Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Homeless Man, The Homeless Chicken, and a Happy Heart.

I recently had a conversation with a 20-something about being "happy".  About how our culture tells us what we need to be happy.  A relationship that "makes us happy".  A job that "makes us happy".  A nice car and trendy clothes that "make us happy".  We seem to have this idea that the next thing will really do the trick and be our ticket to happiness.  

Happiness isn't something to be bought, found, or discovered on Oprah.  It isn't dependent on situations.  Relying on external situations to bring you happiness is a guarantee for misery.  

Enter the homeless man.

There is a local man who goes from home to home asking to do work in exchange for money.  His name is Dave.  My Dad runs the local homeless shelter, and knows this man.  He told me to be careful, that this particular person was an addict, very dangerous and would do just about anything for his next fix.  We never let him in the house.  Always kept the curtains closed when he was in the neighbourhood.  We gave him bags of groceries when he would knock on the door.  We would give him money if we had any.  We showed him love and kindness, despite being a little frightened of him.  

It was a Sunday afternoon.  The majority of my extended family had gathered at McMaster Children's Hospital to pray that my newborn son would see another day.  He was intubated.  Sedated.  Fighting for his life.  It was another setback in his short life of setbacks.  Two nights prior I was sitting with him in his isolation room in the NICU.  His oxygen levels were dropping despite being on a machine that forces oxygen into his lungs.  He was crying.  Writhing.  I tried cuddling him in every position I could manage with all the wires and machines attached to him.  His oxygen levels continued to drop.  His nurse called in the nurse practitioner, the nurse practitioner called in the doctor.  They decided to intubate.  I was asked to leave the room (which they almost never asked me).  I sat at the end of the hall, watching his room from what felt like someone else's body.  The nurse practitioner ran out.  He picked up the phone and I heard pieces of his conversation…. seizure… lungs filled with blood…. Nurses gathered at the glass doors of the isolation room.  One of them looked me in the eye with compassion I can not describe.  People in, people out.  People in, people out.  I truthfully can't tell you how much time passed.  It was no more than a second, and no less than eternity.  A nurse handed me her personal cell phone, asking me to call my husband.  I refused to call until I had news, one way or the other, to give him.  They stabilized my baby, made no promise of being in the clear,  and assigned him his own nurse which I thought nothing of until I was told that "was't good".   I was at the very base of my emotional and physical well, I had nothing left to draw.  I asked my parents, my in-laws and brothers and sisters to the hospital.  We tearfully gathered, prayed, and sang together - directly under his NICU room. It was one of the only times we left our little baby in his NICU room without his Mommy or Daddy there.  When it was over, I brought our other five children home while my husband stayed at the hospital with our son.  

We got home, everything seemed normal.  My then 7yr old couldn't find his laptop so I called my sister to see if she had taken mine home accidentally (we had the same computer).  I brushed it off, computers are left here and there and it wasn't a big deal to not find it right away.  I went to the kitchen to get everyone a snack, and noticed there was yogurt all over the floor and inside of the fridge.  My brother in law was the last one in my house, and I thought - man, what a slob.  Again, I brushed it off.  Snacks were served and I went upstairs to change into jogging pants (a must).  Suddenly, it all made sense.  My jewelry box was emptied out all over my bed.  My closet was tossed.  We had been robbed. 

He stole two laptops.  He stole jewelry that can not be replaced.  He raided piggy banks and took every penny.  He took a frozen ham, frozen spaghetti, and yogurt.  Wait, what?  He stole food?  It must have been Dave.  The man I fed, sat on my porch with and listened to his hardships, the man I showed nothing but love and generosity to.  It was his classic move.  Ask a family for work, get to know their house and schedule and rob them when they're away.

After a hard day, an indescribably hard day, my children had cops come to the house and document the break in.  They were tearful in realizing their money was gone, and afraid that he might come back for more.  

Before bed, I gathered all the children.  We held hands.  We prayed for Dave, that he would find help for his addictions and we each forgave him.  

We were hurt.  We were scared.  We felt violated.  
I felt like I wasn't in my own life.  Like I was watching someone in an HBO special:  A mother of six who is fighting to keep her family whole during the illness and near death of their new baby is robbed by a homeless man they have been helping.

Enter happiness.

No, I wasn't beaming with joy.  I didn't end the day with a dance party.  I was sorrowful, and frightened - but my heart had not lost its way.  I still had more things to be grateful for than to be sad about.

We climbed out of the sorrow.  I climbed out of the sorrow.  Because happiness is in us, not around us, and could not be stolen.  It could not be pulled away by each downward turn the baby took.  We found ways to be kind to each other.  To be kind to strangers.  To be kind to the homeless.  

Happiness does not mean you can't experience sadness, heartbreak, anger.  It allows you to experience those things without fear.  It's knowing that whichever way life turns, for the better or worse, that you will find your way through.

Enter the homeless chicken.

Five or six weeks ago, a woman was standing on our porch asking if we had lost a chicken.  We hadn't, but the chicken had been on her driveway for a few days and needed a home.  I went with her, brought the chicken home and made attempts to find her owner.  No owner was found.
We had a homeless chicken.  

The chicken is a risk.  She may have an illness she could spread to the other chickens and needed to be in seclusion for the first 30 days.  She will cause fights between the chickens as they work out their pecking order.  She will be more work - another chicken to clean after, to feed, to water.  

I talk to the children about continuing to help those who need it.  Even though we've been hurt by Dave, we won't allow him to change us in to people who are afraid to love and live generously.  
We tongue-in-cheek named the homeless chicken Dave.

We've used the homeless chicken as a way to remind the children, and ourselves, that helping others isn't always easy or smooth.   That the "risk" in helping others is nothing compared to the risk of living a life with an unhappy heart.   The key to a happy heart is not what can be attained, but what can be given.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” 
 Dalai Lama XIV

I'm not sharing this story to tout the abilities my family has to make it through hard times.  I actually haven't shared much of what happened while we were in the hospital with anyone - face to face or online.  I'm sharing so that I'm not preaching.  I'm sharing so I can say to you, this is what I feel has made the difference in my life.
I'm sharing to encourage you to find true happiness.  Happiness that can make it through hard times.  We will ALL live through harrowing experiences.  Illness.  Danger.  Financial strain.  Death.   
I encourage (beg) you to find your true happiness before these things happen in your life, so you can find your way back out of them in one piece.



  1. Really beautiful Sharon. I see you do this every day, choose to find peace when there are easier options. You're the real deal and we're lucky to have you in our lives.

  2. So much truth, and sometimes so hard to find. You are an inspiration, and this made me cry. A lot.

    1. Thank you girl. One of our family gifts seems to be staying calm in the storm, we have all learned from each other. Love you.


Just say Yes

Utilizing a budget means making small choices that add up to big numbers.  No impulse buys (even when it’s only a dollar or two) , and n...