Across the sea behind the walls of a Serbian mental institution precious treasure is tucked away. This season I’m giving thanks for the people who bring beauty to my life. And I can’t pass by the beauty I found in Serbia. In a room the size of a small bedroom Chedo, Petra, Boris, and another little girl whose name I can’t remember, lie in metal cribs. Lubitsa, the nurse, sings to them. She kisses slobbery faces, strokes their heads, she feeds them, and washes them. She loves them. It is breathtaking.
Two years ago (has it really been two years!?) I witnessed humanity in all of its raw and fragile beauty unfolding in that small room. I wasn’t prepared for the grace I saw being lived out there. I knew I would see sights that would make me cry, and I did. I knew to expect strong smells, harsh sounds, fearful emotions. Yes on all three accounts. But I did not expect to see beauty. Not like that.
In a world full of brokenness and pain, of injustice and lack – beauty is a treasure when we find it. Our souls shrivel without the nourishment beauty brings. Dom Veternik mental institution is never far from my mind. 600 souls shut away from the world. A staff without enough resources. A world that struggles to find beauty in bodies and minds measured as less than perfect. And yet I know the secret, Dom Veternik holds more beauty than the Lourve itself.
While we eat our Thanksgiving turkey they’ll be there. Chedo, with the bright blue eyes, Petra with the ready smile, Nicola with an enthusiastic hug. Most of them are not orphans. Their parents retain parental rights and yet without resources and support they cannot provide them a home.
But that’s not the end of the story. Lubitsa will still be singing her songs. And I’m praying that the young adults I met, Tea and Boris, who are studying to work with disabled people will make a difference in their generation. As long as we have eyes to see beauty there is hope.
Today I spent time with another group of beautiful people. My new church hosts a dinner every year for people with mental disabilities. The family life center was packed with adults with mental disabilities, their care givers, church volunteers, and teens serving the meal. What a blast! It was a party complete with music and laughter. I got to sing O Holy Night with a gentleman who has Down syndrome. It was a treat!
I’m praying that more and more people will realize that sometimes beauty is found in unexpected places and offered by unexpected people. If we keep our eyes open and our hearts expectant we will find it. Today I’m giving thanks for the beauty my life has soaked up in the presence of people living with unique challenges.
Where do you see beauty? Have you found beauty in surprising people and places?