We just endured the sixth surgery of our one-year-old little girl. She has had three heart surgeries and three bowel surgeries. This last surgery was to reverse the colostomy, which happened to be the first surgery she received three days into life.
We were blessed to capture pictures of her newborn, involuntary smiles. These smiles made some hard days just a little easier.
“You make me smile,” was a phrase that defined the start of the relationship I have with my wife. It was akin to “I love you” before we were ready to say it.
The 2009 country-pop song “Smile” by Uncle Kracker was our song: the one that we would sing to each other in the car and dance to when no one was looking… Because neither of us can dance.
I lost my wife’s smiles for a time by my actions. I didn’t just watch those smiles fade away, I saw them flee from me. It took some time and sincere actions to see them again.
When Madison gained control of her muscles, and her smiles became a voluntary expression of her happiness, she smiled with her whole body. Her smile lights up the room.
It was right after her full heart repair that it became critical for me to see her smile. She was lying in her bed, still sedated, with wires and tubes coming out of her. She was still connected to the breathing tube. We had to wait for that to be removed and for the sedation to wear off to even hope for a smile. The first one didn’t come until about three days later, but it felt like weeks (as you lose all track of time in those moments). But when it happened, it was the most wonderful moment. It was short-lived, and it took almost a week to get another one.
I had this irrational fear that she would never smile again. I needed those smiles. I needed that little girl’s personality to shine through during our visit, and every time it happened, my heart would swell. The time in between these moments was desperate and heart-wrenching, and those little tender mercies that she would give us were healing.
There is a scripture that puts it all together. It is found in the wisdom shared by the prophet Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:39. He teaches about the danger concerning sinning against God and declares, “…to be carnally minded is death.” I have seen that in my life: sinning against God, and having a mind and heart that are worldly and prideful can chase away the purest smile.
Jacob’s follow-up to this miserable counsel provides a hopeful doctrine: “…and to be spiritually minded is life eternal.” It was years ago that someone taught me that this phrase created the acronym S.M.I.L.E. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have so much to be happy about. We have an eternal perspective that is family-focused and divine.
As a family that has been through my excommunication process; the prognosis of our third child who has many health defects related to having Down syndrome; and balancing school, work, church, and other activities while trying to keep it together, we put on a smile and practice the counsel to be spiritually minded.
Our sweet children are excellent reminders to think of the future—not just their mortal future, but their potential beyond the grave…. And our potential as well. Of course, this counsel that being spiritually-minded brings us into the eternal world also provides gifts in this life. We find similar counsel in Romans 8:6, which tells us that living the laws of Christ and being “spiritually minded is life and peace.” The gift to smile is a promise in this life and the next.
I often find myself wanting to exclaim,
“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!” (D&C 128:19)
I smile at the very thought of what we have in this gospel and what we have to look forward to when we yield to the Spirit and come to Christ.
I continue to look for those smiles after every procedure and am deeply touched every time that little face brightens, her mouth widens from ear to ear, and her head sinks down into her shoulders because she is happy.
Rory is a recently returned member of the restored Church after years of semi-activity and excommunication. He is a husband and father to three, and an advocate to his infant daughter with Down syndrome, congenital heart defects, and other disabilities. He gained a love of writing as a trained Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Army, and a love for the plain and simple doctrines of the Church through enduring hard things.