After my swim, I sat in the sauna watching the silent play of humanity unfold through the large sauna window that overlooks the indoor pool. For probably the thousandth time in my life, I wished I could paint. If I was a gifted artist, I would not paint towering mountains or sweeping landscapes. I would capture all of the unique beauty of ordinary humanity, humanity that droops and sags, humanity that is creased with age and speckled with time. Beautiful, flawed humanity set free from the deceptive magic of Photoshop.
This, I thought, is what real life looks like.
An older lady I know stopped in front of my window and began to organize her equipment for the water aerobics class that was already in progress- swim noodle, water weights, kick board. She was late but in no hurry. She wore a black swimsuit with white flowers in a Hawaiian print. Age spots sprinkled across her back like confetti. The skin on her thin legs fell in a road map of soft creases and folds. She turned to face me and I saw that her loose blonde curls looked as if she had just come in from a fierce wind storm. Her lips were their customary shade of bright red.
As I watched, she eased down the steps and into the water. She walked straight to another woman who was already exercising under the firm command of the instructor on the pool deck. Sun from the windows fell across the surface of the water and illuminated her white hair like a halo. When the woman with the red lipstick reached her, her face lit up with a smile and they immediately began chatting in spite of the drill sergeant on the deck, and oblivious to everyone else around them.
That is when I realized I was watching the drama of redemption unfold.
Every person in that pool was at least in their seventh decade of life. If we were able to see a tally of all they had endured, survived, projected onto the wall of the pool, what would it show? How many broken hearts? What would be the accumulative weight of mistakes made, regrets carried? How many phone calls were received that stopped their hearts for just a moment? How many sleepless nights were spent weeping and praying over a precious child or spouse? If we could quantify betrayal, what would be the final cost for those represented?
How many tears had been shed? How many desperate prayers prayed?
Yet, there they were- wrinkled, spotted, bald and sagging, still showing up, still working hard, still dancing in the water, still loving their friends.
Life breaks us here, bit by bit by bit… yet, against all odds, there is redemption. There is beauty in the broken, new life out of the ashes.
I don’t want glossy, Photoshopped beauty, flawless perfection. It is like one of those cakes you see on display at the bakery, so beautiful but just empty cardboard underneath. It isn’t real.
I hunger for the gloriously flawed who persevere, those who stumble yet choose to dance. Give me the beauty of the broken who have been redeemed.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes…” Isaiah 61:1a&3a