Our old neighborhood sat at the base of a mountain in the Chugach foothills in Anchorage, Alaska. It was a beautiful place to live, with stunning views of mountains and sky and forest. The houses were a mix of one and two-story homes, most of which were painted or stained rich, natural colors. Although we did not have a homeowner’s association dictating these colors, some of our neighbors expressed strong opinions as to what hues were appropriately robust for dwellings in the “Last Frontier.” Soon after we purchased our house (which was chocolate-brown with hideous caramel trim—making it look like a giant, grotesque candy bar), we decided to repaint it a soft green with white trim and a deep red front door. We were midway through the paint job when a neighbor stopped by to criticize our color choice, saying it wasn’t “Alaskan” enough. He probably liked our color scheme a bit better when another neighbor painted her house lavender with darker lavender trim. Even her fence and mailbox were painted lavender. Her house was the talk of the neighborhood—and definitely not in a good way!
A year or so went by. I was outside weeding my garden one day when a different neighbor (our crankiest neighbor!) walked over to talk to me. He scowled as he asked if I’d seen “it.” I was pretty sure I knew what he was referring to. I’d been out for a walk earlier and noticed a large two-story house, just two houses down from the lavender house, which had very recently been painted a shocking Pepto-Bismol pink. I had seen the owners up on scaffolding, scraping loose paint the week before, but I hadn’t anticipated they’d repaint in such a dramatic shade. Sure enough, “Mr. Grumpy” was very upset by the vivid color, even though the house was in the back corner of the neighborhood and was not visible from his house. He railed for a while then went on his way, most likely looking for someone else to complain to.
A few days later, while taking another walk, I saw the owners of the pink house doing something unexpected. They were back up on the scaffolding. They were painting their house—again! But this time they were using a deep, rich, handsome shade of red. I immediately understood what was going on; the pink paint was actually primer! (If you’ve ever painted anything red, you’ve probably learned that a color-specific primer saves a lot of time and a lot of paint. I hadn’t known this when I painted our front door; I didn’t use the right primer and it took eight coats of red paint before the coverage was complete.)
The next time I saw my negative neighbor, he reluctantly agreed that the red house looked very nice and he seemed embarrassed to have jumped to conclusions.
My interactions with him regarding the pink/red house made me realize that when we make snap judgments—based only on what is immediately visible—we can easily overlook the fact that a process may be taking place.
These snap judgments can make what is transitional seem permanent.
This is not only true when looking at houses.
It is true when looking at people, too.
One of my greatest fears is that the people I love will get stuck where they are, that they’ll never shake off the things that hold them back, that they’ll never become all they’re meant to be.
I look at them and see so much promise, so much potential and so much value to offer to the world. But what I can’t see is how they’ll get there. I can’t see how they’ll transition into people who are able to fully use their gifts—for their own benefit and for the benefit of others.
I worry because I can’t see beneath the surface. I can’t see the process that is taking place. I can’t see the spark inside of them that keeps them growing and changing.
But I take heart and I remind myself that it’s in there: I know it is because I feel it at work inside of me. I recognize that I am not only a human being; I am also a human becoming.
And so are they.
I can’t force their change, but I try to encourage the positive changes I see in them, reminding them that they are in transition and that they have control over the kind of people they are becoming. And I try to model change. I let them see me working out my issues, facing fears and insecurities, and taking back ground that trauma and pain have stolen. I make sure they see both my process and my progress—because change is contagious.
Not one of us is a completed project.
We are not who we will be tomorrow or next week or next year.
People really can change.
People really do change.
And change can be really good.