Life is beautiful. It's not easy, mind you, but it is beautiful; it is beautiful because it is flows from the Creator of beautiful things.
The greatest sports legends of all time... Jordan, Bird, Magic; Ruth, Mantle, Williams; Montana, Payton, Marino; Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods; Gretzky, Esposito, Orr; Marciano, Ali, Leonard; Pelé, Maradona, Beckham; Owens, Spitz, Louganis, Lewis, Korbut, Witt, Comanechi, and Torvill & Dean, to name just a few... have left millions in awestruck wonder at the beautiful displays of their one-in-a-million talents and abilities... because each of these mega-stars were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.
The greatest singers and entertainers in the world... Celine, Aretha, Elvis, Bono, Dylan, McCartney, Lennon, Whitney, Cash, Orbison, Springsteen, Jagger, Billy Joel, Elton John, Lionel Richie, Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Etta James, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, Karen Carpenter, and my personal favorite, Nicol Sponberg [ :-) ]... have been able to captivate their audiences with beautiful songs and performances... because they were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.
The greatest thinkers and politicians and actors and orators and philosophers and generals and presidents and writers... do beautiful things with what they have been given according to their personal expertise... because they were crafted by the Creator of beautiful things.
If we took all the beautiful people, from all time and from all places, if we took all of the outpourings of their gifts, and if somehow we combined all of this into one grand, collective masterpiece... we would have nothing more than a paltry reflection of the Creator of beautiful things... it would be a wonderful collection, no doubt, but a grossly inferior reflection nonetheless.
So life is beautiful because the Creator of life is beautiful... and the stories that are the lives of the people we encounter everyday are beautiful as well... and one's story doesn't have to elicit Michael Jordan-esque raves and reviews to be appreciated for its extraordinary gorgeousness... because the Creator of beautiful things sees past the brokenness and the flaws and the darkness and embraces the beauty He has crafted.
Nicol and I have met some beautiful people. Today I am thinking of three in particular... Bobby, Janet, and Carlos. Their stories, not surprisingly, include brokenness and pain and disappointment and failure, but when you look past all that, they are masterpieces, a reflection of their awesome Creator.
Bobby had been working as a concrete finisher for more than three decades when I met him about two years ago. I hired him to do some work on our driveway. After the concrete had been poured, and as Bobby and his crew waited for the curing process to do its thing, he and I sat and chatted about life. I listened as he told me his story. It was one of deep brokenness and it was also one of great beauty.
He had been married for roughly the same amount of time that he had been laying concrete when, one morning, out of the blue, his wife told him she wanted out of the marriage because she just didn't want to be married anymore. He told me about going to church year after year and hearing hundreds of messages but never being told how to love and lead his family or teach them about God or open the Bible with them. I'll never forget these words, "I didn't need to learn about the tribulation at my church, I needed to know how to to teach my children to pray and know God and to make life work."
Bobby's story was painful to hear, but spending time with him was a beautiful experience. His calloused palms and vice-grip-like handshake told me how he made his living... even though I already knew that. His tanned face showed the effects of daily toil in the sometimes scorching sun. His wrinkled brow appeared to reveal the inner tension and stress that he had been carrying for some time. With his vulnerable words, spoken to this total stranger, he allowed me into the deepest, most pain-filled recesses of his heart. His clean clothes, despite having just poured 5 yards of concrete, showed the skill he had crafted and honed for three decades. (By the way, I had concrete on me and all I did was watch! And he didn't have a speck on him!) The fact that he was still standing after losing his sweetheart told me that he is a survivor. Everything I knew about Bobby's life was beautiful to me, his story precious.
Our friend Lesley met Janet one afternoon about 6 or 8 weeks ago in downtown Nashville. Janet approached Lesley to see if she would be interested in buying some of the jewelry she was selling... jewelry she had made to sell so that she could feed her kids. Janet had two young children (Courtney, 10, and Shawn, 5) and was expecting another. Nicol met Janet thru Lesley just a couple of weeks later. We met with Janet and her kids, including her 13-day-old daughter Brittany, over Christmas, and very much enjoyed getting to know her (them) in the very brief time we had together.
Janet left the Greyhound bus station in Nashville last week, embarking on a 30-hour bus ride to Las Vegas with her three little ones, in hopes of reconnecting with Brittany's father, in hopes of just a little bit of help, perhaps in hopes of a break. One may wonder why she has three kids and isn't married, why the two older kids aren't in school, what she will do in Vegas if things don't work out with the baby's dad, how she found her way into these circumstances. I did.
But behind all the brokenness, I saw beauty in Janet, in her story. Her children listened to her and seemed to respect her. She spoke kindly to them and taught them little things ever so patiently. She is motivated enough to make necklaces and earrings and then sell them out on the street so that she can provide for her children... when she could just sign up for government assistance. She was gentle, calculated. And she was grateful for every little thing that we tried to do for her.
That's beautiful. A grateful heart despite unwanted circumstances.
I met Carlos at Walgreens and have seen him there consistently over the past several months. Always friendly and helpful, I have enjoyed my interaction with him quite a lot, but it wasn't until last Friday evening that I actually took the time to stop and get to know Carlos a little bit. Normal information... he manages a gas station/convenience store in Nashville and works evenings at Walgreens. He's from Bogota, Columbia, and he is well-educated but couldn't find a job there so he moved to the States and settled in the Nashville area with his wife and children... the three who are at home at least... he has a daughter at Columbia University in New York (she's obviously kinda bright!). He loves to drink coffee (duh, he's from Columbia!) but he refuses to pay Starbucks' prices and therefore doesn't spend any time there. His faith background is Roman Catholic, but he said "we" don't go to any church because "church is in here" (pointing to his chest) and "who we are is what we do." There's some great theology in there, I thought, particularly the last phrase. I learned that Carlos is a bit skeptical of the church and that what he considers most important is to be good, to treat people well, to be a loyal employee, etc.
The rest of our conversation went something like this...
"Carlos, how good is good enough for God?"
"That's a good question."
"Can I have your phone number? I'm going to call you and meet you for coffee at Starbucks so we can get to know each other a little more and talk about that question. Great talking to you, Carlos. See you soon."
"Good to meet you. Call me."
A beautiful man with a beautiful story.
Life is beautiful. Every story is as similar as it is different. And all it takes is a little bit of time and a listening ear to find out what the stories are really all about. We encounter people every day at WalMart and Target, on the golf course and at the gym, on a conference call and in a boardroom, at church and on the front porch, at Chic-Fil-A and and the movie theater and, most importantly, right at home... and everyone has a beautiful story to tell.
La Vita è Bella. Not easy, but beautiful nonetheless, because life flows from the Creator of beautiful things.