a glistening light show like a million diamonds were scattered about its surface. I could hear the song of the shorebirds crying out to one another as they stood at the water’s edge, perhaps exclaiming to each other, they have found the perfect place to sunbathe. I could feel the warm sand cushion my feet and seep through my toes as though I had just stepped into thick cotton socks right out the dryer.
Taking it all in, I turned my attention back to the sand, in search for the perfect seashell, only this time a perfectly broken one.
The moment one caught my eye, I snatched it up, and was actually excited to see how broken it really was. I tapped it against my hand and shook off the sand. It was one of those spiral type shells that you feel lucky to have found, like fate stepped in and gave it to you. But not this time, its sides were broken away. I could see the spiral center; how beautiful, I thought. How intricate and amazing.
Then it dawned on me. We would never see inside someone, never see their inner beauty if we turned away from their brokenness. I felt so enlightened and so in touch with the knowledge that had been given to me through that whisper on the wind.
I found myself wondering where this shell started from. What lived inside and for how long? Was it part of a family? What did it go through to survive the ocean’s depths? What amazing stories could it have told? And what trauma did it have to go through to end up in the condition I found it? I quickly realized I had not given any other shell that kind of attention until now.
As I sit here and write these words, I am watching two ladies comb the beach, one carrying a blue bucket, one carrying a red one. They are diligently searching for shells, slow and focused. In just the few moments I stopped writing to study them; they have thrown back a half a dozen or so shells. Too broken and scarred I guess, to grace the inside of those carefully chosen buckets, surely chosen by favorite color.
We are all guilty of it, tossing back the broken ones. But as for me, I am remembering when I was broken, God sent me some amazing friends, to pick me up, brush me off and look inside. There was a time in my life when I became depressed and lost. I felt alone and scared. Certainly to see me from the outside was not so appealing. My face was hard, resentment and despair weighed-down my brow, and drew the corners of my mouth into a permanent frown. My hands were clenched in fists of fear, and my eyes frantic not to make contact with every concerned glance, trying desperately not to be noticed. But instead of walking past me and pretending not to notice, instead of seeing my brokenness and tossing me away, they picked me up, looked inside and saw a beauty I could not see, a story that only I could tell. For the beauty I speak of is not physical, but spiritual. They picked me up, held me close and became the best friends I have ever known. Although today, I feel very whole and am truly at peace, I can still see the scars where I was left broken and put back together. And oh, how beautiful they are.
So the next time you find yourselves combing the beach, or passing by a stranger, pick up the broken ones and look inside. Truly they will be the most beautiful you have ever seen.