Things were not going well. Not well at all. She was tired. She was worried. She was under a lot of stress.
Some people age gracefully. Some people move from one part of life to the next with all of the ease and all of the beauty of the changing of the seasons. Not her. Getting old was tough. Her body didn’t do all of the things she wanted it to do anymore. It didn’t even do all of the things she needed it to do. The things her body did do took a lot longer and hurt a lot more. Talk about the changing of the seasons – she knew when the seasons were changing, all right. She could feel it in her joints when she got up in the morning, or when she had sat too long in one place. The change of seasons seemed to get harder every year. “Oh well. It’s just part of the price of still being alive,” she thought.
Oh, to be young again. She would walk for miles back then, enjoying all the beauty around her. The beauty of God’s creation, the beauty of being with friends and neighbors in the town, the beauty of picnics and worship services at church. Back then it was nothing for her to walk from one end of town to the other and back again. Okay, it wasn’t a big town, but not everyone could do that. She and her husband used to walk all the time. Walk around the town, walk to the store, walk to church two, sometimes three times a week.
Those were the days, when she was younger. When she could walk with ease. When she had a husband. She smiled at the memories. How long had Abe been dead now? Was it fourteen years? No, it was fifteen. Well, it was too long anyway. She missed him. After fifteen years she missed him as much as the day of the funeral. She missed lots of things, but none more than her life with Abe. She stopped a moment, and smiled, and a tear trickled down her cheek.
She was a little surprised that she still shed a tear after all this time. Well, enough sitting here feeling sorry for yourself, old woman. There’s work enough to be done just going to church today. She tried to feel thankful, but today it was hard. It wasn’t the sadness of her memories that made it hard to feel thankful; in some ways, memories were the best things she had left. No, it was just a little bit of everything.
She didn’t have a lot of food left in the house, and just a little money in her purse to buy groceries tomorrow. She was still pretty sore and stiff; she probably could have used some liniment or something from the doctor, but she didn’t have any insurance beyond what the government provided and she couldn’t cover her share of the cost. Not ‘til next month anyway. She usually got some money every month, and through careful shopping she usually made it last through until more money came in. How long had it been since she’d had a new dress? How long since she’d had a new wrap, or new shoes?
That’s one good thing about getting old, she thought. You weren’t expected to try to compete with the young women in the clothes department. She remembered how much she’d enjoyed new clothes when she was younger. It seemed kind of foolish now, but what she wouldn’t have given for a bit of bright color to put on today. Her dress had been bright and cheerful once, but lots of wear and lots of washing had made it kind of drab. It was also starting to look a bit threadbare. Well, it would do. It was clean, and that’s what counts.
Slowly she walked to church. The walk seemed to get longer every week. She greeted her neighbors as she walked along – the ones she knew, anyway. Seems like almost all of the folks she and Abe had called friends had either moved away or died. There were still a few familiar faces around town, and that was good. And some of the children she used to babysit – why, they had children of their own now. It was fun to see how they had all grown up and what kind of people they had turned out to be. She chuckled thinking about some of the rowdier and more adventurous kids that she had cared for.
At the church already! My, how good memories made the walk seem shorter. She stopped for a minute and tried to wipe the grin off her face from thinking of the children. Time go get serious now, old woman. Time to be respectful. You’re at church now. It’s time to pray and worship.
As she walked inside, she wanted to stop and drop something into the poor basket before she went in to the sanctuary. She knew what it was like to be hungry; she’d gotten a basket or two of food in her day through the poor fund, and she always tried to put something back in when she could. She took a coin from her purse. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
My, the lobby is crowded today, she thought. Lots of people out for church. Well that’s good – a full church was always a blessing. She didn’t recognize everyone, either. That meant there must be some new folks here today, she thought. Good news again!
She saw a group of young men standing off to the side of the lobby. She didn’t know them, and they showed no sign of recognition as their eyes passed over her. That was all right, though. It was good to see younger people in the church this morning, especially some younger men. That certainly was unusual. She smiled
And then she stopped smiling. Just a little bit ahead of her on the way to the poor box, it was…. It was… oh my, she couldn’t think of his name. She knew him though. Everyone knew him. He made sure of that. One of those fellows who was always doing something. Nothing bad, mind you. He wasn’t a crook or anything. But he was always doing something big, and always making sure that everybody knew it.
He would talk about how hard he worked for the church and how he had donated this or that to the yard sale. He was always showing up at church events and complaining about everyone else who wasn’t there. He would volunteer to chair every single committee that came along and then complain loudly about how hard he worked. Then he would always sigh loudly and say, “Well, it is for the church after all. Another star in my crown, I guess.”
She wanted to be fair. He did work hard, after all, and the money he gave did a lot of good. There was no doubt about that. She just didn’t like the way he always made sure everyone knew that he was making a gift. She’d known him for years, and she knew that for all his big talk, he didn’t give half as much as he could have. He had plenty of money in the bank, and plenty more invested, and while he certainly gave a lot more money than she did, it didn’t even make a dent in his interest income. None of his gifts ever came close to touching his investment principle.
And now here he was, looking around as usual to see if anyone was watching. He waited until he saw those young men over there looking his way, and then he walked right up to the poor box and dropped in a big handful of shiny coins. Everyone could tell from the sound that they were silver, so it was a big gift all right. Sure, it was a lot of money for most folks, but it was nothing for him. Still, he had waited until he was sure that those fellows had noticed how generous he was being.
She’d been watching him do this for years, but for some reason it affected her more than usual today. She couldn’t describe it, but she had a feeling she’d never had before. Kind of sad, kind of wistful, kind of dreamy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, she thought, if I could give money like that? Wouldn’t it be grand, she thought, if I could put in the kind of money he does.
And then the old woman did something very strange. Without even thinking, she opened her purse, took out all the money in it, and dropped it all in the box. Every penny.
My, that felt good, she thought as she turned away from the box. But as the old woman walked away, her senses returned to her. What had she done? It wasn’t yet the end of the month, and she’d put all her money into the poor box. She didn’t have anything left for emergencies. Forget about emergencies, she didn’t have anything left for groceries. How could she have done this? She had budgeted so carefully all month – how could she have put all her money in the poor box?
She stopped for a moment, shaken. What would happen to her? How would she get by? Again a tear ran down her face, but not a lone tear of fond remembrance. This time it was a tear of fear, of worry. The first tear of many, if she didn’t get hold of herself. She took a deep breath and looked around to see if anyone had noticed how upset she was.
She saw that group of young men again. She saw the one in the middle, probably the leader, gesturing at her as he spoke to the others. Probably laughing at her, she thought. Probably saying, “Look at the old fool. Put all her money in the poor box, and they’ll just have to give it back tomorrow to her in food.”
But then the young man looked at her again, and he smiled. Not the derisive smile of someone making fun of her, but a gentle smile, an understanding smile. A loving smile, even. And despite herself, she smiled back. Their eyes met for a moment, and then she turned away.
Suddenly her fear was gone, replaced by a peace that she couldn’t quite describe. Slowly the old woman walked on into the church. She would be all right. God would provide. God had given her so much in her life, and here she was worrying about a few pennies. Let the others trust in their stocks and their riches. She would trust in God.
Then she had another strange feeling, one she hadn’t felt in a long time. She felt like Abe was there with her again, just like the old days. She felt like he was smiling, and she could almost hear his voice. “Well, old woman, I guess we’ll get by somehow. It’ll just be us and God this week, and who else do we need, anyway?”
Who else indeed, she thought. Who else but God could I possibly need? She gave everything she had, but she still had more than she would ever need.