Last weekend I said goodbye to the Jersey shore (what we Philadelphia-area folks call the “beach”). Despite only visiting on a couple of occasions this summer, it's always my favorite part of the year. There's something so relaxing and at the same time so exciting about being at the shore. The waves, the wind, the sunshine...it’s most definitely my happy place!
As the mother of two teenagers, trips to the beach have certainly evolved over the years. As toddlers, I worried about their safety and whether they were slathered with enough sunscreen. When they were elementary-school age I was kept busy as the sand castle maker, wave rider and popsicle provider. And now, well, I'm lucky if they even want to go to the shore with me, much less hang out or swim together. The one constant in our trips to the coast over the years, however, has been the lure of seashells, particularly for my daughter. What has changed in that regard, however, is what catches her eye.
Have you ever noticed that young children pick up nearly every seashell they find? It doesn't matter in the slightest whether it's a mere fragment, broken in half, covered in barnacles, discolored, or jagged. They love them all. And what do most of us do as adults? We select for our child the perfect shells, those that are whole, or brilliant in color, or smooth as glass. Those which, of course, are much harder to find. We encourage them to leave behind the shells that we would describe as damaged or broken, or simply "not worth keeping." And as they grow older, our children begin to make these choices on their own, influenced by what we, and society as a whole, have established as some unspoken standard of good, attractive, or worthy. They no longer pick up or even notice those shells that are less than perfect
This beach-based observation saddens me when I consider how it extends to the judgment we pass on one another. Too often we base our appreciation and approval on appearance and reputation. It’s much easier to walk away from those who are broken, or misfits, or of questionable moral character—to leave behind those we deem “not worth keeping.” How lucky we are that God doesn't turn away from us when we're battered, damaged, or rough around the edges! What a gift it is to know that He wants to lift us up, polish our jagged edges and use the broken and battered to make us whole.
In her Bible study Broken and Blessed, Jessica LaGrone shows us that Scripture is full of imperfect people and struggling families, and that those who are broken are the very ones God chooses to love and bless so that they might be a blessing. The fact that none of us is perfect and that we are each different and distinctive ―just like every grain of sand on the beach―actually gives us all something in common.
While we can't make the shells on the beach whole, Jessica's study reminds us that when we offer ourselves to God, and “express your desire for Him to bring restoration, healing, and blessing,” we can be changed and become change agents in our own families. One of my favorite paragraphs from Day One of the first week of Jessica’s study puts things into perspective:
“God could have chosen to start right off the bat with a place characterized by glowing beauty, order, and light; but He wanted to show us that He likes to start with raw material. That’s good news for those of us who are still a diamond-in-the-rough. It’s good news for imperfect families, for struggling relationships, for lives that can’t quite seem to get it together, and for a world that is unraveling at the seams. When God wants to create the remarkable, He chooses to work with the less-than-perfect.”
Raw material. Diamond-in-the-rough. Imperfect. Words that describe those shells on the beach. Words that describe each of us. Words that describe the family of God.
Forgive me when I turn away from those who I deem unworthy. Forgive me for judging others as carelessly as I might judge a shell on the beach. Remind me, Lord, that we are all a part of God’s family and that you have a history, spelled out in Scripture, of taking what is raw and imperfect and making it beautiful. Help me to see the world through those eyes, and allow me to be blessing to others, despite my brokenness. Amen.