Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Broken Shells – The Sand Dollar Part 1

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

I’m jumping out of order as to the time sequence of events with this post. I hope you’ll pardon the interruption. Maybe the stories from Peter’s final week and the time right after are too tender. All I know is that this is what I feel impressed to share with you this week… a story from my retreat the other week at the beach.

We had such a wonderful time with gorgeous weather. We walked and ran on the beach every day. It provided a place to process and pray over things God revealed in our study and reading. All week long as we walked the sand stretched out empty before us. Mom commented at the lack of shells. The Cherry Grove beach area wasn’t known to be a great shell beach. But the sand before us each day looked more like asphalt. The shells just didn’t exist.

Thursday we had visited a different beach up north. The abundance of shells contrasted sharply with the beach at our condo. While walking that day I’d stumbled upon half a sand dollar. I scooped it up joyfully. I’d found a great picture of a broken sand dollar just the day before, and purchased it as tribute to the special friendship between Peter and his best friend Justin. When it was time to bury Peter, Justin had asked permission to place something special in the coffin to be buried with him. He had chosen a sand dollar, special to him from a beach excursion. He had written to explain he’d chosen the sand dollar as a sign of understanding. Knowing the legend of the sand dollar, how the pieces of shell inside the sand dollar that look like doves, are messengers of peace and goodwill when the shell is broken, Justin had given the shell to Peter knowing Peter was now in peace. It was a precious moment for all of us. I now could include the real shell along with the picture when I framed it back home.

I woke up our last day planning to run. However, I woke up off… dreading the end of my retreat maybe? But with high tide that afternoon, the morning would be the best time to run. I forced myself out the door to conquer the turmoil I felt inside.

I hit the beach heading toward the north pier. I moved out to the firmer sand and encountered a surprise. The beach was COVERED with shells. Broken pieces of shells littered the entire beach from dunes to water’s edge. I crunched as I ran and marveled, questioning what God had planned. Between how I felt, the intimacy of the week, and knowing home was drawing near, I knew this would be no ordinary run.

As I ran I remembered how the Chapman’s described burying their daughter in their book Choosing to See. They called Maria’s body her “shell”.

Soon my eyes scanned the shells enjoying the colors and beauty. Suddenly I spotted another half sand dollar, this one even better than the one I found the previous day. I scooped it up thinking I’d now have one to give to Justin. Shortly thereafter I found another piece- a piece for Mom I thought. As I continued to run, I thought how if so many pieces of sand dollar littered the beach, maybe I could find a whole one. I stopped running and searched more earnestly. But then, as I looked, I heard God whisper You’re not going to find a whole one.

That’s when I broke down. As the tears streamed down my face, I realized I’d connected Peter to the sand dollar. Searching for the whole sand dollar represented my longing for my son back, whole and complete. I dreaded going home because I’d have to face yet again the reality of his absence. I missed Peter so much.

I started running again as tears continued to fall. It helped to acknowledge the hurt and loss. But it hurt. I touched the north pier and headed back. The tears had basically subsided when I saw another piece of sand dollar. Then I saw another, and another. For the longest stretch a piece of sand dollar matched me stride for stride. Each piece called out at me…Broken. Gone. He won’t be there. They mocked me as I ran and the tears streamed once more.

Suddenly as the voices ambushed me, the song on my iTouch broke through. As I saw the pieces of shell and heard their mocking chant, I also heard the music.

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night

Sing it, o death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
Our God is not dead, He's alive, He's alive

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

As I ran the voices competed. The reality of Peter’s physical death raged against the reality of my risen Lord. God countered the voices with the eternal truth of Jesus resurrection. And because my God is more powerful than even death itself, I can take comfort in Peter’s new life as well. The battle for my spirit that day lasted longer than it should. I recognized God’s presence but can’t say I was instantly swayed. What I did recognize was both truths, the temporal truth of my empty arms but also the eternal truth of God’s power over death and Peter’s eternal life beyond the grave.

As Matt Maher’s song ended, a pang again shot through my heart when Peter’s song started to play, I Will Rise by Chris Tomlin, the song from his funeral. It hurts to hear it some days, but as it started that day I heard my husband’s voice from just the week before. He’d commented how some songs we’d listened to for encouragement Peter’s final week were now hard for him to hear because of the memories they stirred. But not this song. In my head that morning I again heard him explain, “This is a song of celebration and victory. This song celebrates his freedom and new life.” So, with the help of my husband’s words, I embraced the eternal truth even while walking out the temporal.

Friends, the intensity of grief can suffocate one’s soul. But as God’s word declares, “we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Jesus has conquered the grave so death has no lasting sting and hell, no victory at all. But as always, God grants me a choice. To which truth will I cling? I cannot and must not deny the reality of my loss. However, in that loss, I can run to my Father who lovingly provides the words I need to hear to make it through.

Like the sand dollar that must be broken to release the peace, in our brokenness, we can find God’s peace. Whether that brokenness is so complete we move home to heaven, or must be walked out daily and received in our spirit through God’s love and grace, peace is available because of the power and love of God.

With God’s help I chose God’s victory as the truth to rule my life. The battle might resume tomorrow, but that day my songs became victorious. I know God’s won and thus, I will too…even if just one day at a time.

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful. So full of truth. It hurts yet it heals. Jesus is more than enough to celebrate Peter's home going and to share in our grieving.

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  2. Justin struggled trying to decide what special gift he could give Peter, wanting to select something that would symbolize the peace and wonder of Peter's homecoming while at the same time acknowledging Justin's personal grief at not having his best friend with him here anymore. He was uncertain, at first, if a sand dollar was a good gift to choose - should it be a photo or something from a game they enjoyed instead? But I know he listened to his heart, and God's message to him that this was the right gift to give. Love you, Juli - Justin's Mom (Patti)

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