Archives, Biography, Orlando, Pondering

Broken Beauty

There’s no doubt that Cocoa Beach is a popular place-particularly for surfers. Not nearly as many stooped over shellers can be found in these parts, but I have continued my life long pastime with the eagerness (if not the energy) of the 10-year old girl who once discovered the magic of these most expressive of God’s quiet critters.

For years I have collected coquinas, the tiny fingernail shaped shells in a myriad of pastel colors, still found at low tide on a few Florida beaches, especially Sanibel Island. I have a jar full of coquinas, some of them still joined together, others divided somewhere along the way.

There is just one small problem. There are many varieties of shells to be found on Cocoa Beach, but none of them wash in unscathed from the ocean. They are broken into fragments of different sizes and shapes, mere clues of what they once were. So l have purchased a Shelling book and started collecting broken shells. This has been a particularly significant strategy right now, when the sheller often feels as broken as the shells she picks. No claims of perfection here-just a deep awareness of God’s recreating heart delighting in making beauty out of brokenness. I ponder his infinite, joyous creativity every time I find another fragment.

I have just embarked on my first teaching course in Orlando with eighteen students and seven volunteers. We are on a common adventure for the next eight weeks. I am teaching what I have been shaped over the last two decades to teach-nothing like I intended to offer when I left Cornell in 1993. But here I am, almost twenty years later, in a state I would never imagined inhabiting, in a teaching context I could not have dreamed up.

And the evening before I began this new venture, I found a magnificent, broken shell. It’s the broken remnant of a moon shell. No longer round, its jagged edges had been buffed by the ocean to form a kind of crown.

My singular masterpiece has given me yet another opportunity to ponder God’s glorious creativity. This little house, once home to a small sea creature has been remade into something else quietly lovely. I could so easily have walked past it-or unearthed it just after Samwise got his little inquisitive mouth around it. But instead I hold a unique treasure…nothing like anything I have ever seen or am likely to see again.

I wonder if God doesn’t do a lot of similar recreating with us. Our lives seemed so clearly suited for a particular purpose, and we couldn’t imagine being or acting any other way. And then, over the course of time, the ocean waves of God’s turbulent grace have cast us about and storms have rolled us around, and, as the Lord has held us through it all, the sharper edges have begun to mellow and we begin to become lovely in a way that whispers.

Nobody makes a stir when they find a shell fragment on Cocoa Beach. Perhaps, disappointed by the lack of perfect shells, some have quit looking. Others are more interested in surfing or walking or sunbathing…but I am blessed to be a collector of broken shells. So, I think, is the Lord God who is recreating me.

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