We Interrupt This Blog...

Sometimes God blindsides you.

Sometimes He has plans so big that you could never have conceived of what He was about to do.

God ambushed me last week.

I have been surprisingly worn out by the intensity and emotion of a day and a half of God's hijacking. I have not written anything here, or on our other blog Blossoms and Posies. I have been mostly quiet on social media.

I feel quiet inside. Small and awed.

I had plans. Plans of 31 days of writing about teaching kids to serve. I still have those plans. But those 31 days will not tidily fit within October.

Abbie and I had plans for a wonderful little ebook with beautiful Christmas projects for kids. We had plans to finish it in October. It may or may not be done in November.

God had plans to show me, and others, how big He is... how much He loves. How nothing is impossible for Him.

His plans are always better.

I have really enjoyed writing the Teaching Kids to Serve series. I will resume, possible even tomorrow.

But for today I will leave you with a post I wrote a year and a half ago. Another time when my plans did not work out.

We struggle to reconcile reality with our ideas. We can't implement them all and we wonder, are we trying hard enough? Are we committed to these wild dreams? Sometimes it really is us. We get discouraged, beaten down. Sometimes we give up.

But sometimes it isn't us. It is life. Sometimes it isn't in the master plan, or more accurately, the Master's Plan.

You can read the whole post here --> When the Plans Don't Work Out.

Now I am off to make cookies for my children. At least that's the plan. :)

Volunteer at Your Local Pregnancy Resource Center {teaching kids to serve}

Many pregnancy resource centers welcome children's help. While obviously there are sensitive areas and adult topics that are addressed at such a center, there are plenty of ways for children to become involved.

If the center has a donation area, children may be able to help sort and fold donated baby clothes and blankets. If there are certain items that are in low supply, they can start a campaign to collect those items.

Fundraising is always important. One year my younger children helped me bake items for a bake sale fundraiser for our local center. We packaged them up prettily, then helped at the sale table. My daughter especially enjoyed holding a sign and waving at passing cars to let them know about our baked goods. Kids can also help at a garage sale fundraiser - there is always plenty of folding and sorting to do!

You alone will know how best to explain the center's purpose to your child, and how much detail to go into. For my very young children I simply told them that the center is to help women who are going to have a baby or who have recently had a baby. I explained that for various reasons sometimes people don't have the money or support they need to provide everything for their baby, and it is our privilege to help! We are a baby loving family, so that is incentive enough for my kids!

Your family may even find itself developing a relationship with a young family being helped through your work at the center. This can be a blessing all around!


Learning to Extend Hospitality {teaching kids to serve}

Opening your home to guests is an easy way for your children practice serving others.

Before the big day, teach your kids how to make your guests feel welcome when they arrive. Have them run through greeting one another... maintaining eye contact, giving a smile, a handshake, a welcoming word.

Involve your children in preparing your home and the food for the meal. If they wonder why you are going to special care to get ready, explain that one way we show love for others is by treating them specially and helping them feel comfortable.

If any fussing occurs about the extra preparation, you can always remind your children that we are to:

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. - 1 Peter 4:9

Teach your children to offer your guests a drink once they arrive and are settled. Guests should be served food first, and the children should clear the guest's plates for them. I like to use the word "bless"... "It will bless our guests if you offer them a drink." "It will bless our guests when you clear their plates so that they can sit and relax."

If your children are young and you are expecting visitors near their age, you may need to prepare them by revisiting the concept of sharing toys.

Extending hospitality in your home is a great first step for young children learning about serving!


Crochet Sleeping Mats for the Homeless {teaching kids to serve}

Have you ever heard of a crocheted plastic sleeping mat?

This is such an unusual project! I know not all kids will be able to do this, but it is so clever I had to include it. It is especially suited to older children who enjoy handwork.

Using rings cut from plastic grocery bags (smaller children can help with the cutting), you start by making plarn. What's plarn? Plastic yarn! Seems I am not the only one who likes to make up words!

Next, with a crochet hook size 10 or larger, you will begin to crochet your plarn following the simple pattern. You will end up with a mat that is waterproof and springy enough to make a soft place to lie. You will also keep hundreds of grocery bags out of the landfill!

These mats are being made by church groups around the country and handed out to homeless folks.

Detailed instructions and a pattern can be found here. You'll even find video instructions!

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Do Someone Else's Chore {teaching kids to serve}

Stealth chore-ing (yes I made that up) is super fun because it involves a surprise!

Every so often I will pull a child aside and conspiratorially whisper "What can we do to bless your sister/brother/father today?"

Then we plot out how the child will sneakily do a chore for the other person. Everything is more fun when it is a surprise!

Generally chores are not looked upon as fun activities in my house, so I see this as a double blessing. Not only is my child serving a member of the family, but doing work with a cheerful attitude. Maybe Mama is the stealthy one, eh?

Needless to say the finished chore is always well received by the recipient. Another win for sibling relations!

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Visit a Nursing Home {teaching kids to serve}

One day when I was in 8th grade, I was sitting in my English class discussing a story about a family who had abandoned their elderly grandfather. The conversation came around to the lack of respect in contemporary America for the elderly.

For some reason this conversation bothered me deeply. I kept thinking of old people abandoned and ignored by their families. I was so upset I decided to start visit nursing homes.

With my mom's help, I connected with the activities manager of one of our local nursing homes. She introduced me to several elderly ladies who did not receive visitors, and I began going to see them every week.

After a while I got in touch with the animal shelter, who allowed me to pick up a kitten or puppy once a month or so to bring it along. Oh how the residents loved this!

Young people, young animals... they bring joy into a nursing home that is palpable. Many residents are old in body but young in mind, and they feel free to let down their guard and enjoy themselves when they have youth nearby.

Before you go to a nursing home, let your children know what they might expect. Explain that most of the people who live in a nursing home have bodies that aren't working as well as they used to, so they need some help. You can also tell them that some of them have a sickness that has made their thinking a little different.

When you are there, it is important that you help your child balance discomfort with serving. Don't push your child to reach out, but encourage him to. You may have a child who feels quite awkward and overwhelmed. Be engaged with the residents yourself and set a good example. Over time your child's reluctance will wear off.

There are many things you can have your children do while visiting:

  • play an instrument
  • sing
  • read aloud
  • play board games or cards with the residents
  • make crafts with the residents
  • hand out cards or decorations

But really all they need to do is be themselves. Just taking time to talk and ask questions can make someone's day!

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Thank Your Local Firefighters {teaching kids to serve}

This idea is bound to be a hit with the little boys in your life! Few young men wouldn't be delighted to visit the fire station to say thank you to the men and women who serve your community.

When we are bringing a treat to thank folks we don't know personally, I usually make a plate of cookies or a pan of brownies because they are so universally beloved. But you should feel free to make whatever suits your fancy - it will surely be appreciated. It doesn't have to be sweet!

I like to involve my kids in the decision making process to some degree, offering them choices from a range I know will work for us - "Shall we make chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies or brownies?" Package the goodies in a recyclable container so no one has to figure out what to do with your pan or dish.

While you are baking, talk about what these folks do for your community, the dangers they may face, and their family's willingness to support them as they serve. Around here, we have a very keen sense of the sacrifices our firefighters make to keep us safe. In the fire department up the road from us, twenty of the twenty four volunteers lost their homes during the 2011 Bastrop County Complex Wildfire.

Your children can make pictures and cards as well. Some volunteer fire stations are not staffed around the clock, so you may want to call first. If you don't know where your station is located or the phone number, try searching here or here. Don't call 911 to find your fire department!

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Make Shoes for Children in Uganda {teaching kids to serve}

I recently came across a unique ministry whose purpose is to cover the feet of impoverished children in Uganda.

Sole Hope was founded in 2010 by Asher Collie as a response to her heartbreak at seeing children ravaged by disease caused by jiggers that infested their bare feet. Now Sole Hope not only provides shoes for kids in Uganda, but also teaches Ugandan women the trade of shoe making.

What can you and your children do?
  • Host a shoe cutting party, where you will help cut fabric that will be sent to Uganda to be sewn into shoes.
  • Raise money and donate to Sole Hope
  • Buy shoes
  • Join the "Junior Ambassador" program specifically designed for kids under 18 who want to help.
For more information, email info@solehope.com


Share Gifts from Your Garden {teaching kids to serve}

Does your family grow a garden?

Teaching children how to raise vegetables and herbs, and even flowers, is a way to help them learn the value of steady work, and the fruit of faithfulness.

"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth." - Psalm 104:14

A basket of home grown veggies or a bouquet of flowers from your yard - even wildflowers - is a lovely way for children to bless someone in their lives.

While it is God who provides the sun and the rain, our family has learned from experience that if we don't do our part and cultivate (with the exception of wildflowers!), there is not much to harvest.

What satisfaction your children will have knowing that their hard work has blessed someone with food and beauty!

Gather Cans to Earn Money for a Cause {teaching kids to serve}

Sometimes situations arise about which your children feels burdened, but with which he or she is unable to physically help.

For example, most natural disaster clean-up areas are not safe for children to be in. But tornadoes, floods and fires get a lot of media attention, and your child may express a desire to help. In this case, raising money to donate can be a way for them to get involved.

Your children can earn money by collecting aluminum cans. Some states have a refund program, and in states that do not run such a program, you can sell the cans to a scrap metal company.

Be sure to do your research before you donate the money. Sadly, there are people who make a living scamming people in unfortunate situations. We experienced this in our area after a wildfire, when some less-than-honest businesses sprung up around the recovery process. Charity Navigators is a good resource for checking out a charity's reputation.

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Bake Cookies for Your Pastor {teaching kids to serve}

The second Sunday in October is Clergy Appreciation Day, an opportunity to show pastors how much we value the time they take to minister to us. Kids can show their appreciation too... and what better way to show it than with cookies?

It's not too hard to get kids excited about baking cookies. Gather everyone in the kitchen to measure, pour and stir. While the cookies are baking and cooling, the children can make thank you cards or pictures for your pastor(s). Help them think through what pastors do, and why they are thankful.

You can dress up a simple plate of cookies with a ribbon or bow. Even a paper plate of cookies covered with foil looks a little prettier this way. Of course most pastors will be thankful no matter how the cookies are delivered!

On Sunday morning, have the kids wait until an appropriate time after church to give the cookies to your pastor, and if they feel comfortable, express their thanks in words as well.

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Let Others Go First {teaching kids to serve}

You don't have to go out to begin teaching your children about serving others. The best place to start is right at home.

Help your children to develop the habit of letting others go first. This might seem like an overly simplistic concept to you... and if that's the case you have probably already been training your children to have an attitude of giving!

For children who are not used to sharing or allowing others to go first, this can be quite a difficult exercise. Don't worry if your little one doesn't especially like it, no one does at first!

Make a game of it... play the "After You Sir" game. You can set the example by saying "After you, sir/miss" and allowing your child to go first. The next time, have your child say it to you, and you go first. Be enthusiastic with your thanks when you are the one to go first.

You will probably have to remind and encourage your child, over a span of time, to think of allowing others to go first. But eventually you will start to see the habit laid down.

Reinforce your child's choice to allow others the first turn by observing it out loud every time you see it. Using servanthood terminology helps enforce this worldview. For example, "Joey, I saw you letting Sara go first. You showed your servant's heart."

A giving heart starts right in your own living room, and will walk out the door to bless the world!

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Rake Leaves for Your Neighbor {teaching kids to serve}

Sometimes, due to illness or circumstance, home owners can't properly care for their yards.

Do you know someone who is elderly, or a family with a deployed parent? Maybe you know a single mom, or people who are out of town for an extended period.

Helping them tend their yard can be a great blessing and relief.

This time of year, the pressing yard work in most areas of the country is raking leaves. Take your children, one rake per person and some big bags, and head over to a neighbor's house to tidy up.

Be sure to check with them first... some folks prefer to allow their leaves to remain on the ground. It could also be awkward for home owners if you show up on their property unannounced!

At other times of the year you might shovel snow, mow the lawn, or pick up sticks. Whatever yard work you do, be sure to encourage your children to be cheerful as they work, and to work with vigor.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
A nice big cup of hot cocoa at home would be a wonderful way to finish out a time of service together as a family!

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Make Christmas Cards for Unsponsored Compassion Children {teaching kids to serve}

Compassion International is a well respected ministry to children in poverty around the world. Since 1952, Compassion has maintained programs allowing families to sponsor children in need.

There are many children on Compassion's waiting list who have not yet received a sponsor. These children would love to receive a card from your child!

Have your children write as many Christmas cards or letters as they'd like, and send them to Compassion with a note that you would like the cards to go to unsponsored kids.

You can send them to this address:

Compassion International
ATTN: Suzanne Hall
12290 Voyager Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80921

Happy coloring!

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Clif Bars for Deployed Soldiers {teaching kids to serve}

Soldiers stationed around the world welcome care packages, even from strangers.

Involve your kids in blessing soldiers - help them package up a much enjoyed and requested item, like a big box of Clif Bars, and mail them off with cards and letters. While you are certainly welcome put together an assortment of items, it's also fine to just keep it simple and send a whole lot of one item.

Your children could run a Clif Bar drive, much like a canned food drive, or you could take the kids to the store and let them pick out the varieties to send. Large warehouse stores, like Costco or Sam's Club, usually carry volume quantities of items like this.

Troops will generally share what they receive with other soldiers so be sure to send a bunch!

Any Soldier is a great place to find the address of a soldier who will accept care packages. Be sure to read through all their great suggestions for making your package a welcome treat!


Pick Up Trash {teaching kids to serve}

Help improve everyone's view by having an outing to pick up trash with your kids. Picking up trash along the roadside or in the park is another way your children can bless their local community.

Older children who are reliably aware of passing traffic can be very effective roadside trash pickers. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, roadside trash clean-up is probably not the ideal activity, but they may be able to help in a park that has plenty of green space around you.

These supplies will come in handy:
  • leather gloves for each person
  • lots of large trash bags
  • space in your vehicle for transporting the garbage
  • hand sanitizer or wipes for when you are done 
You may want to advise your children to allow you to pick up any broken glass or sharp objects. 

Talk about why this activity blesses others, and how God calls us to care for the land around us. I have found using the phrase "Leave things better than you found them" has had an effect on a child's decisions even when I wasn't around!

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Canned Food Drive {teaching kids to serve}

Children can get involved in serving the local community by running a canned food drive for your local food pantry.

Food pantries are always in need of items, and while they do not limit donations to canned food, keeping it simple (and non-smashable) for the kids is best.

When we are planning to make a food pantry donation, I call ahead to find out what they most need at the time. Pantries gladly accept any non-dented non-expired canned goods, but they often have frequently requested items that they run low on.

Find the nearest food pantry

To run the drive, have your children tell their friends, or you can associate it with an activity, like a park outing or party. Older children might feel comfortable making an announcement in church.

Be sure your children are with you when you deliver the items! Depending on the food pantry's policies, the kids may even be allowed to help stock the shelves with their donations.

Do you know where your local food pantry is?


Make a Meal for Someone {teaching kids to serve}

Even young children can get involved in serving by helping to prepare a meal for another family.

Do you know someone who:
  • Is having a baby?
  • Is sick?
  • Just lost a family member?
  • Is going through a hard time?
  • Is elderly and alone?

Everyone needs to eat! A meal is a simple and usually much appreciated way to show love.

If you don't know the family's dietary needs already, be sure to ask, unless you are planning the meal as a surprise. If it is a surprise you might want to ask someone who knows them well if they have any allergies or special restrictions.

Children can be involved in all aspects of the food preparation, as well as delivering the meal. I always make a main dish, which generally is a stand-alone like a casserole. Often I will add a salad and dessert.

One of our favorite recipes to make for a delivered meal is Bird's Nest Pie. It is a somewhat unusual way to present spaghetti, and always gets rave reviews. It is also a super kid-friendly recipe. In fact Josh and I made it for a Build A Menu a few months ago. This is a dish that you can also freeze ahead. We usually make at least 2 when we make this, and freeze extras in foil pie pans for giving away.

Get the recipe for Bird's Nest Pie

Kids can help wash lettuce and tomatoes and peel carrots and cucumbers for the salad. They can spoon cookie dough onto cookie sheets or stir brownie mix. We always sprinkle chocolate chips on top of our brownies before cooking them... sprinkling is a much sought after kid-job!

When it is time to deliver the meal, if it won't make the recipient feel uncomfortable, have the children help carry the food to the door.

Your turn: What type of dishes do you like to give or receive in times of need?

You Set the Example {teaching kids to serve}

I am doing something wild and crazy over here, and after posting only a few times a month for, oh, a couple of years, I am going to try to post every day for a month!

Told you it was crazy. 

Two things converged...

First, I decided I wanted to put together a list to answer a question I get fairly regularly from moms with young children: "How can I teach my kids to serve?" The list keeps growing and growing, and soon I hope to have the whole thing compiled for you to download and print.

And then I remembered the "31 Days of..." meme, and figured, hey, I can not only put together that list, but also highlight thirty one of the ideas in posts!

So for the month of October you'll find short daily posts here with all sorts of practical ideas for growing servants' hearts in your kids. I hope you'll check back throughout the month and share your ideas too!

And now for day 1 of Teaching Kids to Serve...

You Set the Example

Yes, teaching your child to serve others starts with you. Little eyes are watching every move you make. Little ears hear. And where your feet go, so will go your children's.

You don't necessarily have to take your children out of the home to see you serve. Involve them in "Blessing Daddy" by choosing to do things for him that you know will make him feel loved. Show them how to serve family members cheerfully.

And when you do serve outside the home, involve them as much as possible. In the coming days you will find many ideas here for out-of-the-home ways for kids to serve.

Use words that help children grow in understanding serving others
... talk about growing a servant's heart, about blessing others, about choosing to put others first.

In our house we often frame it in terms of love:
  • What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?
  • What would make me feel loved if I were this person?
  • What need does this person have that I could meet?
And we talk about the truth that the love we show others is a reflection of Christ's love for us. That we are His hands and feet here on earth.

We have also memorized this verse...

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

 ... and say it out loud sometimes together to remind ourselves.

The way you speak and act will be the foundation on which your children will form their ideas about what it means to serve. It starts with you!

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