What, really, is the point of power?

A wonderful university where I worked 15 years ago tried to instill the idea of Leader-Servant, that leaders serve those they lead, and no one makes a truly good leader who hasn’t been first a humble servant.

But we have it all backwards. There’s a battle in America now for who gets to be in charge and have the most servants (meaning, us). But America’s leaders are supposed to serve us; that detail has been ignored for some time now. (An interesting side note–historically, no republic has even lasted more than 200 years without a revolution; we’re now at 244 years. We’re overdue.)

Ppoint of power

(I personally hate having power or being in charge; it’s too much responsibility and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Being #2 is far better–I’m a good helper, not a good leader. Ask anyone who’s had me in charge of something.)

Flood the earth–or my basement and bedrooms–with service: #LIGHTtheWORLD

The most horrible sounds to wake up to are someone vomiting, something shattering, some cat hacking, or some water running. Early yesterday morning, I was awakened by the last item. I was planning to publish a piece here about my sons putting up Christmas lights, but I didn’t get to finishing it because at 4 a.m. I woke up to hear that doomsday sound of water trickling. As I put my feet on the floor, I immediately felt the squelch, and realized my carpet was soaked through. Frantically, I jumped to the bathroom to find the toilet was overflowing, and likely had been for about five hours.

As I was desperately trying to mop up the mess on the floor with all of the towels, my 16-year-old son came upstairs. “It’s happening in my room, too.”

Not sure what that cryptic, drowsy message was, but knowing it wasn’t good, I rushed downstairs to hear the nauseating sound of pouring water. Apparently the heat duct in the bathroom had served as overflow and channeled the water into the ceiling, closet, and carpeting of my son’s bedroom.

By 5 a.m. every towel we owned was wet and in the dryer, and I sent my son back to bed (or rather, the couch) because there was nothing more we could do.

By 7 a.m. I was slightly despondent as I tried again to start drying the mess, realizing that everything would have to come out of my bedroom/office in order to pull up enough carpet to dry it.

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(My thirteen-year-old thinks my flooded bedroom is worth dancing about. He’s not my favorite child today.)

At 9 a.m. I borrowed a wet vac from my neighbor and started sucking up the water, knowing already that it was far more than I could handle. Still, I was determined to try to solve this problem on my own.

But by 10 a.m. I sat down, exhausted, on the floor in my son’s room only to realize my bottom was wet (like my feet, my knees, and my arms) because the water had leaked much further than I’d expected.

That’s when my eyes started leaking. I hate crying. But having had only five hours of sleep, and realizing that not only would my bedroom have to be evacuated, but so too would this bedroom and its heavy loft beds, all I could do was weep.

My husband called then to check on the situation (I had Facebook messaged him at 5 a.m. with the news because I had nothing else I could do) and I said, sniffling, “I think I’m a little overwhelmed.”

He knows I rarely cry, and I think that’s why he took to the computer. Because he’s nearly three thousand miles away, he did all that he could: he messaged one of our neighbors, who called his wife, who called another neighbor, who called our ward’s bishop (similar to a pastor or rector), who came by at noon on his lunch break and said, “I heard you have a little water problem?”

I wasn’t going to cry in front of him, but I knew it wasn’t just the water; it was all the furniture I had to move, and all the work that faced me repairing the damage. While insurance will help, we have a very high deductible. By then I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Bishop Stevenson took a look at my mushy bedroom, went downstairs to evaluate my sons’ room, and poked around in the rafters looking for more problems, then said, “Well, the hard part is over.”

I scoffed at him. “It’s just started!”

“No, it’s ended. Now you have help. I’ll be back at three when I get off of work, with some movers.”

“No, Bishop, I think we can handle it . . .”

Fortunately he didn’t believe my lies.

At 3 p.m. two young husbands and a teenage boy arrived with him to help my sons and me move everything to dry ground. Another neighbor brought more fans, another retrieved my youngest from preschool, and while I talked on the phone with the insurance company, everything got moved and placed, Tetris-like, in the family room, my daughter’s bedroom, and living room.

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(Our family room-now-storage room. Yes, the poster in the background is of a psychiatrist saying to a unicorn, “You need to believe in yourself.”)

Another neighbor brought over two bars of very dark chocolate (like alcohol for middle-aged Mormon women), and someone else brought us pizza for dinner. And while my living room will be my bedroom’s storage for a week . . .img_1979

. . . I realize Bishop Stevenson was right: the hard part is over. I’ve got help on every side.

I freely admit it’s tough for me to accept help. I think it’s that way for a lot of us. A part of me feels guilty for the mess, thinking that if I’d just looked at the toilet before I went to bed (my four-year-old has a knack for plugging it), or hadn’t slept so deeply, that I would have noticed and even prevented the mess that a dozen people have now had to help me with.

I also wouldn’t have had to swallow my pride and let strange men see what’s under my bed as they moved it to the living room. (Go ahead—look under your bed right now, and imagine your neighbors seeing that. Horrifying, isn’t it? Oh, come on—please tell me I’m not the only one with a disaster under her bed!)

Interestingly, today, Dec. 1 is “Worldwide Day of Service,” and it marks the beginning of the “Light the World” initiative—an idea to get everyone giving service throughout the month of December. Here’s a guide of daily suggestions, too. (Tomorrow, Dec. 2, for example, is “Honor your parents” day. Call [not text] your parents, write a note to your parents or in-laws, or learn about an ancestor.)

Dec. 1st is “Jesus Lifted Others’ Burdens and So Can You.” But my kind neighbors didn’t need any initiative or any prodding. Service is what they do all the time, anyway. They merely started a day early, on Nov. 30, which will always be for me, “Relieve the Flooded Day.”

When the water extraction crew arrived in the evening  (I finally admitted I needed professional carpet drying help), they were astonished at how much work had been accomplished. They praised me for getting everything moved out and putting fans where I could, but I told them, “It wasn’t me; it was my neighbors.”

“You have some awesome neighbors, then,” they said. Yep.

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(I feel like our bedrooms are having surgery.)

So to all of you who may serve this month, who will be that “awesome neighbor” who will lift other’s burdens, who will notice the blinking back of tears when someone’s too prideful to whimper, “Help?” I say, “THANK YOU!” You may not hear those words from those you serve, but they’re being sent your way.

Your service is needed, every day and everywhere. Something small to you may be something huge to those in need. So go out there and light the world.

And thank you in advance.

“I don’t know of another family—there or perhaps even here—that would give up as much as you have for those you see in need . . . You and Mahrree don’t care for possessions or status, but for people. Already you understand.”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Leader-servants and presidential candidates

When someone requires service, it’s fascinating to see who steps up to provide it. Quite often, it’s not who you’d expect.

Some years ago my husband and I were in charge of setting up and serving Christmas dinner for our ward (church group, congregation). We anticipated a good turnout, about 150 people, both members and neighbors, because no one turns down a free dinner.

A few people had been assigned to help us, but on the evening of the dinner they were unable to come. So my husband and I, and our capable children, scrambled to set up the buffet as best we could.

Soon, some members of our ward noticed we were shorthanded, and volunteered to help. To this day I’m still impressed by those who chose to serve, rather than be served.

The first was our bishop (pastor, rector, preacher) and his wife who were supposed to be relaxing that night, instead of helping as they always did. In addition to being our bishop, this busy gentleman was also a college math instructor and basketball coach. He and his wife cheerfully positioned themselves in the kitchen where no one would see them laboring, to hand our children platters of turkey,  ham, and potatoes for the buffet, and to prepare backups.

The next couple who stepped were in their sixties, and busier than anyone I knew, so most deserving of a peaceful evening. He was the president of the liberal arts university where we worked, and his wife was behind the scenes of everything. Without a word they set to filling and putting out pitchers of water on the tables, and setting out salt and pepper shakers.

The third couple who joined us immediately rearranged the buffet tables, so that two groups could go down either side, servicing four lines most efficiently. Then again, the husband knew all about efficiency. He had recently retired as the CFO of a well-known, high-priced clothing company whose name I won’t drop here because it’d drop your jaw, and had come to our little university as a volunteer to help with finances.

In terms of importance, these three couples were probably the most important in our small community in Virginia. In terms of education, financial standing, prestige, and anything else the world ranks, no one compared.

In terms of service, no one could compare, either. Now that I think about it, none of them asked if they could help, or how. They just saw a need and filled it. I don’t know if any of them sat down to eat, but instead assisted us all evening in keeping the buffet table full.

My husband and I were both astonished by who came to our family’s aid that night. Even though it’s been many years, I’m still awed by their examples.

Did I mention that the wives and the bishop all stayed afterward to do dishes? And that the university president vacuumed up, while the retired CFO put away tables and chairs with our kids? And that none of those six left until they were sure all the work was done?

I doubt any of these three couples would remember that evening, because it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime expression of service; it was something they did every single day.

Recently we discussed this incident with our children who were too young to remember that dinner, or were not yet born, because it coincided with our scripture of the week, from Mark 10:43-44:

43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:

 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

The school where these six people served with us, Southern Virginia University, has as part of its motto to turn students into Leader-Servants. None of us are working there anymore, but that mission statement has stayed with me.

Neal A. Maxwell once wrote, “The leader-servant is perfectly epitomized by Jesus,” and,

No leader can be fully effective without love, and those who try to serve without it will not be properly motivated, and may even feel resentment and a sense of slavery. (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, pg. 194; emphasis added)

It’s an election year. We’re choosing new leadership. When I read about candidates, I’m not looking for evidence of financial success, or business acumen, or charisma, or moxie, or guts.

I’m certainly not looking for someone to voice my anger, to shout or disparage or drag down or accuse.

I’m looking for someone who knows how to serve, who feels genuine love and concern, who desires to help this country, not merely be known as the leader of it.

But so far, I’ve mostly heard young Perrin’s attitude toward leadership. His response is something I was taught years ago in a business leaders course I was forced to endure, but I rephrased it for book 3 in less exalted verbiage:

“No leader is truly great who doesn’t know how to serve,” Hogal told him. “Service first, leadership later. First rule of leadership.”

“No it’s not,” Perrin retorted. “First rule of leadership is to identify the rival and eliminate it through defeat or feigned friendship.”

Hogal sighed. “A true product of the king’s educational system. Learned your lessons well, I see. . . .Trust me; to be a great leader, you need to be a great servant.”

~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

leader servant

I still have hope that a great leader-servant to show him or herself this year; for another George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson–a true statesman who’s greatest concern is to help the country, not exploit it or use it for self-promotion. The kind of leaders who won’t lock up at night until they’re sure everyone who’s serving under them are taken care of first.

It’s time to make serving an honorable tradition again.