Every summer, my husband’s family all take a week and go to the beach. Thirteen of us share a house for a week (minus two this year… we missed you, Layne!). It’s been an amazing tradition that is helping to shape my kids’ memories. Five kids under ten make for a memorable (and exhausting) week. I grew up living less than ten minutes from the beach in Massachusetts, so it feels like home to me.
For the first time in eleven years, we drove about four extra hours to Corolla, North Carolina. It’s amazing to me how beaches can be so different in different parts of the country. The shells and the sand aren’t the same as they are in New Jersey. The waves have their own personality.
As the kids grow, each year they find new things to do and it’s really fun to watch. This year, Bocce Ball was the new addition. Boogie boards take up most of their day, though; riding the waves over and over until the next one comes. But every year, no matter what, someone is collecting sea shells.
The girls collected shells constantly. I chose some, too. As they brought me and my mother-in-law shell after shell, we found ourselves tossing most them secretively behind our shoulders. You know you’ve done it, too. Don’t tell, okay?
These weren’t the shells we were looking for. They were broken. The shells we had hoped they would bring us were beautiful scallops in whole pieces.
But the little girls didn’t care. Their eyes brought them to the color, the shape, the texture. Shells that have lived. Endured waves and shores and storms with a story to tell.
I was reminded again that there are just so many reasons that God tells us to approach His kingdom like kids.
To be honest with you, I wanted to run far away from this analogy because it felt cheesy. I couldn’t, though. It represents our life, what we value, and what God values far too much.
This summer, I read Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist for the second time. In case you were wondering, it was just as good. It’s a book that makes me take a deep breath, and never want to stop.
As I read it again, I never felt like I strove for perfection. It’s not a word that I use in my vocabulary as I assess my life. But the image of wholeness? Smooth edges? Unbroken, un-tattered, maybe even unaffected? Yeah. I work tirelessly for those things without much of a reward.
When we think about God, we envision Him like us: combing the sand, skimming past the piles of half and cracked pieces of shell and rock, looking for the diamond in the rough. The untouched, the whole, the supposed beautiful.
But I think He’s far more like the kids. He finds something beautiful and unique about each individual piece. Each one a chosen treasure.
I know what you see when you look in the mirror. Your eye is drawn to what you are convinced is the worst part of you. That crooked nose, those ears that are too big. The flabby arms or too-thin lips. And it never ends there. We know what lies deeper within.
That secret sin.
That fear that traps you.
A dream that you could never be good enough for.
Insecurity that keeps you hidden.
Comparison that literally sucks the life out of you.
As Olivia placed her treasures in my hand, I looked at them and saw something very ordinary. They all looked the same to me. Different colors, maybe, but each blended in together to create a pile of broken pieces. But my girl? She had commentary about each one and why it was special.
“Look, Mom, this one has a purple stripe.”
“Feel it! This one is so smooth.”
“This one has so many bumps. Isn’t that cool?“
“Look at the silver stripe on this one!“
“This one looks like French fries!“
We pass by the sea of people around us, most of the time, judging others or ourselves as ordinary and broken; just blending in with the masses.
But Jesus? He holds each of us in His hand and finds something unique. I picture Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, saying:
“Wow, look at her compassion.”
“Look at that strength to get up each day.“
“Look at the shape of her face.”
“I’m so thankful for the time she spends talking with Me.”
“Wow, look how she loves Me.”
“Listen to that repentant heart.”
He never skims.
He carefully holds, admires. With slow steps and careful eyes. There is no discrimination, no tossing aside.
1 Chronicles 16 says, “The eyes for the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.”
Can you see the visual? Like us walking up and down the sand, head bent, eyes focused; this is how the Lord is searching. But unlike us, He’s not looking for what anyone else would call beautiful or whole. In fact, it is usually the most broken parts of us that search for Him the most. And that’s what He searches for.
A committed, repentant, desperate heart.
Forget put together. Forget unaffected or strong or successful.
He’s searching for you.
The broken heart with the story to tell.
The rough and scarred edges, tossed over and over by the waves until you finally feel washed up on the shore.
He’s searching for you – to do what? Strengthen you.
So, listen, don’t pick yourself up. Don’t dust yourself off. Don’t worry about working hard to be made whole. That’s all His job. Let yourself be picked up, held, treasured.
Oh, and if you were wondering, we came home with a big ole bucket of broken shells with purple stripes and lots and lots of bumps.