It was a beautiful day. I spent it at Big Corona Beach by myself, with half a turkey sandwich, an orange, a towel, my journal, the book Cold Tangerines, and my Bible. For an hour I sat reading my book and feeling the breeze that makes the sweet smell of tanning lotion dance and the scorching sun feel just right on my back. The water looked so inviting, I needed to go feel its cold on my feet. So I walked down to the water. 3 steps in and the cold came rushing at my toes and through my body. But it wasn’t unkind, it was just the shock I needed.
There’s something about going to the beach alone. Just you and your thoughts and the waves spending quality time together . . .
Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted. I had seen the old couple strolling toward me. He had a belly and a blue tank top and wrinkly tan skin. She wore a visor and had clearly applied sunscreen faithfully over the last 40 years of adulthood. It was his voice that called me out of my thoughts and into reality as he exclaimed, “Here, the perfect shell!” He handed me the “perfect shell.” I thanked him politely for giving me such an unexpected gift to which they smiled, nodded, and kept walking down the beach. I smiled and turned to take my first look at the shell.
It was a small, gray-white shell, rather unassuming. I probably would never have picked it up. It was the kind of shell you find on any beach, where it’s surrounded by thousands just like it. So why did the man call it perfect?
I looked down to study the shell again. Then I realized what made it perfect; it was wholly intact. No chipped edges or broken holes like most other shells. It was a complete shell.
I began to think how humans are like this shell. We’re gray and unassuming and ordinary and just like 1,000 other shells. But then God picks us up from the wet sand, holds us toward the sky, and exclaims, “Here, the perfect daughter!” Because His righteousness fixes our chipped edges and fills our broken holes. Because of His grace, He chooses to call us perfect, making a grey shell truly extraordinary. Beauty is not found in rarity, it is found in wholeness.
A minute later the couple came around the large rock I stood next to and excitedly reported they had another gift. “A sand dollar!,” he exclaimed. Sand dollars are really rare at Big Corona, I’ve never found or seen one there. But this couple found it casually sitting in the sand. Once again, the man walked up to me and handed me his brilliant find. I thanked him and looked down to find a beautiful sand dollar with a small cracked hole in the center.
You probably know what sand dollars look like. They are bigger than two quarters and have a flower shape etched on the front. My sand dollar was like this too except it had a small hole in the flower. The hole didn’t make it ugly, but I couldn’t forget there was something missing from it. The novelty of a sand dollar was still significant, but the brokenness blared imperfection. Humans are like this too. They try really hard to be a rare novelty of exquisite beauty. But this focus on beauty is thin and easily broken because it isn’t founded in anything firm or substantial.
I am so grateful for both of my peculiar treasures; they are both important gifts. But if I had to choose, I think I’d rather be a gray shell. I would rather be complete and ordinary, than delicately beautiful and easily shattered.
Maybe these two things are not mutually exclusive. Maybe I can be both complete and beautiful. But until I figure out that my completeness is not accomplished by my own achievements and ability to impress, then my appearance means absolutely nothing. The old man called the gray shell perfect, not the sand dollar.
Friends, your completeness in your Creator is the most extraordinary thing about you. I promise.