My colleague interrupted my conversation with my friend Kathy when she entered the office, holding an opened magazine.
“You’re famous!” she exclaimed, although she could have just as easily claimed herself famous. A picture of them both plus three other women from their women’s empowerment group accompanied a snippet of information about their goals and accomplishments in the magazine.
“At least it’s a photo I like of myself,” Kathy said, peeking at it.
I pointed to a framed photo in the office that matched the magazine’s image. I didn’t find it especially flattering of my friend, frankly, because she looked much like me — or, rather, how I looked in family photos.
“Your group photo is like the photos of me with my brothers and sisters,” I couldn’t help saying. “The angle of the photo makes you look like a giant in comparison to the others. That’s how our family photos always appear — because somehow I get placed at the end.”
I was thinking of the framed images of my family that I didn’t keep on display because I looked so disproportionate to my shorter (in real life) siblings. Looking at the photos made me feel freakishly taller, not just an inch or two or eight taller than I am in real life.
“The photo makes you look like a powerful leader,” Meghan said, grabbing the photo from me.
“Wow. You really know how to frame things positively,” I said, thinking that I might just take another look at my family photo from Meghan’s point of view.
I was genuinely impressed by her perspective.
I thought back to my preschool days when we’d made Plaster of Paris molds of our hands. When my sister was in preschool, she lightly pressed her dainty hand in the paper plate filled with Plaster of Paris. Two years later, when it was my turn, I mashed my hand into a plateful with such force I likely made the Plaster of Paris ooze over the sides of the mold. For years, those blue-painted casts with our white handprints graced the walls of my parents’ home, and I was forever embarrassed by those prints, positioned side by side in apparent contrast. My sister’s print was petite and graceful; my print showed fingers splayed and hand pressed deep. Though I was 2 1/2 years younger than her, we were often mistaken for twins until I surpassed her in height and was mistaken for her older sister. I felt gangly and obnoxious. The handprints confirmed this to me.
It wasn’t until years later, when I had children of my own and was helping my mother decorate after she’d moved, that I suggested that she not rehang those two handprints. I then confessed to my mother how much the contrast in the two molds always had embarrassed me.
“Embarrassed? Why should you be embarrassed?” she said.
“Because my hand was all spread out and pressed into the mold so deeply the print looked monstrous,” I explained.
“I have always loved your handprint,” she said, seeming incredulous. “To me it demonstrated your enthusiasm and energy. It wasn’t just a mold of your hand; it was a mold of your personality.”
And that changed everything for me. I was not gangly and obnoxious but rather enthusiastic and energetic. My mother’s perspective.
One of my Toastmasters friends gave a speech this week that he titled “No Regrets.” In his speech, he talked about his college years as if they had been a mistake. He talked about returning for his 20-year reunion still believing those years to be a mistake. It wasn’t until he was at the airport reflecting on his visit that he realized how those years had led him to friendships and a career and his wife and beautiful children and gave him loads of memories and opportunities for leadership and personal growth. At that point, only at that point, did he realize he had no regrets for his time at that college where he had attended feeling he hadn’t belonged.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry with him for the years he had wasted.
And recognize my own years wasted on insecurities, when I might have simply chosen a different frame. By asking for another opinion or another perspective, perhaps.
Or, indeed, trusting in a God who made me exactly as he wished, put me in the family perfect for my personal growth and character, and who never stopped leading and guiding me (Psalm 139:13-17).
And so I went home to my closet, where I’d boxed at least one of those disproportionate family photos, skewed by camera angle (not reality), dusted the frame, and shot a photo for this blog post for all the world to see. (Um. I’m the giant blonde at the far right, in case you were wondering.) As I studied the photo, I tried to think of Meghan’s positive spin on the distortion. Powerful leader rather than ungainly, enormous little sister…
And then I determined I would aim for the middle spot the next time we take a group photo.
The photo, once more for emphasis: