Hurricanes, earthquakes, refugees, genocide, prejudice, and now a mass shooting in my backyard. There is so much to do, so much we can do, and yet often I don’t know where to start. I see the devastation spinning through my social media channels and in the news, it hurts my heart. We’ve discussed as a family what we can and should do to help, and yet, as of right now I am doing and have done very little. But I want my kids to know.
You always can, and always should, do something.
A couple weeks ago, circumstances sent me to both the public health department, and the local family clinic – which cater to the uninsured and underinsured. I live in a fairly homogenous small town. It’s easy to believe that everyone is doing fine. There is no poverty, no hurt, no hunger. False. The waiting room was full of people that would rather go somewhere else but had no other option. Some had obvious health conditions, some had obviously had better days, some were pleasant, some were cranky. The receptionist smiled at everyone. I left, but the smile of the receptionist stayed with me. She brightened what could have been a miserable place.
She did something.
Throughout my career as a mother I have had many grand service schemes. A service project once a month. Deliver cookies every Sunday, volunteer weekly at a nursing home. We have yet to find a tradition that sticks – or in some cases, one that has gotten beyond the talking stage.
But I keep trying to do something.
Because service isn’t a one time event, or even series of events. It is ultimately a way of being, a world view. I want to encourage a culture of service. It’s been a priority that has ebbed in and out of focus for over a year. I first wrote about it here.
In case you are struggling with the same thing, here is what I’ve learned through lots of attempts and failures:
1. Make it fun. Ideally service brings joy to the giver and the receiver. Last week we did a service scavenger hunt as a family. We divided into two teams and raced to finish first. (points were deducted for doing things sloppily in an attempt to win). We had to:
- smile and say hi to everyone we saw
- pick up 30 pieces of trash
- leave nice notes on five cars
- doorbell ditch someone with a treat
- leave a nice chalk message on someone’s driveway
- clean a toilet (preferably one of ours) – serving their Mom should be a priority
The kids giggled the entire time.
2. Keep it simple. By far the thing that made the most visible difference on our scavenger hunt was the smiling and saying, “Hi”. People change when they are noticed. So many walk around us weighed down by burdens that we can’t see. We can’t see the burdens, but we can see the people. If we smile, say hi, stop to listen, text someone, send a card, bring a cookie, offer to babysit -those burdens that we can’t see are made lighter without us even knowing it.
In an effort to continue what we’d practiced I smiled and talked to a man at the splash pad yesterday. I ended up hearing all about his adventures wandering through the western united states. He’d just run out of money and was going to stick around and work for awhile. Life is richer when we acknowledge and truly see each other.
I was proud of my efforts, until I realized that I probably should have asked him what kind of work he was looking for. He’d told me he’d run out of money….. and I was proud of myself for smiling at him. In retrospect, I realized I could have done more but
3. Allow free agency. As a family we have discussed what organizations we should give to to help with hurricane relief. In this case, money seems to be needed more than things. We encouraged our children to donate some of their own money to the place we’d chosen and came up with some ways they could earn extra cash. We didn’t tell them they had to donate, just planted the idea and gave a deadline if they wanted to participate. Some are more excited about the idea than others. Their small amount won’t change the world. It can change them, but only if I let them choose it on their own.
For your viewing pleasure. Here is a video of Josh at 3 trying to find sponsors for a read-a-thon in order to raise money for the earthquake victims in Haiti. Really click the link… it’s totally worth it.
4. Model it and make it a priority. Smile at them. Acknowledge them. Compliment them, especially when you see them serving. Don’t criticize others. Teach them that they never know someone’s whole story, and listen to them when they want to share theirs. So much of what we do as parents is service.
If you get a chance have your kids participate in a humanitarian camp like this one. Or, if you are feeling extra ambitious do your own abbreviated version over the summer.
Organizations that I like for serving as a family:
To be clear. I like these organizations and have done things at different times for each one of them. But we aren’t out every week or even every month doing big projects. Priorities are constantly shifting and changing, and right now sleep is a big one for me.
- Days for Girls: You can make kits or parts of kits at home and drop them off. They provide the supplies or you can provide your own. They make it as easy as they can for you to help – kids not big enough to sew can glue, or fold – and who doesn’t want to help girls go to school?
- Justserve.org: Has tons of ideas and you can narrow it down to ones appropriate to your kids ages.
- The instagram account: @serverefugees has constant opportunities for helping local refugees. So far this year they’ve asked for backpacks, binders, and gas gift cards among other things.
- Sponsor a child: Let your children sort through the pictures and biographies and pick one themselves. Having a face, a story, and a potential pen pal makes it more real.
- Enchanted Makeovers: Make superhero capes for kids in homeless shelters
- Children of the Night: They have an ongoing wishlist.
- Your local food bank/women’s shelter etc will also have a wishlist posted online
- If you have any suggestions please asd them in the comments. I always love new ideas.
At times of growth in my life, times when visible and invisible trials have weighed me down. Times when I sat in my bathroom and cried, thinking, It’s my turn. Someone needs to serve me, service provided the paradigm shift that I needed. Often someone would serve me, a text, a call, an unexpected offer of dinner, our Heavenly Father is mindful of us in that way. But, the most lasting help came from principles like this one:
“Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us. Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf