Stewardship Resource

Lilly Strong - A Widow's Might

Story  Story
  • Author: Jerry Hoffman is the director of the center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.
  • Updated: 07/16/2008
  • Copyright: Jerry Hoffman

Each month I gave Lilly my time and attention as a responsible, caring pastor. Each month, Lilly Strong gave me the presence of Christ in the humblest of forms. I went to give, I left as the one who received.


Lilly Strong - A Widow's Might

As a lily is a beautiful plant and flower, so was the inner character and the exterior features of "Lilly Strong" (and, she was strong). 

I met her while serving as the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Michigan City, Indiana. She was an active member who got to church each week by traveling over two miles on crutches (she had polio years ago). I called her the "fastest woman in Michigan City." She got to where she was going in a big hurry. "Want a ride to church?" I would ask. "Oh, no!" Lilly would reply. She was an independent lady. 

Each Sunday she left her husband, Oliver, at home. He had had emphysema for years and when I met her, he was home bound. As time passed Oliver died, Lilly grew weaker and eventually she, too, became home bound. Being a "good" pastor, I visited her each month. I would call her on the phone and make arrangements to visit her midday. The truth is that I did not feel safe going into her neighborhood and chose to go when it seemed less threatening. 

With arrangements made, I drove my VW bug into the neighborhood and down an alley. When I came to a single car garage with tar paper wrapped around it, I stopped. This was Lilly's place, the garage off of the alley. Each time I knocked on the door and the weak voice called out: "Come on in Pastor, the door is open."

As I stepped in, I found the bed on my left, barely squeezed into the space available, with maybe six inches to spare on each side. A modest chest of drawers stood behind the door.  The entrance into her "home" went through the bedroom. After walking through her bedroom, I could see a commode and a small sink on the left. I don't recall a shower or a tub. On the right was a very modest kitchen with a small table and four chairs.

No walls separated the kitchen from the living room. Lilly would sit in an easy chair with a reading lamp. Her library consisted of a well-worn Bible placed on the small table by her side. Next to it was a black dial telephone. A dilapidated couch also sat in the room - if the couch had a voice, it could tell stories from the era of several U. S. presidents. The room was completed with a rocking chair, a small black and white television on a little stand and a straight chair in which I would usually pull close to Lilly so we could have an earnest chat.

She was always glad to see me although apologetic about not having been to church recently. She had many questions about people and the congregation and always about my family. Lilly did not see her self as isolated from the world. Through the telephone she kept track of an amazing number of people, many of whom were her "prayer partners." 

After a few minutes, I would begin an abbreviated worship service - a summation of a past sermon or a preview for one forthcoming. I would pray. When I was through, Lilly would ask (as became a part of the liturgy we developed), "Is it OK if I offer prayer?" She would utter beautiful words of thanksgiving for life, intercession for people, for the congregation, for me and for my family. We concluded each "worship" with a celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Afterwards, she would say, "Pastor, would you go get that coffee can on the first shelf above the sink?" I would retrieve the one pound Folger's coffee can. She would then reach in, pull out and hand to me the offering envelopes for each week since the last time I had visited. (The weekly envelopes sometimes betrayed the fact that it had been more than a month since the last visit.)

The first couple of times, I protested. I said, "Lilly, you shouldn't do that!  You need the money.  It is we who should be giving to you."

"Pastor," Lilly scolded, "Don't deny me the privilege to give. God has been good to me. God has blessed me. I need to give." 

As you can imagine, her gifts were very generous. She had never worked and Oliver, because of his health challenges, was always on the bottom end of the wage scale. She told me that her only income was a small social security check. Yet, her weekly offering was a tithe of the total amount of the social security check!

Giving made Lilly Strong strong. She was strong in faith, courage and generosity. 

Each month I gave Lilly my time and attention as a responsible, caring pastor.  Each month, Lilly Strong gave me the presence of Christ in the humblest of forms.  I went to give, I left as the one who received.

-- Jerry Hoffman

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