Thursday, February 9, 2012


Maybe I need to stop being so positive.

When we were growing up, my brothers used to tease me about my "just smile and be happy" outlook on life. "Why can't we all just hug and be friends?" they would chime, in an over-the-top sugary voice with a plastered grin. Then they would try to convince me that I was unrealistic and that life wasn't that simple.

In those days I was obsessed with big yellow smiley faces, the kind they have on Wal-mart's "Low prices everyday" signs over bins of pencils and cans of green beans and other things that I didn't know I needed until I see that they're ONLY $1.99 each! Those yellow smileys became my trademark in my early twenties. I had a smiley keychain, a foam smiley-face ball on the top of my car's antennae, and huge round sun shades with yellow smileys to keep my dashboard cool in the summer.

Now that I think about it, I don't think I chose any of those smiley items for myself. Friends started getting them for me, and then somehow it became known that Michelle liked yellow smiley faces. Maybe it's because I always put little smiley faces at the end of emails or letters. Or maybe it's just because I smile a lot! I remember once in an English Composition class at the community college, a concerned classmate asked me when I walked in, "What's wrong, Michelle?" Taken aback, I said I was fine. "But you're not smiling," he persisted. "And you're ALWAYS smiling. So something must be wrong!"

I think I'm naturally a "glass-half-full" optimist. But I wonder how much of my always having a cheerful expression is a learned behavior. As the oldest child, as the daughter and grand-daughter of missionaries, I've often felt pressure (real or imagined) to keep up a certain image, to look like I have it all together.

Over the last three years I've been involved in the long-term 24-hour care of my centenarian grandmother - through the ups and downs of strokes, emergency room visits, hospitalization, home health care, physical therapy, and middle-of-the-night assistance for bathroom use. "I could never do what you guys do," countless people have told me and my family, shaking their heads. "You have such a gift for this." Or they say, "Well, God must know you can take it, 'cause He won't give you more than you can handle!"

That's when I start thinking that maybe I'm a little bit too cheerful and optimistic. And I wonder if I'm unintentionally giving the impression that I have it all together when I don't. Maybe I shouldn't always smile and say "We're fine" when people ask how things are going with grandma.

Because often I feel like I'm not handling it all very well. I get stressed. I get irritable. I get grumpy. And the truth is, I don't think I have a particular gifting for caregiving. (I don't remember that being one of the spiritual gifts listed in my Bible). My DNA isn't unique among the human race, allowing me supernatural strength and grace and patience for the particular challenges of caregiving. Neither is the rest of my family specially trained and perfectly suited for this particular season of life. We just do it because that's where we are right now. And you would do the same if you were in our shoes. Just like you take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and face the particular challenges of your life every day.

But I guess that doesn't mean I should stop smiling. I'm trying to learn when and where it's appropriate to humble myself and admit when I'm not doing very well and need help. It's true that God does give us the grace we need for each moment. That's the difference between happiness, which is based on circumstances, and JOY, which comes from the security of trusting in God's sustaining power. So though I don't have to feel pressure to "put on a happy face" just to keep up appearances, I know that in THIS moment, and in the NEXT moment, and in the NEXT moment, He will give me the joy of the Lord if I ask for it, which is my strength. And THAT's reason to smile!