Collin was waiting for a long time for a chance to perform a song for us when we finished shooting Waking Up in America. He didn't have to be anywhere. No one was waiting for him. I had no idea that he was homeless.
He used to be a graphic designer who worked for a corporation with big ad accounts. Something broke in him, or awakened, when his son asked him what his job was. Collin heard himself answering: "I'm making people buy useless stuff they don't need." He quit his job, sold everything and spent time with his kid.
Somehow, he ended up on the streets of Nashville. His son is in college now, and Collin's eyes become alive with excitement when he talks about him.
Meeting Collin left me with many questions. Aren't we all more or less caught up in a system that "sells stuff we don't need" only to miss out on living? Is the only answer to Collin's homelessness to bring him back into the mindless rotation? Apart from each of us personally awakening to this truth, how can we fix this mess we are in?
I've heard a lot about Sandy Griffin, a professional speaker, life coach, author and a tireless advocate for the homeless. I knew she was out there on the front lines daily, and I wanted to talk to her.
We met at a Radiant Health Institute workshop. Long after the talk she gave was over, her message stuck with me: "Find out who you are first before you go out to serve the world."
Sandy has been dubbed "Life's Cheerleader," but like all people who bring us joy, she understands suffering and is not afraid to show pain. If you hang around her long enough, she will pull two red noses out of her purse and hand you one, saying "You have to be able to laugh at yourself." And you will be compelled to put one on your nose immediately.
She grew up in a family of 12 kids. She was a compulsive overeater for 30 years, and she's survived cancer three times. When her marriage of 20 years ended in a divorce, she felt completely lost.
Here is what I learned from Sandy over the course of filming our episode Waking Up and Loving the Homeless.
1. Losing ourselves is like losing everything. Without knowing who we are, we are disconnected and displaced. Our soul feels the absence of a home.
After her divorce, Sandy volunteered in Haiti after the earthquake and in Waveland, Mississippi after the hurricane hoping to find comfort in serving others.
"... I remember standing there with all these people thinking I'm finding out who I am just like they are. I felt like I lost everything, they lost all their physical stuff. I lost myself and right then I went, I'm home!"
This perspective on what it really means to "be home" is the key to changing how we see the homeless. It allows us to realize that we are not very different from each other. In our core, we share the same longing -- of finding a place to belong.
2. We must shed the lies we allowed ourselves to believe in order to be who we are.
Broken with insecurities, Sandy was repeatedly told that she wasn't smart enough, didn't sound educated enough and couldn't do anything. She believed the lies. At Waveland, her job was to stand in front of the receiving tent and talk to people, and it was here she became aware of her gifts for connecting with people and encouraging them. This experience eventually led her to become a confident thought leader and influencer.
"... all of a sudden I realized standing there, this is who I am! I have a great sense of humor, I can love on these people, I can give to them, I can pray with them and all of a sudden it all came together..."
How do we become aware of the lies we are buying into? How do we discern what is good and what is abusive in our system? And how do we make a change? What went wrong in Collin's life when he refused to work all the time so he could influence people to buy "useless stuff they didn't need"? But imagine how much can go right when we live from our truth and become game-changers and create new, better systems of socially conscious enterprise?
3. Practicing self-care is not selfish, it's restorative. You can't help anyone if you are exhausted or unhealthy. But don't hide your pain either.
Sandy's eating disorder started when her dad got sick and her mother was unable to provide emotional support to the children. "It was a way of taking care of ourselves," Sandy says about how she and her sister would spend all of their profits from delivering newspapers on candy. Her addiction lasted thirty years.
"Awareness is everything," she coaches. Take time to rest, to pray, meditate, walk. Know when you are running on limited resources and are starting to disconnect. When you are not facing the cause of your anxiety or worry, it's more likely that you will reach for an 'easy button,' like food, excessive shopping, or drugs.
"... when you are out in the world doing what's not you, you are wearing a coat that doesn't fit; you make it fit, but it's not comfortable..."
Our mindless running around is precisely what feeds the system of 'useless stuff we don't need.' And that's how we only perpetuate the problem. So, the answer IS in personal awakenings, and in developing an awareness as to what it means to live your life, rather than just make your way through it.
"... when you're saying ... I have to work, I have to get my kids' homework, I have to take them to this, what you're saying to your kids is, this is what your life is going to be like ... the stuff of the world is more important than you and I sitting here eye to eye..."
Collin stayed around because he didn't have anywhere else to go. He was so present in the moment, I felt jealous. He wasn't anxious to leave, or restlessly searching for his phone to check his messages. He connected with us, and for a while we all felt at home with each other sharing stories, music and just being ourselves.
That's exactly what Sandy does when she works with the homeless. It's how she is changing lives everywhere, as she shows the rest of us how to love the homeless (and each other).
Sandy Griffin is a professional speaker, coach, author and a tireless advocate for the homeless. Find out more about her work at sandygriffin.com. Visit her Facebook page to get involved with loving the homeless. She is the proud mother of three beautiful daughters, Jacki, Katie and Lauren.