Count the Smiles

Our Executive Director, Larry McDaniel, reflects on one aspect of 25 years of ministry:

Her smile was so beautiful and unexpected that it caught me off guard. “When did that happen?” I wondered. The young lady came to Coyote Hill from a situation that left her sad and depressed, and for good reason. I didn’t see her every day, but when I did her facial expression was always flat; as if she was from a different world, just stopping by to take notes or something. However, in the month she had been at Coyote Hill, being showered with love and acceptance, she started to like herself again. She started to believe in herself. She started to love life. And her smile … her smile reflected all of that and would light up any room.

I remember another time, many years ago. I will never forget the young girl who came to Coyote Hill who would never smile. I had been told that this little girl had been treated as if every wrong in her previous home was somehow her fault. One could see the pain, the burden, and the weight of it all in her face, her eyes, and her demeanor. It was as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Heartbreaking. An eleven year old girl should be thinking about so many other things besides how to fix a dysfunctional family, or wondering what she did in the first place to make it so.

Progress can be a tricky thing to measure, unless one owns a factory and can count completed items coming off the assembly line. But how do you measure progress in the lives of eleven year olds? At Coyote Hill, we have learned to be very creative in this area. We want to know progress is being made, but knowing what to count can be challenging. Sometimes we count angry outbursts, and look for those to become fewer and further between. Sometimes we count progress made in reunification with their biological family. And sometimes, yes, we count smiles.

A smile is considered one of the simplest, yet most powerful gestures in the world. The slightest grin of a baby, the laughter of a toddler, and the smile of a child will warm the heart of anyone. As we begin another new year, I would encourage you to be mindful of the smiles of those around you. Be someone who measures success not by your annual income, the square footage of your home or the number of good grades your kids get in school, but rather by the amount of smiles you help create. Smiles are contagious; go start an epidemic!

As I look back on 25 years of ministry, I like to imagine all of our nearly 370 children, wherever they are, lighting up their communities and families with many more smiles because of the time they spent with us at Coyote Hill. Countless smiles that impact the world.

~~Larry McDaniel
Executive Director