Healthy, Homeless and Happy

Can these three terms really go together?  Saturday night Joanne and I went to a party for a local non-profit organization.  As part of their work some of the volunteers often take food to the homeless here in Nashville.  One of the gentlemen they see there just looked the part of a Santa Claus.  While he has never dressed up or grown a beard to look like Santa, his daily presentation made him a natural choice.  He resisted when first asked but then relented under the charms of the ladies serving him food. 

I took advantage of a lull in Santa’s handing out gifts to ask how he ended up “homeless.”  His story surprised me.  I typically expect that someone living on the streets has exhausted every possibility for having a roof over their head, and in desperation and hopelessness resorted to the misery of sleeping under bridges.  Not so with our Santa.  He is a former truck driver who gets a monthly retirement check.  He does a little work now and then at a restaurant and in exchange they allow him to use that as his mailing address.  His wife died several years ago and he just decided to not have rent and utility payments each month.  He’s bright, articulate and does not use drugs or alcohol.  He spends most of his days at the library reading history books.  Yes, he is sleeping in an abandoned building (technically trespassing) but is quite content as he describes it, “living simply.”   

In recent weeks I have observed that circumstances do not seem to dictate a person’s happiness or sense of well-being.  Many with fancy cars, homes and bank accounts are miserable and discouraged right here during the holiday season.  And there are many, like our Santa here, who has none of those luxuries yet chooses to be happy nonetheless.  Most of us are probably somewhere in between those two extremes, with many options available to us. 

I’m grateful for the time with Santa – and the reminder that my contentment in life is not contingent on my circumstances.  I may not chose “homeless” but I sure am choosing health and happiness.  I trust you are as well.

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23 Responses to “Healthy, Homeless and Happy”

  1. Vitaly Says:

    A wonderful story , very encouraging as “things” realy is not the “thing” that makes you happy , but contentment . The western world has set up standards of norm and “minimal needs” which are the fantasy of an average person around the world . Mind you most of the world population does not live in North America or Europe , but many of them just grateful to God for the little food that would keep them alive , basic health ( enough to keep them going ) etc . The point is we don’t have to settle for less , but rather live each day at a time knowing our breath is borrowed from God and as we focus on those who are in trouble and need the Grace of Jesus we will find our true calling and meaning on earth and all the rest of the “stuff” would be a means to an end of blessing others and not to increase our luxury and prestige.

  2. toni Says:

    thanks for the information, your blog is very good and interesting

  3. Michael Says:

    Great post Dan. My family and I recently volunteered at “Room in the Inn” at Christ Community Church, our church. I met a distinguished gentleman in his 60’s who had served in the military, was articulate, and otherwise a very happy and optimistic individual.

    He told me something I will never forget, sort of in reference to us (the volunteers I guess)…he said “God has some good people working for him.” Wow. Maybe he was an angel of God…giving me a message or sign. I wasn’t sure about volunteering at this event, but in the end, didn’t want to leave. It almost felt wrong how much I got out of this act of service. I tell you the truth…my heart grew bigger that day.

    Circumstances do not dictate contentment…indeed. It is the time of year when I can feel a peace, that passes all understanding, and know that with a happy and healthy family I have everything I’ll ever need.

  4. Roy Simmons Says:

    This is a great post, I will be showing and sharing it! ‘Santa’ does indeed seem to be a happy man, just goes to show…

  5. Theresa Says:

    The few times I go to the mall (not something I enjoy doing,) I usually have time to sit and people watch while the kids look at whatever their looking at.

    I was so struck the last time I was there how no one was smiling. Maybe a few teenagers giggling together here and there but for the most part, people looked unhappy.

    It looked ironic to me given the packages and bags that were being carried.

    Quite a contrast to this sweet Santa…

  6. Deana Goldasich Says:

    Beautiful example of living simply, Dan. Another uplifting story. Thank you!

  7. hr205 Says:

    Great story, and I know of a similar person here in the Birmingham, Alabama area. He was laid off from an IT job in 2007 and has a small retirement income. He is twice divorced and his kids are grown, and he has decided to do things he has always wanted to do, while living as cheaply as possible. In 2008 he hiked the Appalachian Trail and in 2009 he kayaked from the northeast end of Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico… and back! He “winters” by primitive camping at Oak Mountain State park.

    Here is an article in the Birmingham News about him…

  8. Arthur Says:

    I guess we should never assume a homeless person is mentally ill or on drugs. Not so.

  9. Vicki Says:

    Enjoyed reading about William. Everytime I see him Under the Bridge, he is clean and has a smile on his face. William is just one of many of our new Invisible Americans. Thank you for sharing so we are more aware of our obigation to love. Psm. 41

  10. Mike Says:

    Thanks to your book, “48 Days…) and the book “In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day” I took the plunge and started a food cart business. I work in downtown Cincinnati, OH and know many homeless people. Many of them have resources like that of your Santa. They don’t know how to manage them and that is why the fall short. However, though I talked many of them into renting mission rooms and apartments, they love their freedom. They help me out for food, watch movies and sporting events on “Jumbotron” type screens in the city square at night and are extreamly socially connected. These guys know everything that goes on (legal and illegal) in town. They, however, seem afraid of success. My mission as a Christian business man is to be the face of Christ to them, a task I sometimes fall short in. I try to encourage them and provide a quality affordable product. They have taught me to keep it simple and in doing so, I have found that long hours aren’t so stressful. Great email.

  11. 13isyourluckynumber Says:

    Dan – Your post hit a cord with me. Over the past year I have been privileged to serve the homeless here in San Diego at our local Salvation Army. The individuals I have meet and the stories I have heard have been both inspiring and saddening. But, God uses those who serve and those who are being served to glorify him. Each of us are touched and blessed because of the encounter.

    This fall our church wanted to extend our love to those on the streets. We made and delivered 4500 homeless packages to share the love of Christ. These packages included:
    water bottle
    bar of soap
    peanut butter crackers
    pair of socks
    fruit snacks
    soft cereal bar
    and the new testament

    Passing these out has been absolutely amazing.

    Again thanks for the post.


  12. Drew Says:

    This is a great story. When I was younger, around 21, I chose to be homeless two summers in a row. I only had to work a couple of days a week and occaionally took a couple of weeks in a row off. I lived with two friends in our tents in the National Forest or in people’s yards. It was quite a pleasure to be free from working all the time to pay rent and other bills.
    Now I have a large home, a family, and a lot more stress. Society looks down on the homeless, but many are just not interested in living by the foolish standards that the rest of us work so hard for. It’s the ultimate in simplicity.

  13. Lisa Downing Says:

    Several years ago my husband worked for a non-profit organization in Monterey CA that was designed to help get homeless Vets off the streets. In the course of his daily travels he often met with many homeless, veterans and non-veterans. I was amazed when he came home and told me the story of the guy “who was in charge” of the homeless people in Monterey. He had been a corporate executive for a major firm, married with two children. By all outward appearances he was successful. He carefully planned it out, put together a trust to take care of his kids and walked off of main street USA. At the time we lived there, if you were homeless in Monterey, you had to check in with him and he would help you find everything you needed to live there. It is truly amazing how complicated we have mad eour lives and sometimes when we look at the simplicity of someone else’s life it causes us pity, perhaps it should cause envy.

  14. Barbara Says:

    I just dont buy this “interpretation”. I was homeles once and one of the worst things is taht it is unsafe – you are in danger – in danger of being killed or injured, etc. And I think I at least have to question someones mental health who says they want to be homeless. There are other options – and some things you just pay for in life because it is just the cost of living and one of those is housing. This shows lack of cognitive development to me – to be able to and to choose not to sleep in a warm, dry clean soft bed where you can take a shower and prepare food for yourself?

  15. ldii Says:

    Amazing people with peculiar choice. I like the odd story.

  16. Terry Says:

    I don’t see why these three terms should be considered mutually exclusive. The guy is homeless by choice – and he is not alone in that choice – plus he’s healthy and definitely not poor.

    So I don’t see how this should be considered a remarkable story.

    Having more money generally doesn’t lead one to happiness, but a lack of money – something not in evidence here – does correlate wqith unhappiness.

  17. dd Says:

    he’s happy cause he’s not working a JOB he hates with a bad BOSS

  18. Wanda G Says:

    While my brother was not ‘homeless’ he chose to live the life of a hermit on top of a mountain he owned in East Tennessee…Many people thought him poor and felt sorry for him..because he lived alone …built a primitive cabin from the trees on the mountain…no electricity…carried water from a spring heated and cooked with wood he cut with a bow saw.
    Truth was he lived off intrest from his investments.
    He had a heart attack this time last year and was found dead on Christmas Day surrounded by his library of 10,000 books that he had back packed miles into his cabin.

    He left 35 years of journals and in them I found this entry from a few years ago…

    “December 25..Christmas Day! So last night I began reading Dickens Christmas Carol, I have read it several times, I seem to read it every Christmas. Good story..Rain, it started last night and has rained all day,. So it is good I got the dry firewood cut yesterday. Now I am warm and dry… I have been reading, writing, thinking and grinning. A good day! I hope everyone else has had a good a Christmas as myself. I have seen no one.”

    Harvey lived and died on his own terms, at peace and doing what he wanted to do. .He was by no means ‘poor’

  19. Jason Garey Says:

    This reminds of an experience I had about 20 years when I was helping my church serve Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless at a local park. I was in my early 20’s at the time and a bit puffed up about serving the needy. There was a gentleman who I started talking to, figuring I might impart some godly wisdom on, but boy, was I wrong. He flattened me with his humility, optimism and encouragement to ME. He said that, in a way, my struggles were greater than his, because I was in bondage to conventional thinking about my career, debt and life’s purpose. His words stuck with me, but it’s always new again when something, like this story, brings it back around for me. Thanks so much for sharing, Dan. God bless. Jason

  20. Wendy Says:

    I believe we all need to spend time with a homeless Santa!!! Someone who appears to have less that we do but lives life richer than we can ever be. Yes, I worked for a long time with homelessness and saw many of people who despite circumstances were the happiest people ever. I decided that I need to be happy no matter what. Then I came across a woman who lived in a homeless shelter who told me that “anything happy must be up to something!” This was a sad statement. On the other hand she was taught early in life that being happy and smiling is a distrustful act so she did not smile and she was not very happy. After our talk and her seeing a consistent smile on my face she was a smiling woman. Yes, we all need to spend time with a homeless Santa. They leave a mark on our lives that God blesses every time!

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