The holiday season has a way of reminding us just what our priorities should be.

Last year, we suffered a painful political defeat. The campaign had taken every ounce of energy, and we had been so focused on winning that everything else seemed unimportant. I felt strongly that we should be in Washington helping my neighbors in this great state.

The holiday season was upon us, and like many other shoppers I was at a local mall. While returning to my car near the mall bus stop, a woman rushed up to me. In her broken English, she said she had missed her bus and was desperate to get to her daughter’s house in Orem.

We have all heard similar hard-luck stories, but something told me the woman’s plight was genuine. Feeling impelled to offer her a ride to the next bus stop, I quickly learned that neither of us knew where that next bus stop might be. She kept repeating the number of the bus, but she did not know the address of her daughter’s house. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the women was totally lost — that her world outside the daughter’s house consisted solely of a daily bus ride to her job at the mall and a second ride back to the sanctuary of home.

On impulse I decided to take her to Orem. As we rode along, I thought of all the reasons I should not have responded to that impulse. At the same time, I thought of the single reason I did respond: The woman needed help, and my desire to serve my fellow citizens included this opportunity as well. I tried to imagine how frightened she must be. She recognized only a few landmarks along the way. She kept repeating “school.” I thought of BYU, but as we approached Utah Valley University, she said, “Here, here,” and brightened, visibly. We turned east, toward Orem and when she saw the University Mall, she brightened even more. “Here, here,” she said, excitedly. At the mall bus stop we saw a bus bearing the same number she had repeated so often on the way from Salt Lake. For the first time, she smiled broadly. “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias,” she repeated. She practically leaped from the car and ran to the bus. She had found her way home.

On the long drive to Salt Lake, I reflected about the events of the evening. Why was I there, at that time, in that place?

On Christmas Eve Day of that same year, I was at a stop sign on my way to an auto parts store. A Latina woman pushing her grandchild in a stroller crossed the slushy street in front of my car. On my left, a big-tired pickup lurched from its stop, swerved ever so slightly, and splashed slush all over the woman and the child. I jumped out to see if they were OK, then helped them cross the street and find warm refuge. That brief encounter led to an unofficial and anonymous Sub-for-Santa opportunity for our family. We left gifts outside the door and waited out of sight until we heard screams of delight from the large family living in that small apartment.

Once again, I wondered why I was there. While I'm not a believer in fate, I do believe we have a purpose in life. Our purpose is to help others. Often, the spirit of the holiday season helps us recognize opportunities to serve, guides our actions and re-orders our priorities.

To every person that has "run the race" and lost, we must all remember, the loss is not nearly as important as helping those who are in need.

Scott N. Howell is the former Utah Senate minority leader and a U.S. Senate candidate.