Smile. C’mon, you can do this.

I have accidentally become an evangelist for smiling.

I want to see God’s people smiling, and do not understand why many refuse to do so until their natural reluctance is overpowered by something really hilarious.  If anyone on the planet has cause to smile, it’s us.  We’re saved, our names are written in glory, there is no condemnation either here or in the future waiting to ambush us, and from here on in, it’s all good!  That sure brings a smile to this country boy’s face.

Now, the Scriptures say very little about smiling, if at all. However, the references to joy leak out from every page. And what is a smile, after all, but “joy made visible.”

So, the old saw holds true here: “If you’re saved, tell your face about it.”

Now, I sketch people wherever I go, sometimes as many as 500 in one week. And since everyone on the planet looks better smiling and they will like the finished product more if it shows them in the best light, I tell people, “Look at me–not down at the sketchbook–and smile please. I want to see your teeth.”  Or, I might just say, “Say cheese.” Or if it’s a child, after learning he is 5 or 6 years old, to get a smile, I’ll say, “And are you married?”

You  would be surprised, and probably distressed, to know how often the subject replies, “I don’t smile.” Or, “I don’t like my smile.”

Usually, I let that pass, but sometimes I’ll plead with them: “You have a nice smile. I’ve seen it.  Now, please trust me on this. Look this way and smile.” Or, I’ll give them a 15-second sermonette that goes something like: “Hey, you don’t know what your smile looks like. You’re on the inside of it. The rest of us look at your smile, and we think you have a nice one. So, please give me the smile. You’ll like the drawing better, I promise.”

Sometimes that works. (I have at times been drawing at a church event and found that half the congregation will say, “I don’t smile.” Something is going on in that flock and whatever it is, is not good.)

First story.

I was preaching at a church in New Orleans, and doing what I always do, I walked around before and after the service drawing people. Steve, a 62-year-old usher, was willing to let me draw him.  When I asked for a smile, he said, “I don’t really smile.” I teased, “I’m not going to draw you if you don’t smile.”  He did and I made the sketch.

Steve died on Wednesday.  The pastor reported that the family told him the drawing was “the only thing we have of Dad smiling.” Some months later, coming out of a New Orleans restaurant, I heard my name called. A woman introduced herself as Steve’s widow and thanked me for drawing him smiling.

You don’t ever forget something like that.

Second story.
(We’ve told this story before on these pages, but it fits here.)

After doing a wedding in a small Georgia town, I was up on Sunday morning, and had checked out of the hotel. In the breakfast room, at the next table over sat a young mother and her daughter, perhaps 4 or 5 years old. Since my drawing supplies were in the trunk of the car, I began looking for paper on which to sketch the child.

That hotel did not carry a major daily paper such as USA Today, but they had a stack of the weekly 8-page gazette of local happenings. I had tried to read it the previous morning with my cereal.  (In a paper like USA Today, the financial page is filled with print so small it might as well be blank, so it makes great drawing material.)  Since nothing else was available, I took a copy of the local paper and turned to a suitable page and folded it.

“Ma’am,” I said to the mother, “I’m a cartoonist. May I draw your child for you?”

She said that would be all right.

The little girl looked in my direction and smiled. She was very precious.  The drawing turned out pretty good, and I asked her to smile once more so I could get it right. As always, I signed it “Joe” and handed it to the mother and drove to Alabama.

Arriving home four days later, I found an email from that mother. “Joe,” she said, “I want to tell you how God used you last Sunday morning.”

“We were burned out of our house 9 days earlier, on New Year’s Eve. I mean, we lost everything. In three minutes, the house was totally engulfed in flames. Now, my husband and I are realists, and we know this is just stuff. But my little girl, Macie, whom you met, 5 years old, is very sensitive. She lost everything–school books, clothes, toys, dolls, pictures, everything.  In the 9 days since the fire, she had not smiled once.”

“Fifteen minutes earlier, I had been feeding our 3-month old son in the hotel room and talking to God. ‘Lord, please put a smile on my child’s face. I just need to see her smile.’  Not only did she smile when you began drawing her, but you asked her to smile again so you could get it right.”

She closed, “I’m keeping this drawing forever as a reminder that God answers even the simplest of prayers. Oh, by the way, on the other side of the newspaper where you drew her is the article, ‘Family loses everything in New Year’s Eve fire.'”

(The rest of the story: This young mother and I have continued in contact, thanks to Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised to see she is a criminal investigator for the local sheriff’s office. A year ago, when a troubled young woman told of her plans to have an abortion, my friend urged her to allow the baby to be adopted. “You’re very harsh,” the woman said. A few weeks later, the pregnant woman called to say, “I want you to adopt my baby.” And that’s what has happened. It’s a wonderful story, and I’m privileged to have been a spectator to it. Little Macie is now a big sister to two boys, both of them beautiful and lively and blessed.)

Third story.

A man I was drawing told me, “My grandmother told me when I was 15 years old, ‘You do not have a nice smile.’ I went 20 years without smiling.”

I said, “What a mean old lady.”

It’s bad enough when teenagers do that to each other–and make no mistake about it, they will–but almost unforgiveable when adults who should value us knock us down with harsh and unloving words.

Now, all I need is a good text for this…

The one I want to use turns out to be a poor translation.  The way I first learned Psalm 42:5, David calls the Lord “the Help of my countenance.”  But the New American Standard Bible, my translation of choice, has that to say, “For the help of His presence.” A footnote says an alternate reading is: “for the saving acts of His presence.”

But, we do not actually have to have Scripture saying the Lord changes our appearance and puts a smile on our face, do we? He does, and that’s sufficient.

I have seen it happen and bet you have, too.

When Marian Smith gave her heart to the Lord, I was on my knees with her and her husband Jack.  She had had a sleepless night the evening before and had gone on to work that day and gave everyone in the office the impression she was sick. She was simply under conviction about her soul. But after a few minutes of prayer in their living room, I saw an amazing transformation.  Marian had dropped to her knees looking haggard and worn out, but rose to her feet with a lovely glow about her.  I was stunned at the change.

The Lord’s facials are better than any beauty shop on the planet can achieve.

A college student once said the Lord’s presence inside her was like swallowing sunshine.

When His beams erupt from the pores of our skin, we radiate His presence and joy, and the result is something beautiful.

I plan to be smiling all today today.  If this goes well, people will look at me and think, “He’s either crazy, or he knows something.”

True enough.  I think you know which one it is.



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