The last check my father ever wrote was consistent with the way he and my Mother lived their lives. My parents were generous people: with their time, their material goods, their home, their ideas, and their money. Their simple philosophy of life was to give away 10% of what they made each year to the church or “Kingdom causes,” save 10% for a rainy day and live joyfully and with contentment on the remaining 80%. I say “the remaining 80%,” because they gave their contribution to the church FIRST… believing it to be a faith statement that God was their most important priority. I never forgot their example. My parents believed that the giver of a gift actually receives more than the receiver. My Mother grew up in England so she loved the words of Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” Every human being wants a Life…with a capital “ L.” My parents experienced that kind of life… and it showed. Not in the number of their material possessions, but in their deep friendships and in the enjoyment they reaped off of investments in causes they believed in…such as high school mission trips or in ministries that gave dignity to the poor. My mother gave away a lot of her time volunteering at the “Trading Post” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She delighted in the fact that a poor woman, named Dorothy, who she befriended at the Trading Post, could have the joy of buying a prom dress for her daughter with a few dollars. My Mother rejoiced in the fact that Dorothy maintained her dignity as a Mom because she paid for the dress. It was not simply given to her as a hand out. The Trading Post actually gave Dorothy a hand-up to live with dignity. And, my Mother experienced Life with a Capital L by watching Dorothy’s face light up when she picked up that prom dress in anticipation of giving it to her daughter.
I always wondered why my Mother felt so close to Dorothy. And, I got my answer from an unexpected source while working on a sermon on generosity. I discovered that inherent in the word generosity is the word, “gen” which means “kin.” When we are generous with anything…time, money, ideas, friendship, or creativity, we become “kin” with those in whom we invest. That is why when someone teaches a junior high Sunday School class (God bless those people!) those advisors become “kin” with junior high school kids. When we invest financially in a mission trip to Louisiana to help the residents get their lives back together after the recent flooding, we become “kin,” with the people of Louisiana. And, it is why my Mother felt that Dorothy was “kin.” My Mother’s generosity to Dorothy, and Dorothy’s generosity of friendship to my Mother, overflowed in a mutual kinship that both of them cherished.
Generosity is about much more than money. Sometimes the only time that we preachers mention the word generosity is in October in “stewardship season.” But, generosity is a 365 day a year quality that God wants to produce in us. And the benefits of generosity overflow to others. My parents passed on this quality to Suzanne and me, and we have tried to pass it on to our grown sons and their families. So… when our oldest son, Ryan, and his family shoveled snow for their neighbors in Washington, DC, after a huge snowstorm last winter, they became “kin” with their neighbors. Some of their neighbors were completely bewildered when Ryan and his family wouldn’t accept any money for their hard work. They were even more bewildered when Ryan told them, “We just want to be good neighbors.” That simple act of generosity and kindness overflowed into deeper relationships all over their neighborhood. The neighbors became “kin” with one another!
My parents were generous until the day they died. One of the most generous things they ever did for me was to prepare me (an only child) for their death. They told me what they wanted in their memorial services and what they wanted me to do with some of their belongings and possessions. After my Mother died, my Father put together three loose-leaf binders filled with notes and information on everything that they had, including life insurance, a few stocks and bonds, etc. My parents were not wealthy people, but they wanted to be good stewards of God’s gifts to them. In these three binders, my Dad listed the phone numbers of his attorney, the Funeral Home, the Cemetery, as well as the Goodwill, and the Trading Post, and then wrote notes on what he suggested I do with his clothing, furniture and a few possessions.
The last of the three binders was labeled, “Current.” In that binder my Dad had all of his current bills, his check book, and a few notes and instructions. Tucked away in the very back of the binder was a beautiful letter that he wrote us…reminding Suzanne and me, and our sons, Ryan and Toby of how much he loved us. He hoped that he had been a good Dad, and Granddad. And, he hoped that these books would save us some time that we could devote to our ministry, our studies and our family. Think about that…when he was close to death, he was thinking of us…not himself. He wanted to save us time when he was running out of time.
And…right beside that beautiful letter… was the last check that my father ever wrote. It was made out to the Southminster Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…and it paid off his entire pledge for the year. As I saw that check, I got a little misty eyed and I said a prayer of thanks to God for my parents, Karl and Hazel Tewell, whose generosity with everything that they had made them “kin” to so many…including me!