The clothes off their backs.

May 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm Leave a comment

The sermon series in our church this month has been focused on generosity.  The church is preparing to undertake some construction projects, and leaders hope to fund the new additions strictly through contributions and tithing by members over the next three years.  This has led to an examination of generosity.  What is it, exactly?  What does generosity look like?  How does it act?

While I’ve been interested in the sermon series, I really don’t need a definition of generosity. I’ve seen it in action.  It lived in two men I knew as a child, men who gave of their time and their energy and even the clothes they were wearing if the situation called for it.

The first man was named Merton.  We just called him Uncle Mutt.  He was my great-uncle twice over; he was my grandpa’s brother, but he was also married to my grandma’s sister.  Uncle Mutt was an unassuming man, dressed frequently in overalls with a Lions Club baseball cap perched on his head.

I know he did so much for the little town where he lived, the town I grew up in, the town he had grown up in as well.  What those things were, I couldn’t specify.  I never knew him well; he was frequently part of our Thanksgivings and other holidays, but he never said much and I was just a self-centered kid.

In high school, I dated a boy named Patrick.  We were at some sort of gathering together – church? family event? no idea, it’s been so long ago – and we ran into Uncle Mutt.  For some reason, Uncle Mutt was dressed up.  It’s one of the few times I had ever seen him don a tie.  In the middle of the tie, he sported a small tie tack in the shape of an airplane, probably a gift for his years of employment at one of the aircraft manufacturers here in town.

“I like your tie tack,” Patrick told Uncle Mutt.

“Well, thank you, young man,” Uncle Mutt said.  Following which he promptly reached down and took the tie tack off.  He stretched out his hand, palm up with the tie tack resting in his palm.  “Here you go.”

Patrick looked confused.  “But…it’s yours.”

“Not if you like it,” Uncle Mutt said.  “Go on, take it.”  With a soft thank you, Patrick took the tie tack.  Uncle Mutt gave him a quick squeeze on the shoulder and walked off.

The second generous man in this tale is named George.  We called him Grandpa.  He was my mother’s father, Uncle Mutt’s brother, and made of the same cloth as Mutt.  A couple of weeks after we saw Uncle Mutt, we attended a family function.

Grandpa was there.  As usual, he was wearing a pair of crazy suspenders.  Grandpa had quite the assortment of suspenders, which he wore to keep his pants from sliding right on down.  Grandpa had a notoriously flat butt, and suspenders seemed to be the only thing that seemed to keep his pants from constantly riding down.

As a teenager, my brother had begun the tradition of buying wacky gifts for Grandpa.  Dan got him things like a mug that looked like a toilet bowl.  More than once, Dan got Grandpa silly suspenders.  I vividly remember a pair with Tasmanian devils on them.

At the family event, Patrick was talking with Grandpa.  I joined them just in time to hear Patrick say, “I like your suspenders.  Those are pretty cool.”

Without hesitation, Grandpa began to slide them off.  He was going to give them to Patrick.  Patrick started to laugh and managed to talk him out of giving him the suspenders, but you could see that Grandpa was serious about the gift.

That story has been on my mind this week.   Not just because of the sermon series at church, but because it’s also been 15 years ago this week that my Grandpa left us.  He died on a beautiful Saturday evening, taking his generous spirit with him.  We lost Uncle Mutt a few years later.

These two men defined the spirit of generosity.  Generosity is unhesitating, and does not ask for justification of the gift.  Generosity is cheerful, done with willingness and joy.  Generosity is unassuming, never asking for anything in return, not even acknowledgement of the gift.

Generosity is not always a big gesture.  Sometimes it is, but more often than not, generosity is something small that makes someone’s life a little bit easier.  We can be generous with our patience, with our time, with our talents.

Above all, generosity is unending.  I have to be reminded of this when I’m dealing with selfishness and mine-itis and I’m just OVER giving of myself to others.  I have to pray for a generous spirit every day.  I’m hoping someday it will come to me automatically, become a natural part of my spirit just like it was part of Uncle Mutt’s and Grandpa’s.  They set a big example to live up to.

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Entry filed under: Life in general.

Ashley is two today! Musings about writing.

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