The sign read Harbor Island. An immediate picture came to mind: a jewel of land carved away from the shore by the sea, white sand beaches fringed with impossibly blue water.
The girls and I were headed back to our hotel after a day of exploring the shores of Lake Michigan. My husband and his K-9 partner had to be in Grand Rapids, MI, for a yearly certification process. We were able to tag along. They worked, we played.
We had already toured the oldest working windmill in the United States. We’d stood, spellbound, as we watched Friesian horses gallop across the pasture behind it, black manes flowing in the wind. We spent time on a quiet beach with a lovely view of a quaint red light house. We were mesmerized by the azure waters of Lake Michigan and had felt the soft white sand of its beaches under our feet. We’d eaten thick, juicy burgers, crispy fries and creamy milkshakes at an adorable beach café. We’d climbed a sand dune and raced through the tunnel beneath it. It had been an extraordinary day.
“Let’s take a detour,” I said. “That island may be something we don’t want to miss.”
“Mommmm, can’t we skip it?” the girls pleaded. “We’re so tired…all we want to do is get back to the hotel.”
“It won’t take long,” I replied. “Besides, it may be worthwhile! Sometimes the best part of a vacation is when you go off the path.”
Both girls moaned. My tendency to go off the beaten track was well known and sometimes not appreciated.
Still, I couldn’t resist.
We turned onto Harbor Road and followed the signs. I stopped on a patch of gravel, mostly overtaken by weeds. In front of us rested a derelict pop up trailer. An old metal building stood behind us, housing several boats covered in plastic shrink wrap. Trash littered the ground.
Morgan took one look out the window and said, ”I’m staying in the car.”
“Well, I have to walk Frosty. Just come out for a minute.”
Olivia came with me. Morgan remained, determined to sit it out.
We walked Frosty along the edge of land. Weeds and grass grew down to and into the water. No white sand to be seen. Trash and debris bobbed along the shore. Colonies of algae and scum rocked on the gentle waves.
Olivia spied a paddle, washed up on the shore. She immediately wanted to enact the law of “finder’s keepers.” To her, the paddle had great potential, especially since she and her daddy were engaged in a boat building project back home.
Though I appreciate her resourcefulness, I had to say no.
Her attention was next attracted to something white moving in the distance. “What’s that?” she asked.
I glanced over quickly. “Probably just another trash bag.”
“No, no, it’s not,” she said.
“Well, run over and see,” I told her.
A moment later, she came racing back.
“It’s a swan, Mom. A SWAN! Not a trash bag! A SWAN! I have to get Morgan.!”
After hearing this exciting news, Morgan jumped out of the car with her camera and hurried away with her sister.
It was, indeed, a beautiful swan, gracefully preening itself close to the shore. Debris littered the edge of the water. The girls watched quietly as it stretched a wing and set sail. We stood there until it became a dot of brilliant white against the horizon.
The beauty of it stood out in the less than perfect surroundings. Perhaps, for that reason, it was even more beautiful than if we had seen it along a bank, graced by willows and white sand. The unexpectedness of it added to our appreciation.
As we turned to leave, we saw one lovely feather marking the swan’s presence on the shore.
The girls talked about the swan for the next fifteen minutes, getting great pleasure out of the fact that I had mistaken it for a trash bag. That’s o.k., it was a good, unspoken lesson about not taking things at face value.
Initially, I was caught up in disappointment, because the island was not what I expected. If it had not been for the expectant, wondering eyes of my child, I would have missed the swan; passing it off as just trash blown there by a careless wind.
My youngest one, however, saw possibility. My oldest girl saw beauty in what was left behind.
How often do we get caught up in the disappointments of life, eyes fixed on the broken things, on the debris, on the damage; mourning because what we are experiencing is not what we expected? When we are too much in the moment, focused on the here and now; caught up in everything we perceive as wrong, we can easily mistake what God is in the process of doing. We forget that He holds the ability to create and recreate. We may miss the beauty of His hand in the moment, and be in the wrong mind set to see the beautiful things His grace will yet reveal in the wake of the storm.
If you are in the midst of brokenness, with the debris of ‘what could have been,’ piled at your feet, be encouraged to look with eyes of possibility and wonder. If you are a believer, God has placed His Spirit in you. That Spirit is the Spirit of creation, and God is in the business of using brokenness to create beautiful. Only He can work during the storms to make and leave behind things of real beauty.
Character refinement, deeper trust in Him, the ability to empathize with others and bring them comfort, or the grace to find peace that is not dependent on circumstance, are all beautiful “feathers” that show His presence. Usually, these are blessings left behind only because of hardship; and in the contrast to the debris of the world, they shine with more startling beauty.
Brokeness gives us opportunities to draw close to God and rely on His strength and grace because we realize our complete inability to be successful on our own. Believe that He can work in every situation! Believe that His Spirit lives within you, enabling you to overcome. Embrace and apply that concept! It is real. It is truth. Ask Him to give you wondering, expectant eyes that see possibility and beauty instead of debris.
Romans 4:25-5:5 NIV
“He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
PHOTO CREDITS: Morgan