The jagged seashells crunch underfoot and the tide laps lazily along the shore. We’re the first ones on the beach this morning and the silence feels comforting. Gulls swoop and screech above as we settle into the cool sand, toes burying deep among the tiny grains. My toddler busies himself with buckets and shovels, creating a world of dusty castles and ravine roads, and I bask in the early morning warmth of the spring sunshine.
For a city girl who loves quiet libraries and comfy couches, it never ceases to amaze me that the place I feel most connected to my grief is here, outdoors.
The tide is out and the air smells like seaweed and salt and baby sunscreen. My son and I make our way along the beach towards the water, and he stops every few feet to look at shells.
“Look mommy! I found one!”
He scoops up an empty, barnacle-covered clam and clutches this new treasure tightly in his hand. Carrying it back to our cluster of towels and chairs, he carefully adds this new shell to his growing collection. It’s not the prettiest shell on the beach, but in his eyes, it’s magnificent.
By the time we’re ready to head home, the pile of shells nearly overflows from the cup holder of my beach chair. Purple and white ovals that are smooth and worn, ridged and cracked, or gritty with peeling brown backs: these are the jumbled fragments my son has chosen. From an endless expanse of beach, these are the ones he deems worthwhile.
I dump them out onto the sand and sort through the pieces, trying to see them as he sees them. These little bits of buried treasure have filled his two-year-old eyes with wonder and imagination, but to me, they mostly just look broken.
These shells have been battered and buffeted by waves, stepped upon and cracked, bleached by the sun, and worn by the sand. And yet, despite their brokenness, they’re still beautiful. They don’t have to be whole to be loved, and neither do you.
On the surface, our grief doesn’t look beautiful. It’s messy and awkward and we have far too few outlets or words to describe the depth of our pain. It beats us into fragmented bits of who we once were and all that we had hoped would one day be. It gives us sleepless nights, dark rimmed eyes, and a heart who’s ache spreads from the tip of our toes to the top of our head. It’s the days when you barely have strength to roll out from under your duvet; the days when tears seem to be perpetually hovering nearby, ready to break forth without warning. The days when you simply feel tired of being broken.
It’s easy to see beauty in things that are whole: shells that are clean and shimmering without cracks or rough, jagged edges. It’s more difficult to accept the fact that our worth is not found in “perfection.” On a beach full of crunched, sand-dusted shells, we are not alone in our brokenness. In the midst of our grief, there is One who picks us up, carefully brushes us off, and tells us that we are His.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18 (ESV)
So my dear mama, I see you grieving. I see that you feel broken and empty and unwanted amidst a beach of “pretty shells.” But there is good news: Christ came to redeem our brokenness. He heals and restores our broken lives, families, dreams, and relationships. We’ve been scarred and cracked by life but we belong to One who specializes in restoration of the irreparable. We may be crushed and jagged edged, but we are never too broken for the cross.
In Christ, there is beauty amidst the brokenness.