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Teaching kids to show compassion doesn't have to be complicated.

Years ago I saw a plea on TV to help orphans — and I turned the channel. Not because I didn’t see the importance of caring for the less fortunate; I was blinded by the demands of my daily life. I could barely manage to teach my kids manners and multiplication tables. How was I to tackle something like helping those in need?

Then I met Ken. He was a neighbor who lost his wife to cancer. One day I sheepishly asked Ken how he was doing. He responded, “I’m OK, but sometimes the silence kills me.”

Do something

Those words compelled me to do something — anything. The noise of family was something I had in plenty, so we invited this grandfather over for dinner. The food wasn’t fancy and the house wasn’t clean, but Ken didn’t have silence. For more than a year, Monday nights with Ken ignited our family’s vision for helping others.

Through the years, this vision has led our family on some unexpected adventures. Sometimes they were small — helping a family in crisis pay their bills. Other times, they were bigger projects, such as working to buy and deliver Christmas presents for pediatric cancer patients. All these experiences eventually led us to make a decision that changed our family forever. We went from being a family with three kids to five when we adopted two precious Liberian orphans. We couldn’t offer perfection, but we could offer a home.

I’m still a mom overwhelmed with laundry, dishes and carpool schedules. And the concept of “showing compassion” still seems complicated. But it no longer feels far removed.

The greatest blessing

If you’re looking to teach your children about helping those in need, let me offer three ideas:

  • Start where you are. Look just beyond your mailbox and watch for God’s invitation to help someone in your neighborhood. Ask your children for suggestions. 
  • Use what you have. What passions, talents and resources do your family members have? My teen daughter has a passion for caring for little kids, so last summer she traveled with missionaries to care for AIDS orphans in Africa. 
  • Do what you can. Pray as a family, saying, “God, here’s our family, and we don’t know where to start or what to do, but we’re willing.” Then watch and respond.

God will surprise you. And you will discover the greatest blessing isn’t how much good you’ve done for the world, but how much good helping the world has done in you.

Listen to this Focus on the Family broadcast, “A Man Called Norman” Part 1 and Part 2. Mike Adkins tells how his life was changed when he reached out to his neighbor, Norman. A second listener call-in broadcast reflects how the story of Norman impacted people around the country.

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