Yesterday, my friend Kelly and I attended a live production of It’s a Wonderful Life.
With such a classic story from the movie we all watch during the holiday season, I wondered whether a local cast could pull it off. All morning I was doing my best Jimmy Stewart impression, “Mary, Mary!” my gravelly voice spoken through crooked lips.
I mean, really, how could they find a George Bailey even close to the caliber of Jimmy?

But despite familiarity working against them, the cast pulled off an entertaining show, with more music and dancing than I remember from the movie. And even though I had tried to forget it, the guy who played Sam Wainwright did the “Heehaw!” just as annoyingly as Frank Albertson in the movie.
I had forgotten how much of the show is set up as background to the real plot: George Bailey standing on a bridge contemplating suicide. When it came time for Clarence, his guardian angel, to show George what life would have been like without him, I had already determined what a wonderful life he had. It took George just a little longer.
When he makes it back home and is surrounded by his family and friends from Bedford Falls, George is full of gratitude for what he has rather than bitterness for what he gave up. Having seen the trajectory of the lives of his loved ones without him, George realizes his contribution was greater and his sacrifice smaller than he realized.
George Bailey was the second man I learned about on Sunday who faced his life head on and walked away grateful.
Earlier that day, my pastor, Mark Vroegop, preaching from 1 Timothy, talked about the gratitude of Paul, not born of his own sacrifice, but His Lord’s.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. — 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Had these two men not been laid out before me on the same day, I might never have seen it. But there it was: two different gratitudes. One, human-centered: my life is not at bad as I thought it was. The other, God-centered: my life is even worse than I thought, but God’s grace is even greater.
George Bailey reveals the best in people; Paul reveals the best in Jesus.
It is a wonderful life.