Anyone can serve, no matter how tired or sick or broken. We all have a gift to give to the world. The trick is discovering what that gift can be. As I dig deep within myself to discover my gifts, I am constantly surprised at how He heals me as I serve. Anyone can serve, and everyone can benefit from service.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Anyone Can Serve, but It Might Feel Risky When You're Starting Out
I remember worrying if their mothers would agree to it. I had been out of the mental health unit for a year or so, and the Piglet movie was showing in theatres. I desperately wanted to see Piglet’s Big Movie, and I knew exactly who I wanted to take with me to see it. They were a bundle of pigtails and blankies at the time: a handful of sweet little cousin-girls to take with me. They’re all in junior high and high school now–beautiful young women–but they were scrumptious then. They were giggly and precocious, and perfect, each of them in their own way. They were the perfect dates to take to a Piglet movie.

I called my aunts one at a time, holding my breath, to ask if they could come. And, one at a time, they each agreed to hand their perfects over to an ex-mental patient for lunch and a movie.

I will never forget that day: their little bodies all buckled tightly in the back seat, how they ordered their french fries and milk shakes with tiny, cartoon voices and consumed their junk food with delight, how the little one climbed over her sister and into my lap half-way through the movie. We didn’t expect Piglet’s movie to be scary, but it kinda was.

Anyone Can Serve, Anyone Can Feel the Privilege of Giving
Tears trickled down my cheeks all afternoon, my heart flooding with joy and gratitude for those moments so generously bestowed upon me. I tried to hide it from them because they didn’t understand. How would they, ever? How could they see past their little picture-framed worlds to see the broken woman in front of them? I wasn’t a mental patient or a schizo or a failure to them. For one afternoon, I was “Cousin Tay” to a sweet garden of girlies. What a privilege!

What a privilege now, on every sweet afternoon spent since with my own children, my own nieces and nephews. Will anyone understand how this GIVE is my greatest and deepest joy? How this giving, this usefulness is life-giving? How simply being trusted to feed and cherish another life yields richness beyond compare?

Anyone Can Serve, Even with a Mental Illness
There was a time when I wondered if there was any give left in me. I wondered if I would be a forever suck, a big black hole of cigarette smoke and insanity. I wondered if there would ever be enough of me to give anything, to even give enough breath to life. I wondered if anyone loved me for what I gave now to the world, or if all that was left for me was the left-overs from a time before mania and lithium and scandal. I wondered if I would ever look at my reflection the way my little girl cousins could.

The funny thing about giving is that as we practice it, we stop looking in the mirror and start looking at our reflection in another’s grateful face. We start to see ourselves differently as we see ourselves as givers, joy-bringers, french-fry sharers, baby-holders. Maybe we can’t hold a job or read right now, but we are bringing someone else beauty.

A devastated self-image can regenerate when it is redefined through service. I am amazed at the heights I can reach when I am climbing for the sake of another. I can loathe so much inside myself, believe I am not worthy, believe I am not good. But love elevates me, service saves. The fastest way out of our own heads is empathizing with another. The fastest way out of bed is to answer a call. So, get out there! Be. Do. Serve.

Anyone Can Serve, Even in the Smallest Ways:
  1. Help with children. I realize we are all in different stages of recovery. Having all of your nieces and nephews over for a slumber party may prove a bit much (and overloading yourself will not help you succeed!), but there are still ways to help. Volunteering for an hour a week at church or a drop-in center in the company of other adults (so again you are not overwhelmed) can be a great way to start. Also, just offering to help entertain a child in their own home so that a harried mama can get her house cleaned is a great help. There is nothing like the love in a child’s eyes to heal a soul. There is nothing like the grateful look in a mama’s eyes when she is offered some loving help!

  2. Bring a meal, a plate of cookies, or a latte to a friend. I love to do this. When Samuel was a baby and I was completely overwhelmed, the mom’s group at our church dropped meals off three times a week. Their foil-covered containers covered in handwritten cooking directions were not only a time-saving blessing at dinnertime, but also a reminder to me in the midst of those unending days that I was not alone. Since then, bringing food to others who are experiencing difficulties, having babies, or just need some cheering up has become my favorite giving project. I can do it on my own time-table, and sometimes freeze food to deliver at a later time. The end result is always the same: joy in the face of the recipient, and joy in my heart as well.

  3. Send an encouraging word, either by text, Facebook, or (if you’re really together) through the mail. My Aunt Dana takes the cake on this one. Every holiday and birthday, she sends our family a silly card with a sweet message inside. Sometimes she sends the boys a dollar each, and it means so much to us! My Grandma Afton also sends me beautiful, encouraging words. I keep all of these cards as if they were priceless treasures. Encouraging words have the ability to lift us and others out of our own circumstances, even for a moment. The right text at the right time can turn a day around. And you can do that for someone.

  4. Host. Okay: so this might be the most challenging, but it may also be the most beneficial. Hosting friends for a cup of coffee or a dinner party helps me stay on track all week. Where I might be tempted to let my house become a disaster zone, knowing I have the girls coming over for coffee on Thursday motivates me to keep things tidy. It doesn’t matter if you serve homemade coffee cake or store-bought donuts, opening your home for a specific time on a specific day gives you a goal to shoot for, a reason to do the dishes. Believe me: worrying what others might think of your dirty house can be a great motivation. Whatever works, right?

  5. Pray for people. I know there are days when getting out of bed may seem impossible. When you feel like you won’t be able to keep breathing without a conscious effort, you can always pray for someone else. What? You might be thinking, shouldn’t I be praying for myself? Well, yeah, but praying for others has a way of making me realize that I’m not the only one with problems. And, focusing on the needs of another reminds me that I’m not the only one in the universe, period. Some days, it’s important to remember that.

Whatever you do, however you serve, I promise you: your life will be richer and your self-image will improve. As you reach out to another, you may just find that you’re capable of more than you thought possible. Love makes us bigger than we could ever be on our own.

God bless you in your service,