Beauty

There is a lot of buzz this week over the court case involving Erin Andrews and the hidden cameras in her hotel room a few years ago. Erin is a sideline reporter for various sports networks. A few years ago while covering college games in Columbus and Nashville a guy (with insider information to where her room was) planted hidden cameras in the peephole of her door and captured naked videos of her.

Erin is by all accounts a good looking woman. Tall, blonde and knows football….the perfect trifecta!

The events were being discussed here at work and someone mentioned how she is one of the “hottest” women he can think of. This (in typical guy fashion) developed into a “who is the most beautiful woman you can think of”.

Who hasn’t had one of these kinds of conversations? My favorite one of these types of talks happened about 4 years ago at an event at church. An older widow was leading an event for area homeless. I was up there with my daughter helping out when somehow we got on the subject of best looking Hollywood men. She is in her 60s, so we discussed men from 20+ years ago. I mentioned Paul Newman, then Marlon Brando – of course all got thumbs up.

But then I mentioned Robert Redford, and she made a one-liner I will never forget. She said “Oh my….Robert Redford can eat crackers in my bed any night!”

Nothing can top that one!

Back to my original topic. I wasn’t in the conversation the guys were having but I was in earshot. Maybe it is because my heart is in communion with Lord’s, but I didn’t go straight to physical beauty – I went for biblical beauty. Now, the bible doesn’t for a moment deny outward beauty. The bible quickly points out flowing hair, tanned skin, curves – God knows that physical beauty can’t be denied. But it doesn’t stop there. In fact biblically speaking physical beauty is only a speed bump, a mere pull off on the side of life’s highway

It is inward beauty (male and female) that Scripture repeatedly says is worthy of praise. Let’s face it, some people are just genetically gifted and are thus – beautiful! But for most of us, we are at best average. Nothing great, nothing abnormal.

But inner beauty isn’t given. It is developed through choices of the will. Things like patience, sacrifice, honor, longsuffering, compassion, esteem and encouragement are cultivated by choice. But it is these things that Scripture always points to as beautiful and worthy for our pursuit.

So while my teammates ogled over this blonde and that singer, I got to thinking “Who in my life has exemplified TRUE beauty.”

Answer: my mom.

However, it was in a way that Jean Vanier (Catholic Philanthropist and creator of L’Arche – 142 communities worldwide focused on loving and giving dignity to the mentally disabled) discusses beauty

My mom began working with the mentally handicapped fall of 1980. This was at the edge of a time when the mentally handicapped were often institutionalized. Words like “retarded” or “looney bin” were tossed around with common language. She was employed at a school that specialized with the mentally handicapped. This was not simple learning disabilities. These were kids with great pain in their lives. These were the people Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes. These were the poor and meek.

The pain was real that my mom experienced as well. She has been to more funerals for students than many of us have been to total. There have been times that I reflected on the challenges she and the rest of the staff had – and when I occasionally feel sorry for myself and complain how hard my week has been (which usually means the internet wasn’t working correctly) I feel quickly humbled. I don’t know what a tough week is.

The children my mom worked with were those that society feels sorry for. “Poor pitiful thing”. Not my mom. She gave them dignity! We all know what dignity is like. Like Jesus my mom would touch those who society didn’t want to touch. The Gospels are filled with Jesus’ being intimately personal. Jesus touched, Jesus wept, Jesus ate, Jesus taught, Jesus was in the boat, Jesus forgave, Jesus with children, Jesus healed. Jesus didn’t love from a distance. He was in the midst of the individual. He was at the well, he was at the pool of Bethsaida, he was in the home, he was in the synagogue. Born in a dirty manger, and lived his life getting dirty with broken people.

That was my mom. She got down and dirty with people. Feeding, helping use the restroom, cleaning breathing tubes, cleaning vomit, cleaning tears, wiping up spills, fixing hair, telling them “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” My mom, like Jesus, saw these students and sacred and beautiful. She saw through the exterior into the heart of each student. That is what biblical beauty does. The eyes of the beholder don’t stop at skin, eyes, hair – but penetrate into the heart and soul and sees that all people have beauty in them. That the true person is on the inside.

In the mid-80s my mom became a nanny for two girls with cerebral palsy. The girls were sisters and 10 years apart in age. It is one thing to love the mentally handicap in a school. After all, you are protected from society by the walls of the school building. But that wasn’t the case with these two girls. My mom would take these ladies to restaurants, to the park, shopping, friends’ houses, festivals, concerts – there were no limits.

Snow, 100 degree weather, rain, wind – didn’t matter. She got those girls out for decades.

Many summer days while school was out, I would join my mom. I recall back then, as a teenager, admiring her utmost love and affection to these girls. It was a love that ANY child would long for, and these weren’t even her girls!

The greatest challenge for our society when it came to these two ladies was dining. Because of CP, eating was a challenge. The mechanics from using utensils, drinking through a straw, and swallowing were each a hurdle for them. Of course there was a mess! And I would see grown adults (the powerful of our society) at nearby tables, struggle, struggle to feel safe. The roles were reversed: the weak were actually the strong, and the supposed strong were all of a sudden shown to be weak.

Regardless of the world around them, my mom would joyfully tend to the girls and then take care of herself last. Fast food or a nice restaurant – the routine was the same. And all the while, my mom gave them the attention that says “I love you”. Only the beautiful can leave your presence and make you feel loved or important.

Jean Vanier says that to love someone requires you to understand them. This seems obvious, but have you ever stopped to think about it? How many of us understand the world of the mentally/physically disabled? My mom does. She understands their fears and angst. She knows what makes them feel strong, and what makes them feel….well…..different.

What may have been so beautiful about my mom was her ability to receive love from the handicapped. As a culture we are more apt to humor them, or laugh at their acts of silliness (which can actually be nothing more than a cry for acceptance), pat them on the head and so on. Because we see ourselves as those having power, it can be difficult to receive this love. The love of the mentally disabled is a pure love. It is not structured on performance or conditions. It is raw and honest, and this can make the strong of this world uncomfortable – after all much of the world is built on a fat lie, a façade. I would see these girls reach up and yearn for a hug from my mom and she would authentically receive it. That is beauty! Such love is hard to look at given the kind of silly, artificial love we see on TV or in print.

Those who are strong feel a need to prove it. There is a hidden need to validate myself in front of others which naturally leads to oppressing others (Vanier). The handicap can’t do that. The only weapon they have is their heart. THEY ARE THE OPPRESSED! Yet they joyfully give their heart, but the world struggles to receive it. My mom didn’t.

One of the girls went to the Lord a few years ago. My mom continues to work with the other every week. This has been an ongoing relationship of love for three decades.

The bible says that God looks upon the heart – this is the center of our personality. My mom, spent her whole life reaching into the hearts of the mentally disabled and giving them joy and dignity. Good luck finding someone more beautiful

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