The bells are tolling from the church behind my apartment this cold, gray, Sunday morning in China. I love the sound of bells - deep, steady, and strong. Christmas has come and past, but the meaning of this holiday and the questions and thoughts it has evoked as I am here alone, continue.
I watched Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" yesterday. I have seen this movie dozens of times, but once again was struck and filled with tears at the grace and love this story portrays, the truth that life is a gift, that our lives touch others, and I as a a believer, am never without hope.
As I watched the story of George Bailey, a dreamer and adventurer, choose to give up his dreams to save his family's business, I thought about sacrifice and love. Many times in life we are asked to make sacrifices, selfless sacrifices, that seem unfair and take character. As I watched, I thought about HIS sacrifice for all of us - He didn't have to do it, we certainly didn't deserve it, but he chose it out of immense love. George loved his father and believed in his business in a city potentially on it's knees before Mr. Potter, a rich, old, miser, that he chose to carry the flag and continue to give hope to the less fortunate.
As I watched the movie take it's classic turn, Uncle Billy misplacing $8000, George taking the blame for it desperately before Potter, suddenly questioning his life, his worth, his significance, I saw that universal struggle among human beings. Regardless of the situation: financial, relational, or physical, those doubtful questions have come up in almost everyone's life. But the hope in this story, the timeless beauty, is his encounter with Clarence the wingless angel, and the chance to see what life, the lives of others, would have been like without him.
People make mistakes. In his fear, George angrily yelled at his family, friends, others, destroyed part of his house, and ran off into the night. As prayers were lifted upward for a struggling husband, father, and friend, the love of others pours in. The ending of this movie gets me every time. George seeing what a wonderful life he truly had, rushes home to see his loved ones, now joyfully accepting his supposed fate of imprisonment. But his wife, Mary, in her immense love and faithfulness had a surprise and reminder: George is deeply loved and will not be abandoned when in need. Friends, family, the whole town pours into that drafty house dropping money, savings, penny banks, anything they had in order to save the life of their friend, their friend who deeply touched their lives in more ways than he realized. What a beautiful story of love, grace, forgiveness, and a second chance to see just how wonderful life is.
As the bells toll outside my window this morning, I think about my life, the struggles I have had here, the questions, doubts, fears, and insecurities that have bubbled to the surface of my heart and soul. I am reminded about a lot from this 1946 black and white film: about grace, love, forgiveness, and the faithfulness and support of true friends. And that life is a precious gift to use for His glory to touch lives and be touched by others.
New Years is just around the corner and the shaping of my heart and life deeply continues.
It truly is a wonderful life.