The Generosity of Widows

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In the gospel story the widow gave when she did not have. I always likened the woman in that parable to my own mother, a widow who had so little material wealth, but gave  freely of whatever she had. She used to smile sweetly and tell us that we should never worry about her because Jesus had promised to take care of people like herself. Thus she gave to a host of organizations that unwittingly took her donations without ever realizing that she might have better been a recipient of their largesse. I never quite knew how she did it, but she always managed to keep the lights on and the gas roaring to heat the house and cook the food. It was a rare day when she actually ran her air conditioner, and she stretched her budget by living a life that would have rivaled the simplicity of Thoreau. She understood and lived the messages of Jesus so well that my brothers and I often insist that she should officially be elevated to sainthood by the Pope.

I think of how wonderful it would be to have St. Ellen of Houston, patron saint of widows and the mentally ill. I wish I knew the process for getting her name in the Pope’s mind. I think I even have proof of miracles that she has already made happen from her heavenly home. While I’m one of those people who is a bit suspicious of the idea of sainthood and miracles and such, somehow when it comes to my mom it seems feasible that there are indeed such people who live in our midst. They are somehow so truly believers and kind souls that they seem more godly than the rest of us. Those who know them see the traits of which I speak.

I have to admit that I have often questioned my own faith and I worry incessantly. I see so much unfairness and evil in the world and it gives me pause. My mother was never like that. She was an unsinkable optimist, and I have to admit that like the widow of the gospels she never ran out of food or the things that she needed to live no matter how meager it may have been. Some miracle or another seemed to take place even in her darkest hours. Then she would smile as if to say, “I told you so.”

It was great having her as a parent, particularly after our father died. I was totally frightened and traumatized. but she demonstrated over and over again that she would provide for us with God’s help. We used to laugh when something around our house broke, because an unexpected windfall invariably came our way making all well again. I sometimes thought that my mom was incredibly naive, and I assumed the role of family cynic when I was still a child. Again and again my fears were proven to be unfounded, and I eventually learned to have a little faith before coming unglued.

There are so many needs in this world, and often not enough willingness to help. We give tokens rather than stretching our budgets just a bit to include those who are less fortunate. The people who are known for their generosity are very often the very souls who can least afford to be so. Like my mother they happily reach into their pockets to support a worthy cause. I found that I was generally more likely to raise donations in a school filled with economically disadvantaged  students than in an exclusive private school. Perhaps it is because the poor have a better understanding of need than those whose lives are filled with comfort. They have experienced living on the edge, and so they give when they are able.

It is sometimes suggested that raising funds from private donations is better than compelling citizens to pay taxes to give to the government to support programs for the needy. That would be a beautiful thought if everyone were indeed as generous as the widow of the Bible and my mother. Unfortunately far too many would rather keep the four or five dollars that they might spend each day at a Starbuck’s than set aside that change for someone who is struggling to survive. While there are some folks who are poor because they are lazy, most are like my mother whose circumstances left her in a difficult economic situation. There are many many reasons for poverty, and we should all be willing to help those who are unable to help themselves.

This is a season of Thanksgiving and sharing. There are many worthy causes that merit our aid. The idea is to think of the less fortunate and give whatever we can afford and perhaps even a tiny bit more. It doesn’t even have to be to an organization. There may be someone that we know who can use our help. A gift card or basket of items that will get them through the coming winter months will most certainly be appreciated, and we can do so in the guise of just playing Santa Claus.

I love those angel trees that pop up at churches and schools. It’s delightful to fulfill the hopes and dreams of those whose holidays might otherwise be dreary. I enjoy the role models who show us how to be generous like Bill Gates and Mattress Mack here in my own hometown. Jesus tells us that if we share what we have, He will make certain that we will get what we need. My Mama always believed that, and I’m trying to imitate her profound faith and generosity.

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