“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”


I find it hard to rank virtues, but apparently Cicero did not. His quote above suggests that not only is gratitude the greatest virtue, but all others stem from it. Not a bad argument. If it is true, service is a stem of gratitude. Which makes sense as all acts of service (including the small ones) plant grateful seeds in the giver and the receiver.

Below you will find our updated list of quick and easy acts of service. At this pace, we will hit 100 by January 2015. Please, please, please continue to help by sending me your ideas.

60 small and powerful acts of service

  1. Serve this service blog. Send via email or social media one idea to quickly put the spirit of service into action.
  2. Brighten a teacher’s day. Send in an unsolicited treat or thank you.
  3. Treat your spouse to an unexpected display of passion.
  4. Do online research about the distinction between change and charity.
  5. Encourage someone to share their faith with you in a place where it is normally kept quiet (work, school, etc).
  6. Grant someone the freedom to parent differently than you without judgment.
  7. Bring a neighbor an unexpected gift.
  8. Offer an elderly pet owner peace of mind by suggesting you care for their beloved pet whenever they are unable.
  9. Choose to share something shameful or painful in your past if it will help another feel less alone.
  10. Rally around an acquaintance going through a difficult time. Sometimes it’s the most unexpected acts of love that touch us the most.
  11. Act! Move beyond sympathetic thoughts. Vow to do one small thing (donate, advocate, etc.) to address a problem that seems hopeless.
  12. Cut a neighbor’s grass.
  13. Donate school supplies.
  14. Offer support to a grieving soul long after the funeral.
  15. Share a piece wisdom that only comes with age.
  16. Make a call and check on an elderly family member.
  17. Laugh long and hard. Laugh loud enough for others to hear you.
  18. Give someone a gift you made yourself.
  19. Say no. Knowing you can set limits will give you the confidence to serve more.
  20. Take a walk with a loved one. It serves the body and soul.
  21. Admit you’re biased. We all are. Facing that we have biases (racial, class, religion, etc) helps us to better address our issues and to serve more sincerely.
  22. Loan someone a book you love.
  23. Don’t let it sit in a drawer. Give your old cell phone and chargers away or donate them to a charity.
  24. Treat a pet with kindness and respect.
  25. Share public service information (traffic detours, power outages, flood warnings etc.) via social media.
  26. Turn off and unplug electronics you aren’t using.
  27. Pick up trash that wasn’t properly discarded.
  28. Give someone more credit than they deserve.
  29. Hear gossip and refuse to spread it.
  30. Believe someone’s dream is possible. And tell them. They need the support.
  31. Fight indifference. Let yourself feel sadness when you see a homeless person.
  32. Tell someone you forgive them. And mean it.
  33. Put a Band-Aid in your wallet to give away when needed.
  34. Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
  35. Call someone you usually text and tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  36. Pick up an extra item or two from the grocery store to donate to your local food bank.
  37. Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
  38. Practice empathy. Take a few minutes and imagine the struggles of someone you know.
  39. Listen carefully. Many people yearn to be heard.
  40. Thank a healthcare provider for their service.
  41. Tell someone a joke.
  42. Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
  43. Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
  44. Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
  45. Pray for someone.
  46. Teach someone something. Anything.
  47. Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
  48. Give someone you love your undivided attention.
  49. Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
  50. Take time to write a supportive comment to someone on Facebook.
  51. Hug someone.
  52. Share any online article that raises awareness of a service need.
  53. Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
  54. Leave change in a vending machine.
  55. Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  56. Thank a solider for their service.
  57. Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
  58. Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
  59. Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
  60. If you love them, tell them.

 What’s missing?


This is an exaggeration, but I feel as if almost everyone I know is in the middle of a life transition. They’re evaluating the things that are no longer working in their lives – like their relationships or career choices. They’re blazing new trails and even trying unconventional ways of creating purpose and joy. One friend is considering a major relocation. Another is trying to defeat a chronic habit of self-critical thoughts. They’re allowing some things to die in their lives. And they’re trying to be more deliberate about what they plant and grow in its place.

During times of transition, I’m particularly sensitive to encouraging the people I love. I hope to serve them. I hope I make them feel supported and empowered. But sometimes I’m not really sure if I’m saying the right things?

So this post is one I will leave half done in hopes that you will help me finish it. Think of a time someone said “just the right thing” and left you feeling encouraged. What did they say? Below are five things that have meant a lot to me. But, what am I missing? What would you add?

Words that encourage

  1. I want for you what you want for you. This is your life’s journey. And I don’t have to fully understand your path to love and support you. If this is where God is leading you I will be fully behind you. ”
  2. I’m here to celebrate success and cry in defeat. Whatever you’re about to go through, you will not go through it alone.”
  3. Life is short. I know on the surface change is scary and perhaps this is a bit crazy. But no matter how cliché it sounds, life really is short. You have to take risks to take control of your experience. Some people will judge you while sitting on the sidelines, but I’ll be cheering you on just for being in the game.”
  4. Life is long. If you change your mind or if you make a mistake there’s a pretty good chance you will have time to rebound. Time is an amazing healer. Even if what you’re most afraid of happens, you will recover, learn and be stronger.”
  5. The devil is in the details. Faith requires that you be willing to take the first step even if you can’t see the entire staircase in front of you. Don’t obsess and try to address every fear with detailed plans. If God is telling you to take this step you won’t have to figure it out alone.”

There are a lot of ways we talk here. You can reach me on Facebook, Twitter, email or the comments below.

Please share with me what someone said to you that was “just the right thing.”


May has to be one of my favorite months. In addition to the many flowers that come into bloom. May is the home of Mother’s Day and my wedding anniversary. I find myself feeling pretty grateful during the month of May. And this leads me to the spectacular marriage of service and gratitude. Rarely do two things bring out the best in each other so well. This May, let’s make gratitude the center of attention because time spent on gratitude will surely inspire service.

Gratitude married to service

The practice of gratitude focuses on being thankful but it also introduces your heart to the concept of “enough”. Most of our lives we’ve strived to have “more” so “enough” is a somewhat foreign notion.

Take a look at the lines below and pay attention to how you feel about the “More” line versus the “Enough” line.

More money. More beauty. More power. More things. More time.
Enough money. Enough beauty. Enough power. Enough things. Enough time.
  • Which one is most comfortable for you to read?
  • Which one most reflects your current thinking?
  • Do you have enough of some, but want more of others?

Practicing gratitude allows you to take a step back and appreciate what you already have. It also allows the concept of “having enough” and “being enough” to take root in your life. This makes you likely to serve others for two reasons. First, you feel a sense of duty to bless others when you are more aware of your blessings. Second, you have more to give emotionally (and physically) when you aren’t exhausted from chasing more accumulation. When your heart and hands are free you’ll want to use them to serve. Gratitude helps free you.

Welcome May. You’re another wonderful month for serving. And a great time for gratitude to bloom.

What are you grateful for?

Little Girl Behind Wheel

Seriously, more snow? Yesterday wasn’t a major accumulation, but it was enough to create lots of traffic. I grew up just outside of New York City so I should be used to traffic. But I’m a closeted country girl. I dream of traveling on uninhabited roads instead of congested highways. But, the country is not where I live. So I spend plenty of time in my car navigating traffic each day.

And I’m not out there alone.

If you’re out there with me, here are seven ways to serve while sitting behind the wheel.

  1. Sing and car dance to your heart’s desire, especially when you’re at a light. It spreads the joy to those watching.
  2. Respect the “fast lane”. If you don’t plan to drive fast (meaning faster than the cars in the other lanes) please move over. This is not a demand. You have a right to be in the fast lane at any reasonable speed. But, respecting this unspoken rule is much appreciated by your fellow drivers.
  3. Show some love. If you see a car with the name of a team or school you support, give them a “thumbs up”.
  4. Be honest about your sense of urgency. Decide if arriving three minutes later would make a difference for you. Sometimes it truly does. Safely rush if you’re in a rush. Yield to another car that needs to enter into traffic if you aren’t.
  5. Grant forgiveness. There have likely been times when you were driving too slow or made an incorrect maneuver. You were probably lost, tired or distracted. It happens. Give your fellow drivers a break.
  6. Never do it. Get serious about never driving while texting, under the influence, or exhausted. And don’t underestimate exhaustion. Similar to texting and being impaired, exhaustion has been proven to put lives at risk.
  7. Smile! People are all around you. Many get a chance to briefly enjoy your smile. Share it freely.


In honor my grandmother’s 80th birthday, I’m kicking off a series of posts that share the answers people gave when asked:

“What are some ways to serve you?”

This one features responses from grandparents with adult grandchildren. And oh how we love our grandparents! If you’re blessed to still have grandparents in your life, here are 15 ways they want to be served.

  1. Tell them things they can brag about. You may hate talking about your successes, but they don’t.
  2. Let them show you off to anyone willing to meet you. You’re a living tribute to their lives.
  3. Help them feel significant. Tell them the ways they’ve shaped who you are.
  4. Ignore their advice if it doesn’t work for you. They just can’t help but offer it.
  5. Don’t pick sides. Share your time with both your mother’s and father’s side of the family.
  6. Send pictures of yourself. You’re grown so they no longer receive your annual school pictures, but they wish they did.
  7. Call them often. And never underestimate the power of a surprise phone call.
  8. Don’t worry about them dying. They hate for you to be sad about anything.
  9. Let them teach you. Learn their traditions, skills, and recipes. They want to pass their wisdom on.
  10. Call. (Oh wait, wasn’t that #7? I guess it came up a bunch of times.)
  11. Achieve more than they did. Witnessing it serves their soul.
  12. Call frequently. (Yes, they mentioned wanting more phone calls enough to warrant three slots.)
  13. Make time to visit them for the holidays. It’s a major highlight of the year.
  14. Reach out to them when you’re in need. They’d still rather serve you.
  15. Tell stories about them forever.

Are you a grandparent? Anything we missed?

(The next post in this series will be on how parents can serve teachers. If you’re a teacher and would like to contribute your thoughts please send them to

Tired cat

Picture yourself in my kitchen two nights ago. My husband and I just got home from work. I came into the kitchen a little later than him. I’d just hung up my coat and was starting to think about dinner. Here’s the exchange that followed.

Him: “Were things really crazy getting the kids out this morning?”

Me: “No, not really? School had a 2 hour delay because of the weather. I had extra time.”

Him: “Oh, because you left the cereal out on the counter.”

Me: “Oh ok. Sorry.” (Meanwhile I’m wondering where he’s going with this conversation.)

Him: “…And then I saw that you put the milk away in the pantry.”

Me: “Wow. I really didn’t sleep well last night.”

Sleep matters. For most of us, it matters a lot. The only thing that makes being sleepy better is getting more sleep. I want to make that clear because this post will not help you with being sleepy. It can ONLY help you with being tired. Being tired is a completely different animal than sleepy. Tired is more about energy and motivation. Sleepy is about a physical need to restore your systems. But it can be hard to distinguish them from each other. The chart below has some examples that might help you tell them apart.



“I wonder if anyone would notice if I got 15 minutes of sleep here at my desk.” “I don’t really feel like taking a nap, but I do feel like laying in my bed.”
“I keep trying to get online, but the light from the screen is giving me a headache.” “Wow, have I been on this site for two hours? I can’t get anything done today.”
“Where did I put my keys? Not again!” “Since I’ve gotten up and gotten my keys, I should probably head to the grocery store. But man, I really don’t feel like it!”
“God, please give me the strength to feed these kids tonight.” “Why can’t these kids feed themselves yet?”

So are you sleepy or are you tired? If you’re sleepy, stop reading and at least rest your eyes. If you’re tired, read on.


  1. Chances are good that you will be getting up tomorrow. Life is short, but more than likely it will be pretty long. It’s probable that you will get up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Point being – You are going to have a lot of waking hours to pass time in.
  2. You will be putting in work. If you have any obligations such as family, friends, and/or a job you will be performing work during a large part of your waking hours. Point being – Doing things that need to get done is going to be a required part of your day every day.

Can we agree on these two things? Sounds simple.

Getting up and putting in work will likely happen every day of our lives. We are going to do it regardless of how we feel about it. But what if putting in work partially feed us with energy instead of merely draining it? That’s basically what “inspired action” is. Inspired action is also a type of work but it’s work that feeds us emotionally. That’s different from plain-old “action” which is work we have to do because we’re awake and we have responsibilities. In many small ways, we can shift our thinking toward viewing work as inspired action. Most if not all of that shift has to do with intentionally trying to serve others. This can be done in small ways while doing your daily routine. Inspired action leaves you more connected and energized. Since we’re going to be awake and putting in work anyway, it just feels better to be serving others.

And it makes us A LOT less tired.


Don’t believe me? Try it for three days. I don’t mean taking time off from your job to do more community service. I’m talking about serving as part of your normal day. Easy examples are letting someone in front of you in traffic, correcting a small problem for someone on your job, or getting a meal on the table for dinner. Consciously and intentionally think of everything you do as service and then see how you feel.

Are you tired enough to try it?


Like any mother, the safety of my sons is constantly on my mind. So this week has been scary. I’ve wondered if there is an entire US state where I should not send my sons to college. I’ve wondered if a place that I associate mostly with Mickey Mouse is a place where the law can’t protect their lives. I’m not an expert on these cases. And this post isn’t about that. If I’m being honest, I’ve tried not to follow the cases too closely. They scare me too much. They make me feel small.

I was reminded by a friend on Facebook that individual lives may feel small at times, but they are powerful.

This was his response to one of my status updates.

“Think globally, act locally. If everyone looks after their family and friends, a geometric progression suggests everyone is better off and taken care of.”

Here are six things we can do whenever we’re feeling small.

  1. Be still. Notice that I didn’t say pray. Prayer is speaking to God. Stillness is allowing time to listen.
  2. Cook for someone. Sure you can eat some too, but cook with the idea of serving and nourishing another. Any recipe will do.
  3. Seek out a child. There is something about a child’s energy that neutralizes defeat.
  4. Find art that moves you. My favorite book is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I find it hard to believe that a person could weave together a story so complex and vivid. It reminds me that humans are capable of beautiful things. Sometimes I need the reminder.
  5. Take up someone else’s cause. We all have struggles that are unique to our position in life. Help someone else with theirs. Embody the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  6. Serve in the way that only you can. If you aren’t sure what that is yet, refer to #1 on this list.

What do you do when you’re feeling small?


Oh Saint Valentine – sometimes we love you. Sometimes we hate you. And we know very little about you. There may have even been two Saint Valentines. But one of the saints died on February 14th. Why we celebrate his (or their) legacy of love is the subject of much debate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a saint.

When I look across my life it is hard to ignore that there are things I regret. I’ve hurt people. I’ve failed to be the person I hoped I was. Thanks to God that hasn’t been my whole story. I’ve also loved deeply. I’ve been fiercely loyal. I’ve encouraged and protected.

People are complex and they are neither good nor bad. We can’t be a “good person” nor a “bad person”. All the things we do are part of who we are. I’m working to make peace with that. I’m working to forgive some of my past faults and focus on my current actions.

“Legacy” appears as just a word, but embedded in that word are a bunch of questions.

  • What will you be known for?
  • How will your life have mattered?
  • Who did you serve?

Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any to work harder at answering those questions. Every day we can get up in the morning and have another shot at building our legacies. I hope you have a great one!

How are you spending your Valentine’s Day?

Love languageEvery now and then I receive a call on my cell phone from someone speaking another language. When I don’t answer the call they leave me a voicemail. But I don’t understand the voicemail. I usually guess at the language they are speaking. Then I wonder how they got my number. Eventually, I start worrying that they might need something urgent. I try to judge how urgent the call is based on the tone of their voice. A few times I’ve called back the number and tried to say “Wrong Number!” in hopes they also speak English. Each time, I’ve not been able to tell if calling back helped them or not.


For some things in life you get credit for effort alone. But when you speak different languages the recipient may not be able to appreciate your effort. This is the basic gist of The 5 Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. This book completely changed the way I serve the people I love.

You may already be familiar with his work. If not, his main point is that everyone has a primary and secondary love language. These are the ways that they most like to receive love. Those ways are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Do you have a guess which one is your primary Love Language?

What about your spouse? Your children? Your best friend?

Knowing the love languages of the people you care about will allow you to serve them better. It will give them the opportunity to feel your love more deeply. It will give you a much higher return on your efforts to serve them. Knowing your own love language will also help you tell them how to best love you.


Here is how this concept has played out in my marriage:

My primary love language is Physical Touch and my secondary love language is Words of Affirmation. My husband’s primary love language is Acts of Service and his secondary love language is Quality Time. Now we both value ALL five ways of receiving love to some extent, but our primary and secondary styles are the way we hear the love messages most clearly. Since we have two completely different languages we have to make special effort to speak each other’s languages. This does not come naturally. It has to be deliberate and I’ve had to remind myself about it almost daily.

When I feel most loving towards my husband, I want to be with him physically or tell him how much I love him. Because those are my love language preferences and how I instinctually think to show love to him. Instead, I have to make sure I place a high priority on cooking for him and doing our laundry. Those things show him love through his primary Act of Service language. To me, laundry is definitely NOT sexy. For him, it gets him feeling loved and energized. He would instinctually show me love by doing housework. He thought most women desired more help around the house (and many do). And though I appreciate the help, it is much more important to me that he rub my back or tell me I look beautiful. He has to make a special effort to be more touchy and verbal than his natural style so I feel loved.


You can find your love language preferences and have others in your life take the Love Language Quiz by visiting Gary’s website.


If you want to read more about how to use the love languages in your relationships, see Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Language: The Secret to Love that Lasts at

He also has a number of companion books and other books that speak specifically to children and teens.

What’s your love language?

Do you love someone that speaks a different language?

broken tree heart

What’s harder?

A. Having a broken heart


B. Loving someone with a broken heart

The answer is A.

Heartaches acute pain can pack a punch that threatens to knock out those we love. Most of us have also experienced being knocked out by its punch. And, it isn’t pretty. Valentine’s week is especially tough for the heart broken.

When someone you love has a broken heart almost everything you do for them is an act of service. This is also when your words have an incredible power to comfort, heal and uplift. Here are some things I try to say because there were times when I desperately needed to hear them.

10 Things to Say that Serve a Broken Heart

  1. “This is going to hurt for much longer than you hope it will. I need to tell you this so you don’t expect more from yourself than what is possible”.
  2. “You will likely do something desperate or embarrassing if you haven’t already. You might even do it multiple times. That’s alright. We’ve all been there.”
  3. “Yes, my life is busy but I have time for you.”
  4. “He didn’t know you. He knew a version of you in a bad relationship. That isn’t who you are in total”.
  5. “I want better for you. I know you miss her a lot. But you could receive so much more love than what you were getting.”
  6. “Be sad. You’re giving this fight to get happy again all you have. But whenever you need to take some time to be sad you shouldn’t feel bad about it.”
  7. “I need you in my life. He may not have needed you and that hurts, but I do.”
  8. “Yes, I think you’re correct. You made some mistakes. So did she. But you’ll get a chance to do better next time and I know you will.”
  9. “Yes, I am tired of talking about him, but I’m happy to keep doing it if it is still helping you move on. Is it?”
  10. “I love you and I’m not saying that to make you feel better. I really love you”.

What do you say?

What do you like to hear?

The comment floor is open.