My father hoped to do well enough to provide a comfortable life for his family and to enjoy a measure of prestige in the process, but it wasn’t to be. This is his story and mine – the story our family lived.
After serving 20 years in the Air Force as a B52 bomber pilot, he failed an eye exam that kept him from becoming a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines. As a result, all the prestige of his status as a USAF Lt. Colonel faded and he wasn’t trained to do anything else.
In his struggle to provide for a wife and four little children, my father failed at a marginal business because of multiple burglaries, moved on to working the late shift at a 7-11 market and from there went on to selling cars, which he hated because of the bickering and conniving to make a sale. When he couldn’t cope with it any longer he quit.
Along the way he had to sell the boat he bought in better times when he had dreams of our family prospering like others in our neighborhood. Then he had to sell the little piece of property he owned on the beach. That broke his heart and ours as that was the future we thought we might have one day, a future among the prosperous.
Despite it all, when we went to church dad gave us kids a couple of quarters to put in the offering plate and I remember thinking, “How can we be giving it away when we don’t have any money?” That was my first lesson in generosity, but not my last.
It took some time for me to realize that giving money had become a source of happiness for me. Even now I remember how I looked forward back then to putting money in the offering plate. It meant enough to me that when I found work mowing lawns or delivering papers, I always added some of my own coins.
After I became a practicing Christian I learned about tithing, which means giving 10% of your income right off the top. Back then I did that as best I could, whenever I could, and I still do that as best I can, whenever I can.
Since those early days of my childhood, my life has been incredibly blessed, far beyond what I or anyone else thought possible. I realize that I have prospered because of the generosity of the people I’ve served in churches across three states. And I am well aware of the fact that a significant part of the church budget pays for pastoral leadership, which is to say I have skin in this game.
Am I a beacon of perfection? No, I can’t say that, but I can say that what I learned from my father has never left me: there is joy in giving even when there is nothing. It has been my experience that nothing brings greater joy than giving with gratitude, and I believe that is what Jesus meant when he spoke of seeking God’s kingdom first in our lives (Matthew 6:24-35).
May it be so for you too.
Rev. Roy Howard