One of my favorite activities is going to the beach to find treasures from the sea. I have walked along miles of shoreline looking for that perfect whelk. I have waded out to exposed sandbars in search of unbroken sand dollars. I have dug through countless mounds of sand looking for fossilized shark teeth. I enjoy seeing the diversity of God’s creation along the shore – from the upside-down horseshoe crab trying to right itself to sea urchins covered with the armor of broken bits of shell.
Over the past 15 years, Kip and I have acquired an extensive collection of various shells from the Gulf of Mexico, and over those years I have become more and more selective in the shells that I keep. Honeymoon Island is a wonderful place to go to find those “perfect” shells. Kendall and Kaleb like (or at least tolerate) shelling with me. A few years ago while shelling Kendall quickly filled her sand pail. We then sat down on the beach to inventory her “treasures.” Perplexed and a little annoyed, I asked her, “Why are you keeping all these broken shells?” She responded, “Because when they are broken you can see how beautiful they are on the inside.”
Wow! What profound words. Sometimes we need to look past a few imperfections to see the inner beauty of those around us. I kept one of Kendall’s shells from that day in my classroom as a reminder, and every time I looked upon that shell I would pray the lyrics to Brandon Heath’s song, “[Lord] give me your eyes so that I can see, everything that I keep missing, give me your love for humanity.” Often students would see the broken shell and question why I had it. I would then tell the story of that afternoon at Honeymoon Island, and how the shell was a physical reminder of God’s love for us. God sees past our broken exterior to our true inner beauty. Like the sea urchin, some so fear being hurt by those around them that they put up protective barriers. Others have been tossed about by the waves of life, and like the horseshoe crab need a little assistance to right themselves. Still others have been beaten against the rocks, resulting in cracks and sharp edges. They can feel as though they are too damaged to be loved, yet God does. He loves them. He loves us.
God also loves us enough to allow us to be broken – to refine us – in order for our beauty to be revealed. Zechariah 13:9 says, “… I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” This refining can be quite painful, however. Pride can tell us that it is unnecessary, just as guilt can convince us we aren’t worthy of Love. Gold and silver look beautiful even with impurities, but God’s love is too great to allow the impurities to remain….even if it means we must be broken to remove them.
The past year has been a refining year for our household. The year started off with the excitement of going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, soon followed by God’s call for us to uproot and move to be a part of His plan there. Everything seemed bright and shining, until the refining started with a phone call mere weeks later. The initial thought was that Kip’s dad (Tony) had experienced a stroke, but by mid-morning he had been diagnosed with an incurable glioblastoma. The heat increased with another phone call on August 4th, delivering the news of Tony’s passing. I have to admit that I hoped the refining was over, but it was not. On October 1st – the day we originally were to put our house on the market – Kip received an early morning call from his doctor to come in immediately because there was an issue with his MRI the previous day. He was subsequently diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. I know that God is in control, and that His ways and thoughts are greater than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). I’ve known it for years. But in the past 12 months I’ve experienced it. God is teaching and refining us in preparation for our move. He is teaching us that at a time when we are committing to relying on His provision through others’ giving, we must realize the Ultimate Source. Our illusion of having control over this vessel is being stripped away. It’s His Love. His protection. His provision. The control is His, and He wants us to recognize that so we know where to run when the wind and waves lift.
The waves of this past year have definitely left their mark. But as with a physical scar, an accompanying memory remains. The memories and lessons of this year remind us that a “normal” day can easily change with just a phone call. With 2015 just coming into focus, it is a good time to take an inventory of how you might be undergoing refinement right now. Are you broken and beaten on the rocks? Floundering upside-down? Drifting rudderless, tossed to and fro by wind and wave? Building a calloused armor? Rather than retreat into self-pity or guilt, or pridefully blow off your “bad luck,” look for and learn from the lessons. Find the dross in the smelter’s pot and let Him scoop it out. Let Him love you….and make you something more in line with what you were created to be. Then, you will be better able to share the Hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). We have no promise of tomorrow – and neither does our neighbor. There are few better ways to provide a witness of this Hope than your genuine story of how He took someone so battered, beaten, tossed about and broken, and rebuilt you into something a little more like Jesus. The mission field is wherever you are standing.
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