Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer of Service...Simple Acts of Kindness

When teaching my children this summer about honoring God and serving others in need, I also wanted them to know that serving doesn't always have to be for a social cause or big organization.  I want to train them to look for needs right under their noses.  To be aware of those close to us and to actively seek out opportunities every day to love and serve others and be a reflection of Christ.  One way I try to do this myself  is to also look for those who do not have a relationship with God and try and find ways that I can show them His love without pushing my idea of faith on them with words.  The greatest way to teach someone about God and His love is through our actions and how we live out His truth, and I really want my children to learn this.

Our last few projects have not been large enough to write an entire story about them.  And I like that.  I like that looking back, I can create one larger story about several small ones.  I kind of feel like that is part of the point of this summer serving project as teach the kids that serving doesn't always end in a production, a reward, or a story about how great they did.  Some of the greatest acts of service often go unnoticed.  We can never know how any one action we choose to make will impact another person.  I hope that I have begun to teach my children this concept.

Our neighbors went out of town for a few days.  She asked the kids to gather her mail and newspapers each day they were gone and she would pay them.  All the kids took turns checking the mail, picking up the papers, and keeping an eye on their house while they were gone.  They all did it as an act of kindness and did not accept any payment for their effort.  This was an important job, in my perspective, and an important lesson for the kids.  I never want my children to expect anything in return for helping a neighbor with anything.  We also talked about how we should always let our neighbors know before there is a need that we are available to them.  We accomplish this by interacting with them, developing a relationship, and communicate with actions, behavior, and words that we can be trusted.  Developing relationships and investing in others is an act of service in and of itself.

I caught wind at a party that one of my husband's employees was going to be having a root canal.  Not a huge deal.  Except when you put together the facts that he and his wife have 3 very young children and his appointment was scheduled for early afternoon, you can figure that this young mother will have her hands very full caring for a husband just home from the dentist and trying to get dinner on the table for her little ones.  That time of day is a challenge for any family with young kids, and take away the help of the other parent and it can be stressful!  We have been there many times!  So the kids and I spent the day of his appointment chopping vegetables, baking bread, and preparing a comforting, wholesome, and easy to serve meal for his family and delivered it right at dinner time for them to enjoy.  This was a lesson in learning to listen to the people you are talking with and identifying needs they may not even be thinking of at the time.  I also showed them how to think about those they would be feeding and what their taste preferences might be.  We made them vegetable soup, chicken pot pie, zucchini bread and a salad with homemade salad dressing.  Lots of young kids can be picky eaters and not like blended flavors, so to be safe, and to ensure that everyone would be happy and their mom would not have to still create a separate meal, we came up with a "kids meal" for the little ones.  I asked our kids what they thought we should do and we came up with the "deconstructed chicken pot pie" for the toddlers...Emma was the creative one who came up with using saltine crackers to represent the pie crust!

We were so busy working on the preparation that I forgot to take pictures of the kids in action helping prepare the meal.  Here's a picture of the end result, though, before we took it over to them to eat, with everything labeled with what it was and how to heat it up...

My husband stopped home between meetings and took the girls with him to deliver the meal.  They visited for a few minutes and the girls played with the kids after showing them what they made for them...

We received a very kind thank you note from the family a short time later which was nice for the kids to see, and it reinforced to them that small steps and efforts can reap huge rewards for someone else.  That made them feel good about how hard and long we worked on this meal.

As for other small service projects, the kids have done a lot individually as the summer progressed.  Cameron spent an entire day at school helping teachers prepare for the beginning of the school year.  He pulled out and prepared laptops for the classrooms and helped teachers get their technology needs up and running and in order.  We had close family friends move to the area recently and we have put a lot of focus on them as a family helping them get settled and oriented.  My husband has spent a lot of time helping them get their housing situated, coaching them through moving logistics, and giving up his time to listen and help his friend through some of the more stressful times of coordinating the move.  We have invited the kids swimming with us, given up one of our cars for a day when theirs wouldn't start so they could get their errands finished, and will be having them over for dinner and s'mores around the campfire tonight.  We are so happy to have them here and want them to know they are loved, welcomed, and cared for during this stressful and chaotic time!!  We know all to well how hard it is to move to a new city and not know anything and have very little help.  We hope this helps them transition a little bit easier!

I could go on with a few more things but it feels like gloating and that defeats the purpose of serving for me.  If I could choose one thing I want the kids to take away from this summer, it's to serve silently, with a willing and kind heart, and a with smile.  I think I have accomplished that for the most part.  I know there will be times when I call them to act and they will grumble...but I think we have learned enough that it will only take a gentle reminder for them to remember how much our serving is welcomed and loved by our Lord...which is why we do bless others and shine His love on the world while we are here.

Summer ends for us here in two days as school begins on Wednesday.  We beat our goal of serving at least once a week.  There were several weeks where we served many times in large and small ways.  It was refreshing to put others first. To plan around projects instead of trying to fit things in and plan around our schedule.  The kids had great experiences in everything they did and there is a unanamous excitement for one particular project which we will do over again many times as a family...including again in a couple weeks...the Kids Against Hunger pack-a-thon .  We also talked about doing things again next summer, like the Special Olympics, and how we can get more friends and families involved with us.  Now that school is starting I don't want to forget this focus.  We will continue to serve as often as we can and whenever we see a need and can take action.  I am excited to see my children put this into practice throughout the year and see how much they notice on their own and decide to do something about it, no matter how big or small.

"Remember that you are not called to be well-served, but to serve Him well."

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