There are so many houses, so many people. I pass them as I go about my daily routines. I see them as I travel from one town to another. Some are so lovely and inviting, others not so much. I wonder who inhabits them and try to imagine what life is like for them. Of course I will never really know the truth of what goes on inside those walls. Experience has taught me that appearances do not always define reality, and yet I find myself imagining what is happening in those places over and over again.
We are a world of millions and millions of people. We have hearts and brains and blood coursing through our veins. We need food and water and love to thrive. We are so much alike, and yet we have our differences. What we see and hear in our homes influences us for the good or the bad. From the time that we are children we either feel safe and secure or frightened and bewildered. Not all homes are castles and not all castles are homes.
I remember a time when a woman living in River Oaks shot and killed her well known and renowned husband. Few who were familiar with the couple had any idea that she was living in a state of fear from the continuous abuse that she was enduring at his hands. Instead her life appeared to be ideal, the kind of existence that most of us dream of experiencing. It was shocking to learn the dark details of the happenings inside what should have been a haven. Even her closest friends were appalled when they heard her testimony at trial. I remember thinking that I might have been envious of her lifestyle of the rich and famous had she not ultimately shed light on the truth with her act of desperation.
I often ponder a visit to a woman that my grandmother Minnie wanted me to meet when I was only six years old. As we drove to the lady’s house Grandma did her best to prepare me for what I might encounter. Her words were insufficient in describing the abject poverty in which the woman lived. The house was what might politely be called a hovel. It literally appeared to be falling down around the family that resided within. The lady herself had the physical appearance of someone worn down by life’s continuous challenges, and yet when she smiled she had the face of a beautiful angel. She was transformed as she spoke so sweetly of her wonderful children and the love that she shared with them was apparent as she proudly introduced each of them and bragged on their abilities. After spending an afternoon with her I realized that she was a truly happy, optimistic and faith filled woman in spite of her circumstances, and my grandmother later told me that she thought that her friend was one of the grandest people that she had ever known.
We each approach the circumstances of our lives just a bit differently. So often our possessions or wealth have little bearing on how we will react to our daily trials and blessings. For some there is never enough, and so they stew in discontent regardless of how lucky they have been. For others little more is necessary to bring a sense of satisfaction than seeing the dawn of a new day. The happiest people are not those who pursue things, but those who embrace the simple act of living with an open and generous heart. It is not the dinner at a wonderful restaurant that brings us the most joy, but the sharing of that moment with people for whom we care. The food that sustains us best is love.
We are never in complete control of our lives. Things happen to us with or without our consent. A loved one dies. A flood destroys our worldly goods. We receive a devastating medical diagnosis. Someone we thought was a friend betrays us. Such things happen inevitably to everyone. It is in how we choose to address our realities that we become the true masters of our destinies. We each have the power to rise above the horrors that stalk us just as my grandmother’s friend seemed to have done.
We don’t have to be victims of circumstance wallowing in self pity. We can cry and rage just enough to vent the poisonous feelings that haunt us when things get bad. It is only natural to do so, but eventually we must show the strength that resides inside each and every one of us. It can be terrifying and lonely to do so, but in the end those who do truly find the happiness and contentment that we all seek. The light beaming from their homes comes not from incandescent bulbs but from the joy that resides in their souls.
Grit, determination, inventiveness, generosity, caring…these are characteristics that make a house a home for everyone who lives inside. When we see our role models striving day after day to make love the center of our personal universes we in turn learn how to deal positively with all of the difficulties that will most certainly befall us. When we only experience despair and hatefulness we often begin to emulate the traits of hopelessness that drive us into constant cycles of depression and loneliness. If we are fortunate we will encounter the hand up that we need to break the chains that have imprisoned us in our own minds. Luckily there are teachers, ministers and friends who often teach us how to be our better selves.
No life is ever a complete loss. Until the last breath is drawn everyone has the possibility of changing for the better. Jesus Himself taught us this wonderful truth as He was dying on the cross when the thief begged for and received God’s forgiveness.
I am one of the fortunate ones, but I have seen children enduring the ugly effects of tragically violent and loveless homes. I know from working with them that they can be saved, and I have time and again witnessed incredibly giving souls reaching out to the psychologically wounded and making a profound difference. I am always humbled when I witness such selfless acts of love, and I think of how wonderful it will be to have one more home glowing with the lights of optimism and hope simply because someone cared.
Just as my grandmother Minnie most likely expected I was changed by my encounter with her neighbor. It taught me not to judge a book by its cover and how to value the character of a person over possessions. I still treasure the memory of sitting next to Grandma after our visit and hearing the wisdom in her voice as she coached me on life. I suppose that she knew that there were many challenges ahead of me and she wanted me to realize that I would be able to endure almost anything as long as I remembered to draw on the gifts that reside in each of our beings. Now as I look back on the battles that I have won and even those that I have lost I think of the people who stood resolutely by my side and realize how wealthy I have been.
Be that life changing person for someone. Keep the lights of happiness burning brightly in as many homes as possible.