Put your shoulder to the wheel; push along, Do your duty with a heart full of song,
We all have work; let no one shirk. Put your shoulder to the wheel.
LDS Hymnal, 252
For those of you whose goal it is to be happier this year, this message is for you. I have discovered a little secret to happiness that anyone, everyone, can apply in their daily lives without altering your lengthy to-do list. I promise this tiny trick will erase the bad feelings and leave the good ones in every situation and you will be able to live each day happier, in spite of what does or doesn’t come.
Happiness is not a goal; it is a way of being. You don’t have to be beyond your trials to be happy. As we begin some of our life’s chapters with phrases like “She never knew it was coming…” or “Her worst fears were realized when…” we can have happiness right along with every gloomy adjective that some might use to describe our life.
Happiness is for each of us in every chapter. Happiness comes as we find the Savior and we most easily find Him through songs.
I love to sing, though I am not a singer. Being paralyzed limited my body, but the ensuing lung damage substantially limited my lung capacity. The months I spent in the Respiratory ICU diminished my ability to speak loudly or for long periods of time. I can no longer laugh, at least not like I used to.
After I was paralyzed, my laugh made absolutely no noise. I just shook slightly. When I laughed, it was hard to keep myself upright. Because laughing made me fall forward in my chair and shake, people often thought I was having a seizure.
Needless to say, it was awkward.
I didn’t like to laugh anymore.
My mom has a fun and unique laugh. Once, when I was in elementary school, I heard a laugh similar to my mom’s in my neighbor’s backyard and interrupted their party in search of her (she wasn’t there). I thought that her boisterous, happy laugh was the only one of its kind, but many have fun, happy laughs. And as we grew up, both my sister, Kat, and I acquired a similar laugh.
Kat and my mom visited me in the hospital one night to cheer me up. I was in the rehabilitation unit and not hooked up to many tubes, so I could talk and laugh (well, kind of). Kat is really funny and she had us laughing as she told us about her latest venture as a movie extra. She said the camera adds a little weight and she looked like a partially-melted Snickers bar that had been squished into a ball. With legs. We were cracking up in the way only moms and sisters can do.
It was nice, except I noticed that the only laughs I heard were theirs. Mine was undetectable and the only trace of laughter was my faint smile and soft inhales when I was out of breath.
As years went by, my lung capacity slightly strengthened and I eventually could speak more loudly and for longer periods. But my laugh never returned.
After being paralyzed for more than seven years, I wondered if I would ever hear my own laugh again on this earth. Every time I laughed with my family or my husband’s family, I couldn’t hear myself.
It made me sad.
One night in prayer, I asked Heavenly Father what I could do, if anything, to regain my ability to laugh. I told Him that I didn’t know if this was a very important request because it’s such a small thing.
But in the morning, as I silently did the laundry (I ponder as I do chores), I received my answer, letting me know that the things that were important to me were important to Him.
Through His Spirit, He told me that if I wanted to regain the ability to laugh again, I had to sing. I had to sing at the top of my voice every day.
And so I began to sing (terribly off key and fainting every so often because of the difficulty), and now, years later, I can hear myself when I laugh – just barely. I need a little more singing time before I get my full laugh back, but truly, it is coming.
Losing one’s ability to laugh is not a trial only for the respiratory-compromised. Even if you have never lost your ability to breathe, you have, at one time or other, lost your ability to laugh.
I know because no princess, no matter how cute her giggle is, feels like laughing when her carriage gets a flat tire. No princess, no matter how care-free she is, feels like laughing when the power goes out and her dinner’s halfway cooked and her kids are hungry. No princess, no matter how knee-slapping funny her prince is, feels like laughing when he leaves his knightly socks on the floor next to the clothes hamper (again). And with or without lung damage, laughter damage happens.
…to even the best princesses.
But laughter damage is avoidable, and repairable, through song – but not just any song. In my personal research, I have tried many songs to brighten my mood and keep me laugh-ready but the only songs that truly wipe away my tears and calm my troubled heart are the songs that lift my voice to the Savior. No other song, no matter how happy the beat or clever the words, works as quickly and as thoroughly as a song that praises the Prince of Peace who is the source of happiness.
And when I am cruising through my daily to-do list, I need to do what works best and fastest. We all need a fast-acting antidote for laughter damage. And when we need immediate laugh repair to lift our spirits and release our hearts from the bondage of frustrations, annoyances, or anything else that Isaiah’s describes as “chastising our peace,” we need to use what works. We need to sing. Not just any song, but a song about and for our Savior.
I made meatball sandwiches for lunch one afternoon. My husband and I were eating together and I was cutting mine with a fork (I don’t like to hold goopy food). In my cutting, I slid the plate too close to the edge of the table and accidentally flipped the entire thing over and onto my lap – splashing red marinara all over my favorite white dress.
I was speaking later that evening and had to wear a dress so I changed into a different one and began my afternoon work. A short time later, I was back in the kitchen making dinner. I put on an apron and tied it tightly so I wouldn’t have to change again.
I put my big red cutting board on my lap and began to cook. The cutting board acts like a little counter so I can easily reach stuff. I was making baked chicken and on my lap was a casserole dish with raw chicken and the seasonings. I was rubbing some seasonings and butter on the chicken when I accidentally flipped the entire casserole dish off my lap, sending chicken, butter, seasonings, and the cutting board crashing onto the floor.
With huge, I-can’t-believe-this eyes, I stared.
My can’t-believe-this eyes started to water and I felt a lump in my throat. I was on the verge of tears. My lip quivered and I knew I was about to lose my cool.
But before my emotions could catch up to my tear ducts, I made my mouth sing: When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged thinking all is lost…(Hymn 241)
That’s as far as I got. My tears subsided. I cleaned up the mess. I never cried.
I didn’t need to.
I sang to find the Prince of Peace and He rescued me from the evil clutches of the buttered floor chicken. He saved me from the stink
The Savior lives and He will help us accomplish the duties on our to-do list if we keep a heart full of song.
Keep Happy and Keep Singing,
This story first appeared in my book, Always a Princess