My friend Lynn lost her husband unexpectedly last year. She came home to find Jon unconscious. He died from a stroke a few hours later. And so Lynn has found herself at the crossroads. Again, really, because Lynn has lived enough of life to know that the paths we walk are winding, and we don’t always know what’s around the next bend.
Lynn went to the beach at the one year anniversary of Jon’s death. It was one of their favorite places to walk and to be, Jon sitting in the sun or the drizzle and Lynn wandering the shoreline to look for agates which catch the light, sending their little reflective signs like miniature survivors using a mirror to signal the search plane, waiting to be rescued and brought home and cherished.
This time, though, after a year of grief and uncertainty and upended by change, Lynn contemplated the ocean, standing still at its edge and watching the waves come in, again and again, like Grace which ebbs and flows and always returns with more gifts in its hands, cleansed and rubbed smooth, before it takes back the jagged bits, over and over.
She stood for a while to watch Grace and also to confess, because there’s a Right Way to do things, you know, a Standard for Christ’s followers we’ve been taught from the cradle, and Confession is that Way; the examination of our hearts, the lists of our sins, the humbling of our spirits, the requests for forgiveness. And so Lynn watched Grace bring the gray and black rocks to the surface. The rocks of her selfishness. The rocks of her pride. The rocks of her despair. The rocks of her fear, determined as she was to suss out the darkness and hand it over to Grace.
Which is when the Whisper came on the wind and into Lynn’s heart.
“What about the agates?” the Voice asked.
And Lynn thought, “What?” And, “Shhh.” And, “I’m busy Confessing over here. I’m focusing on the Sins. Be quiet.”
But the Whisper came again.
“But what about the agates, Lynn?”
And so Lynn reluctantly slowed her confession to listen.
“What about the agates?” said the Voice, gentle and sure and a lot like Love and, not shushed this time, the Voice went on. “Remember wandering by the waves to look for the agates? Walking next to the waves of Grace to watch for the bright bits to wash up? Well, I was just wondering… can we do that again? If you’re ready, I mean. Can we comb the beach to look for the gems? Can we let Grace unearth the beauty, too? Can we anticipate the light and the brilliance as it catches our eyes? Or must we stand here longer, letting Grace only unearth the dark? Tell me when you’re ready, Lynn. Tell me when you’re ready, and we’ll go walk the beach together.”
I sat in the sun with Lynn the other day, because when the sun comes out in Oregon, that’s what we do. We bask in it. That’s even what my littlest ones call it. Basking. “I’m going to go bask now, Mom!” they yell on their way out the door before they slam it or leave it hospitably open for the flies.
So I sat in the sun with Lynn, basking while she told me her story, and we laughed and laughed and laughed cleansing laughs at the human condition which is our condition and at our temptation to watch for Grace to reveal only our darkness. Because this is what we do sometimes, isn’t it? We focus so much on doing things the Right Way, and on ridding ourselves of the dark, and on finding our shortcomings so we can tackle them and drown them and send them far, far away that we forget to listen for Joy. Or open ourselves to Love. Or watch for Beauty.
It’s OK, though.
We’re trying so hard.
Every last one of us.
Trying so hard.
And the very Good News is that Love has a way of talking to us if we slow our self-flagellation long enough to listen. Because there is a still, small Voice on wind. And Grace ebbs and flows as steady as the waves, unearthing more treasure for us all the time.