*Names have been changed to protect the identity and dignity of my friend.
I am married to a man who does not prefer to go to church. So most Sunday mornings it is just me and the kids rushing out the door in our Sunday best. Yesterday it was just me and my soon to be 30 year old son. The girls had stayed home for various reasons and it was one of the rare occasions that we have with just him and me.
We live approximately 17 miles from the closest meetinghouse for our particular faith so it is always a nice drive and a good time for me to talk with the kids. I can often tell how our week will go based on the conversation to or from church on Sundays.
I have recently been asked to teach Relief Society which is a women’s class. I had done what I felt was a particularly powerful lesson about reaching out to others in an effort to provide support and strength. Services went well and I had to stay a bit later to take care of some responsibilities that I had taken on for the holiday season and so we were headed home later than normal.
Driving home I noticed a woman walking down a busy 4 lane highway. It is not the safest area to be traveling on foot. I pulled over. It should be noted that I have never picked up a hitchhiker in my life. My mother instilled in me a need for basic human kindness and compassion but also a healthy caution of people I don’t know.
My plan was to offer the use of my phone so that she could call someone she knew for assistance. But then I looked in my rear-view mirror.
Wearing jeans, stained sweatshirt, an untidy ponytail, and carrying a ripped backpack the lady limped toward me. I looked at her face and did not see the barren defeated expression I had expected. I saw a smile. She had been crying so hard her eyes were swollen into small slits. A trembling smile came to her lips as she thanked me so much for stopping.
I looked at her face and did not see the barren defeated expression I had expected. I saw a… Click To Tweet
So much for just using my phone. This woman. This beautiful spirit was in pain. But she was fighting it. I had just come from one of the most spiritually uplifting Sunday morning services I had experienced in months and I walk right to this injured soul.
Donna* had just been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt. She was in such a dark place she couldn’t see her way out. I soon found out why. She had recently lost her 10 year old daughter and grandmother in an auto accident.
Talk about a crash landing for me. I had an uplifting Sunday morning service, yet on the way home I was stressing about a holiday party I am helping with. I was well on my way to becoming upset.
Things weren’t going the way I thought they should for the holiday party.
She is walking a four lane highway because the family that said they would take her in decided not to.
I am driving home worried about kabobs. Thinking of putting off lunch because I was still satisfied with the sausage biscuits I ate for breakfast.
She hadn’t eaten in 2 days.
I am ashamed of myself. My eyes opened.
All the time we talk about how we are thankful for this, or thankful for that. But are we?
Do we take time – even occasionally – to thank God that it wasn’t us? It wasn’t our grandmother taking our daughter for ice cream when someone fell asleep at the wheel. It wasn’t our little girl targeted by a monster at a Little League game. For so much heartache and pain – It wasn’t US.
How deeply in our spirit do we know the great favor we are shown everyday? Mentally we know it. We talk about it. We post super cute graphics to our friends and loved ones.
But do we FEEL it? Does it hum through our body and give us goose bumps?
We sit in our comfortable homes with full bellies joking about #firstworldproblems. Filtering out all the horrid things on the news.
Are we so numb as a society that we have forgotten? Even in the land of plenty some people only experience plenty of pain, heartache, or plenty of betrayal. I was. I looked past it. I didn’t read all the articles about Gabby Doolin, or the other stories of heartache that fill our newsfeed daily. I was numb.
Our birthright as Americans is wealth even at what is considered poverty level. But that does not excuse us from basic human decency. If anything it gives us a greater responsibility to ensure that those around us are not hungry, cold, or limping because of the combination of ill-fitting shoes, blisters, and a bum ankle.
Donna* was headed to a cousins house about 1 1/2 hours from where I picked her up. We spent the next few hours together. After eating two servings of spaghetti we visited. Sorting out Christmas ornaments she began to hum, and then to sing. Her voice blew me away. She sang like an angel. As she sang O Come All Ye Faithful my eyes filled with tears.
This brave woman is singing about my Savior. This woman who knows a loss that most of us will have the mercy of never experiencing. And she sang. And she smiled. And she taught me that Christmas is so much more than lip service. It is more than simply speaking words of love or gratitude. Christmas is feeling your whole body warm with love for a human being you have never seen before and likely will never see again.
And so with a fierce hug, a watery smile, and heartfelt words of thanks I passed her off to another member of our church who helped her reach her final destination. It is my hope that from now on you join me and take time regularly to feel the physical sensation that comes with true bone deep appreciation for all you have. I believe with all my heart that if you do you will also pick up hitchhikers, buy someone better fitting shoes, or even a double helping of spaghetti.