Last week, our family embarked on a summer vacation to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. Since Owen is a big fan of surfing, we booked a week at a beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, known for their tasty waves, abundant sunshine, and an unprecedented number of shark attacks this summer.
In preparation for spending hours floating on a board and looking like a wounded seal, Owen studied up on the best way to minimize the risk of an attack. Apparently, experts say that those not interested in becoming Jaws’ next meal should stay away from warm water, piers, and common fishing grounds. We were also advised to keep an eye out for warning signs, such as bait fish jumping out of the water as if they are being chased by something large and toothy.
A few days into our vacation, we were following the protocols to the letter when someone noticed a tiny triangle pop out of the surf about a hundred yards away from us. Was it a porpoise? A small whale? The fin surfaced a few more times as we feverishly searched Google for how to tell the difference between a shark fin and a dolphin fin. Finally, someone made a suggestion:
“Maybe it’s time for a sand castle building contest?”
Thank you, Charles Darwin.
The kids got to work on the sandcastle of the century while Gabby and I went searching for shells to decorate their creations. I walked to the edge of the water with a bucket in hand. Due to the pounding of the waves, most of the shells had been reduced to random shards, so I moved clumsily as my weak little baby feet grimaced with each step.
I picked through the rubble looking for perfectly formed specimens that had survived the violence unscathed. I found crazy-shaped oyster shells, perfect pink fans, and even some black clams that looked like they had been plucked right out of an aquarium. I put each one in the bucket and carried them back to my nephew, Jack.
Meanwhile, my daughter joined Gabby in the surf to pick just the right shell to decorate her own masterpiece. I turned and noticed her bend over to pick up a tiny, jagged triangle.
She held it out toward my wife.
“Look at this one, Mom!”
Gabby looked down at the fragment,
“That’s great, Audrey. But I’m trying to find a whole shell. One that’s just perfect.”
My daughter glanced up from her hand, caught my wife’s gaze and said,
“Mom… Just because they’re broken doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful.”
Gabby’s face instantly registered that rare emotion. It has no name. But if you are a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that glorious overlay of surprise, shame, joy, peace, and utter fulfillment that comes when you realize one of your own has just caught you being “of the world” and then teaches you a sublime truth about the nature of God.
After a moment, Gabby responded,
“You’re right, Audrey,” placing a hand on her tiny shoulder. “They’re all beautiful, aren’t they?”
And Audrey smiled.
As you might expect, our shell hunt changed that day. Sure, we still rejoiced in finding the perfect, unblemished shell. But we also took time to appreciate the mosaic of fragments. The way that one color blended into the next. The interesting shapes. The contour of the edges. Arbitrary. Erratic. Smoothed by time and tides, scraping across rough sand. And Audrey gathered them up, one by one, and placed them lovingly into her green bucket.
I’ve thought about my daughter’s words a lot over the past few days. I would like to say they are planted firmly at the top of my mind, ready for action the instant I start to question my worth. But sadly, that’s not true.
Instead, her message has been buried, curling around the back wall of my brain. Deep in the dark recesses. Obscured by my own expectations and an overwhelming desire to please others. So when the moments of doubt come, my emotions quickly follow. Wondering turns into worrying. Hesitation becomes hopelessness.
Maybe it’s the same way for you.
Your head gets spun up in “should have’s” and “ought to’s.” You start to focus on all you’ve lost instead of all you have. Failed relationships. Words you can’t take back. Stupid mistakes. The setbacks and storms.
It’s a pastime for us, isn’t it? Lamenting what might have been and wallowing in weakness. In a perfect world these thoughts would never touch our minds. But that perfect world is an impossible mirage, as unrealistic as a soft sand beach brimming with only flawless shells.
But I can take comfort in this: though these thoughts will always come, there will be times when they retreat, if only for an instant. And it’s in these quiet moments that I just need to listen for my daughter’s words, returning to rescue me from myself. Reminding me that all my worry is for nothing. That power is made perfect in weakness. That grace calls us “enough.”
Shattered fragments of the whole.
Seen as God sees us.
Broken and beautiful.
(The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)
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