Updated: Apr 28, 2019
When you look at Unger, you meet two huge brown eyes and a wide, arching, bright smile. You then see a huge wine stain birthmark on the side of his face. "I remember when I first went to school. Five and six year olds are experiencing other people for the first time, and you can tell how they responded to me. Some kids thought saw my face thought I didn't bathe. Others thought it was a bruise. And others, when they knew my name, they didn't know any better. They called me "Unger the Ugly."
"I cried, of course. I knew I didn't look like them. So I went home, really upset as any little kid would. And my Mom consoled me. She was just so perfect."
"She said, "Unger, if you want people to see who you really are, look into theirs, and smile. That gives them a chance to see with their soul. That's all you ever have to do. Sometimes it takes people a moment, and sometimes it take a little longer. But when you look into a person's eyes and smile, it gives them a time to let their souls do the seeing. It is the only way God sees us."
Then my mother said something I'll never forget: "You're lucky, Unger. God sees your soul, true, just like He sees all of us. But that mark on your face is a blessing, Unger.
"Because of that, God sees you first."
"So I went back to school the next day, and anytime anybody said anything about my face, I looked into their eyes and smiled. Tried to open their soul to mine. I was just doing what my Mom said to do. And, in about a day, almost everyone did exactly the same thing back to me. Then walking back home from school, I would look up to the sky, looking for God, tilting my face to the clouds, hoping he would "see me first."
Unger shook his head. "Sometimes, it didn't work. It didn't stop everybody. Throughout my life, from time to time, I got made fun of. One day three kids came up to me and said, "I wonder if we can punch that purple off your face," and beat me so hard I couldn't see out of my eye for nearly a month. Smiling was tough then. But even as I was protecting my face from their fists, I was looking in their eyes. And, just as I did when I was smaller, I'd go home, looking at the sky, hoping the side of my face would meet the eyes of God."
Unger at the sky and pointed for a second, then said, "But there were times I got depressed. I would look into the clouds, tilt my head to one side, and say, "God, Mom said you could see me first. Please look at me now, OK?" I'd cry sometimes. It wasn't always easy."
"I kept smiling, kept looking right into everybody's eyes. It got to be second nature, and I've done it to this day. Well, that and continuing to look skyward."
Unger runs a rehabilitation organization for handicapped kids. "Kids feel that people only look at their leg braces, their wheelchairs, their crutches. So many kids look past you, look at their shoes, and don't accept like themselves, not one bit."
"So when they first come in the place, the first thing I ask them is, "When you smile, what do you look like?" That stops them for a second, then I say, "Could you look at me and show me?" as I smile at them and look right into their eyes. That helps them relax a little."
"Then, I have them look at the sign right above my head, and explain what my mother told me after my first day of school. It brings them a little peace. It still does to me.
The sign, on the wall over his head, says the following: "God Sees You First."