“If you’re really hungry, you’ll eat scrapple,” said the older woman from our church, as she reached into a brown paper grocery bag. She pulled out a grayish brick of the cheap, Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast meat, made from pork scraps such as the feet and head meat, and set it on my mother’s counter top with a thud.
Twenty years later, I still cannot believe how my mother held it together while the woman, silver hair tightly knotted in a bun, pointer-finger extended, lectured her on frugal eating while my father was unemployed. The woman had lived through the Great Depression and had experience with stretching every last cent. She probably meant well. Her presentation, however, was very gruff and condescending.
As soon as the woman’s car left our driveway, my mom burst into tears. “I can’t help it that your dad lost his job!” My mom, one of strongest women I know, shook with sobs of profound hurt and anger. “People know you’re desperate and they just throw junk at you and then want a pat on the back for it,” she cried. “Six month ago, when I had your brother, that same woman brought over a beautiful, elaborate meal made with lots of love. Why can’t she put the same kind of thoughtfulness into this?”
I wrapped my arms around my mother’s neck and cried with her. The crazy way her thick, dark wavy hair stuck to my tear-streaked cheeks made us break into laughter. She pulled the strands of hair off of my face and smiled at me. “We are going to survive this,” she said with determination.
Gifted food like scrapple kept us fed and bags of very worn, two-decade-old hand-me-downs delivered in greenish-black garbage bags kept us clothed. Sometimes my mom would modify the clothes to make them fit or deconstruct them and use the fabric make something a little more stylish. (There’s a lot of extra fabric to be found in bell bottoms!) I am thankful for these provisions from the bottom of my heart. I also am thankful for my mom’s resourcefulness.
Enduring my father’s lingering unemployment taught me much about humility, thankfulness, frugality, and empathy. It also gave me a long time to think about giving and receiving.
This has been a year of hardship for many. As 2009 comes to an end, people will start to think about Christmas and suddenly realize for a little over month–from Black Friday through December 24th–that there are needy friends and neighbors who could use some help.
Sometimes it’s hard to give to others when you yourself have very little. That’s when it means the most.
Luke 21:1-4 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
When my mom’s friend Marie (not her real name) was single, she was both my French tutor and swimming instructor. She fell in love with someone whose past included time spent in jail. A few years and a few children into their marriage, Marie’s husband worked odd jobs while he went to seminary. Times were tough for them.
One sunny summer day, Marie called my mom. She wanted to give us a beautiful set of dishes and some produce from her garden. I remember my mom shared with me what Marie had said to her on the phone. “I have an extra set of dishes someone gave me, and this food would spoil before we could use it all. Please stop by so I can give them to you. To keep them would be hoarding!”
In our old brown Suburban, with us kids sitting in the way back, so we’d bounce on every bump and slide on the around-the-corners, we drove up to Marie’s gray mobile home. It was accented with a brick red, makeshift painted wooden front porch that precariously rested on cinder blocks.
Marie ran out to greet us, smiling. She embraced my mom warmly. The dishes didn’t come in a garbage bag, but a brown paper bag that had been lovingly hand-decorated by Marie and her girls.
Marie gave from her heart, passing on the blessing, happily. There were no strings attached. Just love and a hug.
Do your gifts make people feel loved or judged?