God's Gift in the Hard Places
By Leslie Vernick
My husband and I went to Florida for some rest, some writing, and some fun. We were invited to stay at our friend’s condo, which faced the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Beauty and sunshine were abundant and every morning I spent hours on the deck, drinking green tea, talking with God and watching the sea gulls and pelicans dive for their breakfast. It couldn’t have been a lovelier, more restful place.
On our final day, we drove to the beach for our last walk. Miles of sandy shore greeted us. From what we could see, we had the entire ocean to ourselves. No one else was there, save for an elderly couple, curled on their lounge chairs, each reading a novel. Storm clouds were blowing in, churning the sea.
For those who lived in this beautiful place, this was not the best beach day. For us, it was our only beach day left and I was determined to find at least one unbroken sand dollar. For me, this shell symbolizes many things from the poinsettia to the cross but finding one always reminds me of a personal and creative God. One who hears my prayer and sees my need. A God who is always Present and makes precious little reminders throughout his creation to help us not forget Him.
Standing at the water’s edge, we decided to bear right and begin our hunt. The waves crashed around our ankles sucking us into the seawater. The ocean was cold, but not icy and soon we didn’t notice the temperature. What we did notice was the sand. Earlier that week, we curled our toes into the fluffy white, sifted flour sand unique to the Sarasota beach. This day’s sand was different. It was coarse, mixed with crushed shells and it bothered our tender un-beached feet. The harder the waves hit, the more unstable our footing became as we hobbled along the crusty shoreline searching for a single unbroken sand dollar.
Suddenly I saw one, whirling within the murky wave heading our way. Scanning the water as if I were searching for diamonds I asked my husband, “Did you see it? Where did it go?” But he couldn’t see it.
“Oh,..oh..oh….there it is. I got it” as I yanked it from its salty bed.
I tucked it in my hand, thrilled that God gifted me with this perfect unbroken shell.
A few minutes later I saw another one, and then another. Then my husband found two more even larger ones. We were so delighted with our treasures we decided to turn around, put our shells down on our beach chair so they wouldn’t break and head out in the other direction and see if we could find more. This direction the sand was less coarse. It was an easier walk but we never found any more sand dollars. And then what God was showing me became obvious.
All week I’d been praying about what to write about in this Christmas newsletter. I’d been pondering a passage where God promised the Israelites that they would find blessings even in the barren land (Jeremiah 31:3). Since I coach people who are usually knee deep in the trials and troubles of life, I wanted this Christmas newsletter to remind you to look for God’s blessings even when it’s not a Merry Christmas for you. Even when your life is messy and hard. In other words, in the barren land.
My sand dollar gift showed up on the stormy day, and they were hidden in the murky turbulent waves. I need to look for them as they were not easily found.
Dear friend, the Christmas message is Emmanuel, God with us. We easily find him in the good days; days filled with plenty of sunshine and beauty. It’s much harder to stay focused on him on the bad days, when the sky is dark, the water icy, the waves rough and the sand stony. Yet everyday God promises to makes Himself known to us. If we search for him in the messy and ugly places, He promises, “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – select riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God if Israel, the one who calls you by name.”
(If you want to know more about the story of the sand dollar, http://pitcheroftears.homestead.com/sand.html)