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The struggle…IS REAL! This is an understatement for many people, including myself, experiencing loss over the holidays. The months of November and December especially reign as pervasive reminders of what is lost. After a loss, be it a loved one, a relationship, a home, or a job…simply put life changes; and so does the experience during this time of the year. Loss, a physical event, leads to grief, an emotional journey. Grief creates this physical sensation of hollowness that our logical brain convinces us we can find a way to stuff full again. Therefore, we seek a lot of different ways to deal; sending us on a ride of emotions.
A few years ago, a civic minded friend invited me to feed the homeless on Christmas day. In this experience, I felt many emotions including shame and gratitude. After suffering several losses this year, and remembering those lost long before, serving on Christmas day 2017 became all the more important to me. As I recruited friends to participate; I wanted to believe it was my selfless nature that was driving me. As I reflect on our Christmas day experience; I was very selfishly needing an unnamed something from this experience. I found it in the form of the lessons below:

To Remember that in the midst of our experience we are still called to serve. “On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States,” (2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, HUD Exchange, December 2017). This is less than a 1% increase from last year (HUD Exchange, 2017); yet speaks to the persistence of the issue in all of our communities. Driving home from serving, I debriefed with my godchildren. When asked, what was shocking, my godson replied, “I recognized some of the same people from last year.” Truthfully, so did I. Then reality struck: a moment of charity made everyone feel better but it did not change the condition. The emotional experience of loss does not absolve us of our personal responsibility in the world. the feelings associated with loss become inconsistent overtime; where as our homeless community experience the feelings and the conditions of loss, day in day out and for some, year after year. Service as an event is a band aid; it is help but it is not healing. What more can we do to serve others by way of healing conditions rather than bandaging them?

To Recognize a new normal. When experiencing loss, whether we realize it, the way we eat, sleep, perform basic tasks and engage in what seems like minor daily events change. We can fight it by trying to make everything look and seem the same or we can embrace it. I used to take great pride in gifting during the holidays (or anytime of the year really!). Without the chance to exert that time and energy; I am confronted with the reality that the opportunity is no longer there. Rather than gifting; my new normal is giving. Feeding the homeless on Christmas day may be thought of a selfless giving of my time, my resources and myself; but honestly, it selfishly fills me with gratitude and fulfillment and reminds me of the grace and mercy that supports me through the tough times. We cannot erase the loss we feel but our new normal can invite many healthier emotions, like joy.

To Reinforce what makes you healthy. When experiencing loss we are often encouraged to find ways to make us happy. Happiness is an emotional choice; however, because it is a choice, when we are not attending to it; it can escape us. While striving to be happy we must also strive to be healthy! Our health is the collective of what we experience emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The weight of loss is heavy and it permeates through every aspect of our being creating fatigue without obvious warrant, frustration with misaligned triggers, withdrawal without cognition of where our presence should be, and making decisions with a long-term impact during a temporary mindset. I first accepted the invitation to feed the homeless because it just didn’t feel right to say no. The preferred alternative was limited interaction, introspective solitude and sleep. What I gained is an experience that rejuvenates and recalls me to my purpose; impacting me personally, in how I steward my gifts and resources and professionally by the attention I give to identifying and supporting students affected by homelessness. This service is my healthy choice for the holidays. Before reacting, deciding, and committing, give great thought into what will help you be healthy overall, beyond being happy in the moment.

To Receive each blessing as intended. As we grow older, we realize that people and relationships we value are irreplaceable. There isn’t a new relationship that makes us forget a past one; we are simply blessed to move past it. There isn’t a new baby that replaces a beloved family member; our families are simply blessed to keep growing. The blessings that are connected or follow are the next steps in God’s design, with their own intended purpose. As I reflect upon the homeless men, women and children that came through the serving lines on Christmas day, there was no emphasis placed on their current circumstance. A citizenry that knows loss as a way of life, there was a willingness to engage and a gracious “thank you,” for the blessing in the moment at hand. Every moment of our lives works together together for our good as a part of His plan (Romans 8:28). No moment or event can be replaced or erased; only acknowledged for what it is and the blessings that are revealed unto us as we go through it.

I know holidays will always be different from before and no experience can replace what and who is no longer there.

I also know to look for more.

Christmas day, I selfishly set out to walk in my purpose of serving not knowing how I would be served. With my family and several dear friends experiencing the absence of loved ones this season and the life changes that accompany it, I felt the need to share these lessons learned. I selfishly write as a welcome for anyone who knows this journey to share the experiences that taught valuable lessons while experiencing loss.