by Joy Trachsel



Everyone wants to be happy.  How often do we begin each day hoping that sadness and problems are on the day’s agenda? We read books, listen to talks and seek other resources looking for the key to happiness...but sometimes the biggest lessons in life come from the most unlikely of places.  Working with homeless women and children has brought me many experiences and life lessons.  I just never believed a lesson in how to be happy would be included. 
When I began working at ACCESS Homeless shelter I believed that I would be the one doing the teaching but often the roles are reversed.  Some days I serve the shelter…some days the shelter serves me.  I see the trials homeless women endure on a day to day basis and often wonder how a smile can still exist on their faces.  After many conversations and endless stories, I have learned their secret.  Here is how the homeless have taught me to be happy.
Happy people live in community – At any given time, approximately 19 women and 20 children live at ACCESS.  No matter their past, their present lives look identical…they are all homeless.  Community forms when a common bond exists and that is true in a homeless shelter.  Over meals and program sessions, you will find each woman sharing resources, referrals and opportunities.  Instead of being in competition, they are in community.  

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Happy people are content people- When a resident moves into the shelter, they are limited in what they are allowed to bring.  In other words, they are only allowed to bring what can fit in a black garbage bag.  When I see black bags at the entrance to the shelter, I often evaluate my own life and inventory what would be in my bag.  What would I consider a need or a want?  What would I be able to get by with and what would be unnecessary baggage?

 Not that I speak ]from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I 
know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any 
and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13)
Happy people have a unique perspective- I remember a client coming to ACCESS after making a tough choice.  Option one was a life of comfort that accompanied danger while option two was to voluntarily become homeless and free from temptation and addiction. We may look at being homeless as a step backward while others see it as a step forward.
"There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12)
Happy people allow circumstances to develop character- Poverty hears the word “NO” a lot.  The “NO” can be an interruption that causes you to quit or an inconvenience that causes you to come up with a new plan.  Facing and overcoming an inconvenience forces us to be resourceful and creative.
 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.
 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.creative.(Romans 5:3-5)
Happy people don’t let situations define them- Life comes with ups and downs, highs and lows.  It is up to us to decide which one will be our legacy.  Homeless is who they are now, but not who they will be forever.
 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
 (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So…would you like to be happy?  You may just find it in an unlikely place.


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