Saturday, November 12, 2011


Service has been on my mind for awhile now.

I volunteered to head up the sixth grade service project for my son's class. It was important to me that the experience be a meaningful one. In preparing for this project, I came up with some things to think about if you are trying to instill in your own children a spirit of service.

1. All work can BE service. I think there is a danger in calculating service hours or even in doing service "projects". The spirit of service can often be lost.

I have spent the last month preparing for my son's service project and organizing a benefit party for a non-profit. While on my hands and knees scrubbing my floor for the benefit, I was working through my thoughts on the goals for the service project. I stopped mid-floor and realized that I had spent three weeks running errands, sending e-mails, making phone calls, I had just done 1/2 a floor, all in service of my child's class and the beneficiary of the benefit. I had not taken one minute to consider all the preparations for the Events as service themselves. I was certainly not on my hands and knees simply because it needed to be done.

I took a moment to reflect on why I was cleaning. I was making my house welcoming for the women who would come to help raise money for Children with Down Syndrome. I offered up the rest of the floor for the children and their mothers.

The nature of the work itself changed. The first half of my floor had been a task. The rest was work with a purpose. I enjoyed it more. I felt good about the work. I probably scrubbed a little harder with less effort.

2. Let the work speak for itself.

Some service opportunities allow the work to speak for itself very easily. Visiting someone in a nursing home gives a child immediate feedback. The smile on the person's face is the reward. Service that involves an interaction with the person we are serving gives great satisfaction.

However, most service opportunities are far removed from the beneficiary: Jumping rope for Hearts, Selling popcorn for the Soldiers, Collecting canned goods for the Poor, Buying Christmas gifts for a Family in Need. We never see the faces of the people we help.

It is important in these circumstances, to let the work speak for itself. The child needs to take time to reflect on why he is getting ready to campus the neighborhood. Then he needs to continue the work in that spirit.

Children have felt the nature of work change. Everyone enjoys cleaning their room a little more when a friend is coming over for the first time. Help them to feel how jumping rope is somehow different when we think of the purpose it serves.

3. Choosing the best work and setting the best goals

I think the best type of work to teach this lesson is work which requires attention to detail. Work which allows the child the opportunity to choose to do it well or not.

For the sixth grade project we are hosting a bake sale. Instead of having moms send in cookies, we decided to let the kids bake for themselves. We chose a cookie that can be decorated with as much or as little detail as the child wishes. This allows children to decide how much effort the purpose they are serving deserves.

As the adults in the mix, this was a hard call. We had to change our goal from making the most money to making the best experience for the kids. But, if we have fewer beautiful cookies, we have done our job. The money will come from somewhere.

Amount is probably not the best standard to use for goals. While the amount of money or cans or whatever collected can be a sign of the amount of effort, it is too relative. A child can visit 20 homes and come home with $5.00 or visit one and come home with $20.00. The work is dependent more on the charitable nature of those he visits than on his own work.

If the nature of the work lends itself to setting amount goals, change the goal. Set goals the children can have control over. How many homes will you visit, how much time will you spend asking, etc. This allows the child control over the work. He can feel a sense of accomplishment about the work itself rather than the outcome. Because no matter how many cans he has at the end of the day, his service to others has not been affected one iota.

4. Let them do it.

Many service opportunities require money. We have a school wide adopt a family program at Christmas. Each class is assigned a child with a name and and age and a wish list. While the children do wrap these gifts. I bought them all. Or I let my children buy the gift with my money. Not this year.

I am making a Chore Chart and Price List. My children do not have to participate. These chores are for Service Money ONLY. They can NOT do the work and spend the money on themselves. But, they can also choose not to do the work and not to participate in the Service Project.

If they want a gift to take to school, they need to buy it. They can earn as much or as little money as they wish. Then they can buy a gift from the wish list that they can afford, or none at all.

I have started my Chore Chart and Price List.
If you have any ideas to add, I would love it!

Murphy’s oil wash the Plantation Blinds: $5. for a big one $2.50 for a little one

Rake and bag leaves: $3. per bag

Murphy’s oil base boards: $1.00 per four feet

Windows: $1.00 per window

Fold and stack Laundry: $2.00 per large load

Our goal as Christians is to work towards each and every minute of our lives being done in the service of others. Teaching our children how to make any work service is the first step.

Rather than using Service Opportunities to DO good work.

We can use them to learn how if we just take a moment to reflect, how all work done can be done in service to others, and work done well is the better gift.

And if you are a bit slow like me, in teaching our children, we can remember the lessons ourselves.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


The Devil has been a hot topic of conversation of late. I blame Halloween. The girls started by being DE vils. Feminine devils according to them. They do not have horns, but they look enough like devils to lure them in, and then they shock them with the news of Jesus. ? Yea, don't ask me. All I know for sure is they wear red or black.

My daughters are much like I was. I hated to say in church, "I reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises." I was ready to reject his message, but something seemed wrong about rejecting him. When my girls were parading around the house in their black and red, their clever" brother tried to put them in their place. "If you are a devil, God hates you." My eight year old immediately responded, "God doesn't hate the devils even though they hate Him."

Out of the mouths of babes.

He came up again tonight after dinner. As the younger children talked, the familiar response emerged. "If the devil...I would make him sit on a tack." Fine, I think that makes sense for a six year old, but when my pre-teen had the same response, I had to pause.

"The devil would actually love you to picture him on a tack," I said. "Your six year old sister's threat is truly terrifying to him, but from you, he knows he has you just where he wants you."

Thinking himself very cute he asked, "But mom, if I ever did meet him face to face can I punch him?"

"Oh, but you have met him face to face. Do you remember when you.... do you remember how you knew it was wrong, but something inside you told you to do it anyway? That WAS the devil.

And you did 'punch him in the face.' When you rode your bike to church, and when you told me about it, and when we went to Confession, that was a punch in the face worthy of an 11 year old.
But if you didn't do those things and you kept doing what you knew to be wrong, he wins. You need to remember what you felt like. Remember what it felt like when he was there because he will be back. Maybe next time you can 'punch' him before you give in."

I got the I don't want to talk about this face.

So be it, but I planted the seed. The Joy Joy Joy song plants the seed for the little ones. "If the Devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack. Ouch!" Enough for a small child. Someone who deserves the TACK with adult encouragement is scary enough. It doesn't need to be scarier. But as they get older, they need knew images, new scenarios, new ways to recognize not just evil, but the evil one.

I am very careful to never allow my kids to think humans are devils. Humans do bad things, but they are by nature good. Maybe the devil doesn't exist, but I am not willing to take that risk. If there is a spiritual word, and half of it is out to steal my children, I think it is worth the effort to prepare them.

I have felt evil. Sometimes it is from my own sins. Sometimes it is the weight of knowing the horrible things that one human can do to another. But I know it is a weight. It is a physical presence. It is not guilt or fear. It is a pressure in the world that pushes us toward the center of the earth, just as an inspirational story of victory against all odds makes us feel as if we have wings.

Is evil just evil or is the devil real? Faith alone can answer that. But evil seems to exist outside of human actions. Even when an evil act is done by accident or with good motive, the evil still exists. We can still feel it around us, pushing us down.

And so I ere on the side of prudence. "Remember what it felt like when he was there, for as sure as you are human, he will be back."