Picking up Sea Shells

I have loved the beach as long as I can remember. One of my fondest memories as a small child was
going to Ft. Myers, Florida where my Grandfather retreated in the annual pilgrimage known as the flight of the blue hairs. Grandpa had a boat and loved to fish. I fondly remember the boat had a closed bow where he stored all of the life jackets, and this was where I would crawl up and sleep while the boat was in motion.

In high school, the local Baptist Church youth group held a retreat every Summer at Panama City, and I made sure that my parents signed me up for it. I could not have given two shakes about the roll-a-coaster rides and amusement parks. I just wanted to be on the beach. When I was old enough to drive, I convinced my parents to let me go to the beach with a couple high school friends for Spring Break. While the some of the other kids were trying fake IDs to get into the Red Rooster bar, I was walking the beach - multiple trips a day. During college, I was 60 miles away from Tybee Island and regularly found excuses for day trips.

Not having a lot of money on the majority of these trips to the beach, I had to forgo the jet skis and para sailing, but I did not really mind. Instead, I began picking up sea shells. I know without a doubt that my fascination with sea shells came directly from Grandpa. I still have some of the big Conch shells he collected. Those Conch shells along with starfish, sand dollars, and lamps and glass jars filled with sea shells adorn our home and remind me of the tranquility of the beach even when I am six hours away.

Originally, I took a great deal of care in selecting shells that were perfectly intact and defect free. The amount of shells I discarded back into the rolling foamy tide with a flick of the wrist over 20 years would probably fill a train car. But as I have gotten older, I have noticed a gradual change in my criteria for shell collection. I have noticed that my eyes have started appreciating the beauty of the shells that contain pit marks and scars of the storms they have weathered. They have character. They are not perfect. They have holes. They have broken edges. No two are the same.

As I look at these shells, I see beauty in their imperfections. And I wonder, is this how our God looks at us? He finds the beauty in our imperfections and weaknesses, and through those weaknesses, He is able to use us. Have you ever noticed that when you are struggling through the storms of life, the people you encounter that seem to have perfect lives are of little help in your struggle? Who do you gravitate towards? The people who have the battle scars of the storms they have weathered in their lives - the survivors. So why do we feel so inadequate and ill equipped to serve those hurting around us? We tell ourselves it is because our lives are such a screwed up mess, but the truth is, that is what qualifies us for service. He uses our brokenness as an area of strength.

We should not be amazed or shocked at the realization. After all, He has been choosing the unqualified and broken for years. Remember Moses? He had a stuttering problem. God chose him to lead His people out of Egypt and to speak in the Pharaoh's court. He chose a young shepherd boy to slay a giant that instilled fear in the hearts of trained warriors. He chose Saul, a guy that was running around killing Christians, to spread the Gospel. So, why could He not use you? You with your brokenness, with the scars of weathered storms. You with a past that other struggling people can relate.

I am standing on a beach, listening to the birds and the roar of a mighty ocean, marvelling at the beauty of imperfect shells. And something tells me that He is looking down on us admiring our imperfections and designing ways to use us in other peoples lives.

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