by Shauna Amick
We had just checked into the hotel after a 14-hour drive, and all five of us wore the badge of weary traveler. Our youngest daughter, Sarah, perhaps played the part best with her windblown hair and clothes showing evidence of a fast food dinner eaten way too quickly in the car.
Exploring the hotel’s amenities was the last thing on our minds. All we wanted was to find our room and recover from the journey. My husband and I, along with our two older children, scanned hallway signs directing us to our final destination for the night. Sarah, however, dawdled behind, peeking down hallways and into corridors.
It was then that it happened. Sarah dropped her suitcase with a thud and gasped so loud that the rest of us turned to see what was the matter. Whatever Sarah saw didn’t just grab her attention, it took her breath away.
She took off down the hall and the rest of us ran to catch up. What we found waiting for us was an elegant sunken dance floor, designed for wedding receptions or father-daughter dances. This unexpected delight took us all by surprise, but most of all Sarah, who was instantly transported into the ballroom scene of her favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast.
Sarah had no doubt seen that movie a hundred times. She had reenacted it over and over again in our living room at home, but now—standing in front of this grand ballroom—Sarah became Belle. No longer was she a dirty little girl worn out from a long, hard journey. She had been transformed into a beautiful princess, just waiting for her prince to notice her.
We all knew what she was thinking; her open mouth and the twinkle in her tired eyes said it all. Her daddy put down his bags, reached out his hand, and invited Sarah onto the sparkling marble tiles.
“Can I have this dance, my love?”
Sarah took her father’s strong hand. Alone on the dance floor, they began a magnificent waltz.
Before long a crowd gathered. Hotel guests on the way to their rooms stopped to watch and whisper. Cleaning ladies put their rags down, tears welling in their eyes.
Witnessing this love between a father and his child—knowing that in that moment my daughter believed herself to be the exquisite apple of her daddy’s eye—it all brought special joy to my heart, too. What mother wouldn’t melt at that sight? I soaked up the significance of the dance, and then I wondered…
Would this scene be quite so poignant if Sarah didn’t have Down syndrome? Would a passerby smile at Sarah and her daddy, but find no reason to stop and stare? Was it hard for those at the edge of the dance floor to imagine loving Sarah; to celebrate her for all God created her to be? Did they see her as the beauty she had surely become?
These are the thoughts that enter a mother’s mind after years of facing a harsh reality; it can be hard sometimes to recognize true beauty.
I have learned to behold beauty in the eyes of a homeless person, begging on city streets. I have come to appreciate the delicate beauty found on the faces of those with dementia, alone and forgotten in nursing homes. I’ve been captivated by the pure radiance of my friends with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Sarah has given me this gift. Through Sarah, God has shown me the absolute brilliance of Himself placed within humanity, His image bearers, for in the image of God has God made man (Gen. 1:27).
This truth was hard for me to embrace at first. I was so indoctrinated to believing that beauty could not transcend age lines, dress sizes, or one’s genetic makeup. The veil over my eyes made me lose sight of the fact that it’s the unfading beauty found well within ourselves that is precious and costly to God.
It’s not in how anyone looks at all that determines if we are beautiful. It’s the deep simplicity of grasping that we are God’s workmanship—His masterpiece!—that assigns value and shouts from the rooftops, “You are beautiful!” As Joni Eareckson Tada explains: “The same God who made beautiful sunsets and gorgeous mountain meadows made you, and He made you just the way you are. You are exceptional because God is the Artist.”
This is the revelation that met me years ago looking down into my newborn daughter’s face despite her diagnosis. It’s the same revelation that corrects my own negative self-talk when I find myself reflected in a mirror. I may see wrinkles giving evidence to the title weary traveler. I may have scars, be they in the flesh or rather reminders of hard seasons along life’s journey. Regardless, my Father still reaches out His strong hand and invites me into the dance, daring me to see the beauty He has bestowed upon me as His own.
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me” (NIV, Song of Songs 2:10).
Can you hear Him calling you, too? You might only see yourself as worn out and weary from the road, but the Lord your God is enthralled by your beauty. He longs to trade a crown of beauty for your ashes, a joyous dance of blessings for your mourning, and a garment of festive praise for your despair (Is. 61:3). Will you let Him? Will you allow Him to take the world’s faulty understanding of the word beauty, and redefine it for you?
Doing so brings with it a fresh perspective on both physical beauty and the beauty that lies within the stories of our lives. Beauty redefined allows us to see purpose in even the most painful parts of our past. It moves us to be more forgiving, more accepting of ourselves and others. If “one of the tragedies of life is that we keep forgetting who we are,” as Henri Nouwen reminds us, then embracing the truth that we are beautiful works of art fearfully and wonderfully created by the very hand of God positions us to find true beauty in everyone we meet.
As I move on from this space, I will be looking for beauty in unexpected places. I encourage you to do the same. Whether it’s in the face of someone with Down syndrome or someone who’s simply down and out. Be it the person who sits across from you at the dinner table or the one staring back at you in the mirror. Stop for a moment, fix your gaze upon the beautiful image of Christ within, and let Him take your breath away.
Shauna Amick, M.Ed., serves as the Area Director of Joni and Friends New England, and is a contributor to www.IrresistibleChurch.org, developed to equip churches to become authentic communities built on the hope of Christ that compel people affected by disability to fully belong. This article originally appeared in the 2015 winter edition of Just Between Us magazine. Reposted here with permission from the author.
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