The Power of Cleaning Up

There is a video going around the internet of Dak Prescott, the rookie super-star quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He tries to throw away a paper up, misses the trashcan, then gets up to retrieve the cup and drop it into the trashcan.

A small act, but not a common one (especially if you have young boys).

It reminds me of a lesson I learned years ago; from one of my mentors, Harold Bullock, and others at Hope Church in Fort Worth, TX.

Always leave a place better than you found it.

Years ago I was leading a men’s group at Hope Church. At the time there were about 8 or 9 guys–mostly single, in their 20’s and 30’s, active–a great group of guys. We met weekly for prayer, conversation, Bible study. Some of us ran together, some of us played softball together, we did service projects together. We lived life together, what I believe small groups are meant to do.

One year we went on a group retreat. Mark, a member of the group, offered to let us use his parents’ lake house a couple hours away. So on a Friday afternoon, we piled into a couple cars and drove to the lake house.

For two and a half days we fished, ate, hiked, played football, read, prayed, and learned. I found a great ESPN ad for the NHL, identifying different types of players, and how those categories translate to life. I used that ad to talk about the roles each of us in the group had; how we all contributed to make the group a success. (You can see the ad here.)

It was an incredible weekend of fellowship, challenge and encouragement. On Sunday afternoon we were getting ready to leave. We assigned areas and cleaned up the house and yard.

The last thing we did was gather in a circle, and I asked each guy to briefly share one thing they got out of the weekend. As we went around the circle, guys talked about how great it was to look at the relationships within the group, getting away for a couple days, etc.

Mark was sitting across from me, and he looked…different. Mark was usually somewhat quiet. He was an engineer, brilliant, and not one to show emotion. But I could tell something was going on.

When it was Mark’s turn to share, he looked nervous. “When I was in college, I used to bring friends down here to spend the weekend. By Sunday, the place was pretty trashed. My friends would leave to go back to school, and I’d spend all day Sunday cleaning up. When you guys all jumped in and cleaned the entire place…” his voice began to crack…
“I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.”

That weekend, and the way the guys served Mark, had an impact on Mark’s life (and the rest of us). Little acts of service are big.

Read a book, write a letter

If you’re my age, you probably know LeVar Burton from the original Roots miniseries. If you’re a little younger, you may have watched him on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Even younger–you might know him from Reading Rainbow. Mr. Burton is very talented, and has done much to help children.

When Mr. Burton heard about the Burlington Mall shooting a couple months ago, he sent elementary students in Burlington (I think K-3rd grade) a copy of his book The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. It’s a beautiful story about dealing with loss.

Cash’s class wrote thank you letters to Mr. Burton. Here is Cash’s letter:

Dear Mr. Burton,

Thank you for giving our class these books. You are very sweet and kind. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm made me feel better about my Grandma’s dog. My Grandma’s dog Scout died about a year ago. I hope you have fun writing books!


Books have so much power. I remember being in the Army, far from home and missing my family, and receiving a package from my mother–the latest book by my favorite author. Thirty years later, I remember how touched I was to receive that gift.

I also remember how much letters meant to me. In this digital age, letters are rare-making them even more special.

So today–give someone you love a book, and write someone you miss a letter.


Giving Away the Spotlight


Brady is the short one in the middle; Peyton is to his right, with the cool socks.

Small acts can have a big impact.

Brady has been playing soccer for many years and has become a very good player. This year he joined a new team, actually playing up a year at U12 (he’s 10). He had a great season, and was rewarded by his coaches with the game ball at the end of the season, for his sportsmanship and leadership.

We have a mantra we repeat before every practice and game:

Me: Who are you going to be today?
Brady: The guy who works the hardest.

We also emphasize team. It’s not about him, or scoring, or being a star; it’s about being a team player.

In one of the last games of the season, Brady’s team was easily winning; up by 7 or 8 goals. He had scored a goal and assisted on two more. Late in the game Brady was driving toward the goal and took a shot. A defender stopped the shot–with his hand. Brady was awarded a penalty kick, and a chance for his second goal of the game.

When his coach asked if he wanted to take the shot, Brady told him, “Coach, Peyton hasn’t scored a goal this year; why don’t we let him take the penalty kick?”

Peyton took the shot and scored his first goal ever. It was wonderful seeing the joy and excitement on his face. His father wrote a message to the team, thanking them for their role in helping Peyton grow throughout the season. He concluded with this: “the memory I will always have is when he smiled big after his penalty kick.”

Sometimes serving others means giving up an opportunity for personal glory, so someone else can shine. 

Go Serve #1

One of the ideas for the blog is to share practical ways families can serve others. Please share your ideas as well–feel free to add to comments, or send them to me at

If you try out one of the ideas, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Here are some ideas the boys and I came up with; some are original ideas, some we found from other sources:

  • Go to a local store, stand outside and open doors for people going in or out
  • Go to neighborhood park and pick up trash
  • Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn
  • Take cookies to your local fire/police station
  • take coffee to someone you pass by in the mornings. We have some local milk farmers; I see them working hard every morning at 5 am
  • Make brownies and take them to your neighbors
  • Do a job to help someone else in your family–pick up their room, fold their laundry, etc.
  • When you grocery shop, get a few extra canned items and take them to a local food pantry (the act of physically going and giving with your kids is so much more powerful than just donating money)
  • Go through your books and pick out some to donate to library
  • Volunteer to read stories at your local library
  • Walk your neighborhood with a wagon; collect canned goods or blankets/coats to donate
  • Send (by snail mail) a card of encouragement to someone
  • Volunteer to babysit
  • Make a meal and take to someone who is ill

Someone posted this on Facebook recently:

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.



That’s about how many hours each of us have in a lifetime. My friend Ken Budd is working on a project to explore how we can make the most of those hours. Ken is a gifted writer and speaker who spends much of his time looking for creative and adventurous ways to serve others. He has traveled the world and shared some of his adventures in a wonderful memoir; The Voluntourist.

Check out his website here.