***Note: This story contains graphic content for the purpose of reflecting true life events. May include trigger words such as "rape," "blood" and "death".***
I was stuck in the shopping mall in my dream.
All the doors opened to everybody but me.
I tried the exit but it was locked.
There was a girl going into the Teen Queen store, so I quickened my pace but the door swung shut and I couldn't open it.
The elevator wouldn't even open when I waited 10 whole minutes to get to the next level.
Why was I stuck in the mall?
What kind of a lesson was I supposed to derive from just staying here all the time?
I was getting claustrophobic, ridiculous as that seems.
People were swirling around me.
Noise was echoing, billowing like smoke up to the ceiling then drilling down into my head.
I had to get out of here.
Then I noticed something.
I saw myself over in the corner with a tall window extension, washing windows.
I looked exhausted as I just stared at myself, like I'd been working way too many hours just to support my kids going to school and eating.
I heard something squeak and turned around.
There I was again, this time with a mop.
I was in one of the shops, stooped over, red cheeked and sweating, mopping corners next to the door, a place the floor cleaning machine can't reach.
I obviously did care about my job, because nobody just here for the paycheck would have tried.
But I'd been doing this a lot of years.
The grey hair piled on top of my head and the sad wrinkles reminded me that the social security check wasn't going to be enough for rent, with prices going up, but I was too old to keep working like this.
I walked over to the food court.
There I was again.
Behind the smiling person at the counter I was jumping from the grill to the stack of plates and piling food.
Then reaching down to scrub the drains by hand because the grease was too tough to get just with a mop.
And finally restocking shelves, pushing a heavy card from the back room.
I was 16, barely old enough to keep a job, but I was 7 months pregnant.
And oh yeah.
Since my parents kicked me out, I'd be couch surfing one of my high school buddies again tonight.
Bright lights caught my attention.
Someone had fallen and hit their head on the concrete floor.
Blood was in a pool around them.
An ambulance was shoving its way through the crown.
EMTs were deftly lifting the patient onto a stretcher, shoving oxygen in their face.
And there I was again.
I was sprinkling sand onto the floor where the pool of blood was, then mopping it up so that it wouldn't infect the people around me.
Deep dark circles were under my eyes, but I was desperately trying to hurry because we had to make it to the hospital in time so the patient could survive the fall.
My gaze wandered over to the back entrance of the mall.
The next scene put icy fingers of horror down the back of my neck.
I was crouched with my back only visible, shivering on the concrete steps outside.
The wind was bitter cold, and when I turned my face I could see myself, almost turning blue from the cold.
I had a thin windbreaker to ward off the single digit wind.
I didn't have an "Anything Helps" sign.
I'd been applying for a job and just been turned down because of one thing.
I was homeless.
The very reason I was applying for a job.
The very reason I was about to die of malnutrition.
The very reason I was about to freeze to death under a highway tonight.
Suddenly the world was no longer about me.
I was walking in the other peoples shoes.
I am the unseen.
I am hungry.
I am heart-broken.
I'm not paid enough.
I have families I'd rather be with but had to work so I could help you.
But I do it because I love you.
On the coldest Black Friday since 150 years ago.
And I'm thankful that I can feed my family, as mundane as that sounds.
Because without these mundane duties we would be out on the streets.
Without windows to wash.
Without floors to squeak on.
Without food to eat.
Hard work can never be put down as mundane.
I've been homeless before, you know.
My kids had to stay with their grandparents.
I walked the street, on purpose not begging.
I stormed each place with a "Hiring" sign.
I went out trying to find a job in the middle of winter, coming back to my temporary couch solution with frostbitten fingers.
And worse, I've stayed in some of those flea-infested, leaking, mold-leaching emergency shelters.
I've been the one that was turned out of my home because I'm a single mom.
A person with a disability.
A teenager barely old enough to work but having no place to go because I got pregnant.
But at least I have something.
I look at all of you.
Do you know how privileged you are?
With moms and dads and houses and food that tastes good and clothes that keep you warm or cool?
Without having to bear the stench of mold and your own body odor, having no remedies except an occasional shower at a travel stop or shelter?
But I'm really really thankful because at least I had a place to sleep.
At least I had a couple people in my life who actually cared enough to give me $5 today.
At least my kids have grandparents who care enough to take them in.
At least I didn't get raped today while on the street.
The sun shone today.
The wind blew today.
The world changed.
Maybe nobody sees me or hears me but I know one Person is looking out for me.
When all the world walks out one Person is still standing there.
I'm sure thankful for Him.
Without Him I'd be dead.
I would seriously be dead.
Like that time I got raped, I should have died of pneumonia having been left out there in the cold snow half-naked.
Like that time that I was so exhausted after caring for my disabled mom and driving a whole day that I just about got us into a wreck but God somehow just parked our vehicle neatly on the side of the road after I turned it in a doughnut twice.
Like that time I was walking the street and had to lay down next to an abandoned house with just a mediocre hoodie to keep the chill wind off.
Like that time I didn't have anything in the pantry to eat except cumin and potato flakes and suddenly after a knock on the door there was a bag of groceries with no one standing there or even walking or driving away.
Like that time that a semi truck was driving toward us driving the wrong way, and it smashed three times into our car but we only walked away with whiplash.
There's no way in the world you can't say you don't have something to be thankful for.
You all want a brand new set of trendy shoes or a new truck or a condo.
Wake up and look around you!
The gift isn't in what you get.
It's in the life you have already, the things that you take for granted that others don't have and can only dream about.
They all point to an endless Giver.
The things God gives a million times a day that you are so used to getting you have come to expect them.