Many would say that in order to be happy in life you must first know your passion. I’ve always considered writing as my passion, but if that were true, I would have finished at least one of the three novels I started years ago.

Now, having reached senior status, I can finally admit to a passion I believe I share with many other people, one which I have done nothing about except dream or slow down traffic when I spy my passion on one of my travels. Cars behind me might be better prepared if I had an “I break for old houses” bumper sticker.

An old, abandoned house is like a siren of Greek mythology, enticing me to investigate. It took me years to understand that it’s never just the age of the house that calls to me, or imagining the beauty of what once was, or the chance of finding left-behind antiques.

It is always the mystery of the house, the memories held within its walls from times past when it served as a home, a place made sacred by the love that lives there and the image of God in every member of a family.

Catholic poet Joyce Kilmer had a deep understanding of the meaning of home: “The only reason a road is good as every wanderer knows, is just because of the homes, the homes, the homes to which one goes.”

A loving home, even when it’s not ours, can be a place of comfort, hospitality, joy and safety as we journey through life. An open door may be a refuge for someone who has wandered far from home or a life-line for those who have no home, and there are many.

Kilmer’s moving poem, “The House With Nobody In It,” is a lament for those houses that have done what houses are meant to do, to “have sheltered life” and are now empty, abandoned with no one to care for and no people to care for them.

Kilmer writes that in passing an old farmhouse on the road, “it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart, for I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.”

What makes a house a home if not the people who live within its walls? Certainly, family relationships can get messy, but when home is a place where love dwells it becomes a haven, where each person is known and respected for who they are, even in cluttered, noisy spaces that might not be selected for an HGTV special.

Building a home can only be done with intention. Sometimes, we may get caught up in the decorating or remodeling of our houses and let nurturing our homes fall by the wayside. Sometimes, we need reminding that our homes are sacred ground and need adequate tending.

The Jewish faith teaches that the essence of every Jewish home is to serve as a sanctuary and dwelling place for the divine presence of God, and that every Jewish person is a sanctuary and dwelling place for God’s divine presence, as well. It is a beautiful image for every family to hold on to, and one that gives rise to this Jewish blessing for a home:

“May this home be a place of happiness and health, of contentment, generosity and hope, a home of creativity and kindness. May those who visit and those who live here know only blessing and peace.”