Seashells & Sand Dollars: Inspiration from the Beach – How to Face Adversity and Offer Hope

Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement – and we will make the goal. ~ Jerome Fleishman

I just spent a week at the seashore, watching waves pound the beach, dragging sand away from its quiet place on the shore and into the bigger ocean. If I were a grain of sand, I’d much rather lie in the sun: peaceful, un-battered, with a life of quiet tranquility. I’d rather not face the waves of adversity, tumbled by the tumult of ebb and flow, uncertain of my outcome.

Yet the ocean, like life, gives back, even as it takes. I found a sand dollar amid the flotsam at water’s edge. A tad imperfect, not bleached-white but dull gray; all the more precious because it survived the surf to settle at my feet – an unexpected gift.

As we strolled along, others were picking up seashells, tossing aside those that were chipped, broken and imperfect. I’d always done the same thing myself. But then I started to notice the shards. They were just as beautiful, perhaps more so. Uniquely shaped, beaten but not destroyed; a testament to the tenacity of life and survival – even in the wearing ocean. My thoughts wandered with my steps …

A friend’s daughter who lost a child, and another whose husband died unexpectedly. Both too young.

A conversation with a Korean veteran who lived a far different experience from our MASH-inspired perception of war. Thank you, sir, for your service. (And thank you to all veterans, wherever you served.)

A wealthy businessman who struggles with the realities of a 29-year-old son with ALS. The son may not see his 30th birthday. And no amount of money can change that …

Dozens of people, young and old, in wheel chairs and scooters on the boardwalk, enjoying sunshine and surf despite their handicaps.

Even a dog rally, where two of the stars were Pitt Bulls with missing legs. Most of us would say, “How sad.” Yet they were active and loving, squirming with joy when people stopped to pet them.

I began to pick up those broken shells, seeing a different perspective that others overlooked. “See these colors.” “Ooh, look at these – how beautiful!” And a few steps further, “Feel this one,” as I rubbed my thumb back and forth across its smooth surface, comforting like a worry stone.

We are like those seashells. We don’t get the option to stay on the beach, comfortable, warm and unaffected by the ebb and flow of life. Instead we must face the surf, overcome the riptides of calamity and disaster to offer value and beauty to those whose paths cross ours.

Some of us seem to have ‘perfect’ lives, yet we’ve been through the surf of situations and circumstances that tossed us about and left our emotions behind with the tide.

Some of us are battered by life, dull and chipped like that sand dollar. We’ve lost the polish of lovingkindness – replaced with the grayness of anger, bitterness and disappointment, grief and regret.

Others are broken – eroded physically, mentally, emotionally or financially. Our lives, our ‘shells’, are no longer what we had expected. We’ve been washed ashore by waves of time and circumstance. We wait, broken and alone, for someone to pick us up, dust off the grit and remind us of our innate value and beauty.

I’m sure we’d all rather be like seashells in the Beach Store: perfect, polished, costly. But Life’s tides don’t give us that option.

The next time you see people or circumstances that aren’t what you want or expect, remember the lesson of the shells. They were all perfect once. Yet, even battered and broken, they add to the ambience that is Life. Every seashell – if it could talk, would tell you a story of joy and sorrow, ebb and flow.

We forget too often that our experiences are not unique. The Bible reminds us the tests and trials of life are ‘common to man’ (I Cor. 10:13). Growth and decay, trial and circumstance, happiness and disappointment are all part of the tide called Life. Here are three simple keys to help you face your own adversities and offer hope to others.  

Empathize. When you meet someone who seems storm-tossed and lonely, remember the sand dollar, chipped and gray, but special nonetheless. Share your compassion and understanding.

Appreciate. Be grateful when the ocean of Life gives you time on the beach. Welcome every opportunity for sunshine and blessing. Share your blessings with others.

Connect. No matter where they are – or why, people need connection. Just like those fragments of seashells, you can ‘pick them up’ with smiles, kind words and hugs.

That Korean veteran showed me a photo of he and his wife, now deceased. Decades ago, they were young and beautiful – far removed from the stubbly elder gentleman I know now. My own life certainly didn’t turn out as I’d expected. Yours probably didn’t either. And that is true for all of us. But just like those seashells, we’ve survived. That is the real inspiration from the beach.

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