STORY: City of Smiles
Not very many people liked Henry. He was fat and had big glasses and kind of smelled like cigarettes (which wasn’t his fault).
At the school lunch table he always sat alone, and that made him sad. Henry’s dad wasn’t a great dad. But his uncle, however, was a really cool guy. His uncle was a pastor and he loved all the little people. Especially his favorite little nephew, Henry.
One day at school, Henry got a D on an English paper. He had studied with a girl because she asked if he wanted to study with him. He was excited maybe she wanted to be friends. She hadn't read the book but he had. So he told her about it. She got an A. But when he told her good job, she ignored him, because she was with her friends.
Henry went home and went out to the sandbox, where he went whenever he wasn’t feeling good. It was away from the smoke in his house, away from his fighting parents, and he liked to build beautiful cities in the sand, as if he could shrink down and live in them.
Today he was out there until the sun started to go down. He heard his mom yell at him to come in for dinner. He didn’t move. He kept digging and building. His uncle saw him out there and said to Henry’s mom, “Hey you know what. I’ll go get him. But don’t wait up for us.”
Henry heard his uncle’s voice. It made him happy, but also ashamed. He didn’t want his cool uncle see him on the verge of tears.
“How are ya, Big guy?”
Henry didn’t answer. His uncle sat down beside him and started pinching the sand, making little people shapes to populate Henry’s little city. “Rough day today, buddy?”
Henry shrugged. He looked down at the little sand people that looked like they were walking into his city and smiled a little bit.
“Were some people mean to you or something?” His uncle gently asked.
Henry shrugged again. He liked his uncle so much. He wanted to tell him what happened but he couldn’t talk. There was a lump in his throat.
“You know one of the things that I like about you, buddy?”
Henry looked at his uncle’s converse black and white Chuck Taylor tennis shoes in the sand.
“I like that you can make something as beautiful as this city out of nothin’. Like it just pops into your head and you're able to make something out of it.”
Henry smiled a little bit and looked at his whole city from the corner of his eye.
His uncle continued, “And I had this realization, the other day. I was thinking that just like you can build something out of nothing using sand. Love is the same way. Even when we have nothing else in the world to give, we can still show love to people.”
Henry was intrigued. He started to look up at his uncle.
His uncle continued again, “I mean I was just thinking at how awesome of a real little city you could make, full of happy people just by going around doing nice things for people.”
Henry looked up at his uncle’s face. His sadness was turning into hope. He felt like he really could make his school happier.
“But the problem is,” His uncle said, “I don’t think I’m creative enough to figure out how to do it.”
Henry blurted our, “I can do that!”
His uncle nodded emphatically. “That’s what I was thinking! You should totally come up with some ideas to help people at school, and like on the bus, and maybe even ways to make your parents smile more than usual. That would be awesome, buddy. I bet, out of all of the people I know, you’d be one of the best at doing that. Anyway,” His uncle sloughed off his idea, “It’s probably a silly idea to try but i thought I should tell you about it, just in case you think you could rock it out like that.”
Henry scratched a window shape into the side of one of the buildings. He was smiling now.
“Hey, so you wanna go get some dinner? I’m starving.”
Henry nodded and they walked into the house.
The next day at school, Henry’s eyes were open. When he sat alone at the lunch table, he was looking at the other people, now, rather than just down at his own tray. He was looking for people who he could make happy.
The first person he saw he could help, was another kid who was sitting at a table alone across the room. His heart started beating hard. He had never really asked himself how he could help other people, he had always just wondered why other people didn’t want to sit with him. But he thought, if I am lonely, and want people to sit with me, maybe he does too!
Henry picked up his tray and walked across the room and sat next to him. That day, he made someone smile, and accidentally made his first friend.
Later that day he saw someone was really sad that she had lost her homework. He wrote a note and slipped it into her bag that said, “I believe you finished the homework. I would give you an A for it.”
On the bus he saw the big kids making fun of the littlest kid on the bus. Usually Henry would think, “Thank goodness they’re not picking on me.” But today he whispered down the aisle to the kid and said he saved a seat next to him for him.
The kid didn’t move to sit with him that day, but the next day, he sat down right next to Henry when he got on. They both smiled. The plan was still working. That day, fat little stinky henry made another friend, just by looking for people to make smile.
Even when he went home he decided to try it. When his mom was getting ready for dinner, he started setting the table.
“What are you doing?” She asked, skeptically.
“I’m setting the table for you.” He didn’t look up, but continued his task diligently.
She paused, smiled and said, “Thanks, buddy.”
The plan was catching on.
God asks us in Isaiah 58, to help people. To feed the hungry, to set captives free, to give a home to hobos. We can’t always do that stuff very well, especially if we’re just kids, but what we can do, is share our food at lunch, sit next to people and make them feel at home when their hearts feel homeless. We set people free from sadness by simple words of kindness and love. We can each make the cities we live in, into cities of smiles. It will probably make God smile as well, and we just might make some new friends while we’re at it.