Most of the time, when I look up a definition to start a blog post, there’s one or two entries and examples. Not for service, there are pages of definitions! For today, I’m paring down the definitions to the ones that are specific to what I want to talk about in this blog post.

Service noun2a: the work performed by one that serves; good service; b: HELPUSEBENEFIT; glad to be of service; c: contribution to the welfare of others; 4: the act of serving: such as: a: a helpful act did him a service; b: useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity;

I don’t remember anyone sitting me down and telling me that service for others is important. The people I remember looking up to simply did acts of service for others as part of their lives. Both sets of grandparents volunteered through various well known organizations and were steady and consistent with it. When I was younger and living at home, we regularly had different people staying with us or I saw my parents helping others in a variety of ways. As I grew up and had my own job, it felt simply ordinary to set up tithing and donating, even when those donations were pretty minuscule because my initial income was pretty small; and then looking for a way to be useful to the people around me and the larger community.

Once I became a lawyer and started to see that many of the organizations I’d originally believed to be well run left something to be desired, I saw that donating my time was actually a much more satisfactory way to provide service to others, plus I was more in control (don’t judge, I like being in control). Don’t get me wrong, the tithing and donations continued, albeit more carefully, and I began donating my time primarily as a Guardian ad Litem (a/k/a advocate) for children in foster care. I found my niche and I loved all the years I spent working with kiddos in Central Florida in a variety of ways. During that time period, I also went back to school to get my Master of Arts degree in Education because of all the meetings I sat in and all the teachers I interacted with. When we had children, my husband and I volunteered in Sunday school and in our kiddos’ Montessori school and a whole other world of service opened up.

Then, Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) entered my world and I had to withdraw from all those GAL cases, I had to stop volunteering at the kiddos’ school and Sunday School. My life contracted into a laser focus on my health, my treatment, and metastatic breast cancer research. My life literally became about focusing on staying alive.

After I’d found a plateau of sorts in my treatment and I could breathe a little easier, I started looking around for the places I could serve in the breast cancer community. There are so many needs and, frankly, I find myself often with more opportunities than I can adequately complete. I’ve tried various different things over the last three years and have found my niche once more within the MBC Community, working with other men and women with MBC to address their legal issues, working with the newly diagnosed to ensure that they know more than I knew at the beginning, and working on projects with dear friends to address other issues we spot.

I ran into this quote not too long ago and it really resonated with me. I think these of us who have dealt with something as awful as a terminal diagnosis, we know what it means to have the sky fall and we know what others need as they begin to navigate this new world.

I was listening recently to Maimah Karmo a guest on podcast, Our MBC Life, in episode 1 titled “Voices Challenging Disparities in MBC and Healthcare.” As she talked about how service is a part of her life and drives her to continue working with the breast cancer community, even as she loses friends regularly to MBC, she said:

“Service is the rent you pay for living.”

When looking for who to attribute this quote to, I found quite a few options. It seems that there isn’t a clear agreement on who said it first; at the same time, it’s such a wonderful way to say why service is important. There are other quotes like “to whom is given much, much is expected.” This is part of how I organize my life and represents some of my core values.

I believe service to others is important in a variety of ways. When we open up our lives to care for other people, when we make that human connection in a way that no one else truly can, that’s when, as my friend Emily Garnett used to say, the magic happens. We have a different perspective on our own struggles, our own pain. We have a way to step out of those struggles and offer something to someone else. Being of service, of use, of help to others truly is a magical feeling.

Recently, as the school year started virtually, we’ve been talking to the boys about buckets and, specifically how to fill each other’s bucket. In each of the books we have about this concept of filling up other people’s buckets, the authors point out that when a person is focused on filling up another person’s bucket, something magical occurs — one’s bucket is filled as well.

And there you go, filling up another’s bucket fills your own. Service to another, the rent one pays for living, is how one is satisfied or filled. However you say it, service to others is key, it is important, it is vital and it gets our focus off of ourselves and towards others.

How are you filling up another’s bucket today?

28 thoughts on “Service

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that. At two months after my diagnosis, I was pretty rudderless too. The best advice I can give you is not to “should” on yourself. Let yourself feel all the feelings, work through each issue at your own pace, and let things unfold as they will. I’m three years into this and nothing happened right away or overnight, I’ve had to get here through trial and error. Please feel free to reach out if you or your wife have questions. You can email me at any time. Love and hugs to you both.

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  1. So true! I chose to volunteer for NAMI – National Alliance of Mental Illness. It’s a grassroots organization and almost everyone is a volunteer. I’ve taught Family to Family classes for people like me – caregivers who are struggling to know how to help their loved one. Now my husband and I are going to be sharing our story with groups in an effort to alleviate stigma.
    While I think it’s important to give, I have also learned to choose what to give to. I worked in a multicultural programs office and it was overwhelming to witness the needs there are, but not realistic for me to embrace all of them. Be an ally, sure, but I can’t do it all.

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  2. No surprise that you chose one of my favorite quotes, or that I know exactly what book you’re speaking of. And I’ve referred to it even with adults.

    I also think it’s interesting how you referred to seeing your grandparents and other family members and how that influenced you. I know you will already understand this, but I point this out to people often when they say everybody has the same opportunities. They do not. Just because everybody is legally allowed to access the same resources doesn’t mean everyone had the same encouragement, guidance, examples, and support to get to them.

    If you get a chance to listen to it, there is a song called, “I come from women” by Amy Carol Webb. I’ve been listening to it ever since I heard about RBG. It refers to learning from strong women before us and continuing to be strong women to the next generation. (Or in your case, raising strong boys who respect and lift up women.)

    Also, I didn’t know your kiddos also did Montessori! Did I? Did I forget? 😳 I began school in Germany at a Montessori school and sent both my kids to Montessori schools. Love them!

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  3. As always, your post made me think about what I do for service. Kiwanis is my primary service organization right now. In my experience, it is easy to get swallowed up by service. My husband sometimes resents the time I spend because I tend to get consumed by meetings, responsibilities, and my own additions that increase the time I spend.

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    1. I hear you. My husband also gets concerned about how I get sucked into projects as I never do anything halfway. He helps me to moderate myself. It’s good to have someone to balance us! Thank you for reading and commenting. ❤️

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      1. He does the same thing on his end. He has volunteered as the HOA president of his sister’s condo for seven years, and we finally sold it so he could get out from under it! I don’t usually go to such drastic measures to leave an organization. 🙂 But it is a problem.

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    1. I hear you. It’s hard to figure out exactly how to serve others and I always want to do more than is good for me. There’s always more to be done; at the same time, I’m learning more about focusing on what ONLY I can do. It can be a process!


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