It’s winter and I live in Minnesota. There have been several snow falls, lots of shoveling snow and multiple days below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s cold and it’s beautiful. This is the time of year when most of us in 4 season climates don’t mind the snow. It somehow makes Christmas a little more magical. It also causes people (and my Pitbull) to want to hibernate indoors. I think nature has the right idea when it comes to winter. You go into your cave, den, etc. snuggle, and appreciate the stillness. Even though humans are supposed to be more developed beings than animals, I often wonder if we truly have our priorities straight. For many years, I have worked in the retail industry. I’ve witnessed the best, and the worst of humanity inside of a store where you can purchase “things.” Things that come in all shapes and sizes and are largely unneeded. When November 1st rolls around, something changes in peoples brains. Stress levels roll higher, consumerism goes up, patience goes down, and the holiday season becomes an anxiety ridden, 2 month ball of stress. People can’t wait to get through the holidays and onto January 1st when they make New Years resolutions they never intend to keep.
For whatever reason, I have the ability to pick up on other peoples emotions/moods. I can sense it, feel it, internalize it and speak it into words. I’ve always been that way. Which is probably why people share their life stories with me (even strangers). I can intuit the unspoken in their lives and generally don’t judge them for it. Being this naturally deep feeling/sensing person, it gets personally tiring being around people at the holidays who are constantly stressed, angry, rude and running around like chickens with their head cut off. So I made a decision this year. I made a decision to slow down and practice being still. Honestly, part of this was easy. I’m single, I don’t have children (except my dog who’s my fur baby). I don’t have school parties or multiple work parties jockeying for my presence. That being said, I have 2 jobs and extended family holiday plans that include some travel. Recognizing that I am tired from working two jobs, I made a choice that when it snows outside and I have an afternoon off….I’m going to read a book for fun. I listened to a podcast on advent and decided to buy an advent wreath and a devotional to go along with it. Instead of a big holiday party, I’m inviting a few neighbors over for dinner next week and cooking them a simple pasta bolognese. I am placing importance on the human connection and having time for rest over holiday rush and stress. Because honestly, if all you’re doing is rushing and stressing and being over committed, you’re missing the point. What if you made the hard decision to let all of that go? What if you made a point to connect with your family, your spouse, a stranger, over getting that extra task done? What if you skipped the work party, the over the top holiday celebrations, and simply cooked for your neighbor? I will guarantee you that if you shed the “should to’s, have to’s, got to’s” and traditional expectations of this holiday season for a little extra time to connect with humans in your life, it will be a lot more meaningful.
I realize this post is going VERY LONG. I want to share one last story with you that I think is important. When I moved to Minneapolis 15 months ago, I was floored by the mile long homeless encampment alongside one of the freeways. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. Homelessness is a VERY real, ongoing problem in that area of the US. It’s not uncommon to confront homelessness on a regular basis, but generally, our homeless encampments aren’t as concentrated and big as this one was in Minneapolis. On top of that, winter is Minnesota is 20x rougher than in California. In February, we experienced record break snow (39 1/2 inches) and in January we had temperatures of -65 degrees F. To be homeless in Minnesota is dangerous this time of year. That’s what hit me, it’s not just rain, its snow, its freezing temperatures, it’s life or death. Last year I made a choice to do something about that. I started handing out hand warmers, coffee, bags with a few toiletry items to homeless folks I would meet. This year I took it a step further. I realize I don’t have the resources to help on a large scale, but I do have the resources to help at least 1 or 2 people. I took a purse that I wasn’t using and filled it with toiletries. Not just left over hotel shampoo, but a full sized toothbrush and toothpaste, lotion, bar soap, and face wash. I purchased travel containers for the bar soap and the tooth brush that can be used to keep those items clean after each use. I included feminine hygiene product, socks and a wash cloth. And then I started praying. I started praying for the woman I hadn’t met that would need this purse filled with items to help her feel clean and looked after. Today I met her and her name is Tina. She lives at the local shelter and is desperately trying to find different housing. When I pulled over to give her the purse she was so excited to receive this gift. She said she didn’t get Christmas gifts because she didn’t have anyone in her life. Well, I told her she had me, a stranger named Becca. I asked for her name and told her I had been praying that God would send me someone to give this gift to, and it was her. When I told her to try and get warm she said she wasn’t staying out much longer. Just long enough to hopefully get enough money for some food. When I pulled away I almost sobbed. Here I’ve been worried about money and working 2 jobs when I have a home to go too. I can afford to buy food, I can afford to pay for electricity and water. I own my home free and clear and have been able to make some updates on my house without going into debt. This woman is just looking for enough money to get food for the day before she returns to the homeless shelter.
Being someone who believes in the Bible I thought back to Exodus chapter 16. In this chapter, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt, and are wandering around the desert looking for food. God provides them a form of food called manna. Each day enough manna appears to feed the Israelites so that they are sustained. They never go hungry during their time living in the desert. Here I am professing to believe in God, and he is providing everything I need, and I’m still all worked up about “possibly not having enough.” When faced with Tina’s story, she is a woman who does not have enough. She doesn’t have enough food to eat, clothes to keep her warm, or a consistent safe place to go to at the end of the day. Why am I complaining?
What I’m trying to get at is that life in November and December is more than the stress and anxiety you feel about performing your “holiday duties.” The stress, the parties, the amount of presents you give or receive, the competition to outdo the Jones’ so your kids Christmas is better than theirs…..that is all nothing in comparison to your ability to be human and see other humans. And when you can be authentically human, it allows you to lift your gaze to those around you and see what you can give. Make this season about how you love, how you connect with others, how you embrace stillness and self care in your life, and how you give of your best to someone who’s in need. You never know when giving your best to someone else will actually give them hope.