Wednesday, January 14, 2009

La Vita è Bella

La Vita è Bella.

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.


KK said...

What beautiful people, even in their brokenness. I will be praying for each of them and also for Leslie, as I think she must be on one of your lists also, as a beautiful person.
Blessings to your family always,

Anonymous said...

Amen! I read a story in Reader's Digest. The man said "hello" to everyone he met for a month. He found out that it makes a huge difference. I think everyone has a story, a wonderful story. How often do we take time to hear, really hear, someone's story? Life if beautiful and precious because God created it. Thank you for sharing stories of real people trying to make a difference and to show that life is beautiful even in the middle of muck. Jennifer in Southeast, NC

TJPPPSmith said...

Janet sounds like a Janet that was in Dallas, Texas on 2007. She was living on the streets and caring for/teaching her 2 kids when some men from our Sunday School found them while doing homeless missions. Several of us helped them our to get on their feet and find a place to stay. I do not know if this is her, but I pray that her family is safe.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful...I so enjoy reading your blog, Greg. Prayers for your meeting with Carlos.

Michelle said...

It's amazing what we see when we take the time to see past the 'masks' people put up.

I work in an op shop (thrift shop), and each day we pray that we would see people as God sees them, hear their hearts, and that all we say and do would bring glory and honor to Him.

Because we might be the only church or Jesus that people ever get to know.

Maggy said...

Thank you!!! If everyone of us make an effort everyday to know people the way you tried, we can be the best workers the Lord has asked for :)
Sometimes we forget that the Lord share his word of Salvation in situations just as normal like ging to the well to get water and talking to the lady at the well.
The Lord is showing you how to share his love in a different amazing way in the mist of your own needs.
Praise the Lord that overflows our hearts with love for others because it can only come from HIM, ELOHIM!!!
My prayers are with your family, with your sweet wife Nicole and your daughter. The body of believers and brothers and sisters in Christ are not stoping praying for your family here in Tampa:)

H. said...

I needed this post...thank you so much for sharing!

Blameless said...

Loved the plug for your wife, Nicol! I just ordered a Christmas CD this last holiday season with her singing.....she's definitely one of God's gifted (and beautiful) servants in my books!


Karen said...

what a beautiful reminder...

I try not only to ask God for His eyes to see others but His heart to serve as well. (A lot of the time it's easier to see but harder to act.)


Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it, but did you and Nicol ever sale your house? Your latest posts have been about Nashville, so I was just wondering if that prayer request had been answered for your family.

Anonymous said...

I really appriciate your love to share God and teach. Keep reminding us of our mission here on this earth we temporally call home. Thanks Shi~

So Blessed said...

This is a precious post...I believe that (more often than not) it takes brokeness for our lives to become beautiful and to show us the beauty in others. We start to see others as God sees them. Wow, what an opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Forever looking for the people from the bottom up--always know that those who work the menial tasks are the ones to befriend--a lesson learned early on--not those who think they are something they are not.

Julie d. said...

What a beautiful blog. And what a beautiful person you are for seeing through into the heart of these beautiful people! More people should be willing to look into the heart of a person. This world is so big on judging a person only by what they see on the outside. When we all know that what really matters is what is inside us. I'm sure you have blessed these beautiful people as much as they have blessed you!

Love in Christ, Julie Doody

sheila said...

I've been thinking alot about your post. I am a very friendly and outgoing person; BUT there seems to be a wall/block that I have put up with really connecting and becoming friends with people. Perhaps it's a mask, UGH... Well, here goes more thinking and praying. Thanks Greg for just following where God is taking you. In God's Love, sheila
How is Nicol doing, I am sure as I look at the calendar, her heart is beginning to ache again. May God's peace be with you both.