by Bonnie Winters
“Gramma, Gramma, tell me a story.” Four year old Ashleigh bounced up and down with excitement.
Grandma Minnie chuckled as she gathered her rambunctious granddaughter in her arms. “If I tell you a story, you have to promise to go right to bed. What story would you like to hear?”
“The smiley story!” The little blonde head bobbed, with no sign of fatigue.
For a moment the little white-haired woman frowned. “Smiley story?” she asked, mentally ticking off the children’s books on her granddaughter’s shelf.
“Honey, I don’t think I know any smiley stories.” She patted the child’s hair affectionately. “How about one of your bear stories?”
“No, Gramma.” Her little lip stuck out in a pout. “At church, I heard Pastor say you have a story hiding behind your smile. I want the smiley story.”
“Oh.” The old woman smiled. “I guess we better start from the beginning then, hadn’t we?”
Ashleigh cuddled close and tucked her first two fingers into her mouth, a sure sign she was beginning to relax.
“Well, honey, Grandma didn’t always like to smile. No, sir. When I was a girl, a little older than you, my front teeth were so crooked, I tried to hide my smile.”
Two concerned brown eyes gazed up at the old woman. “Why, Gramma? When you smile, it makes me feel all warm and happy inside.”
“Well, there were some mean children in my class at school who used to call me ugly names whenever I smiled, so I just clamped my lips shut tight and covered up my crooked teeth. My mother and father were poor and couldn’t afford to send me to the dentist to fix my teeth, so my teeth just stayed the way they were.”
“I wouldn’t have called you names, Gramma.” The child frowned and shook her head hard enough to make her curls bounce.
Her actions made Grandma Minnie laugh out loud. “I should hope not! I pray Jesus will live in your heart, little one, so you are kind to others.”
“Does Jesus live in your heart, Gramma?”
“Yes, He does. But I was pretty mad at Him when I was a girl because I kept praying and praying for my teeth to get straight and He never answered my prayer. I sat at the back of the church and just grumbled and complained at God every Sunday. I figured He didn’t love me because I was ugly with my crooked teeth.
“One day, the pastor came over to me and asked me why I looked like an old sour pickle all the time.” Grandma stopped to chuckle at the memory.
“He said, ‘Young’un, I know there’s a God- smile in there somewhere. I dare you to find it!’” she said, using her deepest voice to mimic the pastor’s tone.
“A God-smile?” The child stifled a yawn as she looked up into her grandmother’s face. “What did he mean - a God-smile?”
“Well, I wondered the same thing, Child.” The old woman grinned and shook her head. “But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what he meant. But he dared me to find it and I was not the kind of girl who’d ever back down from a dare. I started looking everywhere for that God-smile.
“That week, my mother sent me over to my Aunt Agatha’s house to help her with her canning. She liked to tell funny stories and sure enough, she started telling me some of her best ones. Since I was embarrassed about my teeth, I usually tried to keep my mouth clamped shut, but somehow, this time, I just couldn’t help myself. I busted out laughing so hard, I almost wet my pants.”
“Gramma! You smiled.” Ashleigh giggled and before she could help herself, she yawned out loud.
“Yep, I sure did. It felt so good; I smiled all the way home. I grinned at Old Gus who was sweeping the sidewalk at the butcher shop. I even grinned at Pop Harris who was pumping gas for John McGee who owned the grocery store.
“Pop Harris winked at me and said, ‘Girl, you‘ve got such a pretty smile, you ought to use it more often.’”
The child cuddled closer, her breathing becoming shallower and her eyelids heavier.
“Honey, I felt so good when Pop Harris said that, I grinned for two days straight. That Sunday in church, I went to the altar and told the Lord I was sorry for being such a pickle-faced Christian and if He would help me, I would never hide my smile again.”
Gramma shifted, trying to get more comfortable under the weight of the sleeping child. In the quiet twilight of the room, she smiled as several recent memories flooded back. There was JoAnna, dying of cancer in the hospital who reached out and said, “Thank you for your smile. The Light of God inside you always shines out from your smile. It has always encouraged me when I was down.”
She remembered how Elva, her neighbor, had grabbed her hand two weeks ago and said, “Minnie, you’re always smiling. It’s a real smile. The kind that shines out of your eyes, not one of those fake put on ones. How can you smile, even during the bad times?”
Tears pooled in the old woman’s eyes as she relived the joy of sharing Jesus, the Light of the world. She had prayed for Elva to become a Christian everyday ever since she moved next door thirty years ago.
“I got my smile from my Heavenly Father’s side of the family,” she whispered as she bent down and kissed her sleeping granddaughter before picking her up and carrying her to bed. Looking up toward heaven, she smiled again and prayed. “Thank you Lord for helping me find my God-smile.”
©August 2007 Bonnie Winters
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