Several years ago we were on a family vacation at a state park near Warm Springs, Georgia, where FDR’s Little White House is located. Roosevelt had the house built just before he took office in 1933. He had first visited the springs almost a decade earlier, like so many others, looking for a cure for the polio that ravaged his body. Although he never found healing, he did experience relief and the site remained a favorite getaway. He was at Warm Springs when he suffered his fatal stroke in 1945.
At the time of his death, Roosevelt was sitting for a portrait by Elizabeth Shoumatoff. She had worked with him the previous two days and was supposed to finish the day he died. We can only try to imagine the impact of Roosevelt’s death upon her. I’m sure she mourned his passing and grieved for his family as the rest of the country did. Then at some point, her mind must have returned to her work and my guess is that she would have been devastated that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had come so close to completion and now remained forever undone.
She needn’t have been. As things worked out, the unfinished portrait of Roosevelt is Shoumatoff’s best known work. Its incomplete state dramatically captures one of our country’s most critical times. It reaches out and pulls the viewer into the moments immediately preceding FDR’s death. It makes you feel that you were there. Interestingly enough, Shoumatoff later copied the unfinished portrait and finished it, but it never generated anywhere near the interest that her unfinished portrait did.
During that same trip, we visited the town of Warm Springs. As we traipsed through its shops and stores, I remember coming across an item of interest in the back of a small antique shop. It was a carousel horse. In its earlier days it had undoubtedly occupied one of the places of honor on a merry-go-round. You could almost see the gleeful, bright-eyed boys and girls as the rode ’round and ’round while the music played.
But those days were long gone for this horse. The years had taken their toll and its original paint was cracked throughout. Rather than trying to scrape or strip the old paint off, some wise restorer had simply but carefully cleaned the horse and then put a coat of finish on it. The result was that the cracks in the paint now appeared to be part of the decorative design. Its brokenness had been turned into beauty.
This post really doesn’t have much to say to those whose lives are one unbroken stream of achievement and success. But if you’ve been around long enough to see some dreams die, to have been kicked around by life, or if you’ve watched the things you’ve given your life to broken (Kipling), then I suspect there might be something here for you.
What is it?
Simply this: the goals we set for ourselves and the dreams we have don’t matter to our Father nearly as much as our efforts to please Him. It’s our availability that concerns Him rather than our ability. By our standards, our work/life might seem unfinished or broken, but in God’s hands it can be transformed into something beautiful. The One who can turn of patch of barren desert into an oasis or a caterpillar into a butterfly, can take the unfinished work of our lives with all of its cracks and crevices and make something beautiful of it. If we will allow Him, He will make blessings out of our brokenness.
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)