When I was a little bitty girl, I began a personal quest: to find an unbroken sand dollar. Anybody can go buy one from one of those tourist-trappy little stores. But I was determined to examine every shell on the coast of NC until I found one myself.
When I told my mother of my quest, she told me that I’d never find one. According to Mama, by the time a sand dollar makes it to the shore, the waves have beaten it and abused it so much that there’s very little chance that it would come to rest on the shore all in one piece. She was born on the Crystal Coast. She had been raised with sand in her bathing suit and hermit crabs nibbling at her toes. She certainly knew what she was talking about. But still, a trip to the beach never passed without me scanning the sand for a whole sand dollar. And just as Mama said, I only ever found broken-up fragments.
I have a lot of happy memories from childhood. Most of them include being at my grandmother’s house at the coast and being sunburned, playing with my brother and cousins. But along with the happy memories, there are a lot of unhappy memories—many of them that I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I won’t bring up again now. And at some point in my life, the unhappy times replaced the happy ones in my mind and the sadness began to take over—pushing me very near to suicide.
I can’t remember which Christmas it was. But it’s been within the last few years… My mother, her older brother, her baby sister, and I decided that the best way to walk off Christmas Dinner was a nice, brisk walk on the beach. It was a cold day and the wind was sharp, blowing in off the waves. But you couldn’t’ve dragged me off that beach with wild horses. We bundled up until we looked ridiculous and took off walking down the beach.
I’m the shorty (5”2) in a family of extra-tall people. I guess I got the recessive genes… Which must also be where I got the blonde hair… But because I have short legs, when we walk, I quickly get left behind. Normally, I’ll sprint to catch up or call out to them to slow down. But on this particular day, I found myself enraptured by the sound of the waves and hypnotized by the waving grasses on the nearby dunes. I let Mama and the others walk ahead. I slowed to a stop, looked out at the ocean and was so completely overtaken by a sense of the glory of God that I thought time had stopped.
Mama’s voice broke into my thoughts. ”You okay back there?”
“Yeah, Mama. Go ahead. Catch me on the way back.”
I began plodding along slowly, watching the waves lick the sand, wetting it and then sliding back out to let the sand dry. My mind was wandering when I noticed that the last wave had carried something in and deposited it on the sand. I took a few small steps and then, I saw it: a small, perfect sand dollar. In awe, I pulled my warm hand out of my pocket and picked it up. It was just the size of my small palm and I turned it over and over again, studying it, wet, sticky, and sandy against my skin.
See, I had a Christmas gift for you today. I felt the voice of the LORD in my heart as clear as any spoken voice I’d ever heard before. I stood, frozen to my spot and looked out across the waves at the horizon.
For me, Lord? I blinked back tears and softly brushed the salt and sand off of the sand dollar.
This creature has been buffeted and beaten by the most brutal of waves. It has crashed into the sand. But it has not been broken.
Ever since I received that gift from God, I have kept the sand dollar and treasured it. I still occasionally hold it in my palm and feel the majesty of God and the overwhelming love. But that wasn’t the only lesson for me.
A couple of years ago, I went to the beach with a group of my friends from church. We spent a weekend and had a great time, even though it was still too early to swim. I watched my crazy guy friends “walk” down the sand on their hands and chase each other. And I watched the girls walk the beach, picking up only the most perfect of shells. The group had spread out all over the beach and I found myself alone, near the water, feeling the frigid water wash up over my feet and seeing what broken-up shells the tide brought with it.
The wind whipped my hair around wildly and I reached to hold it back with one hand. Then, looking down, I saw a sand dollar sticking up out of the sand, I excited reached down to pick it up.
LORD, another one?!
But when I pulled the shell out of the sand, I saw that the shell was broken almost exactly in half. Disappointed, I instinctively began to let it fall from my hand back into the surf when a small voice stopped me.
Wait. Keep it. This one’s beautiful too—because it has a story. It has a lesson to teach. It has a purpose. Its survival makes it beautiful.
For most of my life, I’ve been afraid for people to see my brokenness. But God is showing me that although sometimes we can weather the storms without being broken, sometimes it’s okay to be broken. A broken life—like mine—is beautiful too. My life has a story. It has a lesson to teach. It has a purpose. And its survival makes it beautiful.