I’ve been up at 5am or so every morning here in Maui… something about my body refusing to adjust to the time change. Don’t worry about me, though. I’ve loved it.

Very few people are actually up at 5am, which means when I pull on a pair of shorts and stagger out the door to meander the beaches each morning, I’ve had Hawaii pretty much all to myself.

Most mornings I’ve begun with the beach across the street from our Condo, traipsing along the tidal fringes laced with shells, broken coral, and seaweed. I make my way south, bumping into the gnarled black roots of the volcano that hissed their way to the sea thousands of years ago. They remind me of Tolkien’s lumbering trolls, turned to stone by the first rays of sunlight and forever standing guard along this pristine coastal paradise.

I’m on the hunt for shells each morning—whole ones, unbroken and beautiful. The most stunning ones are cowries. A cowry that hasn’t been knocked up by the tidal tumble is so polished that it can slip from your fingers when wet. You’ve probably seen them in gift shops and thought they’d been varnished. Nope. That’s how God made them. Yesterday I found a mammoth cowry glistening on a reef. I dove fifteen feet to snatch it from the bottom, only to discover that it was still occupied.

God and I have been talking shells a lot this week. A few mornings ago, he asked me a question: “Why are you looking for the whole among the broken?” It’s hard to find a pristine shell in a tangle of coral. Most of the shells are shattered, battered, and on their way to becoming the beautiful sand that lines the beaches.

It got me thinking about people. Why do I look for the whole among the broken? We’re all broken, you see, but many times I expect wholeness, or too much together-ness, from broken souls. I don’t extend grace along with my unrealistic expectations.

Next, God reminded me that he actually goes looking for the broken shells. My collection is shiny and smooth. His is jagged, dulled, and fragmented.

His is more beautiful.

“But there are whole shells among the broken ones,” I countered. “Sometimes you find a whole one, right?”

“Sometimes I find whole shells, but I go looking for broken ones,” was his reply. I thought of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. The son in particular was broken, dirty, ruined. Coming home was only the beginning of the story for his recovery. There may have been addictions to deal with. Attitudes that needed adjusting. Wounds that needed healing.

The father runs, arms open wide, to embrace the broken and smother us with kisses.

Thank you, Lord.