As our parents age, we often look for ways to be sure they continue to be respected and honored throughout their years of life. One way I’ve found of doing this is by reminding myself of the many valuable things I learned from my parents, and how those lessons continue to impact my life.

My father was a teacher in Seventh-day Adventist elementary schools for over 35 years. And he was my teacher in a small school while I was in grades 4-8. At that time Dad was teaching all 8 grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Tennessee, where I grew up. And it was the last day of school before Christmas break.

We were having a little celebration in our classroom that afternoon. Earlier, we had cut an evergreen tree out of the woods and brought it into the classroom to decorate with red and green paper chains we scholars eagerly made from construction paper. 

I will always remember how, before our modest gift exchange began, Dad opened his worn wallet, took out three $1 bills, and clothespinned them onto the branches of the Christmas tree.

“These are gifts to Jesus on His birthday” he said, “representing my three children.” Dad added how thankful he and my mother were for having three healthy children (my two brothers and myself).

I knew, even as a young child, that our family’s budget was tight. There was no extra money. And I was surprised to see my Dad pinning dollar bills onto that tree. (What I did not know until I was an adult was that my parents were living on half a salary because they wanted their three children, my cousins, and a handful of other neighboring children to attend an Adventist school, even though the small local church could not afford to pay their part of a teacher’s salary.)

But what happened next has stayed in my mind over the years. As Dad was opening Christmas cards from his students, out of one card fell… not one, or two, but three $1 bills. And as Dad held them up with a broad smile on his face, his words powerfully etched themselves into my 10-year-old brain: “See? As I have always said—you can never outgive the Lord!”

That simple act of solid faith on my father’s part, and his words of complete confidence not only in God’s ability but His willingness to provide for all our needs, has been a guiding force in my life. I’m so thankful to my father for his consistent example of generosity and faithfulness. 

Dad created a strong “culture of generosity” around him before there was such a phrase in our language. He and my mother were extremely generous people and always shared with those in need, whether they were managing little or, later in life, much more. Their example is a shining light in my heart and I count it a privilege to live with the mindset they modeled for me that everything belongs to God and He is trusting us to continue joyfully sharing His good gifts.