Give the Most Enduring Gift, the Gift of Service

Give the Most Enduring Gift, the Gift of Service

Stockings and wallets and buttons and bows; dishes and quiches and Rudolph’s red nose! But all of it loses its glamour once the holiday season is over and we return to our more or less humdrum lives as admins, librarians, food service workers and sales clerks.

Not so the gift of service, which continues to “give” for as long as you pledge the service. And what is this gift? It is one hour a month spent preparing or serving food in your community’s homeless or battered women’s shelter. At first it won’t seem like much, but as you get to know the people you are feeding, you will discover that real meaning behind that phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

It’s a sobering realization that may make you kinder toward your employees or customers, more forgiving toward your awkward adolescents, or at the very least more grateful for the blessings you have. I know it did me.

You can also participate in daily living activities in elder care facilities, or help older people in their homes. Devote an hour or two a month to playing games like cribbage or bridge with elders in an assisted living facility. Bring the outside world in with you; they will love it! Talk about your children, your family, your neighbors, current events, hobbies, whatever.

The more you give older people to think about, the longer they will remain mentally sharp, according to geriatric physicians. This is even true of Alzheimer’s patients, according to the latest research. And in cases where you can preserve some mental acuity, Alzheimer’s sufferers may survive long enough for science to find a cure! You never know until you try, and just ignore the pessimists who say people with this disease can’t understand a word you say. No one has yet proven that true. In fact, the only thing doctors are fairly sure of is that give-and-take is a one-way street for Alzheimer’s, in that they can listen but not speak, etc.

Or give time and care to a single elderly person in his or her own home. For example, devote one-half hour per week helping an older person with grooming (bathing, brushing hair, cutting/and or painting toenails, etc.) This may not seem like much while you are doing it, but just wait until you are 80 with arthritis and try cutting your own toenails!

One of the most rewarding yet saddening gifts of service is time spent on a children’s cancer ward. If you are experiencing a midlife crisis and asking yourself the age-old question, “Why?”, caring for these children even in small ways like playing games or reading books is almost guaranteed to turn your mind and your heart around. In fact, the courage of the very youngest in the face of unbeatable odds may find you changing your entire life, training for a new profession or leaving the beaten path for something as curious and rewarding as volunteer service in developing nations overseas. It can happen, and does happen a surprising number of times.

If your goals are simpler, and your life in the earlier stages of child-rearing and “nesting”, think about mentoring. It can be through a dedicated program like Big Sisters and Big Brothers, where advantaged individuals help children of poverty or emotionally impoverished homes achieve goals that will ultimately free them from the trap of destitution and/or violence.

Mentoring can also be on a very “freelance” type basis. For example, your son or daughter makes friends with a young person their own sex and age whose background makes you worry your child might be in danger of becoming delinquent.

Instead of assuming the worst, try mentoring the young rebel. Obviously he or she is drawn to your child’s lifestyle, otherwise the friendship wouldn’t exist. By the same token, enough time spent around your family, whether simply playing video games or eating a family dinner or spending a weekend night to camp out in the backyard may be all the incentive needed for the tagalong to develop hidden skills that will eventually allow for success in life – however one defines that.

Not being Mary Poppins, I also realize that some young people are bad news, and can do nothing more than lead your pre-adolescent or teen into skipping school, drugs, alcohol, and even more dangerous behaviors. If you try hard but are unable to bridge that social and familial gap in behavior with your child’s friend, feel free to try to prevent or dissolve the friendship, with the understanding that you can never physically prevent your child from ever seeing anyone (at least not short of illegal behaviors).

If, however, you have instilled good values, you can hope your offspring will step out of danger’s path in time to prevent addiction or accidents. For a list of service organizations in your area, contact your Better Business Bureau, your state government, your church or your young person’s school district.

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