Afternoon, and the beach becomes another elegant art, a mosaic of striking contrasts. I love the seascape for the way she changes, for the intensity of her perspectives. Across the water I see rain, a blue black bruise on the horizon blurring the line God made between the deep sea and the boundless sky. I listen for the warning rumble of thunder. The tide too high for swimming, we have spent the last hour gathering treasures in our hands. In my palm, I hold three pieces of glazed sea glass—one that shines crisp green, like new grass; shark’s teeth—thirty-five, maybe forty, wet and fiercely different; and a broken bit of iridescent shell that seeks the light, reflecting gold, coral, lavendar, and blue like a memory of the sunrise. For these, I give thanks, simple things that matter only to me, a small collection meant for remembering. Often I glance up from my wandering to collect other gifts—my childen each given over to a different shade of reverie; the sea like glistening, smoky, glass, except where the shorebreak waves rise, sculpted; the brilliant places where silver light breaks through ominous cloud; the moments when these clouds move and the sun falls warm again on my skin. Waves crash close, and Adam studies the way the water reshapes the shore, the way the sand moves beneath his feet. I hear Zoe softly talking to phantoms, conjuring her own adventures, carving pathways in the sand with her fingers and heels. In turns she plays at strength and flexibility, making bridges out of her body and then trying to stand. Riley sits on a boogie board, content to watch the sky and the sea moving and changing right in front of her. She’s always been this way, patient enough just to see and quietly experience things as they are, peaceful enough not to wish for more or different. This, this is enough for her, and if she gathers no more, she’ll find no complaint in the day. A break in reverie, like the sun suddenly hot, and Zoe stands at my side, offering me half of an ugly, gray oyster shell. “Something to hold your shells,” she says, just half of a clause, and the cupped, gnarled thickness of it in my open hand, and she runs back down the beach before I can even comment. I watch the water spray up and out beneath the smack of her heels against the smooth, wet sand. I would never have selected this particular momento, but it’s suddenly beautiful in a way that it only could be because she gave it to me, because some thought for me brought her to my side, bright and passionate and warm. And now, I would never discard it. It makes me think of so many things God has redeemed for me, things I would never have chosen, things in His wisdom He chose not to remove from our hands. I ponder these in my heart, too many to write down at once, too glinting and rich to be captured by a solitary glimpse. I take out just one and hold it up, one to show with the eagerness of a well-loved child: See, see what I’ve been given? Autism is beautiful to me, where in spaces it is ugly and awkward to unaccustomed eyes. I know a girl—a young woman, really, now—who loves with a pure heart, who shines like a star, who works harder than most and never utters a single complaint. She breathes peace, even when too much sensory information makes her heart race and sweat runs down her forehead in rivers and she doesn’t understand why. She rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and she is comfortable with herself and with all our awkward angles. She accepts and embraces and cherishes, and her innocent ageless wisdom shines through the shadows of my own middle-aged insecurities, like silver light breaking through and glistening on the ocean. I know a boy, knobby and lean, with blue-eyes like the bright, boundless sky, who weeps when he worships. He knows nothing of pretense. He is never afraid to be himself. And even though connecting is a dark challenge, he wants to be whereever I am (even now, in the room where I write, he composes otherworldly music on the keyboard while I type) and searches hard for words. He has taught me that communication is a precious gift, and that it is so much more than sentences. He has taught me that relationships are built on walking through together, not on deep and numerous conversations. He has taught me that intelligence and creativity and resourcefulness can never be fully estimated by standard measures. And God has used the two together to teach me to be thankful right now, to pray without ceasing, and to live by faith. God has turned all our gnarled and damaged and difficult into a lesson that when things are hard, it’s not time to walk away. The high tide with it’s rough waves and salty gulps draws away the broken bits, revealing the most stunning treasures beneath, and that ugly shell becomes a dish in my hand, an unlikely treasure chest. My children are so much more than that one broken thing, a discarded bit of the ugly in life that God has repurposed as a vessel for delivering rare and beautiful gifts, gifts I would otherwise never have known, treasures more lovely for the shape the disability gives them. I tuck the iridescent gem of it safe and wander on, stopping often to look at the sky. And on the horizon, I see rain like a bruise. All around us, life hangs heavy and ominous. I listen closely for the sudden, electric smack of thunder, the ripping that will shatter the afternoon, even as it washes our living and nourishes new growth. I feel the storm. I see it, the brooding blue-black monster of it passing thickly over the sun. I would never presume to make light of its intensity, of its potential for pain. But the sea looks like polished silver, even so. We collect more gifts than we can hold. Grace spills over into our tender palms, and I whisper a prayer of thanks, laying my treasures safely in the cup of a gnarled shell that reminds me of the stormy sky. I too have been made beautiful by love, though only God would have chosen to make a vessel of me, a dish for holding the most sacred treasure of all. I am redeemed. I am that empty half shell, tossed and sun-faded, filled with Glory, the treasure that reflects what God has done, the rising of His Son.
And so our yielded, weary, stormy lives testify to Truth. With our eyes, we watch the storm gather, and with His, we see the unhindered beauty of the Light. We wander along the shore of living, gathering grace in the most unlikely spaces, at the most unlikely times, and because He reaches and touches our quivering lips with burning coals from the altar itself (Isaiah 6:5-8), we count these gifts—our remembrances–right out loud. We give thanks.