Dr. Piper tells this moving story about generosity of his mother who taught him what it meant to live the life of a steward.
The year was 1990. Mom was 84 years old, still active in church as leader of the quilters and recently retired from the choir after 60 years of singing.
Our church was engaged in a Capital Fund Drive to upgrade their 100 year- old-building and to make it totally accessible for the handicapped. This 2000 member congregation hired a firm to direct them in an Every Member Visitation.
Mom knew all about it and was still sharp as tack in her mathematics, having worked as a bookkeeper as well as controlling the household budget for many years.
Dad had died in 1972. Her 50 year old house was all paid for, taxes were low and her 17 year old Chevy with 22,000 miles on it still ran well. Her total income from Social Security, her modest pension of $52 per month and one-half of Dad's pension from his work with the city totaled about $935 per month. As her legal Power of Attorney, she kept me well informed.
On the Sunday afternoon of the EMV she was well prepared for the visitors. There would be homemade cookies and coffee and a warm welcome.
When the young couple in their 30's came to door, entered and took their seats, they began to explain the program; new slate for the roof, tuck pointing all the limestone, an elevator, expanded parking facilities, an overhang to drop people off in inclement weather, etc.
Mom said she was well aware of that but since she only received $935 per month and had already pledged $55 per week she felt it was time for the younger people to take a bigger role. In fact Mom kept back an additional $140 per year so she had something for memorials and Lenten offerings. Her total gift to the church was exactly $3,000 per year.
After sharing all this information with the couple, they realized that Mom was giving in excess of 25% of her income to the church.
They thanked her for being so open and honest with them and as they arose to leave, they said "Florence, thank you for all that you do and we want you to know that since you're our last call, we are going back to church right now and change our pledge."
She asked me if she did the right thing.
Four years later Mom came to live with us as Alzheimers had made living on her own difficult. Yet she retained her mathematical skills for several years as we would write checks for her nursing help, her church and our church each week.
Then her body became feeble and her mind as well and assisted living was needed. We used up the $10,000 in her savings in 9 months as well as the $300 we got for the old Chevy.
Mom had prearranged and paid for her funeral while still living on her own. She gave the family the few proceeds gained from the sale of her house when she came to live with us in 1994. At that time, she had a total of $10,000 in a bank account.
In 1996 she entered assisted living and in 1997 into a nursing home.
Mom died at 5 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, 1998.
It was the hardest and easiest sermon I ever preached.
Dean Piper now retired, pastored 5 congregations, served on synod and churchwide staff and is an author of three books.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.