For the past few weeks, God has been emphasizing to me that the way I see my life and the way He sees my life are not the same. I have been reveling in a low profile. I’ve enjoyed puttering in my yard, not feeling rushed as I cook dinner, and a general sense that my own affairs are just as important as those with which I’ve busied myself for so long now. I’ve been able to take a deep breath, stand still long enough to look around, and sigh with some measure of satisfaction. I have felt, well… normal.
There is the other part of my life over the last several weeks, however, that has felt anything but normal. God has allowed me to see some of the effects of the ways I’ve served Him recently, and these have astonished me. I have shaken my head in disbelief as He has shown me the evidence, fruit that has been healthy and good, and even somewhat miraculous, in others’ lives. This past rainy Thursday, I entered a Summerville shop only to be immediately approached and hugged by a woman I didn’t know. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to thank you since the women’s event,” she began, and what she spent the next few minutes telling me was extraordinary. I didn’t know her, but she knew me, and her life had been changed on that wonderful day in May. Only God… And then she promptly but lovingly scolded me (God has sent many to do this, too) for my statements about not having the education or credentials to bring God’s Word to the people. She blessed me in ways I cannot even describe.
Terry and I spent some time on the beach in Beaufort on Saturday morning, and while I was there, God created an object lesson of sorts. He drew my attention to countless small shells on the beach that morning, and I collected them as they drew my attention. What you have to know, however, is that God had initiated this conversation about shells with me back in November of last year. I was leading a women’s retreat on Folly Beach, and part of the day’s quiet time included a walk to find your ezer (the word means “thus far hath the Lord helped me”). The assignment was to find an object that represented where you have been with God up until this point, and a second object ezer to represent where God shows you He wants to take you.
My first ezer was a frayed piece of driftwood, splintered on the front side yet quite smooth on the back side. I think it represented how I have seen my life, yet how well held together I’ve been in God’s good care. My second object was a small bluish shell, perfect in every way except for a hole in its bottom edge. These two objects have sat on my desk since that weekend in November, and I’ve believed that the hole in the shell represented my continual need to be filled with God’s Spirit. There is an emptiness within that can only be filled with Him, and as it overflows with Him, it allows light to shine forth.
This past Saturday morning, however, I found whole shells, broken shells, colorful shells, and plain shells. I collected many of them, and left many more untouched in the sand. I sat down in my beach chair for a little reflection, and gathered all the shells with holes in their “noses” into one spot. I also grouped in a few very banged up shells and a couple of perfect shells. Would you believe I’d even found two very tiny shells with the hole in their nose? It seemed that they represented me, as a young girl, with that spot for God already carved out. As I studied them, I felt the Spirit raising questions within my heart and mind.
Which shell do you think you are? I heard the Spirit nudge. It didn’t take long at all for me to single out a very banged up, broken up shell and hold it up. This is my life, I told Him. This is how I am.
Show Me the shell you think you’re supposed to be, He urged. Again, it wasn’t long before I’d pulled out the smoothest, purest shell in the bunch. It was pristine white, no stains, no shadows, no smudges and no dings. It was beautiful. How had it managed to survive the pounding surf that had accompanied Tropical Storm Andrea just 24 hours before? But there it was. This is surely what a spotless life would look like. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be smooth and white?
Let me show you which shell I know you to be, He said gently. He directed my gaze back to the shells with the holes in their “nose”. I looked them over, and felt my attention drawn to two small shells, similar in size and shape. What is different about each of them? I heard Him ask. It took me a while to figure it out.
Perhaps I’d never really studied two shells so closely before, and perhaps it was because they were wet and I didn’t have my reading glasses handy, but it took a few minutes before I began to see the distinction. Both of them had long vertical lines running the length of the shell, but one of them also had tiny little lines dividing each vertical section into a tall column of tiny sections. Around those tiny segments was a golden color. This creamy white shell was distinguished in its texture, design, and color. This one, I felt the Spirit say, is you.
You see, what I have seen as bruises, breaks, and damage in my life’s turbulent passing, God sees as texture, substance, and design. When I look at my life, I see all the reasons why I am not qualified to know the intimacy with Him I enjoy, let alone serve Him in any kind of capacity. I never forget the sheer wrongness of His grace in my life, let alone His grace given to others through my life. I have seen the brokenness as damage, whereas God has seen it as design.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I looked more closely at the shell He led me to find back in November. I think you’ll see, as I do, how perfectly its design mirrors the shells He used to teach me this weekend. No matter what storms may rock your life and cut deep grooves into your soul, while you might call it damage, God calls it design.