I’ve been on both sides of the abortion issue. Meaning, one time when I was pregnant I chose abortion and one time when I was pregnant, and advised to choose abortion, I chose life. This doesn’t make me more knowledgeable than others on the issue of abortion, it just makes me an expert on abortion as it affected my life.
Traveling backward in time thirty-four years ago, I was a was a High School senior who was struggling with poor self-esteem and had a hard time talking to boys. Words failed me (something that’s now hard to believe) and it was a relief to avoid conversation and “make-out” instead. I felt safe and I felt wanted when I was being held. Eventually, I ended up pregnant.
Scared as I was, I legitimately thought abortion was what my father would have wanted me to do. And I was more scared of disappointing him than anything else. I chose to have an abortion. Weeks later, my father found out what I had done and he told me frankly, “I think abortion is wrong.” I have often wondered what my life might look like if my father and I had had that conversation prior to me making that choice.
The reason the wondering attached itself to me is because there were so many years spent recovering from the hole that my abortion created. While my self-esteem may have been low prior to the pregnancy, after the abortion it plummeted. I have memories of cutting out images of little boys and taping them to my wall and naming them Christopher. I remember fastening the seatbelt in my car as if I had a passenger. Through the years, time and again, I did the math to determine the age of the never-born child. It was confusing.
I hadn’t shown love to my baby, and I was heartbroken.
Eventually, I married and my husband and I began to build a family. That didn’t stop the wound from oozing every now and again. During my second pregnancy with my husband, I learned I was having a boy. We already had a girl, so this was supposed to be good news, but I was struggling with the idea that I couldn’t love a boy-child. Somehow, I had concocted a fantasy that the aborted child was a boy. I was trying to remove the pain of what I had done to him and determined my love for my living child was only possible because she was a girl. I distanced myself from the child I had aborted with a belief that I wouldn’t have loved him as much as I loved my daughter.
God worked in my life in many ways to show me that despite making a bad decision, I was still loved. Perhaps the most significant way He worked came through my third pregnancy (in my marriage).
In April 1993, precisely ten years after I had chosen to abort my first child, I was lying on a doctor’s examination table being advised to have an abortion. The baby had a rare, sporadic brain malformation called, Dandy Walker Malformation. In layman’s terms, the baby was missing her cerebellum, which is the back portion of the brain. The cerebellum controls fine and gross motor skills. Without the cerebellum, there was no way to know if the child would walk, have the ability to use her hands, or even breathe without assistance. It is also the passageway for cerebral fluid as it exits the skull and, eventually, the body. Without that passageway, the child would develop hydrocephalus.
I do not tell this to villainize the doctor for what she suggested. Based on her values, her desire to see young couples have healthy babies, and what she understood about Dandy-Walker malformation and the risks associated with hydrocephalus, the doctor’s suggestion for abortion as an alternative was not meant to harm us. In her opinion, abortion was a viable option. If anything I have always been grateful that she suggested it, and here’s why.
It was no coincidence that I was in that place again. It was part of the plan of God, who knits together the most intricate stories to draw attention to His goodness. I was being allowed to choose again. Free will is at its finest when we choose the ways of God. In that moment that I chose life for my little girl, my heart was being healed in ways that I wouldn’t understand for another decade.
Some may be offended by this, but I have always been grateful that I had a choice. I am thankful that abortion was an option that I could deny. I am thankful that I chose life for her. My choice may have looked like a gift to her, but it was really a gift to me.
And as the late Paul Harvey would say, “And now for the rest of the story…”
The baby girl was born and she wasn’t the monster that we had been warned about, not in any way. She had one surgery when she was five weeks old, and then her disability was almost non-evident. She was just one of our children. She crawled about the house wreaking havoc like any toddler and she had preferences in toys, books, and foods.
Then one January morning, my daughter, that I chose life for, passed away. In a breath of a moment, she was gone. Cerebral fluid had coagulated, forming a non-malignant cyst which settled on her brain stem while she was sleeping. Everything was fine, and then she was gone. She was nineteen months and five days old at the time.
I loved my daughter and I was heartbroken.
I am not going to compare the grief of losing a nineteen-month-old child to abortion, however, I do want to say that in both instances I have experienced disappointment and heartbreak. Because of that, I want to say this: there is a difference in suffering when it is accompanied by regret than when it is not.
Again, I am not an expert on the abortion issue, I just know how it affected my life. I have experienced regret for choosing abortion and lived with the effects of that for over half my life. Choosing abortion left a hole in my heart and the dagger that was tearing into me was regret.
I have also experienced satisfaction in being able to choose life, but I have felt the pain of the loss of that child for over twenty years. Choosing life for a child, who would die less than two years later, left a hole in my heart–but I have never experienced a day of regret for the choice that was made.
It’s back! You feel it in the crisp autumn air, you hear it in the haunting voice of Karen Carpenter, and if you’re highly observant, you see it in the eyes of the folks directing you to insert your debit card into the chip reader. (Sidenote: do NOT EVER pull that card out early…you do not want to see what happens.)
What you are sensing is not only nostalgia from listening to the same songs you’ve listened to your entire life. It is not that the entire nation collectively agreeing to eat (basically) the same entree on the exact same Thursday is giving you an eery “Walking Dead” feeling. No, what you are sensing is more than that, what you are sensing is heightened holiday emotions.
This is wonderful if you are a three-year-old and the emotion is sheer joy over the fact that not only do you finally get to meet Santa Clause face-to-face but eventually he is riding Rudolf to your house and bringing you Paw Patrol toys! However, if you are reading this, you are not three. And the heightened emotions you are experiencing may not feel like a stroll through Winter Wonderland.
For some of us non-three-year-olds the emotions are hard. Damn hard.
There’s such a natural shift to reflectiveness during this winter season. We look back. We remember the past year. Or the year before that. Or the times when our children were small, and we were too _____ (busy, tired, overworked, obligated) and didn’t fully enjoy them. Or we did fully enjoy them…but they grew up anyway.
We rejoice at the profits from our wise investments of time and resources. We are thankful for the healing that God brought to someone we love. We don’t need a gift this season because watching that person celebrate the birth of the Savior means more than any trinket or gift card. We praise God for the fortitude He gave us to endure that terrible time at school or work. We remember when we didn’t think that time was ever going to pass.
And then there are the the memories that seem less victorious. We remember people we lost, people we hurt, times we were disappointed. Looking back is a rainbow of celebration and regret.
If we are blessed, we remember the year fondly. And if we are blessed, we may not remember it so fondly. That’s the thing about being blessed–we all are, but some of us still struggle.
And then there’s the shame that comes with the struggle. Feeling anything but bountifully happy as we shop for our holiday bird can heap extra weight into an already hard to steer shopping cart. I mean, you know what it’s like, right? You grab a cart as you are walking into the store and you realize that the wheel is a little rickety. You stop and look at it for a second, but then you decide, “Naw, I’m good. I’m just grabbing a few things.” Well, as you wander up and down the aisles, dodging the temporary displays of Stouffer’s Stuffing Mix, your cart gets heavier and less manageable. As you turn the corner into the frozen food section, you see that the turkeys have been reduced to .76 a pound. Well, since this is a great deal, you grab one for Thanksgiving dinner with the family and one for the church food drive. Meanwhile, the wheel on the cart is still rickety. The broken wheel didn’t get better just because you got generous.
The same is true for those of us who are blessed beyond measure, but sometimes unexplainably sad. We are wandering through this heartwarming season with a wound that won’t go away. Maybe it’s regret, maybe it’s remorse, maybe it’s something else altogether–but it’s real and even on an ordinary day, our cart has a rickety wheel. When the music, the lights, the trees, and the beauty of the season is added, our cart doesn’t stop being rickety.
And the shame associated with being sad when we’ve much to be thankful for is unmentionable. We are suddenly ungrateful–but we’re not! We are so grateful and thankful for the bounty of blessings, which just increases our shame for being simultaneously sad.
So, what do we do?
Maybe we start by admitting that we need help? Maybe we forsake the social media image of having it all together in order to forge authentic community. I mean, if the cart is truly damaged, why wouldn’t we get help when the burden is greater?
Maybe, just maybe, we simply say, “I feel sad” and we stop judging ourselves. Maybe we stop behaving as if being sad is synonymous with being in sin. Once we stop heaping guilt on ourselves for moments of melancholy we can move through the down times and get to the other side without having isolated ourselves from the people who, on most days, bring us insurmountable joy. Because, after all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.
A few nights ago I sent a message to a friend telling her how much I longed to hear from God.
Having just relocated from another state, I have to find a new job. It’s time to start over, but because of the multitude of times we’ve already started over, my resume is a mismatched mosaic. An elementary school, two pediatricians’ offices, a year with an orthopedic surgeon, a couple of restaurants, and a church. Who was I going to become this time?
Was this going to be a matter of reinventing myself again? Because honestly, I was just beginning to know myself over the last couple years. To reinvent myself again would feel a little false, and if there is one thing I desire it is to live in total authenticity with who am, the things I do, and how I love and serve others.
I told her I was wishing God would provide a red neon sign with the words: APPLY HERE
The next morning, I sat with my journal and I repeated my plea.
“You are the only one who knows me, and You are the only one I trust. I need you to speak to me in ways that I will hear and understand. Show me your will. Show me where you want me to invest my time.”
Later that day, I drove over to introduce myself to a potential employer. Walking up to the building I saw a couple laughing and enjoying the fall weather, I nearly bumped into an Instagram friend at the door–we spoke for a moment, and as people passed us by, I saw the hint of what could be my new normal. But I didn’t see a sign that read: APPLY HERE
Once inside, I didn’t see the sign either, rather, I saw the face of a woman who offered her hand and a smile. We chatted, and she decided to give me an interview on the spot.
During the interview we talked about books, writing, travel, being a diligent worker and what it means to be happy to serve someone else. At one point, she posed a question that no one has asked me in…well, forever. Looking up from her clipboard she inquired, “What are your personal goals for the next five years?”
In that moment, and without hesitation, the words fell not only from my mouth but from my heart, “I want to create a home that is safe and welcoming for my family and the people I love.”
The interviewer tilted her head to the right and made the slightest raise of an eyebrow. I read her expression: Confused, curious. I knew what was happening. It wasn’t the answer she had expected to hear from a woman who has three adult children. It wasn’t the answer she expected to hear from someone my age.
I smiled and continued, “I want to build a place where my adult children can gather. My children lost that for a while. Actually, we all did, and that’s what I want. I want to us to have a place we can call home, a place where my husband and I can thrive. Oh, and I want to write another book.”
Later, as I was driving home, I realized how incredibly thankful I was for that unexpected question. I surprised myself.
The thing I want most was the thing that came to my mind first. I don’t know how long it has been since my number one desire was to build that kind of a nest for my family. It’s been at least a decade. I remember many years when it did not matter to me. Proverbs 14 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish woman tears it down.” That verse replayed in this foolish woman’s head ten-thousand times after I watched my household come tumbling down. Losing a place where my children could gather was one of the hardest things to feel guilty about. It took a lot of prayer to give that back to the Lord. Yes, they are grown, but I don’t think children stop needing a nest simply because they fly around on their own. Knowing their parents’ nest is strong gives strength to their flight.
This is a thrilling discovery for someone my age. That mosaic resume, along with my soon-to-be-released book has taught me something about perseverance and the art of applying oneself. With the Lord, I have it in me to persevere until He transforms my weaknesses into His masterpieces. If I apply myself to building a home that is safe for my family and honoring to Him, then it will be done.
I have been frightened, consumed, and almost depressed at the thought of where I was supposed to apply, and through an unanticipated question God sent me an APPLY HERE sign that I could understand. He showed me exactly where He wants me to apply my gifts, and where He will give the greatest return.
(By the way, the interviewer…she really like me. I probably got the job. We’ll know on Monday.)
Dreams come true. Sometimes it feels like a nightmare when it happens, but sometimes it evolves into a better reality than the original dream. In many ways, the latter is what happened with my novel, Where the Water Rages.
When I began knocking on the proverbial publishing door, I had little direction. I used search engines and Twitter to locate the names of publishers and literary agents and I made daily inquiries. All the while, I had a dilemma to overcome. As I searched, I learned that many mainstream publishers weren’t interested in a book with Christian themes, and many Christian publishers wouldn’t touch a book that dealt with themes present in my manuscript.
One day, after receiving umpteen rejections, a publisher began to show interest in the manuscript. Of course, I was shocked by their interest, and as we began the ebb-and-flow of building a deal, I looked for any information on the company. I was unable to believe that a publisher would really be drawn to the project and certain that this was a scam.
I’ll tell you what I learned about my publisher, and then I will tell you why YOU should care.
Kharis Publishing is an up and coming publishing house located in Northwest Arkansas, it’s an imprint of Kharis Media LLC, the leading mass media corporation in Africa. The team at Kharis Publishing is “committed to social empowerment through publishing and literacy initiatives.” The publishing company operates with a two-fold goal.
First, because they recognize how difficult it is for minority and first-time authors to get published, without relying on self-publishing, their goal is to give a voice to such authors. Second, is their unique business plan. This is the part that affects you as a potential reader of Where the Water Rages, and it’s the part that left me breathless:
“The second goal is to empower orphans to take charge of their lives, by building resource centers or mini-libraries within their orphanages so those kids can learn, dream, and grow. For every book sold, we donate $1 towards establishing such resource centers.”
Yep, that’s right. For every single book sold, Kharis Publishing donates $1 to an orphanage.
Why do they do this? Well, it all comes back to Francis Umesiri. Born in rural Nigeria, Francis Umesiri spent each day walking 3 miles to retrieve water for his family, and then he spent the evenings reading borrowed books by the light of a kerosene lantern. The two men who loaned him books challenged him to read as much as possible and to write reports on what he had read.
Today Dr. Francis Umesiri is a Biology professor at John Brown University in Northern Arkansas and the founder of Kharis Publishing. He credits his success in academia with his love for reading and the individuals who took an interest in his life by loaning him books.
As you can imagine, when I learned this, there was no other publisher I wanted to be in contract with. The story I wrote about a little girl who is sold into the slave trade is fiction, but the frustrating reality is that this isn’t fiction for too many children. The innocents who are victimized most often come from living situations where poverty is rampant, and an orphan child living on the streets is an easy target. To a child in a third world country, an orphanage is representative of hope, as often their extended families do not have the resources to care for them. Orphanages give them a chance that they might not otherwise have, but children need more than just food and shelter. To distance themselves from a disadvantaged life, they need knowledge; they need books, computers, and learning materials.
The idea that my fictional manuscript could play a part in empowering a child, in bringing resources for learning to an orphanage left me breathless.
Now, the manuscript is bigger than me, as good is integrated into the sale of each book.
And this is why you should care. When you purchase Where the Water Rages you aren’t just keeping the wheels of big business spinning, as is often the case with larger publishing houses. No, you are supporting a publishing company who has made it their goal to be the difference in the lives of orphans. You are helping to build a library of books in an orphanage in Uganda, a place where it is difficult for children to acquire the books that are readily available in the United States.
One book, one dollar, every time.
Would you consider visiting Kharis Publishing today and purchasing a copy of Where the Water Rages?
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I like to imagine that I have my own bodyguard. A tough guy, who is equally intelligent. Imagine James Bond, minus the misogyny, following me around and protecting me from the world’s terrors. Oh, and the terrorizing is primarily internal, so he also lives in my brain. You know…phenomenal cosmic powers…itty-bitty living space.
My brain bodyguard has been a hard working guy for the last couple years. He’s worked every weekday and then straight through the weekends. He’s even had to put in overtime, working every effing holiday. I’m sure he gets tired, but he keeps showing up with his weapons of truth and encouragement whenever I am tempted to crawl under a rock of shame. When I am eager to walk the path of comparison, he reminds me to walk the other way. In attempt to help me stand confidently, rather than quivering in a corner, he prompts me to see the truth, without relying on the lies in commonly used, but altogether false, phrases:
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” False. We regret the times we hurt people. We regret the mistakes we made that caused distance and division. We regret our failures. That being said, we don’t live in those failures. We brush ourselves off and keep moving forward, but we sure as hell regret hurting people. We aren’t sociopaths, for crying out loud.
“Live. Love. Learn. Regret Nothing.” False. Regret SOME things. We need to allow ourselves to feel the searing pain of regret without fearing that we won’t recover. Because the truth is, we CAN completely acknowledge our wrong doing, feel horrible about it AND recover. God’s work through our defects is actually the definition of grace. When our failures are transformed and we grow there is a double blessing. We are restored AND God is glorified. The learning is beautiful and the growth is immeasurable, but it is only true growth if it comes from a desire to never do it again. Which by the way, is also known as a regret.
Anyway, back to the bodyguard. Even though he is on fleek and does his job “hund-P” there’s a crack in the wall. There’s a backdoor, a way in, so to speak. You see, when I go to sleep, my bodyguard takes a break, and quite often I have terrifying, shameful dreams. I am continually assaulted and accused by a person who had every right to be enraged with my selfishness. Everything about the dream interaction is chaotic; it’s noisy and polluted. There’s rage and anger coming at me with any response I make to the person. Every apology is unwelcome. Most recently, last night that is, the person handed me a frightening book and told me I had to read it in its entirety. (Yes, this is what nightmares can look like for writers…pretty boring, I know.) The book was terrible, not because it was part of the “50 Shades of Grey” series, but rather because the title spoke of my personal weaknesses. This morning, I can’t even remember the words on the cover of the book. It was bright blue and the lettering was yellow, but the guilt inciting words have receded back into the darkest recesses of my mind. Not being able to remember them in the light of morning has given them added power over me.
When I rose, and my husband and I began to make our bed, he asked, “How’d you sleep?”
“Not good. Dreams, well, nightmares.” I answered.
“Oh no…what of?” he asked.
“Same thing. Shame. Always shame. It’s just exhausting.”
I can’t blame my bodyguard for taking a break while I am sleeping, especially when I consider how hard he works in my waking hours. I brush my teeth and look in the mirror. The bodyguard still hasn’t shown up. I am alone. As I walk out to the kitchen, I make the mistake of opening a social media app on my phone (because no one else ever does this when they are already feeling awful, right?). The very first post reminds me of a large event happening at my former church. This is a huge trigger for me. Something that I had once spearheaded before I self-sabotaged my life is right in front of me. I see tables. I see painted pillars. I see mistakes made in the name of lust. My hands are shaking, and I hear a ringing bell and a woman declares, “Shame!” (That’s a Game of Thrones/walk of atonement reference…I don’t actually own a bell.) Eventually, I grab some hot coffee and wander out to my front porch to read and recover. The breeze has caused a film of dust to fall on my books. They are gritty to the touch. The trees are full of birds, winged rodents, making noise. They chip and sing, but it’s not my song. It’s meant for someone else. The tears are coming now–but there is still no sign of my bodyguard. Is he sick? Did someone get to him? Where is he? Why am I alone?
I don’t have a particular plan when I open my Bible, but there is bookmark shoved in the book of Isaiah. I begin to pour into the words. I’m reading and I’m praying. I’m looking for a salve. Unfortunately, the bookmark is at Chapter 28. The subtitle is Woe to Ephraim. These are not the pleasing meme worthy verses that are so often Instagramed. I read them anyway. I will not pick and choose and only focus on the popular verses.
I arrive at Chapter 29. The subtitle has only a slight variation: Woe to David’s City. The variation is not a good one in my case. I push through because, oddly, the pain of the nations is not making me feel worse. It is making me feel normal and reminding me that I am not alone. I am not the first person to make choices that brought woe. I am not the only one to mourn and lament. I continue reading for two more chapters: Woe to the Obstinate Nation and Woe to Those Who Rely on Egypt. I am just about to close my bible when I see the heading for Chapter 32: The Kingdom of Righteousness.
As I begin to read I am no longer looking for a salve. I am just absorbing the calm that has taken over the porch. There is a quietness that I am not only comfortable with, but relishing in. A light breeze moves the wind chimes and their bell-like sounds blend with the music of the sweet birds. An altered perspective is a glorious thing. And as I read a verse jumps from the pages of Isaiah and lands on my heart.
Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
No, I am not three hundred miles away participating in an event, and I cannot silence every regret that surfaces while I am sleeping, but when I am awake, when it is quiet and when it matters most, I am not alone.
When my children were teenagers they taught me a game. The name of the game was, “Two Truths and a Lie” and it was a great way to pass time while waiting for our food at a restaurant, when standing in line at an amusement park, or while riding in the minivan. The conversational game was as simple as its name. One person would list two things that were true and one thing that was a lie. The others players would then guess which two were the truths and which one was the lie.
Here’s an example:
- A) Before my mother was married she worked as a lingerie model.
- B) Since marrying my husband, we have lived in 14 different homes.
- C) I wrote the entire first draft of my fictional manuscript, Kimly’s Trade, in 7 weeks.
So, which are the truths? And which one is the lie?
The lie is “B”. Since marrying my husband we have actually lived in 15 different homes. #packingpro
I’ve come to realize that a lot of us play a more harmful variation of “Two Truths and a Lie” and when we do, we are overwhelmed with unnecessary shame and fear. What happens is we take two indisputable truths and while pondering them, we allow a lie to seep into the mix. Here’s an example of a version I’ve been struggling through over the last couple weeks.
- A) My very pregnant daughter needs help with her sick toddler.
- B) I live over 350 miles away.
- C) Because of my poor choices, I had to move away and now (once again) I have failed the ones I love the most.
So, which are the truths? And which one is the lie?
In this game the lie is easy for you to spot for a couple reasons. First, you love me…or you don’t, but either way, you want to believe there is something decent about me, or you wouldn’t be reading my blog. Because of that you want me to forgive myself and move on. You want me to start new and let the past stay in the past. The second reason you can see the obvious lie is because you are not emotionally attached to my situation. It doesn’t boil your blood, which allows you to see “C” as a lie.
But what happens when it is you? How can you spot the lie when the game is boiling your blood and you don’t even realize you’re playing “Two Truths and a Lie” because it feels like you’re playing “I’m the Biggest Loser Ever…and Here is My List of Reasons Why”
Well, you’ll certainly get no sideways glances from me for playing the second game; I’ve definitely played the “I’m the Biggest Loser Ever” game myself. However, in some of my more sane moments, I’ve come to recognize a couple things about “Two Truths and a Lie.”
First of all, the lie is bathed in judgment. Look at the items on your list and pull out the ones that have judgment attached to them. Chances are they are not indisputable truths. The things that we know about ourselves to be absolute truths will only lead us to a place of judgment if we need to change the way we are living. If we have overcome, if we are making steps to move towards a better way of living, if we are honestly trying to restore what was damaged—there is no room for judgment.
None. Judgment was necessary, but the work there is done and judgment has passed.
The second thing I have come to recognize about playing “Two Truths and a Lie” is that the lie always sneaks in super-duper close to the truths. (Yes, I said duper…that’s how close it is.) Remember the original lie in the first game. I said:
- B) Since marrying my husband, we have lived in 14 different homes.
The true answer of 15 different homes was super-duper close. It was almost accurate. Well, that’s the way the enemy gets us to fall for lies. The lie isn’t glaringly obvious. If I had said, “Since marrying my husband, we have lived in 3 different homes”, most of you would have been able to do a quick inventory of what you know about me and saw that as a lie. An obvious lie is easy to spot. But, when it is almost accurate, it’s tougher to discern. In my second game, I said:
- C) Because of my poor choices, I had to move away and now (once again) I have failed the ones I love the most.
While the answer is riddled with judgment, it also holds some accuracy. I did make poor choices, and that did set off a chain reaction leading to our relocation. But, I am not failing the ones I love the most. There is the judgement. There is the lie.
By removing judgment, the statement loses it’s power over me. It turns “Two Truths and a Lie” into, “Three Parts of an Ongoing Story”
I’m not entirely sure why I felt led to share this game of “Two Truths and a Lie” with you. Lately, blogging is a conundrum in and of itself. While writing each post, I know two truths:
- A) I have to do what I am called to do because that’s what gives me life.
- B) I am called to write.
But after the post has published, I usually hear a lie. It doesn’t take long before I question the validity of everything I wrote. By the end of the day I have heaped scores of judgment on myself for all that I have publicly shared through blogging. I see a list of people making huge strides to make the world a better place, and I’m not on that list. The moment after the moment I blog is pretty much a nightmare.
Thus, I make a new choice…Today, I refuse to play “Two Truths and a Lie.” I choose instead to look for a third truth, and I choose to see it all as part of an ongoing story.
“No way! You’re fifty?” the college coed working behind the counter at Sephora was practically yelling. Surely, this girl must have been a cheerleader at some point in her life, because her voice boomed off the glass counter tops and against the white walls reverberating her statement to the whole store. “You don’t even look that old! You’re older than my mom!” She gleefully handed me my bag, and I halfheartedly thanked the twenty-year-old. I left the store carrying my black and white bag filled with supplies to ward off the effects of being older than the cashier’s mom.
Aging is a mean sonofabitch. About the time a woman learns to really love herself, the hands of time have pulled and stretched her skin to where she barely recognizes her reflection.
There is a new woman in the mirror. This woman looks like my Mother. There are even moments where she reminds me of my Grandmother. Last June, I became the age my Grandmother was when I was born. My Grandmother Ruth was 50 years-old when my Father telephoned the bowling alley and had her paged so he could tell her I had arrived. My parents already had two toddler boys, so celebratory drinks were ordered and winning strikes were thrown–all in honor of this little pink skinned baby girl. In 1965, to my modest family, I was big news.
I am reminded of another 50-year-old woman who made news this year. Her name is Tess Christian. Who is Tess Christian? She is a woman whose story went viral when it was reported that she had not smiled in 40 years. At the age of ten, Miss Christian began training herself to withhold expression, thus preventing the creases that would eventually become a holding pattern for wrinkles. No need for Botox or anti aging cream. No reason for her to spend hours trolling websites or wandering the isles at Sephora—an expressionless face was her Fountain of Youth. Her story, which circulated the internet included photographs, and not surprisingly, she was and continues to be an attractive woman.
As if that justifies anything.
I began to think of interactions that are affected and altered by a smile. I narrowed it down to the three S’s: Self, Squad, Stranger.
Smiling for SELF: Smiling is one of the simplest things we do to make ourselves feel better. Countless studies researching the effects of smiling have shown that smiling elevates a person’s mood and boosts their immune system. This woman’s choice to not smile, was a choice to rob herself of a happier disposition and healthier her. There is a solitude joy that comes from smiling, and she missed it for 40 years. That is a tragedy.
Smiling for SQUAD: We don’t get to choose everyone on our squad, but we are all a part of one. We have parents, friends, children, siblings, nephews and nieces. We are someone’s favorite Aunt, or someone’s silly Uncle. We have mechanics, teachers, coaches, coworkers and beauticians. We live in community with one another. The non-verbal cues we send to one another when we make a request is completely altered when it’s accompanied by a smile. When my husband walks through the door after a day spent slaying dragons, my smile says, “Everything you did was time well spent. Thank you for returning to the Kingdom where you are loved.” Yep. I say all that with a smile. To rob him of that for the sake of my own appearance would be one of the most vain things I could do.
Smiling for STRANGER: We don’t teach babies to smile the way we teach them to hold a spoon; it comes naturally. Smiling also crosses every border—or at least every border you are likely to cross—making it the universal sign of happiness. It is a nonverbal form of acceptance and to withhold it from a stranger is selfishness. Pulling those lips up into a smile may cost you a wrinkle, but it is an investment that will make the world a more beautiful place.
So, yes, I am fifty, and yes, I have wrinkles, because, honestly, I can’t smile without them.