Broken Shells

I live in a coastal town, and the beach is often where I walk or exercise.  My wife and I also enjoy winding down in the evenings together by strolling south to the decades old pylons anchored in the sand, especially at low tide when the beach is as wide as two football fields. Walks with our dog are also great fun, as she loves to chase seagulls and sandpipers, dropping into her “point” and slowly creeping forward before making a sudden charge which abruptly ends at the full extension of her 30 ft. leash.

Relentless Pounding

Interspersed in the sand, we come upon clusters of shell beds, deposited by the relentless surf and stranded by the receding tide.  Some are small clusters, while others are quite large, but all are herded and continually pounded by waves that break onto the beach.  While the ocean is rougher on some days than others, its surf is always swirling and churning, bringing with it shells from the distant depths.

Over the years, my eyes have become adept at scouring the beds with a glance, and I’ve developed a knack for spotting beautiful shells such as Fighting Conchs, “Shark Eyes”, Scotch Bonnets and Lightning Whelks left from the night before. When a familiar shell shape partially peeks out from the sand, I dig it out with my toe, hoping against hope that this one, unlike the millions of other surrounding shell bits and pieces, has somehow survived the constant pounding and emerged intact.  How any ever do is quite remarkable, and it is almost always the case that a shell has some crack, scar, chip or hole bearing testimony to the difficult and long journey that brought it to this beach, at this time and place.

Walking with a Limp

I have a pastor friend who has for decades counseled church members and churches in crisis.  Whether involving congregations splitting over some perceived slight or subtle doctrinal point, pastors caught in a moral “train wreck”, or deacons who have discovered the mishandling of finances or other resources, he has seen, counseled and wept with church members and leaders through a variety of difficult circumstances.  He told me recently:

“I don’t trust anyone who walks without a limp.”

In all of the messes he has seen and navigated, he has come to realize that none of us are unscathed.  All of us bear scars—we are cracked, chipped, or have holes due to pieces of ourselves being torn away.  The relentless pounding of life ensures that. And the people who deny it, or pretend that they have it altogether, are not worthy of our trust.

Sometimes our “limps” reflect a deep struggle, perhaps with loved ones, personal behaviors or even God.  Maybe, as with the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, they reflect all of the above (Genesis 32:24-31). Perhaps we can emerge from ours with a new perspective, changed for the better even while we limp, like Jacob who realized after his all-night wrestling match: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” (Genesis 32:30).  The next steps we take may well bear the vestiges and reminders of struggles past or ongoing, and all the rough and tumble of life that has deposited us on this shore, in this time and place, but our journeys are not over yet.  There is much good to be done and we remain here to do it.  And still to come are the ultimate healing and restoration promised when we are one day deposited on a distant shore:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4-5)