Every time I see a simple handkerchief, I think about my great-grandmother. Although she died decades ago, she was a significant part of my early childhood.
The mother of my maternal grandmother, she was a feisty Cajun woman who would easily lapse into that dialect from English when she wanted to prevent us children from knowing what she said. Even her English was generously decorated with Cajun words and phrases.
She was widowed well before Social Security benefits grew to provide her with all she needed to survive, so she lived in a room especially built for her in my grandparents’ house. Her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who passed through the house on a daily basis provided her with excellent care and plenty of love.
Though she grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition, she chose later to become Baptist. She had no job, no real source of income and no visible means of support, but she believed in giving through the church. Tithing became a part of her lifestyle.
Together she and my grandmother owned some chickens that produced a steady supply of eggs. Sale of the eggs to neighbors in their rural community allowed them to make a little extra money, which gave my great-grandmother a sense of contributing something to the household.
Each week when I visited my grandparents, I would always go to Granny’s room, where she was usually sitting in a rocking chair, her legs covered with a handmade quilt. Often from her pocket she would pull an old handkerchief, the four corners knotted and tied to hold coins. It was never much money, just a few quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. As far as I know, that money was literally all she had.
“This money is the Lord’s,” she would say as she touched one of the handkerchief’s knotted corners. Then she would untie one of the other corners, take out a few cents and give them to me. “Send over to the store and get…,” she would say, her way of telling me to walk across the road to the store to get each of us a treat—some penny candy, or perhaps a soft drink.
She probably had less than anyone I had ever met, but she embodied generosity for me. Whatever she had, she was willing to give away. Her health prevented her from attending church, but she always gave my grandfather her tithe—her egg money—to take to church with him and place in the offering plate for her.
Often those who provide us with the best examples of selflessness, sacrifice and generosity have the fewest and simplest resources but somehow give the most. That’s the kind of authentic generosity Christian discipleship inspires.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.