By Andy Howard
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” the doctor said.
Those are words you never want to hear from a doctor. Especially when they are about your firstborn daughter. My wife, Tiffany, and I braced ourselves.
“Your daughter only has 10 percent brain function.”
In the span of two sentences, our world collapsed.
“Barring a miracle,” he continued, “she’ll never walk, will be legally blind, is unlikely to talk, and won’t be able to use her hands.”
I wanted him to stop. In a matter of seconds, our beautiful Payton lost the future she was supposed to have. I mourned the friends she’d never play with. The tender conversations we’d never have.
As my head spun, he stood, apologized for the difficult news, and excused himself from the room. He had another patient to see. His footsteps echoed down the hallway. Screaming silence filled the room.
We wept for Payton.
I’m sure you’ve had awful moments, too. Where the people we love most get hurt. Or the cancer returns. Or the wounds feel too deep to heal. My wife handled our challenges with Payton with grace and strength. But I fell into a deep depression. And in a way, that made me feel worse. Wasn’t I supposed to be the strong supportive one? Didn’t I love my daughter as she was? What was wrong with me?
Depression is like a choke collar. Sometimes it loosens for a moment, but just as fast, it snaps back with a vengeance. I was already strung out from working multiple jobs (because we always had more month than money left). This pushed me to the breaking point. My wife and close friends saw me losing myself and intervened. Our Hail Mary would be a trip from Dallas to the Alabama seashore.
It was the perfect location with the perfect people — yet I was miserable. Everywhere I looked, I saw dads playing with kids on the beach. Dads splashing with their kids in the waves. Dads and their kids building sandcastles.
And a voice in my head whispered: “That’ll never be you.”
After another sleepless night, I got up at 4:30 a.m. and went to the beach. The waves crashed beneath twinkling stars. Tears ran down my cheeks.
But as I walked barefoot in the cold sand, I noticed something odd. A couple was collecting seashells. They’d place the whole ones in their basket, then toss the broken ones aside.
I walked slowly to where they’d been. And like a lightning bolt, I saw the battered constellation of broken shells the couple had discarded.
I heard God say, “There is beauty in the broken.”
In a moment, the trinity of anger, bitterness, and sorrow began to lose their grip. Everything I’d carried since that day in the doctor’s office spewed out of me. I fell to my knees and sobbed.
It was a full-on ugly cry. And I didn’t care.
Like a madman, I gathered every rejected shell and loaded them into my shirt, which I made into an impromptu basket. I must have collected 100 broken shells that morning. But now brokenness — and beauty — coexisted.
They were everywhere, stretching far down the beach to where I couldn’t see the end.
I trudged back to the condo. My shirt overflowed with seashells, and my eyes were red and watery. And for the first time in months, I knew something had changed. Because deep down, I had changed.
That moment on the seashore wasn’t a magic wand. My pain didn’t vanish all at once. But my journey out of the pit began that morning. That’s when I learned a lesson that changed our lives forever.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When you smash against an obstacle, you have two options: you can quit, or you can find the beauty in the broken. No matter how dark the night, hope still glimmers — but only if you look up.
As of this year, Payton is 14. She has spent the equivalent of 2.5 years in ICU rooms. She requires a nurse’s care around the clock. But nothing is as magical as seeing her smile or watching her light up when she hears my voice.
She may not be able to say my name. But she knows my voice.
Friend, I don’t know what’s happening in your life as you read this. Things might be really good for you. But I also know things might be really hard. You could probably write a book about what you’ve been through that’s longer than mine.
But I can promise you, what this world labels as being broken, God names as beautiful. There is healing on the other side of pain and depression. Keep walking. Collect the discarded shells. And find beauty in the broken.