It was everything I had been dreaming of for months, fulling living up to its exceedingly high expectations. My toes were happy – and so was my soul – the moment my skin made contact with the sand. This Southern girl loves her luscious rolling hills of Kentucky, but she will never neglect her annual need for the beaches of Florida.
There is something about the sounds that change me and the smells that free me. A deep inhale of the salt water coupled with the deafening waves as they collide into my legs help to drown out the crazed world I live in. The ongoing music played by the ocean is among the limited sounds that are magical to my psyche. It’s my soul’s pixie dust, melting away any internal conversations I’ve started, and fills my being up with pure quiet time. It’s in these magical moments where I tune out me that I can hear Him most.
I needed to hear Him that day. Yes, I know that vacations are meant to be filled with only belly laughs and toothy grins, but as with most family gatherings, a disagreement brewed, and I needed an escape. I guided my toes into the worn sandals so as to save my feet from the scorching sand that I would first touch as I ran to the waves and I walked with a purpose to my safe haven. The beach.
Like Moana in the Disney flick, the ocean was calling me. For those with kids, you could probably join me in reciting every word from the catchy ditty debuted in that movie, but the calling is real and that day there was no stopping it.
When I met the ocean it was as if we were two best friends who hadn’t seen each other in ages… we picked up right from where we left as if there was no time gap in between. I decided to embark on a several mile adventure to the pier which was merely a blurry mirage in the distance. But I knew the hours ahead were critical for me, for my rapport with God, and for my relationship with myself.
Each step came with it a mixture of uncontrollable emotions. I was frustrated at a situation I had just experienced and yet it was as if the ocean grew a set of arms and literally turned my frown right-side-up each time the eyebrow burrow was attempted. As much as I tried to dwell on the situation at hand, I just couldn’t. Each crash of the waves was figuratively breaking up the hardness within me.
No thinking was allowed. This was quiet time with God, and He was determined that there was something I needed to hear. So I walked. And walked. And walked. With each step, my foot sunk softly into the fine sand and then would glide peacefully over the thin water ripples only to repeat the step again. One arm swung freely, but the other was bound to a sand toy I had snatched before hastily making my way out of our dwellings. I had no intention of making ornate sand castles, but I did plan on collecting shells.
I collected several, with oyster shells being my favorite. And before I knew it, my arm was aching from the added weight of the bucket. I found oodles of beauties, as if all had my name on them. With my eyes consistently gazing at the sand, I noticed visibly before I felt the change occur. The water appeared altered. The opaque, crisp Atlantic had a red tinge. Before I let the soundtrack from “Jaws” go on repeat, the unexpected pain I felt in my feet caused me to assess the situation more closely.
The redness wasn’t in the water’s DNA but rather in the sand’s. I bent down to inspect the sand and noticed that the color alteration was because the sand wasn’t what I had expected. It was no longer soft, and monotonous, and drab. Instead it was filled with millions of minuscule ocean beauties. Siblings of the shells I had been collecting were being recycled right at my fingertips, or rather my “toe tips.”
The forgotten shells… the ones that just weren’t pretty enough to add to a collection… the ones that were tossed away after completing their jobs were undergoing a beating. I know… I watched. Every wave would force each shell to collide with the others, breaking them down to their most vulnerable states. As with any of us, we can only take a beating so long before we crack, and that’s exactly what the shells were doing. Cracking. Questioning. Sulking.
What was their purpose anymore? They could no longer house a clam or entice a young girl to save as a memento. Even if they had a change of heart and wanted to, their exterior was no longer intact. It felt like I was walking on slivers of glass with each cautious step I took. I prayed that I could find the fine sand again quickly, but the longer I walked, the more broken shells I walked on.
God got tired of hearing my plea, and the broken shells appeared subsided. If my toes could speak for themselves they would have squealed something of celebration. I paused to sink into the soft, silky granules, and I heard myself verbally thank God for that moment. The ocean reached out with a salty kiss, embracing my feet and as it did, I wiggled my toes deeper in as if to hug it back. The only problem was upon breaking through the beautiful façade I found myself faced yet again with my toes’ arch nemesis. The shattered shells were back, this time hiding behind that which I knew… that which was comfortable… that which had a beautiful exterior.
The sound of the waves got louder, and as they did, I started to tune out my concerns for my feet and started to focus on God’s concerns for my heart. I knew He had been waiting for me. That’s why the ocean called me by name that day. He knew that I needed to let Him drown out my thoughts so He could wiggle in for a conversation. No matter how much I wasn’t up for a teaching from Him, I had learned long before that when God talks, you listen. So listening I did.
He told me a story about the shells. They were so beautiful and they loved being loved and needed and sought after. They served such an important purpose to house some of God’s smallest and overlooked creatures, but that never stopped them from being as splendid as they could possible be. Tucked deep into the ocean’s floor with the rarity of being seen by the sun didn’t mean they wouldn’t exude their inner colors. Yes, they did that and more! As with all of God’s creations, He looked at them and found them to be good.
But just as God knows with us, He had confidence that these shells were meant for more. They had a purpose larger than they knew possible. Some were meant for shell collections or to rehouse future creatures. But most would never receive celebrity status or be selected for a fixer-upper. Instead, they took a beating.
The ocean, God’s creation too, churned wave after wave after wave, throwing shells out and sucking them back. Just when they would think they were set free, the remnants of a wave gush snatched them back for another brutal attack. Most shells probably just saw God watching, wondering why He would let them be dismembered – broken to pieces – without any intervention. A rightful feeling to have. But God wasn’t just watching. He was orchestrating.
As if He carries an orchestra conductor baton, what the shells didn’t know was that God had a plan. He didn’t wish upon the beating. He hurt every time His beautiful creation cracked. But during those times He pulled out the baton to synchronize the ocean’s music, making the outcome purposeful.
I prayed for fine sand… for the sand my toes sought after. But that day I realized that it takes a whole lot of cracking for the miles and miles of our world’s finest sand grains. Ongoing wind, rain, hurricanes, ocean churning breaks down these beautiful shells – and other ocean debris – to give us something I quite frankly took for granted.
I realized we are more like the sand than we’d likely ever given ourselves the time to compare our lives to. Tucked deep within we each have elements of our lives – some beautiful and others not so much – that are much like shells. Sure, we’d love for people to collect elements of us for their rainy days, but for each of our shells they collect, we have entire collections that go unnoticed, underappreciated, forgotten. My life – and I’m sure yours too – gets weathered. It undergoes windstorms and hurricane torrential downpours. Our lives experience churnings that beat us down to our most purest of forms. It takes us to our cores, where we can’t hide anymore. It humbles us.
This process may be filled with pain, frustration, and fear. It may be drowning and deafening and exhausting. But through it all, know that while God doesn’t make it happen, He is orchestrating how we come out on the other side.
The shell that gets collected one day gets forgotten. And the shell that another creature takes for its home will one day be tossed out in the garbage. There is no running from the hard times. Even when our façade looks strong, all it takes is for a set of toes to sink in to find shells that we are still working through. But the outcome is more beautiful than any shell had the potential to be. The end result is what is yearned for most. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. It took time and heart ache. But it’s what changes the lives of others when they set foot on it. It’s purposeful, and meaningful, and leaves a lasting impact.
That day, as I walked back to my family, I thanked God for His beautiful reminder that what makes my life meaningful is the struggles I work through. He struggles alongside me, frustrated as all get out too. And while He doesn’t plan the pain, He does orchestrate the blooming from it.
I will never look at sand the same again.
2 thoughts on “The Ocean’s Facade”
This is a breath taking story, it makes you know that life’s journey is never easy but in the end you know you have done the best you could for the moment. As you said God is leading the way anyhow. He directs you and talks to you as you journey along the path. Great feeling ! And as you know you are never alone. Thanks for reminding us Stephanie.
Thank you so much for reinforcing that God is always leading! He’s the best (and so are you!).