You know you’re seeing real beauty when everything in you stops for a moment.
A groom lays eyes on his bride for the first time on their wedding day, her brunette hair sets off her deep blue eyes and flawless skin. For a few brief moments, the setting sun, shadows, and clouds line up perfectly and the sky bursts into saturated fire. Your child, without prompting, tells you they love you. Insert your own beautiful moment here.
Moments like these take our breath away. Our search for air and words comes up short. The silence of our usually cluttered minds is serene, and we are left for once to simply drink it in.
I think God directs these moments. I think, as he so often allows us to experience pain to get our attention, his desire is for us to find him in the stunningly pleasurable moments too. The moments that clear our minds so he can enter.
It was my first trip to Ethiopia. We were visiting the Mother Teresa Hospital in Addis Ababa. This hospital exists to provide health care to the most destitute in the capital city. Roughly 700 men, women, and children are treated here, and many of them arrive too sick to be saved. This is where the poorest and sickest from Ethiopia’s streets come to die.
We took a tour of the facility. Patients are separated into rooms based on what particular illness they are suffering from. There is a cancer room. A tuberculosis room. A hepatitis room. A mental illness room. There is an area where street mothers, often rape victims, can come to deliver their babies and receive proper nutrition for the first three months of their child’s life.
We passed by room after room, almost all of the metal beds holding the sick and dying. Not exactly a place one would expect to find beauty.
But it happened.
As we continued on the tour, we came to an outdoor courtyard. The first thing I noticed was the beat up, old playground equipment. The second, about 25-30 blankets laid out on the ground, each one with a severely physically and mentally disabled child on it. They were just lying there, unable to move.
Then I saw him. Making his way, on his hands and knees to one of the children on the ground was an older man. He crawled on their level, through the dust and into this child’s broken world. He took the child’s deformed hands in his and he put his face next to the child’s ear and he would whisper something. Next, he would look the child in the eyes and smile. Then back to whispering.
After two to three minutes of this close, personal interaction, it was onto the next child. Then the next. And so on. After he got to the end of one of the lines of children, he stood up and a member of our group began a conversation with him.
As it turns out, this Irish man had come to Ethiopia on vacation twelve years prior. He had visited the hospital on that trip, and from that moment on, he had been using his vacation time to crawl around on the ground with those precious children.
What I witnessed that day was pure, stunning, unadulterated beauty. Everything in me stopped. I found it hard to breathe as the tears pressed the backs of my eyes. The purest form of beauty I have ever seen with my own eyes was that Irish man pressing his face into the necks of children who could offer nothing in return. He simply wanted them to know they were acknowledged, loved…that somebody saw them.
I think the purest form of beauty in the history of the world is the image of Jesus, leaving his home in heaven to crawl around in our dirt, whispering his love over us – sometimes shouting his love over us – and pressing his face into our necks, although we can offer nothing in return.
Sacrificial, unconditional love is the only true form of love. While the Irish man’s example was stunning, it will be nothing compared to the embrace of Jesus when we meet him.
And the embrace has already begun.