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Reader Voices: Should we be ranking acts of service?

By Tiffany Sowby

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

As this new year began, I found myself with all sorts of grandiose plans to have my family be anxiously engaged in good works.

Ironically, these thoughts came while standing in front of a hot stove in my kitchen on a cold winter morning.

While frying bacon, stirring hashbrowns and cracking eggs, I began to wonder why I can’t seem to make the time for our family to serve people around me. I wondered why as of yet, I haven’t taken my children to serve meals at a local soup kitchen, or why I haven’t had them stand on a street corner passing out $20 bills to passers-by, or why they haven’t performed a musical concert at a local nursing home. And why in the world have we yet to sew quilts and donate them to the local children’s hospital?

Just as I was finishing up removing bacon from the sizzling pan, my son opened the back door to tend to his chickens. While balancing too many items in his hands, and perhaps noting the time on the nearby clock, he hurriedly asked, “Mom can you come help me?” I was all too aware of my exposed ankles and arms as I went outside in the single digit temperatures to help him.

As I returned to the house, I thought of my previous thoughts of not adequately teaching my children to serve others.

Who was I kidding?

As I began dishing up the hot food onto five waiting plates, one of my children came into the kitchen with an ear-to-ear grin at the sight of her favorite breakfast foods on the kitchen counter. It was in that moment I thought of times, seasons, examples and service.

Was my service toward my children right then and there not every bit as valid as serving at a soup kitchen? That morning, was the fact that the boxes of cold cereal and milk sitting unused in the nearby pantry and fridge not a sign of loving service? Wasn’t I teaching my children at least some service by example?

Instead of thinking about the unmade baby blankets, or the yet to do nursing home music concerts, I thought about the times my children run out in the cul-de-sac to take the neighbor’s garbage cans out on collection day. Or the times my children have balanced hot dishes in their hands as they walk a meal to a needy neighbor. Or the memory of my children sitting around the kitchen table recently, writing get-well cards to a sick family friend.

One of the last things I need to begin doing is ranking service. Far be it from me to rank one act of service superior to another. Yet it seems something many of us are guilty of doing far too often.

Recently through a series of unfortunate and somewhat serious events, I found myself at the last minute replacing my husband as the "other Scout leader" to accompany 11-year-old Scouts to the local swimming pool. A father of one of the boys generously rearranged his own schedule and took over from me mid-way through the merit badge excursion.

Meanwhile, my teenage daughter was at home suddenly thrust into the role of fixing dinner, helping with homework and baths for the three younger children. My husband and oldest son were helping save a horse’s life while the unknowing horse owner served a long shift at the nearby temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As I laid in bed that night, I realized I had experienced a renewal and restrengthening of my testimony in the principle of charity and service. The four events in a single evening: saving a horse's life, serving in the temple, accompanying active Scouts to a pool, willingly changing plans and helping with Scout duties, and tending to the needs of three young children are all active acts of service, charity and love. It would be hard under the circumstances of that night (and hopefully ever), to rank them in any order of importance, commitment or eternal value. Were they not all equal?

Hopefully, one of these days my children will provide a musical concert for a nursing home and perhaps eventually we will get around to volunteering at a soup kitchen. Yet for now, though our service may be small and simple, when done with the same intent as the grander acts of service, surely great things will come to pass (see Alma 37:6).

Tiffany Sowby is a mother of five children. She loves the laundry five children (and a husband) generate, but could do without the sticky floors. She blogs at www.ourmostofthetimehappyfamily.blogspot.com.

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