That They Might Have Joy

My parents say I was born happy.  Being 7 of 8 children, my mother doesn't have many distinct memories of my childhood - my early years eaten up in the chaos of keeping 10 humans alive - and yet she has always recalled fondly that I was a joyful child, happy to be alive and a delight to my family.  That cheerful disposition has carried on with me through all of my life making the concepts of depression and darkness a scarcely glimpsed mystery.   Although my life has not been without ups and downs, I can look back on my first 30 years and see a consistent coloring of sunshine and smiles - the hallmarks of a happy life.

I was thankful and content, but how little I understood, how little I saw.

It makes sense to me that a divine Father would look down at my predominately easy life and sigh, "Daughter, adversity is needed for growth - to open eyes and hearts and minds.  But oh! How I loath to take that smile away."

Adversity he handed me, heavy, sharp and perplexing.  Jagged edges of loss and grief piercing deeper than dark fathoms of ocean, engulfed in swirling clouds of self doubt and the disorienting disappointment of unmet hopes.  And exhaustion.  Exhaustion of mind, body and spirit beyond anything I could have imagined while constantly beleaguered with unrelenting responsibilities around the clock.  Children seemingly allergic  to sleep in need of nurturing and love to be fulfilled at my weary hands.  How could those innocents know that I too was but a child desperately in need of a healing shelter, a reviving respite that remained constantly out of reach.

And while this clamorous war waged internally, without consciously deciding I resorted to the convenient external trait that has clung tenaciously to me since the womb.  I smiled through the storm.

However heavy and lost my heart felt, that smile - though at times pasted on while my eyes brimmed and my soul trembled  - carried me.  It forced me to press on.  For my little ones.  For my husband.  For my angel waiting in heaven.  It hauled me out of bed when all I wanted to do was lie immobile.  It brought soothing words of comfort to my lips as I kissed precious heads and sang their nightmares away.  It propelled me to look outside myself, see others needs and try to meet them.

At times the weight was too much, the anguish demanded to be acknowledged and the smile retreated, not ever truly gone, but giving space for grief to play its part.  But in time, whether minutes, hours or days, it would creep back into place and light my face, warm my heart and heal our home.  "You are not a wallower," my smile would gently remind after these escapades into gloomy lands of sorrow.  And though I wanted so badly to wallow, I knew my persistent old companion was right.

That steadfast smile reminded me of an eternal truth that is stamped deep within my soul (though perhaps I momentarily forgot it) - men are that they might have joy!  And without evening realizing how sneakily it had managed it, that resolute smile had persuaded me to continue to pursue joy - to recognize it, to chase it and to keep a tight hold when I caught it.

It may have taken two very long years, but I can finally say with confidence - these smiles are genuine and true.