I was reminded of that memory over the weekend as I talked with my sister. She had come to visit and attend a Christmas musical performance at my church and extended her visit by a day so we could spend some time together. And as we always do...we talk.
I'm not certain what prompted the conversational track that we were on, but she made a comment that really caught me off guard. She told me that of all of us kids (there were four of us), that growing up I was the cutest. She went on to say that she has most of the family albums that contain the photographs of our youth and that she goes through them on a regular basis, and sees those images of our childhood looking back at her.
I was a bit shocked by her statement because all throughout my life (at least from around age 10 and beyond), I didn't like my appearance at all. I considered myself the least attractive by far in our family. My sister is a very pretty woman, and always has been. My older brother was well dressed and attractive as a boy with perfect features...bright eyes and curly brown hair. My little brother was the baby of the family...cute with expressive eyes and a button nose. I, on the hand, had big ears that were only magnified by buzz cuts that I regularly wore compliments of dad. Perhaps the constant teasing by my little brother about my ears also served as a powerful reminder of their size.
Even as an adult, there were reminders of the "auditory sails" that were mounted on either side of my head. The comment of "I see you got your ears lowered" meant something to me that others wouldn't consider. For me, it meant my huge ears were even more pronounced. When my niece was a little girl, I remember someone making the comment that she inherited "the Lyons' ears"...and I cringed inside because I heard "your uncle Mark's ears" and understood the burden and pain that it would cause her.
My wife and daughter unconsciously contributed to the pain as well. One evening when we were first married we watched an episode of "The Newlywed Game" and one of the contestants commented that one of his physical features was his "Dumbo ears" (only he pronounced it "Dooombo" which gave all of us a laugh). However, the "Dooombo ears" moniker was attached to me. And while I was able to laugh about it (after all, I was married to a beautiful woman who must have found me somewhat attractive), there was still a little stab of pain when I heard those words.
It wasn't until after I was arrested and had lost everything that I was finally able to see a "clear" reflection of who I was when I stood before a mirror. It was shortly before I was to go to prison and my wife was visiting me at the condo. I had been packing my belongings to put them in storage and was carefully placing all of my suits and dress shirts and ties into the storage boxes. I told her that I wasn't sure why I was packing them away because I didn't know if I would ever have the opportunity to wear them again when I got out. She looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, "you know Mark...you 'made' the clothes, they didn't make you."
As I looked back into the mirror, for the first time that I could remember, the reflection looking back wasn't an ugly man with big ears. In fact, I didn't even notice my ears. A lie that I had held on to from my youth was finally shattered. My perceptions of what made me ugly or attractive were gone in an instant. The "image" that I was created in by God had always been perfect in His eyes and I was now beginning to see beyond the flaws.
Relaxing my clenched fists, I reminded myself that the stainless steel image was not what God saw. Yes, I had made some terrible choices to be in federal prison. Yes, I had caused a great deal of pain and suffering to those that I loved...and those who loved me. And yes, the man in the reflection had aged dramatically in the past year...the stress and strain of life catching up with him. But, the man in the mirror was also a man who was healing. The ugliness wasn't from big ears, or a baby tooth that had never fallen out or the remnants of scars acquired in the process of growing up. The ugliness had been the reminder of the sin in my life...replaced now by the beauty of God within me.