It’s a little after 7AM and we’ve made our way to the beach for our traditional seashell walk. One of the triplets couldn’t be roused from his warm slumber, so it’s just Lauren, Matt, Grandma and me this day. The weather is perfect…chilly enough to need the comfort of a sweatshirt, but not so cold that the waters rushing over our toes drive us back to the dry sand. The overnight tide roughed up a fresh cache of shells and the kids are darting now like sandpipers, snapping up treasure before the waves roll in again and send them scurrying away from the scalloped foam.
They’re 5 years old, still tender in so many ways, but growing stronger and more capable it seems with each passing day. I let them run ahead while we stroll, no longer fretting that they’ll stray too far toward the waves. They increasingly respect the lines that cross them into shifting sand and I’m trusting their awareness a little more as well. It’s a pleasant place to be as their mom…still guiding but letting out more twine as we go along.
Lauren runs back to me with her arm outstretched, brandishing the latest shell she’s found. It’s a common clam, brittle white and jagged along one side. She drops it in her bucket along with a dozen other common shards then happily skips back to her brother. Strangely, I find myself annoyed with the contents of her bucket. Everything she’s picked up is broken, coarse and spent. The beauty and function of these wave-crashed shells are long gone and I’m bothered by her enthusiasm for what is essentially the ocean’s compost heap. I know I should be delighted with her delight, but instead I find myself suggesting that she focus on the shells that are harder to find…the ones that are intact and bright, worthy of her stooping low to gather them as treasure.
As I watch the kids turn to chasing gulls, my thoughts roll back like the tide to the stunning shells we saw at a shop in town earlier in the week. Row upon row of weathered-brown baskets filled with every stripe of the rainbow…gorgeous, symmetrical, worthy of admiration. These are the shells I want to surround myself with today, not the refuse of the sea. As we turn to start the journey back, I think of ways to convince Lauren to leave the shards behind. I know they’ll just end up on a shelf in the garage and from there, sometime over the winter, find their way to the trashcan. But her bright eyes convince me instead and my cynical thinking is overwhelmed by her smile. I have enough sense to preserve her vision even while starting to realize that mine has clearly been dimmed.
The winter comes and the broken shells are predictably there on the day I decide to clean out the garage. They haven’t been touched since we unpacked at vacation’s end. I scoop up the plastic bag along with other summer remnants, eager to reclaim the space for more essential things. But I find myself lingering over the trashcan for a few moments, remembering the joy in my daughter’s eyes as she skipped along the shoreline in search of another fragment to collect. My spirit sinks humble as I discern that the gift she possesses is one I have lost: knowing how to look past the broken toward the beauty that tarries yet. I sense the Spirit gently prodding me. “What if the Father had been too annoyed by your ragged edges? What if the Son couldn’t have been bothered to stoop low and rescue you from the swill of sin?”
Questions tumble through my mind. What prevents the woman, standing by silently, from encouraging a neighbor who is struggling to hold a family together? What deters a young teen, watching from the sidelines, from defending a classmate who is enduring the taunts of heartless peers? When do we start becoming numb to the human shards in need of a Savior all around us? Could that stray into shifting sands begin as a child? I want my daughter to grow into a woman who reaches with Jesus’ love into the ugly, shattered places of life. By turning her from the broken seashells that she has chosen to treasure, do I nurture that compassion or anesthetize it? I come to realize she’ll have to fight the world’s deadening breakers soon enough. Sheltering her tender heart and learning from her, about clarion vision and hands that reach out in lavish love, become my chief concern this day. At a later time, the shells will find their way to the trash. For now, I cannot sweep them away after such a revelation about my child's capacity for loving as the Savior does.
It’s August again. We’re back at the edge of the ocean and the shells are beckoning. We take our stroll and I notice how much longer the kids’ strides have become since last year. Lauren bends down to retrieve a scallop, chalky red and beaten by the scouring sands. I can see it’s lovely, when I look closely enough to find the veins of color running across it. It’s masterfully constructed, even with a full corner missing. I help her find another, slate gray and equally broken, but bearing artistry worth our reach. As I bend low with her to pick another remnant from the surf, I realize that many days, being a mother is far more about learning than teaching. More about following than leading. For all my efforts to train the children in discernment, I have allowed my own vision to become cloudy about what is worthy and lovely in this life. My little girl, preaching through her shell picking, has been my twine to the Father’s heart. I follow her footsteps that are following Jesus. We stoop to find the need and the beauty and I delight in looking with eyes that are seeing more clearly than they have in a long time.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.