His cold fingers clutched the half-empty beer bottle. A dozen empties lay scattered in the sand around him, evidence of another night wasted. Every night was the same- drinking to numb the pain and watching the waves. Nothing ever changed. The tide came in and went back out, then repeated itself again and again.
Nick Demas preferred the beach at night to the daytime. Off-season was even better. Being here during the busy times, amongst happy families was more than he could handle. He could imagine those families tonight, sitting in their cozy houses, laughing, drinking cocoa, and singing Christmas carols. In one of those houses were his ex-wife and son. Where he should be, there was a different man- one who had it together, a guy who could hold onto a job. Nick had been graciously invited to the family gathering, but he left the invitation on his answering machine without responding.
He lifted the bottle to his lips and sucked down half of the remaining liquid. He knew it was pointless. The beer wouldn’t satisfy him, wouldn’t really dull the pain. It would all be back in the morning. It always was. The waves crashed against the rocks relentlessly, like the thoughts that tormented him day and night. Trying to stop the torment by drinking was like trying to stop the waves. He could close his eyes so he wouldn’t see the waves and plug his ears to block out their sound, but that wouldn’t cause them to cease their crashing. Of course, he could always leave the beach, while he couldn’t leave his mind. Then again, there was a way to turn off his mind and he was considering it. As he contemplated walking into the ocean and letting it take him under, he guzzled the rest of the bottle.
“Why not just end my life?” he thought. “It serves no purpose. At least I could provide a meal for the fishes.”
Thoughts of failure filled Nick’s head.
A voice seemed to whisper to him, “You are a loser. You’ve screwed up everything you’ve ever tried. You’ve hurt all the people who cared about you. You’re not good for anything.”
“It’s hopeless,” Nick said aloud as he tossed the bottle and watched it smash on the rocks, sending shards of glass flying onto the sand. “I’m like that bottle: empty, broken and useless,” he thought.
Near the broken glass, Nick noticed a pail half-buried in the sand, left by a child who had played here recently. Guilt pricked his conscience as he thought of a child cutting his foot on the broken glass.
“All I do is cause pain,” he mused.
For a while longer he sat contemplating suicide. Finally he decided Christmas Eve wasn’t the right night. He didn’t want Christmas to be an annual reminder to his son of his father’s death.
Tonight he would go home. As he staggered up the sandy path to the parking lot, the waves began to gently pull the pieces of glass out into the sea.
A year later…
Sea gulls swooped and cried overhead. The sea was calm today. Nick drew in a breath of the frosty December air and walked along beside his five-year-old boy, who skipped contentedly towards the rocks at the end of the beach. It had been nearly a year since Nick has sat upon those very rocks, desperate and suicidal. He breathed a prayer of thanks as he thought of all God had done for him since then.
Driving home from the beach that Christmas Eve, Nick had hit some ice, lost control and flipped his truck. He was knocked unconscious. When he came to, there was a man holding a cloth on his bleeding head. He seemed to be praying. The truck’s radio was still playing and Nick heard the words, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled,” being sung by a choir. Confused, he looked at the man beside him. Nick’s vision began to clear and he noticed that the man was dressed strangely: he appeared to be a shepherd? Looking up from his prayer and seeing that Nick was awake, the shepherd said, “Don’t worry son, you’re gonna make it. God has a plan for you.” It turned out the man was a pastor who had been heading home from church after the Christmas Eve service and noticed Nick’s overturned truck down the embankment beside the road. He called for help, sat with Nick until it arrived, then accompanied Nick to the hospital and spent hours with him. Touched by the man’s compassion, Nick opened up and shared his feelings of desperation with the pastor. He confessed his failures and sins and concluded by saying, “I’ve completely ruined my life.” ‘
The pastor nodded thoughtfully. He couldn’t argue. The young man had indeed made a mess of things. Instead, he offered a suggestion. “Well, Nick, why don’t you just start over?”
“Sure,” laughed Nick cynically, “that would be a great idea if I could time travel back to when I was a baby! I can’t fix what I’ve done. It’s too late.”
The pastor smiled. “No Nick, you’re right. You can’t undo what has been done, but you can make a new start.” He pulled a worn black Bible out of his jacket pocket and began to show Nick what he meant. He explained that all people are sinful and in need of a savior.
Looking up at the clock, the pastor noticed that it was past midnight, which meant is was Christmas. He smiled broadly. “Nick, this is what Christmas is all about! Don’t you know Jesus came here to die on the cross and take the punishment for your sins? He did that so you could have a second chance. He wants to change your life!” On and on he continued, speaking about grace, forgiveness, joy and peace that could be had by coming to Jesus.
Lying in that hospital bed, Nick felt a tug at his heart and he knew it was true. He desperately wanted the peace that the pastor spoke of.
“Lord,” he prayed, “You know what a mess I’ve made of this life. If you really love me and want to help, I’ll give it to You.” As Nick surrendered himself to God, he felt something he hadn’t in a long time- hope.
So much had happened since then. Nick was attending church; reading the Bible and slowly putting his life back together. The pastor, now known to him as “Brother Steve”, was now a good friend. In fact, later today, he and his son, Noah, would be going to Steve’s house for a holiday get together. He had stopped drinking and started rebuilding relationships. His ex-wife now trusted him to have Noah, on the weekends. He watched his son running ahead and dragging a long piece of seaweed. Suddenly, the boy stopped short and bent over to inspect something on the ground. Picking it up, he turned and yelled over his shoulder, “Daddy! Daddy! I found a piece of sea glass! I can put it in my collection!”
Nick smiled, knowing that his son’s treasure was undoubtedly the remains of a broken beer bottle like the ones he used to smash on the rocks.
“Isn’t it cool?” Noah asked, holding the piece of green glass out in his mitten-covered hand for his father to see. It wasn’t sharp-edged like the pieces of a shattered bottle. Rather, it was smooth with rounded edges and a frosted look. Lovely. It was amazing how the sand blasting effects of the ocean had transformed something dangerous and useless into something worth picking up and keeping. Nick remembered how he has likened himself to the empty broken bottle he smashed last year. As he did, a Bible verse came to mind:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Yes, God had been working on him. Just as the ocean smoothed the glass, God was working on his rough edges and changing him into something better. The Holy Spirit was like the ocean waves to Nick, washing over him daily and melting away the bitterness, guilt and shame in his life. In place of those things was a deep abiding peace and joy and also a love for others. Even the people in his life who weren’t ready to forgive him had to admit that something was going on with him. Looking up at the blue sky, Nick uttered one more prayer of thanks, and then went to join his son in the search for more treasure. Jogging to catch up, Nick called out, “Hey buddy, Christmas is almost here. Do you know why Jesus came?”
This is really good! I was doing some reading and came across this. I like the way you brought his story into the present and compared the broken jagged glass to the now smooth glass. Good job of this story, easy to read and follow.