My brothers and I grew up in a small, three-bedroom brick ranch under the roof of two loving parents. The boys moved out by the time I was eight, leaving me to exist as an only child for the rest of my youthful days. My parents were often the hosts of their church’s Bible study group and various other social gatherings, where I was always welcomed no matter my age.
I can’t remember how early it started; but at some point in my childhood my memories become flooded with the sweetness of a full home. There always seemed to be someone who was in need of a place to stay, be it for a few nights or a few months. It was without judgement or reservation that my parents continuously opened their doors to whomever needed it, providing friendship, solace and love.
There were so many different stories that accompanied our guests. My mom’s best friend lived with us after a divorce, allowing her a space to study to become a flight attendant in the months that followed. There was a period of time that we provided a safe, stable home for a relative who was getting his feet back underneath him after battling addiction. The guest room was often occupied by long-time buddies of my dad’s just passing through town on various fishing trips, or family members in from other states. My childhood best friend spent some time with us after being removed from an abusive situation; quickly becoming the sister I’d never had.
It was without judgement or reservation that my parents continuously opened their doors to whomever needed it, providing friendship, solace and love.
And as my mom’s littlest brother battled ALS, my parents gave up their entire home — moving into a rental — so that he could spend the remainder of his days in a house that suited his needs. Sometimes sharing our home was a joyous time, other times it was a place for grieving and healing.
Over those years unspoken lessons became engrained in my heart, they changed me, shaped who I turned into as an adult and defined what compassion could look like. Our dining room table became the platform for togetherness like it had been when my brothers were home; as we would gather around and enjoy one another’s company and companionship.
Our guests even brought in aspects of their own traditions and memories during the holidays, as there were always extra place-settings for whomever came along. We played board games, worked on puzzles, and sometimes just talked for hours over good food and warm drinks. The feeling of togetherness and love was a constant; composing very real tidings of great comfort and joy. This type of kindness — this goodness — was abundantly free inside the walls of our home.
The feeling of togetherness and love was a constant; composing very real tidings of great comfort and joy.
It wasn’t until I started searching to buy my own home that I gained an awareness of what I had learned throughout the years. I had only one undeniable request: there would need to be enough rooms so that I could dedicate one as a guest bedroom. It would be there I would have a bed made up and an empty dresser waiting to be filled. At the time, it seemed strange to some, as I wasn’t expecting anyone in particular and I certainly didn’t see myself hosting a slew of parties or gatherings. But to me, that room was a necessity. It would be an open outlet for compassion and giving: available and free to whomever needed it. My empty room would be an opportunity to give without spending and to love without judgement.
You see, those lessons I learned growing up were priceless:
Compassion for others isn’t about what you can throw at them to make them happy. Compassion starts in the very roots of your soul. It extends outwardly, first, to those you love. A home filled with good intentions will pour itself into surrounding friends and neighbors, and then even into the hearts of strangers. There is no limit, no maximum and no end to the greatness that can be established by simply opening your door and your heart to those who need it most.
My parents offered so much more than “just a room” to their friends over the years. They offered second chances, true friendship, fellowship, and love. The walls of that house still stand and my parents still reside within them. They’ve witnessed laughter and tears, life and even death, new beginnings and welcomed endings over the years. Though the front door may appear closed at times, a simple knock is all it takes to let a heart be at home. Such a humbling lesson in love and in life: as the gift of compassion cost them nothing to provide, but rewarded so many hearts along the way.