Several years ago, my husband, Stephan, and I traveled to the Pacific Northwest for a series of engagements over a long weekend—a church, a university, and an event with the local community. The air in Spokane was crisp and the mountains, already snow-capped. Trees were were just beginning to turn fiery hues of orange and red. It never takes much for Stephan and I to say “yes” to traveling West.
Long-boards, wheels tipped up, lined the hallway leading to the college auditorium. The lecture room, filled with bushy beards and knit hats smelling like double espresso, was boisterous with chatter. “We know too much today,” Stephan said to the group. “Your generation refuses to turn away from the world’s suffering. You can do something about it.” Then he closed with a “top ten list” of what they could do here and now about the suffering in the world today. We prayed for God’s help to hold the tension of the suffering, and to care enough to lean into the pain of others. Sun streamed through the windows as he closed—unusually beautiful for a rainy Pacific fall.
Afterwards, students lined up to speak with us. Stephan dove headlong into a handful of conversations. I did too. After ten or fifteen minutes, he remembered he had a scheduled call, and sought to make a beeline for the rental car. On his way, he briefly leaned into a conversation I was having with a young woman. He told me later that as he did, he was struck by the uncommon joy of the woman. He said something he’d never said to a perfect stranger before, something he assured me he would never say unless I was there with him assuring intention:
“You have a beautiful face.”
Then he ducked out, just like that, making his way for the parking lot. An hour later, just as he was finishing the call, I joined him in the car.
Sliding into the passengers seat, I said, “Do you have any idea what you did to the woman with whom I was speaking?” His eyes widened, brows furrowed, as he tried to remember. Confused, he responded, “I think I told her she had a beautiful face?”
“Yes, you did,” I said. “But don’t know what you said. As you walked away, she slumped over, buried her face into her hands, and burst into tears.”
At first, the scene Stephan left behind was heart wrenching. I sought to console the woman, embracing her as best she good. Gathering herself, steadying her voice, she quietly told me her story. 85% percent of her body was burned when she was nine years old. Only then did I notice the pale scars creeping up her neck near her ear, just under her carefully tied scarf. Through her thin sweater, I could feel the scar tissue on her back. By the time she was eleven, she told me, she had had too many surgeries to count. Doctors told her mother there was no skin left to graft, and that she should prepare for her daughter’s death. Her mom wept when she later told her daughter what the doctors said.
The beauty of her next words will stay with me forever.
This little brave soul interrupted the doctors news with news of her own: ‘Mom, you don’t have to worry.” She went on, “Jesus visited me today. He sat on the end of my bed and told me everything would be fine. That I would live. That I would be healed,” she said. Her voice catching, her eyes welling-up with tears once again, then she said: “Jesus told me I would have a beautiful face.” (From that day, 99% of her skin graft surgeries were successful. She is married today with two beautiful children.)
Stephan had no idea what he had said, or the beautiful story he unlocked. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths,” said Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. “These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
God grant us courage brave souls.
May we be willing to say what needs to be said, even when we don’t know what we are saying. Speaking light in the dark, leaning into the tension, discomfort, and sometimes unexpected hard work that can make way for beautiful people to happen.
*Elisabeth Kubler-Ross , Death: The Final Stage of Growth, article 1975)
Educator turned advocate, Belinda Wilson Bauman seeks to bring hope to women in crisis. After living internationally for a decade in conflict and post-conflict zones, Belinda experienced what she calls a “beautiful collision” with the brave souls of women who survive in the most dangerous places in the world. Belinda and her husband, Stephan, and their two sons, Joshua and Caleb, live in Grand Rapids, MI where they relish promoting peace, raising chickens and gazing at stars while living in the country.