#18 Some Stories on Living Is Giving

I’m still researching Quakers and their role in helping those affected by the Japanese Internment during WWII and events and feelings that led to that government crackdown. Meanwhile, several events in my life during the last ten days has led me to think about giving. So, here goes!

Living is giving. My mother taught me the phrase when I was still a toddler. She was my lifelong example of that mantra. She reached out to everyone she met. It mattered not to her if they were young or old, rich or poor, Southerner or Northerner, male or female, her white race or another. For most of her life she knew no gays, but in later years accepted members of the LGBQT community with love. She had a very long prayer list and spent at least an hour a day saying a little personal prayer for each and everyone on it.

She was also a very independent woman and often stepped outside her comfort zone to take care of others. When she could no longer live by herself, she came to stay her last three years with my family and me. During that time she taught us another important lesson – there can be no giver without a receiver; learn to be gracious in both. And, remember there are many ways to give.

One of her favorite Bible stories was “The Widow’s Mite.” She would have loved my piece about Ruth Miheso, who gave to so many in her Kenyan village and then helped start a small organization, Cornstalk, to continue the work. My mother recognized that often those with less are more apt to share what they have. She was one of them. She had a second list of children, family or not, who received greeting cards by mail on special holidays. When she was able, she would enclose a small gift. At her memorial service, there were many who shared how they had kept those cards over the years. She taught for over thirty years in a school whose students were primarily from a nearby housing project. She wanted them to experience beauty every day. She gave them the gift of classical music and art and filled them with the words and rhythms of poetry. She even empowered them by allowing them to show off their knowledge to the school supervisors who had very low expectations of these project kids.

This past weekend my Friends meeting held its annual strawberry festival. For over 20 years I’ve helped and supervised the used clothing. In recent years we’ve had more neighborhood Hispanic families as customers. I’ve watched them agonize over purchases even though the prices have been quite low. Historically, Quakers are known for setting fair, standard prices as an expression of their testimony of equality. I’m a Quaker purist, so have resisted cutting prices to 1/2 at noon. Still, I wanted the families to benefit from the increasing quality and quantity of donations. Enter the $10.00 bags! Every time someone came and spent more than $10, we’d offer a $10 bag to be filled. Soon, the regulars had bought two or three! They weren’t just splurging. They were buying for other people – a grandmother newly raising grandchildren and unable to buy shoes for all three, a sister whose birthday was coming, a neighbor needing a Sunday dress, a teenager asking for a pair of soccer cleats. It was wonderful to participate in their buying to give to others.

In the 60s, my late husband and I were volunteers in a small village in southwest Tanzania. The gifts we received from our villagers were so many they could never be counted. The biggest gift of all was our older son, now in his late fifties. His grandmother lived across the road from our mud and wattle house. With three other children to raise, she asked us to adopt him. We did and have been enriched. His presence led to the adoption of our second son. When our daughter arrived as a special gift of nature, we were a rainbow family that has grown and grown.

My husband spent 50 years in workcamping in flood relief, earthquake reconstruction, housing construction, rebuilding burned churches, renovation of homeless shelters, and institutional service support. He gave tens of young adults the opportunity to give of themselves to support others. They came from the US, Japan, Africa, Europe, and even Russian Siberia. They learned new building and people skills as they worked together to finish a task. More importantly, they gave the gift of “being with.”

Living is giving and recognizing the gifts, given and received, no matter how big or small.

Questions to ponder:

  • What are several ways of giving?
  • How does one go about being a gracious giver and receiver?
  • Why is “being with” such an important part of giving?
  • What are some ways to help children and young people develop a sense of sustainable philanthropy?

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