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by Linda Davenport

Six Words That Changed a Life Six words – “Smile…it can’t be that bad.” – changed Judy’s life.

Judy is a young woman I worked with some years ago. She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties, more than a little overweight, and not the most stylish dresser. What was most striking about her appearance was her smile; it was always there. Anyone passing Judy in the hallway was greeted with that smile and a soft, “Hello,” or, “Good morning,” in her gentle, Minnesota accent.

I happened to be with Judy one day when she had her driver’s license out of her purse. The photograph on her license showed a face that looked like it had never smiled! The corners of her mouth were turned down, her face looked slack, and the eyes were dark and troubled. The overall impression was anger and deep grief.

“Whoa! Judy…is that really you? What in the world was going on? You look like you’re mad at the world!” Judy giggled. “Yes, it’s me. I used to look like that all the time.”

She then shared with me her story and the six words that changed her life. Judy had moved to Tennessee to care for an invalid uncle. Her life revolved around caring for this much older and very ill man who, though grateful, offered little in the way of good company for a shy young woman.

When he died, Judy realized for the first time that she had nothing – no job skills, no education, no experience with which to support herself, and no friends. Lonely, grieving, and terrified, she took a big step and enrolled in a community college CAD/CAM program. The Judy that walked the halls between classes was the Judy captured in her driver’s license photo. She didn’t talk, didn’t smile, didn’t make eye contact.

One day, however, she met an instructor in the hallway who, in passing, said, “Smile…it can’t be that bad.” As Judy told me the story, she giggled again. “I was so embarrassed! And I didn’t say anything at all. I couldn’t. But I started thinking…maybe he was right.” Nothing in Judy’s life had changed, but she made a decision to smile anyway, to put a smile on her face without waiting for it to spontaneously show up. And so she did.

She would arrive at school and, very self-consciously at first, put a smile on her face as she walked across the parking lot. She forced herself to look up at the people she met, even if only for an instant. Over and over she repeated to herself the six words that started her down the path: “Smile…it can’t be that bad.” Without realizing it, she said, she had begun to practice “fake it ’till you make it,” acting happy even when she wasn’t. “And when I did,” she said, “things changed.

People stopped avoiding me. Before, people sometimes crossed the halls to walk on the other side, and if they didn’t, I did. When I started smiling, even though I didn’t really feel it, people reacted differently. It took a little while, but one morning, someone actually said hello to me. And I smiled for real!”

Judy later went to the instructor who had made the comment and thanked him. As you might expect, he was surprised that his almost throwaway comment had that kind of impact. Judy met his family, visited his church, and slowly developed a social network. After living in Tennessee for more than ten years, she made her first friends.

When she told me the story, she finished with, “See? You never know how you might influence someone with what you say. Those six words changed my life. When I started acting happy, I became happy. I didn’t even know it was happening, but it was, and I’m so glad he told me to, ‘Smile…it can’t be that bad.’ He was right…it wasn’t that bad…and it won’t ever be that bad again.”

Today’s Joy Juice by Judy – happiness is a choice; fake it ’till you make it if you have to; and pay attention to the words you say…you may change someone’s life.

Meditation: If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face and wear a smile,’ – Job 9:27

You will succeed because Jesus loves You!

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