Sometimes the Best Gift is Nothing At All

I’ve been working on a missions project lately with Global Partners, the mission arm of The Wesleyan Church, recently, and in many ways, my project has brought my grandmother to mind. My grandmother passed away on Easter of 2009, but left a legacy in her love for Christ and her heart for missions.

I never lived close enough to my grandmother to see her on a regular basis. There were many holidays spent together, and the occasional family reunion, but not the consistent contact that many grandparents have with their grandchildren. I don’t feel like I knew her well, or was especially close to her. But I do remember how I felt about her when I was small.

I remember as a child being annoyed that my grandparents didn’t shower me with gifts, or cash, or much in the way of tangible items compared to what many of my friends received. I got cards containing sentiments, but not cash. Presents, if any, were simple and wrapped in used paper. Every penny was counted, none were wasted. There was no cable television at their house. The air conditioner would not be turned on in the car. Even flushes of the toilet were carefully guarded. As odd as it may seem, that is what I remember most about my grandmother as I was growing up.

As an adult, and loving geriatric patients, I now understand a bit more about my grandmother, having gone through the Great Depression in her young adulthood. Being frugal had become a lifestyle that would not be erased over time. Her excruciating frugality was a difficult and chosen lifestyle, which I can now appreciate (even if I’m not as good at emulating it).

It wasn’t until her funeral that I found that there was even more to Grandma’s frugality. She gave sacrificially to missions, not just financially, but in hours spent at the typewriter writing letters. She took extra jobs cleaning boarding houses or picking berries to earn money for mission pledges. In fact, we found that my grandfather had saved money secretly for retirement, because if she had known about the money, my grandmother would have given it away, especially to missions.

Looking back through the lens of time, I realize that the birthday cards that didn’t carry cash, the simple Christmas gifts, the carefully counting of pennies weren’t because of a lack of love. They were because there were people around the world who needed what little money she had more than I did, and her few dollars helped to bring the gospel to those who needed to hear. How many souls is she meeting in heaven now because of her frugal generosity? I’m quite certain there is a long line because indeed, Grandma died rather penniless.

So Grandma, thank you for all the empty cards, the crumpled wrapping paper, and the meager gifts.

It was money well spent.

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