It’s funny how time changes your perspective on people, even after they are gone. My grandmother, Grace Story, was born on the mission field in China. Though she passed away over five years ago, I know that she always had a heart for missionaries, since she had lived on the mission field until she was 12 years old. She spoke 5 different languages growing up. She was disciplined, frugal, and could be stern. But oh could she laugh! And oh how she loved Jesus.
I actually 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 very close to her. But I do remember how I felt about her.
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. Who reuses wrapping paper!? Every penny was counted, none were wasted. There was no cable television at their house. Boring! The air conditioner would not be turned on in the car. Unless I had heat exhaustion and I threw up. Which I did. 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. Wishing I could squeeze just a little generosity out of the matriarch of the family.
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.
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 to missions. What I had perceived as a lack of generosity was actually more generosity than I could imagine — giving away every single spare penny 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 her generosity 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.
Thank you for all the empty cards, the crumpled wrapping paper, and the meager gifts, Grandma. It was money well spent. I hope you know that those gifts of nothingness have inspired me to live out the dream you were never able to as an adult: to go to the mission field.