Earlier, I saw a meme online that said, “We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.” What a simple but profound statement.
We are all born into a certain life. Some are born and then a new life is chosen for them. But for all of us, we don’t have any say in where we come from. Some are born to wealth and others to poverty. Some are born into fame while some obscurity. Some are born free while others are born into captivity of one kind of another. No matter where one starts, there are millions of choices as to where one ends up.
Let me tell you a short story…
A few years ago, my husband, Ken, was approached by someone in our church. They needed a Spanish-speaking parishioner to travel with them on our church’s first mission trip to Guatemala. Ken surprised us by happily accepting the chance to travel to the poorest part of the Central American country to help assess the needs of the people and see how our parish could best help them. Ken is such a busy man, traveling often, putting off projects, and lamenting about not having enough time at home, but he heard the call and answered it.
While on the trip, Ken witnessed poverty as he had never seen it anywhere. He visited communities where people were dying because they had no clean water, and boiling the water all day on the inefficient stoves was literally destroying their lungs. He watched a woman carry a baby on her back that they were told would not live through the night. He saw a group of refugees being lectured about the dangers of crossing the border, but they were desperate and undeterred. He shared meals with families who barely had enough to feed themselves but wanted to share with their guests.
Of all the things Ken saw and experienced, the thing that struck him the most, the thing that he still talks about was not just the poverty he witnessed but the joy. He said that so many of those people had nothing yet still seemed to have everything. It wasn’t that they didn’t need help and haven’t welcomed all of the food, money, clothing, and other forms of aid our church has been providing ever since. They need all of that and more, and they accept it humbly and graciously. No, it’s that they find joy in the smallest things, and they set out each day to be happy and bring happiness to those around them. They believe that God is there for them, and they pray and worship with joy every chance they get. Being joyful doesn’t change their lives or their situations, but it does change the way they look at life and its possibilities.
Here, we have everything, or at the very least, we have access to everything. Even the poorest among us have more than most of the families with whom Ken spent that week. Yet we always seem to moan and complain about the things we don’t have, don’t like, can’t do, or can’t be. People look for other people, for material things, for surgeries, for cosmetics, for drugs and alcohol, for anything they think will make their lives better, happier, more rewarding. Often, they remain unhappy, trudging through life trying to figure out what they did wrong, or who did wrong to them.
When I begin to wallow in self-pity or despair over a presumed lost cause or think that I am not worthy, I remind myself of the joy that Ken witnessed and experienced in Guatemala.
I’ve always loved the saying, Nobody is in charge of your happiness but you. I think that’s something many don’t realize or remember. You can choose how you feel today and tomorrow and the day after. By choosing your mood, you are, in effect, choosing how to face the day, how to treat and react to others, how to accomplish your goals, and how to overcome any obstacles. By seeing each day as a burden or a gift, and each challenge as an impediment or an opportunity, you can affect your future for the worse or the better.
The other night, our family (with girls home on spring break) watched the movie, Precious. It was eye-opening. The movie is based on the novel Push by author, Sapphire, but many of the things Precious experienced–abuse, incest, parental abandonment, racism–were taken directly from Sapphire’s real life. With the encouragement of her teacher, Precious begins to take control of her life. It was a long process that culminated with her finally leaving her abusive mother and striking out on her own, determined to make a better life for herself and her children. The movie never tried to make Precious’s life or her decision to change its course look easy. It didn’t end with the painting of a cheery rainbow through which Precious walked to find her pot of gold. The viewer knew that Precious still had a long road ahead of her, but it was inspiring to see that she not only took the chance to make it better, but she believed she had a chance to begin with.
In a way, this belief that there is a better life, this desire to change and grow and find joy, this hunger to live the “good life” is what Lent is all about. We walk in darkness for forty days, thinking about our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, striving each day to do better, be better, lead a better life. We are searching for ways to make our lives good. We are searching for the way, for the truth, for the light. And it’s as simple as that meme I mentioned above. “We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.” It’s up to us and the choices we make over the next forty days and how those choices can and will affect the rest of our lives.
Like the beautiful people of San Marco in Guatemala, we need to live our lives being grateful for what we have, find happiness in the life we live, and pray and worship with joy. It’s not about giving in or giving up. It’s about greeting each day with gratitude and hope, always looking for ways to make our lives better, to lead lives of goodness. As far as Ken… he thought he was going on this trip to help our parish, but in reality, it helped him and everyone in our family. It changed the way we look at others, they way we look at life, and the way we judge ourselves and our happiness.
It made us realize that all we really need in life is to believe in God and in ourselves and in each other, for even in the most desperate circumstances, that belief can lead us to peace and happiness and, always, hope.
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What I was writing about a year ago this week: How Many Licks Must We Take?.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy is available as a complete set for your Kindle and is also available on audio!
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).