Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Growing up as the son of a Baptist preacher, the future civil-rights leader must have spent countless hours listening to sermons, songs and testimony. Their influence is evident in his speeches and writings. His speeches conveyed to their audiences that they could and should be more and do more. His message was inclusive, that a better future was possible if we worked together.

I heard a lot about a "national day of service" leading up to the holiday and thought the phrase confusing and ill-fit. If the holiday is to commemorate King's life and his impact, then the call should be for a life of service, not just a day.

We all have opportunities to serve, in big and small ways, from helping our families, sending money overseas to help others less fortunate, serving on a board or teaching Sunday school.

Service need not mean serving on the board of a foundation. It can also be more personal, like shoveling a driveway for a neighbor trapped at home after a snowstorm, helping someone by opening a door when they have full hands, or volunteering at a local school or library.

For parents, it might mean focusing on children when they need encouragement and catching up at work later.

As a friend's mother says, "Do today your nearest duty." Her point is that there is always too much to do in life, and it's all about priorities.

While on some days we know it might be easier to do less, we also understand that as members of families, and communities, we have a responsibility to be involved, to be active and to help others. Service stems from our ability to connect and see others as human beings who, while fully flawed, are worth our time, energy and focus.

Service makes a difference -- to those helped and those helping.

Let dedicate ourselves to lives of service, not just a day of service.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.