Generosity knows no limits

“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink….” —Matthew 25:35

Certain memories of an earlier time remain fixed in my mind. They are present not in a haunting way, but they have become permanently etched, carved in stone, as it were.

In much the same way people talk about where they were when tragedy struck the space shuttle, Challenger, or on September 11, 2001, I relate to these earlier memories as well.

In the early ’80s, our daughter, Jessica, was scheduled to undergo yet another round of surgeries. She and I arrived at the Kansas Uni­versity Medical Center and had just settled in for a two-week stay.

Shortly after recovery from surgery in the ICU, the usual routine of visiting doctors, therapists and nursing staff began. During one of my visits to the hospital cafeteria, on the way there, a young mother and child made their way to the children’s ward. They took up residence in a room not far from ours.

In a hospital like this, where children are the patients, parents and relatives co-mingle in waiting rooms, becoming familiar with each other and their circumstances.

One very late evening, unable to sleep on the tiny cot the hospital provided, I made my way to the waiting room. The young mother sat in a chair, reading a book. From my perspective, it appeared that she was doing OK. As time passed, we began a conversation.

The child was suffering from a severe rash covering her entire body. Painful and debilitating, the skin would flake off and expose the underlying layers. I had never heard of anything like it before.

As the hours passed, I remembered observing her emerging from a vehicle at the hospital entrance, with her child. Minutes later, her husband spoke to her briefly, returned to his big four-wheel-drive truck and drove off. I mentioned this in our conversation, making a feeble attempt to encourage her to not lose hope, that someday all would be OK.

Picking up the book, she said, “This is all I have. It’s my Bible. When he dropped us off, my husband told me he never wants to see me or our child ever again.”

How can one recover from something like that? “Stunned” cannot even begin to describe my thoughts. Though my family was not exactly living the happy and carefree life, I could not have imagined anything worse at the time.

When all we have is our faith in God, God still cares and provides. As she and I continued to talk through the night, I could see how God was working to provide.

A small group of nursing staff invited her into their own small Bible study group, offering encouragement, resources and references to ease the burden of homelessness.

During the ensuing days, this young mother was a source of encouragement for other mothers with children. One late night, she came to the waiting room to find me and insisted we had to do something for another single parent. This woman’s child was undergoing chemotherapy, and having no money at all, had not eaten for five days.

Using an old phone book—with no internet access and no smart phones or apps in those days—we located a Pizza Hut that was still open around midnight. I drove to the location and purchased a pizza. The mother insisted she pay for half. I tried to convince her it was not necessary. Having only $10 to her name, she ignored my plea and used it to pay for her share.

Generosity knows no limits, even when one is destitute. That night, as we delivered the large pizza to the other mother in the children’s ward—minus two pieces for our own needs—we witnessed God’s love in a way that transcends all other means of communication. We received blessings in gratitude and thankfulness, joy and abiding peace from God.

This event was a modern-day version of the scriptural text described in Matthew 25. Whenever I am looking for answers or am experiencing doubt of God’s providence and care for his people, I look to this example.

Paul Penner farms in the Hillsboro area. He has been active statewide and nationally regarding agriculture policy.