My friend Judy had invited me for a short vacation at the beach. Walking along the shore on my last morning there, I kept looking for an unbroken seashell to take home to my son, but couldn't find one.
The morning was glorious. The sun was just rising, and the sky, had I looked up, was breathtaking. The wind was blowing in from the ocean, with its hints of salt sea air. The whitecaps were plentiful. Had I been looking out at the water, I might even have seen the dolphins playing there. But I didn't. My eyes were glued on the sand.
The problem was that every single shell I saw was broken. Shells with chips, holes, and cracks were everywhere, but not a single "perfect" shell could be found. My frustration was growing when it suddenly occurred to me that what I was doing made absolutely no sense when taken in the context of the rest of my life.
Not only do I love the still-standing silhouettes of broken trees, but I love to fix the things I can, from broken light fixtures to broken furniture. I have even chosen broken children when I had the opportunity to parent them. And yet, there I was, determined to find a perfect, unbroken shell, when every single other shell was beautiful, too, in its own way.
All it took was for me to stop looking for the parts of the shells that were missing, in order to appreciate and find the beauty in the parts of the shells that were there.
One of the things I am most grateful for in life is the way we rise above our brokenness. Not that we stop being broken, by any means, but that we survive, even thrive, in spite of it. We get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other when we can't see any reason to. We lose the job we loved, and somehow we force ourselves to go out looking for another one. Our cause loses at the polls, and after a period of grieving, we start planning for the next election. Our parents don't want us, and we start learning to trust the foster parents or adoptive parents who do. We are refugees who have lost everything, even our own countries, and we start building a new life in a foreign land.
We are, each of us, the broken shells which house the perfect selves that we could be. Just as the broken sea shells I saw on the beach that day had at one time perfectly housed their residents, our "shells," our bodies, too, are the broken containers for our most perfect potential. Whether we have been broken by physical or sexual abuse, cruelty, fate, or even love, we house the potential for perfection. There is beauty not just in spite of brokenness, but even in brokenness, if we'd just stop looking for what's missing, and grab hold of what is there.