Moments before writing this, I read one of the most heart-wrenching things I have ever heard in my life. It was a story of a missionary who was visiting an orphanage in Uganda. Entering a room with over one hundred new babies, the room was silent. In awe of the silence, the missionary asked his host how the nursery could be so silent, with so many newborns.

The host replied, ‘After about a week of them being here, and crying out for countless hours, they eventually stop when they realize no one is coming for them…’ This ripped to the core of my heart. I had to stop what I was doing and write this article because I couldn’t function doing anything else, through my tears.

In no way does this make me want to adopt babies or have another baby myself. It doesn’t stir me to volunteer at an orphanage or start one of my own. This story doesn’t urge me to do anything different with my one year old grandson, because I rush to his side when I hear stirring or even whimpers, let alone crying out for me to pick him up, when he is unsettled.

What it does do, is make me realize that there are so many people walking around on this planet who have felt abandoned or neglected, in their lives, for various reasons. Babies grow up to become children, teens and then adults. They get into relationships and have families of their own. They may become the most loving and attentive partners and parents, or they may become cold and disconnected.

Our ability to love is often directly related to our experiences as infants and children. We learn to show affection, or not. We learn to express our love and feelings in words, or not. We learn to display love publicly, or not. We are formed, shaped and molded by how love was shared with us, or not.

In retrospect, I am grateful for the constant hugs and the words, ‘I love you’, said to us every morning and every night, growing up. I am blessed that my Mom, especially, made a point of ensuring that her girls knew how much we meant to her and that were safe and protected by her, when she tucked us in and woke us up, each and every day.

My heart aches for people who did not know they were loved and cherished. Perhaps the circumstances were not as dire as living in a packed orphanage with dozens of other babies; however, perhaps some people lost their parents, had a single parent who had to work long hours, were raised by babysitters or other family members or felt emotionally distant from parents, who were there.

I believe that our capacity to love others is highly influenced by the examples that we observed in our surroundings, growing up. Our experiences can often be a catalyst to becoming the best spouses, partners or parents that we can possibly be, because we want to do what our parents and caregivers could not do for us, or the opposite can happen.

Regardless of our upbringing, the awareness of our childhood experiences do not serve as an excuse for our adult behaviour and choices, but as an explanation for who we are today. If we are not happy about anything that occurred back there, unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing that we can do to change it.

What we can do; however, is ensure that we are not repeating toxic, unhealthy, unproductive or unloving patterns from our past. We can switch things up at any moment. We can choose differently. We can make things right. We can decide, right now, that we will no longer be chained to our past circumstances.

We can press reset, start fresh, make amends, fix what is broken, right what is wrong, make new choices and begin as if we have been placed on this earth, today, with a set of circumstances that we have the ability to change.

Life is much too short to live with regrets, punish ourselves for our past choices or fill our mind and body with hatred about what has happened to us. If we are still alive, then there is still time.

If you are reading this and you have endured pain, loss, neglect, abandonment, abuse, hurt, or have felt that you have been plagued with a life or episodes of disadvantage and challenge, I encourage you to pull out the memories that are positive and then pack all of those negative feelings in a black garbage bag, put it out with the trash and lighten your emotional load.

We deserve to feel loved, cherished, valued and appreciated. Even if we haven’t before, there is always hope. It begins with a decision to move forward, despite our past. If our heart has been hardened, it can be softened. We can make new choices, to open ourselves up to others.

I guarantee that some of those one hundred babies in the orphanage went on to live lives of love, happiness, inner peace and purpose, even though they all began with circumstances of utter despair. Some have even opened orphanages of their own, where every baby had all the hugs, attention and care that they deserved.

This story reminds us that we can also feel joy and peace, no matter what has happened in our lives so far. Since any change requires action, let’s all take steps to create our own happy endings, one day at a time. What might we do today, to take one step closer to our happy ending? Let’s focus on that.

‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’ ~ Martin Luther King Jr.