ImageAs most of you know, I spent the week before this last week at the beach. This was the first true vacation I’ve had in about six years, and I have to say that I was really looking forward to it, for several reasons, but mostly because I wanted to see how my soon to be three year old niece, Marlee,  would react to the sand and the water, and all the other things that make the beach well, the beach. I reflected on several things while I was there, and tried to write down those I remembered when I came back.

The first morning we were there, we all woke up at 6:30 am. When we went to the beach after breakfast, I saw all of these little mussels on the beach. The water would come up and cover them, and they’d be buried under the sand, and as we walked along, they would dig themselves out and all of them would appear at pretty much the same time. Most of the time, when I’ve seen the mussels digging, I have seen them burying themselves in the sand, not digging out. Marlee, who was supposed to be looking for shells with Grammy, kept trying to help them re-bury, and knowing the survival instinct of every living thing, I wondered why there were hundreds and thousands of these little critters, all digging out of the sand at the same time. My guess was that they would suffocate under the sand, and yet, if they got beached by the tide, they’d die as well. I decided it’s a hard life for mussels.

If any of you have been to North Myrtle Beach recently, you know how full of shells the beach is. I noticed how so many of the shells washing up on the beach were broken, and I wondered whether it was the vast power of the sea beating against the shore that broke those shells, or simply people walking the beach, stepping on them. Perhaps it was both.

Some people stood out for me, too. There was the woman who sat in the edge of the surf with her child, who couldn’t have been much more than a year old, and just sat in the edge of the water. There was the exuberance of young family half walking, half jogging down the beach, looking for shells and stopping occasionally to play in the sand. There were those who wanted to be, and were in their own world, who were either running or wandering aimlessly down the beach, a part of all that went on there, but also removed from it. Then there were the endless rows of chairs and umbrellas, the endless stream of humanity that oozed out of the resorts and onto the beach. These were the people who wanted to enjoy the beach with all the small luxuries of beach life. They wanted to be able to sun-bathe, to go into the water as it suited them, to have shelter from the sun, and who had someone next to them to talk to, wanted or not. Last, there were the lifeguards, sitting high up in their guard chairs, looking down on all the activity around them, ready to jump in and help if needed, and also ready to assert authority, if required. Most of them were awfully young for such responsibility.  Then, there was Marlee. She ran with such joy and reckless abandon on the beach. She dug in the sand with her little shovel, and threw it back into the water, thinking it was lapping up to try to get its sand back. She built partial castles with her Grammy and Aunt Kim, and gleefully destroyed them when she tired of them.

As I walked along the beach over the course of several days, pondering these things as I interacted with people of all types, it occurred to me that what I was seeing on the beach in that time is how life is, too. There are some people in this world who are struggling for survival, as those little mussels were. Despite great adversity and near cultural extinction, these people choose to use their talents and let their diversity shine as beacons of hope to other weary travelers, as God wants us all to do.

There are some people who are beaten by the power of the ocean in their own lives, and who wash up on the shore, not really knowing how they got there, but broken and bruised, and maybe even bleeding. They dig their fingers into the sand, and struggle to their feet, determined not to be washed out to sea one more time, determined to hang on. These people may need our encouragement to hang on, may need to know that God sees the beauty in broken souls, just as he does in whole ones. In fact, God uses the broken among us to give us all hope—the hope of His healing touch on our lives—and that Peace that passes understanding. The fact is that all of us are broken at times.

Other people want to walk around on the outskirts of life, never really coming down far enough to interact with anyone else, but still a part of the larger picture, whether they want to be, or not. God calls His followers to live lives that become the gospel, and that set us apart as Christians, so that these who are on the outskirts can feel the love of Jesus radiating from His followers, and know who we are, so that maybe they are drawn to the Kingdom through us.

Still others try to do all the right things, and they crave a deeper connection to others and to the purpose for their own lives. Perhaps they crave the passion they once had, which they’ve lost somewhere. They walk the walk, and talk the talk, hoping that what is lost will be found again, longing for a new perspective or new hope or deeper understanding, but too many of the superficialities of life get in the way, and they are having trouble finding what they seek. I think God knows that we identify with these people, as we all feel this way sometimes, and we’ve all seen this type of person at church. They come to church, they sit in the pew, they sing the songs, and they listen to the sermon. They even greet their neighbors, but at the end of the day, they still can’t make the connections they need to make with the scripture or with who they are as Christians to find the fulfillment they are desperately seeking. Perhaps it is a crisis of faith that is keeping them from finding what they seek, or perhaps it is just that the mundane things in life, the routine, makes it hard to find time to pray, to study, to reflect, and to interact as much as they desire. God calls us to reach out to these people, who might be walking in darkness, and offer them a hand back into the light of His love and acceptance and forgiveness.

I think we all find ourselves in each of these situations at times, and I think God wants us to experience and understand each of these things, so that we are more understanding of others who find themselves there. The good news, though, is that God is always there, always nudging us toward the light, calling us to be better than we are, and then forgiving us when we aren’t.