This past summer, my family and I went on vacation to Captiva Island on the Gulf coast of Florida. When we arrived at the resort, I noticed an Anne Morrow Lindbergh quote from her book “Gift from the Sea” on the wall. Then, I saw her book in the store on the Island. Wait a minute, I thought, did she write this book, one of my favorites, when she was on Captiva? I first read the book fifteen years ago, and did not remember which sea had given her the inspiration for the book. All I knew was that it was a monumental book in my life, and one that I dearly loved. I grabbed the book off of the shelf and flipped through it to discover that indeed Captiva was THE island where Lindbergh brought this book into the world.
Lindbergh’s daughter, Reeve, wrote the Forward to the 50th edition of her mother’s book after Reeve visited Captiva herself. She wrote that “it was not the writer’s cottage that I was looking for on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, but the writer.” I found that as a writer myself, our vacation took on added significance as I began looking for the writer too. I wondered if Anne Morrow Lindbergh had been on this stretch of beach or visited this part of the Island when she was here. I also started searching within myself – where was the writer in me? She’d been a bit dormant after a series of hard rejections, and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed her.
In Lindbergh’s book, she used seashells as symbols for her ideas. The shells she found inspired her. As my family and I visited the beach every day, we too began looking for seashells. At first, we kept every one we picked up. As we were there longer, we became pickier. Not that we were expert seashell collectors by any means, but we would throw them back into the ocean if we already had a similar one or if the shell was broken.
The longer we searched for the perfect shells, however, the more interested I became in the ones that were nicked or had holes. Many of them had deep scars in addition to the normal grooves and ridges. I wondered where these shells had been before they landed in our hands. What were their stories? Where had they traveled? How had the ocean treated them? What animals had called some of the shells home? The more shells I held, the more I realized that finding a perfect shell was not only unlikely, but almost impossible. And despite the damage that most of them incurred, or perhaps because of their injuries, these imperfect shells were beautiful. The shells were still graceful and unique, every last one.
Often times, I would pick up a seashell and examine the front only to turn it over and find the most glorious colors of pink or purple or orange underneath waiting to be admired. And here I’d thought the exterior was the most precious part.
Our limited exploration of the ocean and some of its smallest inhabitants got me thinking. It seems that we often feel lost in the vastness of the world around us, each of us just one of many. We suffer pain that leaves us with scars – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. And while we know the old adage that difficulty makes us stronger and makes us into the people we are, the feelings of unworthiness often remain. We feel “less than” because of the bruises and the wounds. We compare our insides to others’ lives as they appear on the outside, and come up short again and again.
But I don’t think that is how God sees us. He knows why we carry the burdens we do. He doesn’t have to wonder what the story is behind the fears or the reluctance. He saw when we were tossed by the ocean of life; when we were thrown against the rocks; when some piece of us was crushed leaving a gaping hole. He knows all of the details, choices, and time spent on the decisions or in the circumstances that turned out wrong.
We are like the seashells: imperfect and marred. Sometimes even used or tossed aside. And God loves us anyway. We may not be able to see the beauty in ourselves, but he sees it. He believes we are still of value. God sees the inside of us where the real beauty lies no matter what kind of exterior armor we have erected to guard our hearts from more hurt. He sees us for who we are, the real person, no matter what we look like or feel like. Rest assured, God will not throw us away. Instead, he treasures each of us, for the brokenness and the beauty.