Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Looking Ahead

September 28, 2019

Athena Williams


I lived for a season on a barrier island on the East Coast. Barrier islands aren’t really islands at all; they are giant sandbars that shift over time. While the wisdom of building permanent structures in such places is questionable to me, I am grateful for the time I spent there when the circumstances of my life were forcing me to let go against my will; I was being swept out to sea and there was no solid ground beneath my feet except the Rock, upon Whom my foundation was built, strong enough to endure those trials.

I jogged south along the shore one morning. The sand was packed and easy to run on, but there were large areas south of the pier where something covered the sand. I slowed down as I drew near to one of the dark patches; was the sand rougher in these areas? I squatted down to examine this strange phenomenon and found that it wasn’t sand at all. It was billions and billions of crushed seashell fragments, edges worn smooth by the tumbling waves and deposited here on the beach. I scooped up a handful of the pieces. Some were pearlescent, obsidian, or amber; some were flecked, some pure. It struck me that God knew the origin of each particle; where and when it had been formed, and for which creature. He knew the exact location of every other particle that had come from the same original shell, and He could put the Humpty Dumpty pieces all back together again if He wanted. Each of these tiny jewels had a story to Him. I took my handful of shells home and put it in a jar, and it sits on my bookshelf today to remind me that each of us is so intimately known, in all our pieces and fragmentation, in all our brokenness, and in the beauty of our purpose.

The air was chilly and the skies overcast as I wandered north another afternoon, looking to explore the outlet of the River. Again I found myself slowing down as something came into view ahead. Like grey ghost ships drifting on the water, several abandoned houses on stilts stood in the surf, staring out to sea as if locked in time gone by. This was before the days of smartphones and I didn’t have a camera with me, but the image is frozen in my memory. I could have waded out into the water, only ankle-deep, and walked beneath these bastions of the sea, but they were somehow untouchable, like an illusion or a glimpse back in time. Families had lived in these houses, called them “home”, gazed out at the sea as it drew ever nearer, swallowing up their beaches, then their gardens, and finally their driveways, forcing them to move away.

Isn’t that how it goes?

We don’t want to let go, but we are made to.

Release comes slowly, reluctantly, looking back like Lot’s wife at what we can’t keep. Clinging to sorrow like driftwood in a swirling sea. But, oh, if we would look ahead!

“Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.” 

* J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 8

 The featured image “October Gold” is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. 


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