The Benevolence of Beaches

In 4LTR WORD: GIFT by Mandy Smith

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Beaches are generous places. Well, I suppose it could be said that the breakers bring the gift and the beach just presents it. I’ve lost track of how many gifts I’ve received from beaches—tiny bird skeletons bleached by the sun, perfect shells, glass blasted soft by sand. My most precious piece of jewelry was given by a beach to my husband who then gave it to me—a piece of coral smoothed by the sea and kindly drilled with a small hole by an even smaller marine creature, preparing it to be my pendant. I keep the beach’s offerings in a bowl on my windowsill only partly to remind me of vacations and warm days long past. The real reason I keep them is to remind me of serendipity.

When life is hard (and it often is), it’s easy to feel that any good I have is my own doing. If I want to have food, I have to work. If I want to have clothes, I have to wash them. If I want to see friends, I have to call them. If I want to have opportunities, I have to pursue them. When we were small, we could wait for these ordinary miracles to fall into our laps, but no longer.

I need to believe it’s not all up to me, that there are forces at work, some fate, some coincidence, some benevolence. I choose to hope that there are things beyond entropy that pull us up, provide for us, keep everything from falling to nothing.

There are moments, usually when I’ve given up looking, when a gift will fall from the sky. It may not even be the gift I’m longing for but it’s a gift, nonetheless, perhaps more sweet because of its strangeness. Instead of the boots I came to find at the thrift store, I come across an old vase, exactly like one I held so carefully at my grandparents’ house. As I turn the pages of a library book, I find a photo left there by a previous reader, a piece of life slipped in to hold their place.

Some of serendipity’s best gifts can’t be kept in the bowl on my windowsill. They’re moments given, sometimes by a stranger. Like the drizzly day I was drawn out of my gloom by the sound of singing. As I peered down the street, I could see a yellow umbrella, bobbing between cars, and—I hadn’t imagined it—there was singing. Familiar phrases with long pauses in between, I imagined, as the singer navigated the puddles.

“I sing because I’m happy …
I sing because I’m free …
Soon her gift was my humming,
I know He watches me.”

Photo (Flickr CC) by Kalyan Chakravarthy

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Mandy Smith
Originally from Australia, Mandy studied Biblical Studies at Cincinnati Christian University and is Lead Pastor of University Christian Church, a campus and neighborhood church and fair-trade cafe in Cincinnati. She is the author of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (upcoming, 2015), regular contributor to Christianity Today’s PARSE site and creator of "The Collect," a city-wide trash-to-art project. She is married to Dr. Jamie Smith, New Testament Professor at Cincinnati Christian University, and they live with their two children in a little house by campus where the teapot is always warm.
Mandy Smith

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