When I was a kid we lived for a couple of years on the east coast. And because my parents were both born and raised outside of Philadelphia, our family grew accustomed to the Jersey shore. We enjoyed the board walk, salt water taffy, small amusement parks and birch beer; all compliments to salt water, sand and waves. Outside of one trip to Florida, it’s what I knew of the ocean and what I knew, I also loved.
After I had been married for about ten years, my in-laws retired to Clearwater, FL. For twenty years we made at least one trip south each year to visit them and I became acquainted with the whiter sand and calmer, warmer waters of the Gulf Coast. Call me fickle but, I basically broke up with the Atlantic Ocean in favor of the Gulf Coast.
Before mom and dad Hancock retired they purchased a time share on Sanibel Island, FL which is where I find my blessed self this week. This is where I learned about the “Sanibel Stoop.” The Sanibel Stoop is so well known that photographers and artists have captured and framed it.
Sanibel is an island off of the gulf coast that is situated in such a way that sea shells land on her shores by the millions. Hunting for the perfect shell is sport here. I can sit on the lanai and watch stooped people search for hours. Or I can join them. So I do.
True to the gulf coast, the waters of Sanibel are generally calm and rather clear. However, for the last couple of days there have been storms brewing out in the gulf. Those storms have picked up the winds and stirred up the sea creating rough surf and unusual waves. All that does is interfere with the thrill of the hunt because it creates murky waters in which prized shells cannot be found. Yes, there are lots of shells on the beach but those have been picked over by the shell hunting fanatics who are out there with lights attached to their foreheads before the break of dawn. Not it.
So this morning when I left for my walk, I didn’t even grab a shell collecting bag. I knew it was useless today just like it was yesterday. Only today I headed west instead of east and as I rounded a corner thousands and thousands of shells were being washed up in the turn. The angle must have been perfect for the depositing of shells.
It didn’t take long until I was frustrated with the rough surf and cloudy water. Every time the tide would pull back and open a window, the sea would come crashing back over a prized shell siting. I stood there like a child at recess playing tag with the sea. And the sea was winning.
And then God showed up and invited me back into the classroom where we began to review the lessons from the last several years.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years trying to get a clear picture of what is beneath the stirred up waters of life’s storms. And every time it felt like I might have permission to see, another cloudy wave would hit. And another. And another. The window has, more often than not, felt painted shut.
And then it struck me that the piece of perfection I was looking for today was buried beneath the storm’s messy place and that without the storm, it would not ever be a piece of perfection. The mess of the storm was perfecting the mess of my life.
It was then that I got to thinking about the fact that my life had always been relatively easy. In fact, I expected easy almost as if God owed it to me simply because I claim His name. Like He never approved anything difficult in my life because He loved me too much for that. And I thought about Lauren Legge. And I thought about Stephanie Hagar-Nicholson. And I thought about my own brother. All are proof that Jesus never promised Easy Street.
And then I saw it. And I got my fingers around it. The perfect conch shell. The single shell that is the thrill of the hunt for me. The shell that is my teacher today.
The shell, through which, Jesus said to me, “My purpose for you is that you make it safely home. It will take storms and rough seas to get you there. In fact, you can’t arrive without surviving them. But I’ve created a safe place under the raging seas if you will meet me there. From there, I’ll carry you in.”
I’m still in the sea. I’m still being perfected. Some days the waters are rougher than others. I’m thankful for the days of calm. I’m even becoming more thankful for the storms…sometimes…sort of.
Mostly? I’m thankful for a God who meets me there.
One of the greatest evidences of God’s love to those that love Him is, to send them afflictions, with grace to bear them. ~ John Wesley