High tide, and the waves curl deep, pounding the sand into a cliff at the break line. I sit watching one shore break after another, absorbing powerful beauty, the explosion of white caps, hard and close.
I would love these waves if they broke a little further out and I could ride them in fast with adults who respect them. The mermaid in me longs for a little taste of that freedom, the wild excitement of thundering toward the shore on a frothy crest, melting into so much force.
But as it is, I need to stay where I can see the kids. My children have what we call a healthy respect for the sea, but their instincts are still immature. And I know the way the ocean pulls back strong and quick, like a giant taking a breath, filling his lungs. I sit where I can judge the strength of the surf, where I can measure the space between the kids and the shore. In this tide, I point close in, almost right at the break line.
“It’s rough out there, so be careful, and don’t go out any further than right here.” I realize that I am asking them to decide if their compulsion for wave time warrants a good throttling. I know their time in the water will be short and tossed. Already I see the lumps of sand and shells gathering in their swimsuits.
But the kids can taste salt on their tongues, and they surge forward, diving into the curve of a wave about to break over their shoulders. Delight flashes in smiles as their heads pop out above the swell. Adam stands with his board, determined to catch the next curve at just the right moment.
I amble back and forth in front of them for a while, picking up sharks’ teeth and sea glass, a random wave-carved piece of driftwood. I scan the shore, and then I lift my eyes, counting heads and sea-flung limbs—elbows and feet visible in the tumble of water, sand, shells. I listen for the timbre of happy voices lost in adventure, attentive for sounds of alarm.
Every time the girls step out of the waves, breathing hard, their hair glints, matted with bits of shell, the shiny jewels of the ocean decorating them head-to-toe. I am tempted to sigh, thinking of what it will take to wash all that away later, but they look beautiful, the way the light catches and burns at each spot, as though they have been decorated with pearls and diamonds. I can’t help but notice the red scrapes curling over Riley’s hips, but she seems oblivious to the painful art carved by all those shells, all that tumbling in the waves.
I taught them long ago to dive under the waves, pushing their bodies through the center of the curl before the break, and also the one rule when the white caps come crashing before you see them: surrender. They know to close the eyes and mouth; if possible, to hold the nose; but most importantly to let go and wait. This too shall pass, as quickly as it came. Resisting the churn of the ocean only batters the body more, only steals energy that might be more efficiently spent later.
We’ve become friends, these last weeks, with another family who lives on the island. They meet us on the beach in the afternoon and the ocean transforms our girls into mermaids, our boys into wild-eyed wave-riders. I watch Zoe rise up out of the surf and beckon to her new friend, who stands on the shore watching. Zoe lifts a glistening arm, pushing her hair out of her eyes with her other hand, glancing backward at a coming wave, checking distance.
My friend’s son stands in front of me, balancing an old, wave-glazed conch shell on his hand. He offers it to me, extending his arm, regarding me with soulful sea-green eyes as the wind tousles his hair playfully.
“It’s broken,” he says, apologetically, his mouth curving into a quirky smile, “but you can still hear the ocean if you put it to your ear.”
I smile back, accepting the gift gratefully, tracing the elegant spiral at the tip of the shell with one finger. “You know, the broken shells are really my favorite,” I tell him honestly, “because the ocean has changed them. The waves have made them beautiful, don’t you think?”
He nods, the grin broadening, and then runs out to Riley in the water. The two of them have become friends. He asked his mom if she could come home with him after swimming.
Standing with the shell in my hand, rubbing it with my thumb, pressing my fingers into the broken places, I can’t help but give thanks again and again, the cry deep, that God loves to draw beauty out of brokenness.
I am, after all, the nail-scar in His palm. He has held me so tightly through the destructive tides that my shape has been engraved there (Isaiah 49:16), pressed and driven in, my impression the beautiful healing of a wound. I am the beauty drawn out of His surrender. Tasting my freedom on His tongue, He embraced the painful re-shaping, rising to go and meet it (Matthew 26:46).
I used to wonder why the risen Christ still bore the scars of the crucifixion, why in a transformed body that could walk through locked doors (John 20:19) He would still wear grooves Thomas could touch, the mark of the nails and that sword that pierced His side (John 20:27). I used to wonder why, in glory, He still looks like a lamb slain (Revelation 5:6).
But part of asking YHWH to redeem my eyes has been allowing Him to teach me how to really see. And where I see matted, shell-tangled hair, He sees pearls and diamonds, the glinting evidence of His overcoming, transforming victory. Where I see cracks, He sees places for His light to shine through, clear and bright, a stunningly beautiful display of love that makes every broken place into something brand new. He sees not the wound but the One who changed it, not the sinner, but the reflection of the Savior. And when He looks on the Lamb slain, those scars, He sees the impression of me, tightly held, surrendered and broken, passionately pressed into the open, unblemished palm of the One who gave His life. I in Him, He in me, forever one, the Christ and His bride (John 15:4).
I need only dive into the curve of the wave and surrender.
And I wonder how long He will work transforming me, until I begin to see the truth, that all these broken places–surrendered, redeemed–glint with the beauty of His touch. I wonder how long until I begin to see not the mess to be smoothed and tucked away, but the glory to be displayed, until I realize that standing there in His light, I look like His daughter, decorated from head-to-toe by love better than life, the jewels of heaven, fingerprints Holy, all-powerful, all grace.