Month: January 2014
A few days ago, I was talking to an online friend (that I don’t know well in real life). He was dealing with suddenly becoming internet famous and not knowing how to adjust to it. I have absolutely no experience in being famous so I could only offer my real life experience of adjusting to divorce and remarriage. Throughout the conversation I kept referencing things my husband and I had recently discussed. He asked, “Do you two typically have such deep conversations?” And this is where Deac comes in.
Let me tell you a little more about Deac. He sleeps a ton, but when he’s awake he has a lot to say. He is sarcastic and witty. He is short tempered and fiercely loyal. He has an ongoing vendetta with my super sweet mother that happens to not be “a dog person”. He thinks he outranks the kids and they should constantly “freshen up his water”. And he has apparently lived a life full of celebrity interactions and coincidental brushes with current events. We talk about Deac and what Deac told us often. By often, I mean every day. By every day, I mean several times a day. It’s funny. We like it.
And it allows us to not take life so seriously.
Service can seem like a serious topic. It gets people thinking about the big things in life – love, legacy, and purpose. But it doesn’t have to be so serious and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. Below are 10 easy ways to serve in 5 minutes or less. So you can start serving right now.
10 ways to serve in 5 minutes or less
- Tell someone a joke. Laughter is good for the heart.
- Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “Hey I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes”.
- Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
- Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
- Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
- Pray for someone.
- Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
- Teach someone something. Anything.
- Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. I admire how much patience you have with me).
- Give someone you love your undivided attention.
This is just a start.
What other ideas do you have?
I don’t remember that much about being a teenager. I know it had its “ups and downs”, but I made it out alive. Yesterday, I held a workshop for a room full of high school students (9th-12th grade). Initially, I wasn’t sure how the day would go. I worried that focusing on the topic of service with teenagers would fail to hold their interest. I was definitely wrong. The last activity of the day asked the students to break into four groups and prepare a presentation on their top 10 ways the adults in their lives could serve them better. We received 40 answers, but there was plenty of overlap in what they wanted. Below you’ll find the consolidated list.
- T.L.C. This is also known as Tender, Loving, Care. They acknowledged that they would not show affection back, but they still wanted it.
- To be a priority. This was said in many different ways from “don’t forget about us” to “remember what time you said you’d pick me up”.
- One day off. Defined as 24 hours to do whatever they wanted without any obligations.
- Teach them about finances. They wanted help understanding how to navigate the financial world. This included help figuring out strategies to buy the things they wanted.
- “Real life” skills training. They thought the school curriculum should teach more skills that would apply to their home and work life.
- Freedom to explore their sexuality. They didn’t want to elaborate on this one, but it was on the list.
- One free mistake. They wanted to be able to make one reasonably small mistake without getting in trouble.
- Teachers being more predictable. They had a hard time guessing when some teachers would be in a bad mood.
- Room to fail. They wanted to be able to take some risks and learn on their own.
- Lowering the cost of college application fees.
- Considering their opinion. They acknowledged that they have limited life experience, but they still wanted their parents to place some value on their thoughts.
- Exposure to more diversity. They wanted to travel and meet people from other countries.
- Shadow an adult in the work environment.
- Let them choose their own college. They still wanted the parents’ guidance, but wanted to make the final decision.
- Feel permanently supported. They needed to know their parents support would never go away, even if they made mistakes.
- To be checked on when they are sad.
- More privacy. This one wasn’t a surprise to me.
- Help talking through social problems at school.
- Discuss their preferences for attendance and/or behavior at their extracurricular events. The group was not in agreement on whether they wanted their parents at their sporting events or other activities. Many felt parents were overly critical in their attempts to help them perform better. Some were embarrassed by excessive cheering. Some just loved having the support and the immediate ride home. The room was definitely divided.
ANY SURPRISES TO YOU? Most surprised me.
The comment floor is open below. Serve on!
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. - Aesop
Protect. Survive. Teach. This list sums up my parenting goals in their simplest form. I focused more on the first two goals (i.e. protect and survive) when my boys were younger. Let’s call that phase of life “provival”. When parenting in provival mode most of the life lessons you teach are meant to stop your kids from hurting themselves. Other lessons teach them key life skills (like not going to the bathroom in their pants) that help you all stay sane. I remember that phase well and have great sensitivity to those with young children currently parenting in provival mode. Protecting and surviving is probably all you have the mental, physical or emotional capacity for so I will tread lightly with offering tips for kid friendly service projects. These projects are meant to be quick and easy and to plant the basic principles of service in your child’s heart. Do them if and when you have the energy for them. Don’t feel bad for a second if that time doesn’t come until your child is much older. Practicing service can never come too early, but it can also never come too late. Serve on!
- Handing out happy: Join in with your child to make “Happy Awards” out of paper and any other art supplies you have around. This can be a very quick project or more elaborate based on your time, supplies and energy constraints. Once done, take the awards along on your next errand run. Allow your child to nominate people displaying happiness and give out their awards. This act of service is sure to brighten up everyone’s day and make grocery shopping a little more fun!
- Walking and serving: Help keep your community clean and beautiful. Take a 15 minute walk with your child around your neighborhood looking for litter to collect. Make sure to bring a plastic bag and plastic gloves for collecting trash. Depending on the age of your child they can be in charge of identifying trash only or actually be a part of the collection/disposal of the trash.
- Drawing with a purpose: Turn coloring time into a service project by dropping your child’s finished masterpieces off at a local hospital or nursing home. There is nothing like the beauty of a child’s creative mind to add a little joy to someone’s day.
- Running a mini-food drive: Have your child ask family, friends and neighbors for non-perishable food donations. They can even make an advertising sign to help promote their cause. Be sure to take them along when you drop off donations to your local food bank.
It still seems strange to me that Peyton Manning chooses to shout out “Omaha!” while calling plays. To me, it’s a tame word for him to have chosen. I probably would have gone with something like “Eagle!” or “Raptor!” or even “Dragon!”.
This week’s post is being written from Omaha, Nebraska. As a girl from New Jersey, I’m not sure I ever expected to end up in Omaha (or Nebraska for that matter). We are staying in a part of town called Old Market which is filled with mid to high end restaurants, boutique shops, and many (read: many) art galleries and art inspired stores. The area has lovely historic architecture that is really beautiful. It’s the kind of place I could visit over and over again. So I’m not sure what I expected from Omaha, but I know it has far exceeded my expectations.
I’d have to say the same thing about the feedback I’ve gotten from you on your passion for service. In the last month, I’ve had all kinds of conversations about what service means and how it is playing out in your lives. I’ve also uncovered ways to serve and organizations that weren’t previously on my radar. Thanks to all who have shared these. I’ve compiled a list of ways readers are serving that have recently come my way. Maybe some of these will become additional inspiration for your next act of service or even your lifelong service mission. Or maybe not.
Either way, I know you’re serving in some very important ways already. (Visit these posts if you think you aren’t serving anyone because I bet you are). I look forward to learning more from you all so please keep sharing. Serve on!
WAYS YOU’RE SERVING
- MLK Day of Service (http://mlkday.gov/): Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” On the MLK holiday, we are being challenged to “take a day on, not a day off”. Go to this site for information on group events and ways you can support in your local community. I know many of you will be doing this on Monday!
- David’s Hope (http://www.davidshope.org/): This came to me by way of a local Police Chief. His wife has made several trips to Kenya to do community development for a small rural town. He will be making his first trip this Spring. I like their website because in addition to donating money and going on mission trips, they refer to prayer as a distinct way you can serve their organization. If you can’t find the money or time to serve right now, maybe prayer is a contribution you might be interested in.
- Acts (http://actspwc.org/): This is a local Virginia non-profit so you may need to research other organizations similar to this in your area. What I found interesting about this organization was that it has a volunteer job called Senior Link Caller. The Senior Link Caller makes phone calls to homebound seniors in the community. Calls are to check-in and connect, and to assist with referrals to resources if they have any immediate needs. This was passed on to me because I lost my grandfather last year and wrote a post about it. The thinking was that it might be time for me to call someone else’s grandfather.
- Tigerlilly Foundation (http://tigerlilyfoundation.org/): I recently met the founder of this organization. Beautiful woman! She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. Since her recovery, she has built a non-profit organization that focuses on financial and emotional support for women between the ages of 15-40. I’m thinking about running in their 2014 Pink Boa race.
- Life Missions (http://tlc-missions.com/): My cousin left Thursday on a mission trip to Nicaragua with this organization. She will be serving on the medical team. Go Tammie!
- Pets On Wheels (http://www.fpow.org/): This is another local Virginia organization, but if you do a search there are likely similar organizations closer to you. Pets On Wheels connects pets with people living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. A friend’s dog used to be a part of this program which was just another way this family dog shared love and served. He is nearing the end of his life and time with his family. She reminded me of his service this week in a tribute to him. I think our dog might be a perfect candidate for this program too. Something I’ll have to talk to him about.
- Learning to cook: My hairdresser told me last week that she has a New Year’s Resolution to learn how to cook better and serve more home cooked meals to her family. She invited a friend over to teach her a new dish which I thought was a great way to learn and spend time with someone. Needless to say, she was very proud of the meal she served that night.
- Caring for graves: At the start of the holiday season, there is an effort to place wreaths on the graves of soldiers in many cemeteries across the county (US). Driving to the airport a few days ago, Arlington National Cemetery was still a beautiful tribute to our soldiers with the wreath covered tombstones in glorious display. During the rest of the year, you can find volunteer opportunities to maintain and beautify soldier’s graves all across the country. This is a passion of a fellow reader.
- Serving your Parent Organization: If your child attends a school, there is a pretty good chance you have a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) or something similar that supports the teachers and administration in making the school the best it can be. There are a variety of ways to serve from time donated to fundraisers to serving on in a Board or Committee leadership group. If your children are grown, this is still a place you can serve the schools that helped build their foundation. I heard from a passionate grandmother that has been in a PTO for over 25 years.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of walking my extremely wonderful and recently divorced friend through setting up her eHarmony profile. I was impressed with the depth of the questioning process. One of the questions took a long time to answer because it steered our conversation off-topic. It asked her to select the type of religion(s) or spiritual affiliations that she seeks in a potential mate. There were many options and she could select all that she would be willing to consider. One option was “Spiritual, but not religious”. She had a hard timing imagining exactly what that meant.
I shared with her my perspective though I’m not in any way suggesting that this is an official or all-encompassing description. It is just how I view the distinction between “spiritual” and “religious”. For me, the word “spiritual” refers to a core set of beliefs. The most universal is the belief in a supernatural force that exists in the world. Spiritual people may call this God, the universe, or many other names but it always relates to the idea that there is an unseen order in the world. This order can’t be proved empirically or through our senses, but a spiritual person still believes in this concept. I view “religion” as the particular set of rules and rituals that a spiritual person guides their life path by. So in that sense, all religious people should be spiritual. But all spiritual people don’t have to be religious. They may choose to pursue their spiritual path on their own and without engaging with organized religion.
There are other concepts that are typically believed by “spiritual people”. Some examples are:
- Faith that positive things will occur. (Also called “trust in the universe” or “setting intentions” and many other names.)
- Giving thanks for what you currently have.
- Believing that life is a series of lessons and that negative things happen for the purpose of teaching those lessons.
- The importance and power of setting time to build a deeper spiritual connection. (This is called by many names from prayer to meditation to advanced yoga practices.)
When I think of the last bullet, I realize that I’ve tried all three of the examples and have absolutely felt a deeper spiritual connection while doing them. I now see serving others as a spiritual practice similar to prayer. There are three things that I look to get from my prayer or meditation time. At times, I have experienced each of those things while serving.
- It clears my mind of the non-stop internal chatter. When I’m focused on serving others, I’m also enjoying the rare mental silence that allows my heart to awaken with spiritual awareness.
- I’m not focused on myself or the importance of my place in this world. I feel part of a system that connects us all at our core. This concept reminds me of a quote I once read (but can’t for the life of me remember who wrote it) that described people feeling like individuals to waves feeling separate from the ocean.
- There is a peace that comes over me. It is like I briefly understand my place in the world before my mind wakes back up and starts telling me how important I am again.
I know these are very hard concepts to get across through writing, but I believe that many have experienced these through their own spiritual practice. I hope some of you have experienced this through the practice of service. If you have, I’d love for you to share it with me. I’d love for you to share it with others. No pressure though, I’m happy to have shared a connection to you just because you chose to read this. Until next week, serve on!
Tomorrow is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I’m blessed to have many relatives that live well into their eighth and ninth decades. I had more than my fair share of time to love him in this life. But, that doesn’t take away from the longing to still be with him. That doesn’t take away from the longing for him to guide and observe how my life is moving forward. I believe that grief teaches us that life is temporary and death is final. This lesson can’t truly be grasped with just our analytical mind. During the grief process, the lesson is taught in the heart.
I’m not an expert on this topic nor have I experienced the more traumatic ways that loss can occur in one’s life. The tips below just scratch the surface on ways to serve in times of grief, but it is a topic I wanted to cover. Anyone that focuses on serving people will have the opportunity to serve someone that has lost a loved one.
1. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on but still need to get done. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.
2. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better”. Be there to remind them that these episodes of sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.
3. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.
4. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to actively stay present and supportive for a minimum or two years.
Like I said in the beginning, these are just a few ways to support those in periods of grief. What other suggestions do you have? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Serve on!
There is a natural synergy with the holiday season and the spirit of serving others, but January tends to be a month when we take on self improvement, self development and other individualistic pursuits. This year, I’d like to challenge you to consider adopting a service way of life instead of restricting service and philanthropy to November and December. Below are five ideas meant to get you thinking about ways to weave the spirit of service into a glorious start to your new year.
Consider trying one or two, but please don’t try them all. This will be a great year and I want you still with me come February.
- Take the time to notice the people around you. Many people are especially lonely following the holidays. Start in January to take more time noticing and engaging with the people around you and not treating those moments as mere transactions. This is something I often fall victim of as I can get caught up in my own thoughts and schedule. The smile, word of encouragement, or simply valuing their presence may be the only positive interaction they receive that day. Often people with numerous loving personal relationships tend to assume that everyone else has them with equal abundance – they don’t.
- Share your story. The New Year tends to bring on goals, aspirations and pressure to achieve perfect lives or perfect versions of ourselves. We have all been through some measure of difficult times and have failed to meet this ideal. I was an overweight adolescent, struggled with the early years of surrendering my life (and sleep) to motherhood, and still battle shame from a failed first marriage. It is important to share our failures with others just as it is important to show success to the world. People need to know they are not alone and more importantly that perfect lives do not exist. Don’t hold your story back if an appropriate moment to share it as a service to someone arrives.
- Try to burst out of your bubble. I consider myself a “glass half full” kind of person which in the past prompted me to turn away from topics that brought with it inherit negative emotions. I filtered my news consumption to just enough to be aware of what was going on in the world, but not enough to draw me in emotionally. I was concerned that if I knew too much I’d be emotionally engaged, but unable to help in ways that mattered or on the many things that might need my attention. In some part, this is exactly what happened when I started opening myself up to more information. I do give more financially now than ever before. Still, I know there are limits to how much I can do and for how many different things. But caring is also an act of service. This January, make a commitment to learn more about the world and how your actions (or lack of action) impacts that. I can’t and don’t serve all the things that move me, but I can align things like my consumer spending and political affiliations with my beliefs. If you are like me and hiding in a safe and uninformed bubble, spend this month making small or large steps to let the world in.
- Get active. Do you really want to go to the gym in January? We all know it’s going to be like a crowded zoo that will be cleared out significantly by February. I know there are many gym promotions in January so feel free to join now, but don’t start going until February. Spend January getting active in your community. We all have different passions so I won’t tell you how or where to serve, but use the spirit of the new year to push you forward and get you active. Let one of your new goals be to serve your community in a tangible way. Set a specific amount of time to volunteer and commit to it. I can promise it will be a lot easier to achieve this goal than your average New Year’s resolution.
- Out with the old and in with the new. This January you probably have many new gifts and toys around the house which has left some great quality items that have been replaced for newer models. Consider drawing a line in the sand and declaring your home a place where you have ENOUGH things and don’t need any MORE. That doesn’t mean that you never get new things, it just means you commit to donating things with every new purchase or gift. Do you have enough in your home? If so, spend January gathering things for donations and choosing the organizations you want to give them to.
What are some other ways you plan to focus on service in January? Tell us below. You know you want to. Happy January and serve on!