Smiling Eyes

My life has not changed much since yesterday.  In fact, I do not believe that there are any visible changes, but there is a change nonetheless.  You see, today I am grateful.  Recently I have had a difficult time being grateful.  To be clear, I have not had a complete absence of gratitude, after all I do recognize many wonderful blessings which I enjoy.  For instance I have been grateful not only for my health, but for the health of my family members.  With yesterday having been Father’s Day, I had the opportunity to spend time with my family.  Just seven weeks ago my father lay in a hospital bed in Italy and we did not know when or if he would ever make it home.  Today he is healthy and has again started walking three miles a day.  Additionally, in this current economic crisis, I am extremely grateful for my husband’s income.  He is self-employed and although his industry has seen many recent changes, he has been able to continue to provide for our family.  It seems easy to be grateful for such things, but when life gets hard, sometimes it seems too overwhelming for gratitude.

Over the last few days, I have had reason to ponder the role of gratitude in my life.  In doing so, I have reflected back on a time about fifteen or sixteen years ago.  It was a time wherein I felt an abundance of gratitude.  My life was not much different than it is today.  I was not wealthy, definitely not famous, our home was smaller, and we did not live in as nice of a neighborhood.  Yet, I very vividly remember thinking, but more importantly feeling, that there was no one on this earth who was more blessed than me.  I wish it were possible for me to convey how deeply and often I felt this way.  I would kneel on my knees and pour out my heart to my Heavenly Father expressing my profound gratitude for what He had given me.  In doing so, my eyes would well with tears and my heart would pound deeply in my chest.  I knew it was impossible for me to adequately express how grateful I was and how utterly undeserving I felt of having been given so much.

What happened?  Maybe I expected life to be easy.  Maybe I got busy and forgot to pause to count my blessings.  Maybe I forgot that life is about growing and learning from all of life’s experiences, not only those that are pleasant.  Maybe I forgot about Katrina!

I first met Katrina exactly twenty-eight years ago.  She was only four years old and I was just newly married.  I was at the time teaching the five year old class at church.  During a group singing time, the four year old class sat right in front of ours.  Week after week Katrina would turn around in her seat, place her chin on her folded arms that rested on the back of her chair, and glare at me.  I would wink at her, stroke her hand, blow her a kiss, and pull silly faces all in an attempt to get a glimpse of Katrina’s smile.  But, Katrina would not smile.  This was new for me; I had never met a child I could not win over.  I think most of them saw me as just a large version of one of them.  Katrina, however, was different.  Why didn’t she like me?  I would come home from church and tell my husband how badly I felt that Katrina hated me, but nevertheless I would go back the following week and try again.

Eventually, when all of the children in Katrina’s class had turned five, they graduated to my class.  I still had not witnessed any noticeable success in winning Katrina’s love and therefore was surprised that each week she wanted to sit by me.  It was then that I learned more about her.  You see, Katrina had a form of muscular dystrophy which had affected the muscles in her face.  Katrina could not smile.  One particular week during singing time, we were singing a song about the importance of smiling.  Katrina tugged on my sleeve and I looked down at her expressionless face.  She said in a subdued tone, “But Sister Waters, I can’t smile.”  I immediately felt a sting in my heart, but I did not even hesitate for one second in the words I spoke to her.  I know without a doubt those words were given to me.  I said, “That’s all right Katrina.  You smile with your eyes!”  At that moment there was a sparkle in Katrina’s eyes.  It was so distinct it was as if it had been digitally enhanced like in some commercials we see.  Katrina put her arm through mine, cuddled up to me, and said, “Sister Waters, I love you!”  With a heart that felt as if it would burst, I returned, “I love you too, Katrina.”

I went home that day grateful for something for which I had never before been grateful.  I was grateful for the ability to smile.  I am sure had I ever thought about it I would have felt gratitude for this ability, but I had never thought about it.  It was something that I took for granted everyday of my life.  I began to think about all of those little things that just seem so ordinary–the ability to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see.  I was grateful for teeth to chew, knees and elbows that bent, a mind that can reason, and a heart that could feel.  I was grateful for grass, trees, flowers, and even the wind.  I was grateful for Katrina, who taught me how to be grateful for all those things I had previously taken for granted.  I have since wondered, as I watch those who endure tragedy and heartache in this life, if they agreed to that role in order to teach the rest of us gratitude and compassion.  Oh how my heart swells when I think about Katrina.

Some years ago I shared this story with my husband’s sister, Jenny.  As I told the story, I did not use Katrina’s name, but rather referred to her as a little girl.  When I reached the point of the story wherein I told Katrina that she smiled with her eyes, Jenny immediately interrupted to tell me of her son’s friend.  This friend had told my nephew that she smiled with her eyes.  Jenny added that her son had said, “And you know mom, she does.  She does smile with her eyes!”  Jenny went on to tell me that this girl, who was then about twenty-one, was named Katrina.  I think my heart skipped a beat when I heard her name.  I quickly asked questions to determine if it was the same girl.  It was!  I felt profound gratitude for the words that had been given to me years ago which Katrina still carried with her.  She probably does not even remember who spoke them to her, after all that was not important.  It was the words!  She knows that there is a way for her to convey her happiness, her smile with her eyes, and she is grateful.

I have taken the time to think about Katrina and so many others who have shared this journey of life with me.  I am grateful for everyone of them who has influenced my life for good.  I recognize that each came into my life when I most needed them.  Some even came and added unwanted challenges, but I see now that even they taught me something that I needed to learn, something that made me a better person.  There have been times when it has been difficult to find the better person, times when I did not even know if I had been left such, but I have found that even at those times someone has been sent into my life to show me that there was a way to find that better person within me.  For each of them I am grateful!  Today I will not only speak those words of gratitude, I will show them.  How will I show my gratitude today?  It is very simple, I will smile…with my eyes!

Remember that 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4                                                                     [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]

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3 responses to “Smiling Eyes

  1. Beautiful story. wanted to cry. You are a sweet hearted person Jeannie. I knew there was reason i liked you. lol Would love to meet you one day. It is so great and beautiful when others help us to grow as a person. It is easy to count our blessings at any given time if we just stop and look around at the big picture of our lives. Also, the joy that others can bring to our lives. The power of friendship or connecting. The “little” things can add up to quite a bit, thank goodness. Good when you can see the beauty and look on the bright side of things. So glad that your dad is okay.

  2. Jeannie this story is very beautiful and full of meaning, and once again shows us that things always happen for a reason (I firmly believe in this) are happy to know that your father is well, and I hope that you will remember ‘Italy only to know the pneumonia, because you know Jeannie here are many wonderful people who live every day like your stories

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