John Putnam learned generosity the same way he learned hard work – by just doing it, even when he didn’t want to. Today, he shares a story of his parents, who practiced generosity simply, using what they had and requiring their children to participate – even when the young teens weren’t very excited about doing it. The memories stuck, and now John devotes his life to promoting generosity.
By John H. Putnam
My father is 92, and my mother is 90. Dad was a sales executive for a trucking company, and my mother was a school teacher. They raised five boys on a black angus cattle farm, and we each learned what it meant to work hard, be a team, and do things right the first time. We also observed my mom and dad, keenly watching the needs of others so they could be intentional about sharing.
We had a huge vegetable garden each year. It was mom and dad’s pride and joy. It was also the bane of my existence!
I daily melted in the summer heat and humidity and wiped away the ubiquitous bees and wasps. Not only did this not phase my parents, as we all worked in the garden every week and tended to the plants and vegetables they produced. But they couldn’t get enough of it!
Mom canned the veggies, but there was always more than we needed, especially tomatoes. They seemed to multiply every day – like the rabbits who tried to eat them. I have vivid memories of carrying large trays to our cellar with dozens of tomatoes. Now, I like a good tomato sandwich as much as the next guy, but hey mom and dad, “enough tomatoes already!”
I knew when the brown paper shopping bags were out that mom was packing veggies to give away to friends and people in need.
But they knew exactly what they were doing.
I knew when the brown paper shopping bags were out that mom was packing bags to give away to friends and people in need. We’d fill our trunk with vegetables and go “visiting” on a Friday or Saturday night. Full disclosure – this event was not on the top 10 list of a 12-year-old boy who’d spent the whole day in the garden. But everywhere we stopped, there were smiles and hugs and thankfulness. The smell of the tomatoes and the memory of those deliveries are etched in my mind.
It didn’t really “click” in my mind until many years later that I had learned generosity in a garden.
My parents loved the farm and the garden. But they used it to show our family and others the love of Christ. Our parents used what they had in their hands to fulfill what God had in his heart. In hindsight, I don’t think mom and dad were intentionally trying to teach us to be generous. I believe this was just who they were, open-handed. And they made sure that my brothers and I had a front row seat to their generosity. It didn’t really “click” in my mind until many years later that I had learned generosity in a garden.
Generous for the long haul, and generous in the details
Don’t get me wrong, the life we observed wasn’t always green grass, gardens and butterflies. My parents’ love story required a lot of the same things as the garden: hard work, discipline, practicality, and even sometimes tears. But it was a Jesus-filled love story, and they reaped a harvest of joy.
I went to visit them a few weeks ago. Mom lives in a hospital bed, and my father was having lunch with her on an adjustable table with three little vases of flowers. The nurse told me that Dad had walked outside and clipped a few buds from the garden with his pocket knife. I have watched him do that for decades, tiny acts of kindness that show his love for my mom and his generous heart, even in the quiet moments, even in the small details.
I talked to dad that day about the farm and the garden. Looking out over it, he said, “Son, I never wanted the sun to go down.” They’ve been married 63 years. Their health is failing, yet their growing love and generosity continues to inspire all who have the privilege of witnessing it.
I have watched him do that for decades, tiny acts of kindness that show his love for my mom and his generous heart, even in the quiet moments, even in the small details.
Proverbs 22:6 instructs parents: train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. In hindsight, I can see now how they trained us:
- Intentionally: Mom and Dad built a garden, purposefully twice the size we needed, so they could share … and have plenty of work for us!
- Practically: They used what they had.
- Sacrificially: The garden took their most valuable asset – their time. And then they gave more of their time away, not telling others to come, but delivering their gifts.
- Repeatedly: We did this day after day, week after week, summer after summer. It may not have been too much fun for 12-year-old boy, but the lessons are forever ingrained in a 55-year-old memory.
Maybe gardening’s not your thing. But where are you working habitually at generosity? Where are you regularly training your kids by including them as you are loving Christ, loving each other, and loving your neighbor? Do they see your generosity? Do you require them to be a part of it?
Over time, we all develop a love for something. Your kids will too. But what they are learning about generosity from watching you will matter. It doesn’t have to be complicated or grand, it just needs a little time and intentionality to include those you love.