Saturday, July 15, 2017


Do you smile? A lot?
When you see someone looking at you? Even a stranger?
All the time?
Only when you're in public? 
Only when there is something worth smiling about?

Growing up, my mom was always telling me to Smile. I'd get up to do a performance of some sort (piano recitals, VBS presentations of what we'd learned throughout the week, church choir, church plays, various school activities, the list is endless) and mom would be in the audience smiling her huge smile. If I wasn't smiling, she'd make a smile motion with her finger to her mouth and I'd automatically smile.

Whether I want to smile or not, smiling is officially a huge part of who I am. I smile ALL the time. I almost got in a fight once when I was in high school because I was smiling. We were practicing for our band competition and the band director had us lined up across from one another. I was smiling at everyone on the opposite side of me when this one girl who I didn't know angrily asked me, "What are you smiling at?!" I grinned even wider and told her that I was just smiling! She took a step out of line towards me, but a friend standing close to me told the girl that I always smiled [like a goofball--I can't remember if he added that part or if I've added it to my memory ;)]. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure he saved my life. I have NO fighting skills, so she'd have beaten me to a pulp if she had decided to follow through!!

That experience didn't stop me from smiling one bit. It was too deeply ingrained in me by then. 

I might have smiled early on because my mom "made" me, but as the years went by, I smiled because I wanted to. I loved to smile and I certainly loved to laugh....a lot.

There have even been times when I've walked into my classroom and my students have said, "Toldja!" When I've asked what was up, I was told that they had bet one another on whether or not I would walk in with a smile on my face. I had no idea at the time that others noticed my smile--whether I smiled or not or even how often I smiled--or not. It was reassuring, I admit, to learn that when I was in public, I was always smiling.

Smiling has been one of my greatest blessings; I am truly thankful to my wonderful mom for making it so much a vital part of who I am.

I am sad to say, though, that smiling has also been my greatest curse. Since the first onset of my depression while my husband and I were living in Missouri, I have used my smile to hide behind--as a mask to cover up my sadness and deepest sorrows and anxieties. I have pretended that all is well when in reality I was not only battling depression, but I was also battling a desire to just die. I had come to hate my life in such a huge way. I had NO real friends while we lived in Missouri and I was simply miserable. I was so excited when we finally moved home; I just knew that my depression would end and I could quit pretending that all was well. I was out of "Misery" (my mom and I had started calling Missouri that) and I was back home with family and friends.

Then we learned that I was going to have a baby and my smile grew bigger, wider, and much more pronounced. I had thought that I smiled huge before that, but being pregnant was the greatest desire of my life and I was more JOYFUL than I'd ever thought it was possible to be. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face even while I was throwing up! And I threw up every single day of that pregnancy--until it was abruptly over.

James Isaac was stillborn on March 17, 1999. That is the day my smile died, as well. 

It is the day when the mask came back up and was permanently glued to my face. My smile was for the benefit of others. They grieved for me and hurt for me and I wanted to reassure them that I was ok--or that I would be ok--even though I wanted to be in the ground with my baby. 

I smiled because I didn't know what else to do. I smiled to reassure others. I smiled because it was too deeply a part of me not to. I smiled because I wanted to prove that I was strong--not only in body, but especially in my faith. I smiled. But I smiled only with my mouth. I have no idea if others noticed that I didn't smile with my whole being as I had done before. I've never asked because I hoped with every fiber of my being that my smile was good enough to make them feel better so they wouldn't worry about me...even though they should have been worried.

Over the next ten years, at least, my smile was plastered on, but it was fake--a mask--hiding severe depression, anxiety, and grief. I have recently learned that PTSD doesn't apply just to those in the military. I clearly was suffering from PTSD, but I pretended that I was the PollyAnna everyone expected me to be. I smiled because I was determined to be happy in spite of my pain and suffering, in spite of my grief. I smiled because I had read somewhere that some things we must do as a way of "faking it 'til we make it." Deep down, I hoped that if I kept smiling even though I didn't feel the smile that one day the mask would come unglued and my smile would be genuine--it would be the real me.

In a way, that was true. I smiled until my cheeks and my neck hurt. And one day, I realized that in order for my mask to be removed--for my smile to be real again, I would have to make A CHOICE to change. I would not become happy again just because I smiled until it happened. I would only become happy again when I CHOSE to make it happen. 

It was during that time that I discovered that I didn't want to just be happy, I wanted to be JOYFUL, full of the JOY of the Lord. That was when the Lord gave me the verse, "You love justice and hate
evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else" (Psalm 45:7 & Hebrews 1:9, NLT). I wept as I understood that God wanted to restore my JOY. But not only did He want to restore my Joy, but He wanted to anoint me with the oil of joy--more than anyone else.

I began studying everything I could about JOY, starting with every single verse in the Bible that mentions JOY--in every translation and in every definition of JOY. I began memorizing JOY verses and looking for JOY in everything around me.

My mask--my fake smile--did not come off quickly or easily. As I said, it was glued on. It came off in small pieces--slowly--one at a time. I would argue that there are still small pieces that refuse to come unstuck, but the wonderfulness of God is that my smile is real again--genuine. When I smile now, it's because I have the JOY of the Lord deep down in my heart and soul. He truly has anointed me with the oil of joy more than anyone else I know.

I do not take His gift lightly. So when I smile at you, know that I smile from a place of JOY. My smile is just one way I have of demonstrating that God has removed my depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and the painful mask I wore for so long.

And all I can do now is Praise Him with my Smile!

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