March 16, 2014
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #322: Mirror, Mirror
Just above my stainless steel sink/toilet combo unit hangs a small mirror. Resembling a baking sheet and about the same size, this high-polished slab of steel makes the image staring back at you seem just a bit tougher. A metal pipe couldn’t shatter its surface, but they can get scratched up. The mirror I had for 30 days in county jail was so war-torn, I couldn’t see my reflection. Ever not see yourself for a month? Thanks to the meager rations and a week of fasting, I lost thirty pounds that month, which made me not recognize myself in a real mirror.
Every so often, Joe will stare intently at his reflection, turning his head this way and that, mumbling to himself. Then, invariably, he’ll blurt out something like, “Wow. Look at me. I’m a monster! I’ll never be able to fit in to normal society.”
I remind him that “normal” in today’s society isn’t exactly picture-perfect either. Everyone looks different, talks different, dresses different, and lives different. That little pep talk doesn’t work, of course, and reminding Joe that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” isn’t much help, either.
The problem isn’t what God thinks about Joe—Joe knows he is loved, no matter what. The difficulty is that people tend to judge the whole “outward appearance” thing, making all kinds of assumptions and critical assessments based on that. And when your past mistakes are part of your present appearance, it is difficult for someone like Joe to imagine a successful future. No amount of encouragement from me seemed to make a difference to Joe, until I had an unusual early morning visitor to my cell this past week.
At five o’clock sharp, my cell door opened, and I was asked to get dressed to be seen by the captain. On my way to his office, the officers escorting me asked how I was faring with my cellie. I gave my standard pat answer: “Well, he’s crazy!” which I’ve found makes people much more willing to hear more about him.
Just then, an alert came over the officers’ radios requiring us to stay in place for about ten minutes. I used the opportunity to start talking about Joe. “I’m just really grateful to have him as a cellie,” I said.
One of the officers wanted to know more, then made an incredible statement. “You know, your cellie used to always be angry, stressed out, worried, and mean. But I’ve noticed that in the past couple of months he’s dramatically changed. He’s always happy, he’s not stressed, he’s nice and positive with everyone, and he’s never angry. He’s changed!”
All this, and Joe had never personally spoken with that officer. In fact, the officer only sees Joe rarely, when he sees him from a distance while he’s working in the prison’s “chow hall.” I couldn’t wait to get back to Joe to tell him everything.
I was in the captain’s office for a minute. I’d been mixed up with another inmate, so I was quickly excused. Back in my cell, I told Joe about the officers and how they’d both noticed the big changes in Joe’s life within the past two months. Most remarkably is the fact that the difference the officers had seen wasn’t due to any changes in Joe’s outward appearance but an obvious change on the inside—a change so dramatic and complete that it has affected Joe’s countenance, demeanor, and overall attitude. That tough, hardened exterior is just a fraction of who Joe really is.
Weeks of reading the Word, fasting, and prayer have begun to make the old Joe unrecognizable. Instead, his war-torn, scratched-up exterior has been carefully and painstakingly polished by a Master Craftsman so that it begins to reflect Himself. And that’s something to admire.