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A Christmas Gift

My family has been blessed over the past 20 plus years to have the opportunity to spend time on Padre Island. My folks first started wintering there when my dad was looking to retire years ago and since then my entire family has started to make the trek down regularly. Lately we have been meeting here to celebrate Christmas. It is a pretty simple place, but right on the gulf and the weather, while not always perfect, is consistently better than Iowa during this time of year. So all in all it has been very good to us.

This year I joined the rest of the family on Christmas eve and as is our norm, Christmas morning we went for a walk on the beach. We walk each morning mostly to talk and just enjoy the waves, sand, and sun. But we also hunt for shells and especially we look for sand dollars. It is fairly rare to find a complete, unbroken sand dollar, so finding one is always special. This was a "hunt" that originated with my mother Phyllis who loved the ocean and being on the gulf. She could not get enough of the waves rolling in and spent about all of her waking hours walking the beach.

Part of this hunt is about faith and hope. Some people rise very early and go out first thing because they believe after an entire night with no one walking the beach their chances are better of finding a sand dollar. While this concept does have some logic to it, over the years we have found that the intrusion into our morning coffee and talking together is not worth the rushed effort to get outside to look for shells and take our walk. Vacation is vacation and nothing about it should feel like work.

So our family is rarely the first group out in the morning. But that was OK with my mom because she always said that each wave was another chance. She believed, and this has been proven true time and time again, that the sand dollar you seek can fall upon the beach on any given wave. There might have been others left during the night and those may have been picked up by people who were out earlier, but the sand dollar we were to find can come to us at any moment on each and every wave. So we were always hopeful during our walks, no matter when we left the room, that we would find a sand dollar.

I think of this hope, belief, and optimism often, but particularly when I am back down here on the beach. That any given wave can bring us the gift we seek at any moment keeps me looking and expectant all the time. I think of the waves of the ocean and the promise of another sand dollar coming to us like the days of our lives and the many opportunities that can come our way each day. The truth is that each day is another "wave", and another opportunity for blessings to enter our lives, for opportunities (open windows!) to present themselves to us, and for new people to touch our lives and us them.

So in this the last week of the year, with so many of our days behind us and gone, and with each of us having days left ahead, we tend to think of endings and beginnings. None of us know how many days lie ahead, but that is not really the question. The pressing question is how shall we greet these days and what will we do with them? That is the joy and hope of the new year, that we can reach and attain our goals and become the person our vision has laid out before us. That this is that year!

So when we were walking Christmas day this year and we had gone most of the way down to the jetty (a little over a mile from where we stay) and had not found a sand dollar, my daughter Emma jokingly said "Where the heck is grandma Phyllis?" You see, my mom passed away a few years ago and we normally attribute our usual good fortune for finding whole sand dollars to her and her traveling spirit, assuming that she places these sand dollars in our way for us to find.

Just moments after Emma made this comment we of course came across a very nice sized whole sand dollar. While never surprised when this happens, we were taken back a bit that it appeared immediately after Emma made this comment. We all felt the hand of my mom with us, as we often do when on the gulf because she loved it so. It was a comforting reminder of the love she had for us and this place, and how she so gladly shared that with us as best as she knew how. A great Christmas gift indeed.

On our walks we always see many broken sand dollars. Sand dollars are fragile and when tossed around by the waves on their ride to the beach they often break. So the beach is full of these broken shells. While we do not always pick them up (because they are not viewed as valuable or special) my mom told me a story about them that has never left me. She explained to me that she most strongly identified with the broken sand dollars because that is how she felt most of her life - broken. She didn't mean that in a terrible sense of self criticism, just that she was less than perfect and was closer to a broken sand dollar than a whole one.

That was one of the first times I really understood how my mom felt and it made me kind of sad. She saw that and told me not to be sad. She explained that life can be hard and her's, while it had some disappointments, overall was unbelievably blessed and she had no regrets. She felt that most people in their lives see themselves more like a broken sand dollar than a whole one, and that there is nothing wrong with that. And it seems true, that we all have parts of our lives that are broken, less than whole, but we continue on. We keep working toward our goals, keep fighting for what we believe in, trying to do what is right. We share our lives and love with those around us and it is good. Even if not perfect, it is still very good.

But this story always makes me appreciate the broken sand dollars on our walk and all the people in my life who have some of those same feelings. And I know my mom is watching over all of them as well as us, wishing us strength in the midst of our brokenness that we might find our own sense of wholeness. So I offer all blessings to you and your family for a joyous new year, with hope that you keep looking, and that you may find the gift you have been looking for on the very next wave.

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