Mar 12, 2012

       I probably missed the lessons on generosity in my family. As a child and a younger adult I was too concerned about my own needs to see those of another, or to give more than the minimum. My father and mother certainly gave a lot to our churches. In my early years I can remember being in the kitchen a lot as Mom joined with other women to prepare the church suppers. My mother also volunteer many hours with the American Cancer Society. And I believe that Dad was an elder in our Presbyterian churches for some time. As he retired he took care of the landscaping at our church in Wilmington DE.

       At home in retirement Dad had a ½ acre garden in which he grew every kind of berry imaginable and other fruits, vegetables, especially tomatoes, plus he “rented” another ½ acre at a local nature center where he grew corn and fava beans. Whenever anyone visited in the growing season, they went home with baskets of produce. Alas I never learned that kind of generosity until much later in life.

       I did learn much from a cult that my husband and I were a part of in California for eight years in the 70’s. Built around the teachings of Jesus as the model of what human beings ought to be, they taught a generosity of spirit that knew no bounds. They were the first teachers of this lesson that I would learn from. But I had a much closer model in my sister-in-law, Sue, my brother’s wife who is more inclusive than anyone I ever met.

       Granted she is a natural extrovert, but not the glad-handing kind. She is genuine and true. When you shop or visit alongside her, you talk to every person you meet, no matter their station in life. She calls them by name or asks their name if they don’t have a name badge. In no time she has established a personal connection with the other and has had a very nice conversation with them. She is unfailing in her welcoming embrace and leaves the person feeling, as I always feel when I am around her, that I am one of her special friends. She sets aside any differences—be they race or status or economic level—just to be with each person.

       It doesn’t matter if she agrees with how they live their life or what they believe. She is present to one and all. For many years no matter what she was doing when I was visiting, there was always a pot of soup in the crock pot for the homeless.  She volunteered for a long time in a soup kitchen in downtown Atlanta. She has an intuitive feel for what a person would need in many situations. When one of my sons was getting married in California five years after my husband died, and I was going to be the sole parent for him, she called two weeks ahead and said she was coming from Georgia! It was a great gift to have a treasured companion for all the festivities.

       There are teachers for us, angels, if you will, all through our lives, if we will only “listen” for what they have to teach us. From Sue and other women I am grateful for the lessons of generosity that I learned. I can be generous with material things, but what I work on is to spend time and to be present with the people I encounter. Today on a walk to enjoy the birds in the neighborhood, I met an older woman who asked after a few minutes conversation if I knew where I was. I said that I did, that I lived a few blocks from her, but then I realized that she meant something else. “You are standing in Billy Graham’s father’s cow pasture!” “No, I said, “I thought he lived on the other side of the shopping center in this part of Charlotte.” And she told me the extent of the land he owned and that of his neighbors the Ashcrafts who were also dairy farmers. It turns out that my house also stands in the Graham’s cow pasture.

       Now that nugget of history is a gift to me and part of my story here in Charlotte. If I hadn’t talked to Irma today, I wouldn’t have known that. Thank you, Sue. Thanks be to God!

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