I have great ideas. They usually come during my quiet time or when I hear the heartwarming story of someone who is making a difference despite tough circumstances. I’ll resolve, with all the best intentions, to teach my daughter, Sami, about the importance of investing in others. I dream of Saturday mornings slaving together at the soup kitchen or digging through closets and bringing boatloads of old clothes to Goodwill.
Then Saturday morning comes. We wash the laundry and run to the grocery store. By late afternoon, my great intentions fizzle to no more than a noble daydream. But I want my teen to think beyond herself, especially as time spent in front of the mirror seems to grow with each passing day.
I started my plan this past summer. As it happened, one of the departments here at Focus on the Family was preparing for a missions trip. I recruited Sami to help pack boxes and get them ready.
She did a great job. While she wasn’t too excited at first, she kicked into gear as soon as she had a project. She laughed with my co-workers, carried boxes and worked with enthusiasm. Every so often she would stop by my desk, little droplets of sweat on her brow. “I just carried my weight in boxes,” she said once as she draped herself over a chair.
“Wow,” I said. “Good job!”
She grinned and jumped back up. “It’s fun. . . .”
Minutes later she came back into the cubicle, T-shirts and shorts in hand. “Mom, look what they gave me! They had some extras and they gave me some for helping out!”
A few minutes after that, she came in with a handful of candy, “Look, Mom! Want a lollipop?”
By the end of the afternoon, my daughter had an armload of goodies for her efforts. And she was grinning from ear to ear.
I had to smile with her. Granted, I was hoping for the joy that comes from helping others without receiving anything in return, but lollipop smiles were definitely a start.
Single-parent family or not, I wanted my girl to know she can make a difference no matter what our circumstance. So we added some smaller acts of service into our schedule, stuff that wasn’t too overwhelming but still helped others in unique ways. Here are a few things we added into our lives:
Smile. Sami and I smile at everyone. It’s amazing what a smile will do. Cashiers, servers, people we pass in the neighborhood — we make it a point to smile and say hello. It’s incredible how many times people comment. Even when we have a grumpy cashier, we do our best to elicit a smile before our turn is up. It keeps us focused on others, and sometimes it even works.
Help those who need it. Sami and I still haven’t made it to the soup kitchen for a full Saturday morning, but we do try to keep our eye out for people who need help. If a friend needs help moving, if someone drops something at the store, if we can cook a meal to feed a neighbor — those are things we can do no matter what’s in our schedule.
Live it myself. I’ve discovered how closely Sami watches me. One of her friends at school was having a difficult home life. I wanted Sami’s friend to know she was welcome in our home anytime. We cooked her meals, drove her places and made a safe place within our four walls.
Unfortunately, later in the year, their friendship fell apart and the girl made some comments about me (not really the happy ending I’d hoped for). Sami came home in tears, furious like I’d never seen her. “Mom, you were nice to her! And you made a difference. You loved her!” Sami brought me to tears as she spoke of how angry she was in my defense. She’d noticed. Even without perfect results, she’d noticed.
So maybe your lives are like our own. Busy, full, crammed with errands and chores. But you can still make a difference (or give it your best shot) and teach your kids the same. Smile often, help out, love people. It matters.