There’s Always a Reason to Smile

We all have those days that are trying in every way possible and when nothing goes our way. Traffic jam on the way to work. Got soaked walking in the rain. And to top it all off, got home just to realize the dog pooped on the rug. The day was miserable… Ruined from the start.

Been there and done that time and again. But every once in a while I get reminded that around the world there are literally billions of people who would love to trade places with me even on the worst of my days. Traffic jam? That means I can drive. Caught in the rain? That means I can walk. Nasty little surprise at home? That means I have a home.

The point is that there is always a reason to smile, but all too often we seem to forget that. Yet, some people bear that in mind at all times and by doing so they spread their infectious joy and love of life to those around them.


Juan Carlos flashing his trademark smile

Juan Carlos is one of those people. I just had the great pleasure of meeting him this past week during my visit to Villa Hermosa in Cartagena, Colombia. Like the rest of the kids in the community, he faces many difficulties on a daily basis… And he faces them all with a wide smile that has made him a local celebrity and hero.

At barely 18 years of age, he has suffered serious health issues since birth so that his growth has been stunted, his bones and muscles never fully developed and he is unable to walk.

Until just recently, he did not even have a wheelchair to help him get around so he would resort to using a chair as a crude walker. He did this with a smile. Even more recently, he underwent surgery in hopes of being able to walk one day. As he slides himself up in his chair with rods and screws jotting out of all parts of his legs, even as he winces in pain, he smiles. As he sits in a corner of the makeshift shelter he calls “home” (soon to be his former home), water drips on him through the leaks in the roof as it rains. His smile never fades.

Juan Carlos faces the world with an ever-present smile every day, despite the very real hardships he faces. He is my reason to smile. My reminder that no matter how petty or severe life’s challenges may seem, there is always a reason to smile.

Update from the field: Juan Carlos just recently received a wheelchair and will soon be moving to a new home that is being built for him and his family thanks to R. Happy Kids Foundation. Additionally, last week we kicked off the construction of the sports complex we are building through our Games for Change program and we are wishing Juan Carlos all the best in his recovery so that he can make good use of this sports complex right alongside the rest of his friends.


Smiles are a plentiful resource in Villa Hermosa

The Best Christmas Gift

Having barely survived the end of the fall semester, my last semester of grad school, I was just happy to get what rest I could and live to work another day. It was just a few days before Christmas, but it might as well have been the middle of June as far I was concerned. I was as far from the Christmas spirit as I had ever been.

On the evening of December 19th, while leaning my head against the airplane window, the reality of what the next few days had in store started to sink in. I realized how lucky I was to be a part of what we were doing. We were on our way to Nicaragua to inaugurate the four homes we were providing to four families through our Happy Homes Project… And just in time for Christmas!

A new home and a new beginning

A new home and a new beginning

The next few days we spent with these four families in Villa Betania were simply AMAZING. The families were extremely thankful to be receiving these homes and goods, particularly for the sake of their children. I was equally thankful. Thankful for the donations that made this possible and for being able to see this through, but also just to be able to be with these great people and share with them. I felt more at home there than I do in my own apartment!

Here are not only families coming together to survive and strive for better days, but an entire community standing and striving together. Everybody plays his or her part in contributing to the greater good of the family, of the community. From the middle schooler who works an afterschool and weekend job to help his mom pay for her cancer treatment, to the community leaders who work tirelessly with us so that these families can receive these homes.

This is what Christmas is about. This is what life is about! We often get so caught up in our own lives and problems that we forget to look around, reach out to others, and keep in mind what really matters.

Little brother was quick to make use of his new bed

Little brother was quick to make use of his new bed

These families do not have much as far as material possessions go, but they live in abundance. Abundance of a sense of community, of camaraderie, of determination, of optimism, of joy, of compassion, of love. They shared these abundances with me and that seemed to dwarf everything we had been able to provide them with.

I left not wanting to leave, but I knew my family would be less-than-thrilled by my empty seat at the table on Christmas. I came back, but came back revitalized and with a renewed focus on the things that really matter. These families had more of an impact on me than they will ever know. This year I ended up having one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had, and in large part I owe that to these four families and Villa Betania.

In short, the best Christmas gift I got this year… I got through giving.