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Don't Set Out to Change the World -- Just Do the Next Right Thing

01/22/2013 12:46 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2013

As my children have gotten a little older, I've found myself looking forward less and less to their return to school after holiday break. This Christmas was the best yet. It's been almost a year since someone's puked on a road trip, everyone has pretty fail-proof bladder control and all three girls get along pretty well.

I remember the days not so long ago when I started counting down the days until school started back while I was still sitting in the school parking lot. It's been such a blessing to really enjoy spending time with them and being able to do things other than change diapers and say "NO!" one million times a day.

We spent a week with The Farm People (my in-laws) in Jasper, Ala. the freezing rain didn't dampen the kids' enthusiasm at all. They played with their cousins, baked with their aunts and curled up on sofas to nap with their sweet grandmother. It was picture-perfect.

BUT. (Did you see that? That was a big but.) After a week of rain back in our own house, everyone was starting to get restless. The girls were starting to fight with each other and the shriek factor was rising -- as was my blood pressure. The girls were complaining that they were bored, which is something of a trigger for my Momma, who had come to town to visit.

It was Friday when the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain stopped. Momma suggested we take them for a walk. I scoffed. "I've tried that before. You won't make it ten feet out of the driveway before one of them is crying that they are hungry, somebody has to pee and somebody else wants you to carry them. It just doesn't work."

"Shuggie," as my children call her, was undaunted. Not that I was surprised, as far as I can tell my mother is fearless in all things. She told them to get dressed, they were going for a walk. I decided to take a walk as well -- in the opposite direction, walking as fast as I could with my earbuds shoved in my ears and my music blaring. I walked for 20 minutes before circling back to the house to catch up with them. I knew they had headed down to the levee to throw rocks in the river and I figured I could find them there.

I wasn't surprised to see them leaving our driveway for a second time, what was a bit surprising was that they were all holding garbage bags. Knowing my Momma like I do, it took me about half a second to realize they were headed back to the river to pick up trash.

I caught up to them a few minutes later and found them all picking litter off the rocks leading down to the river. Shuggie had her extender gripper that I got her last Christmas, so she didn't have to actually bend over to pick anything up at my house and she was going to town. Aubrey and Emma, my 8 and 6-year-old daughters, were on all fours, climbing carefully up and down the rocks and tossing their bags ahead of them. They were focused on what they were doing and the whiny dissatisfied children I'd seen in my living room only half an hour before were no where in sight.

Aubrey talked to me as we picked up trash, "Momma! Why are people so nasty? Why would they throw this trash down here? It's so gross!" Emma squealed every time she found an interesting rock and stuffed them all into her pockets. Sadie, my 4-year-old, followed behind my mother in the grass above the rocks, holding a garbage bag open for her. We filled four bags slam full in less time than it would have taken them to watch one episode of iCarly, and when I told them it was time to go home because it was starting to get chilly again, they begged to stay. "Momma! I just found this arrowhead! I want to look for more!" Aubrey protested. Any rock that is remotely shaped like a triangle is an arrowhead to her. I gave them a few more minutes and then we walked home.

The girls played in the yard, but their restlessness and whining was gone. I could tell they felt satisfied -- the way you do when you've done something for someone other than yourself -- and they were made more content by the sunshine and crisp, cold air.

I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about my Momma's wisdom; the simple act of getting my kids outside, seeing a need and then giving them the tools to take action and make their community better. I marveled that such a small fragment of time, such a small act, could give them contentment and joy.

On Saturday after my mother left for Alabama, Aubrey asked if we could go back to the rocks and finish cleaning up. As it was raining again and the levee is steep, I told her it would have to wait.

In church on Sunday, my Sunday School class was talking about the peace of God: What does it mean? Is it real? Is it meant for us in this world or the next? Can we have it? What do we do with it? The discussion was interesting but when Gene Stansel spoke, I grabbed a pen and scribbled down his words on my church bulletin. His words rang true and perfectly put into perspective of what I felt my Momma had taught my kids with a simple walk.

Gene said in his Mississippi drawl, "Don't set out to change the world, just do the next best thing. Everyday."

I believe I'm going to steal my Momma's attitude and Gene's words and make them my own personal motto. I hope you will, too.

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