Southern Seen – Love so amazing, so divine
By: Larry McGehee
My wife and I recently changed our Christmas giving patterns. Instead of spending December days finding gifts for each other we are give to charities, especially this year to provide heating for low-income families or housing and food for local homeless people.
My wife got an early start. Each night we put any quarters we have in our change pockets into a glass jar, and each December she counts them, rolls them into coin containers, and spends them for her secret gifts — no credit card receipts and no cancelled checks — for me. This year, however, she gave her entire stash of quarters — $340 in all — to Second Presbyterian’s Soup Kitchen.
A week later, we wrote checks to warmth funds to assist folks unable to pay their electricity or gas heating bills, an especially serious problem this year because of increases in energy costs. We made gifts to several charities fighting MS, Lupus, breast cancer, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, and other ill-health causes, gifts to several libraries, gifts to several environmental causes, gifts for toys for needy children, gifts to college scholarship funds, gifts to promote literacy and support writing, gifts to help with historic preservations, and gifts to support churches.
Giving isn‘t entirely new for us. But the difference this year is that it is now a primary focus for us rather than a secondary after-thought. And, like Scrooge joyfully awaking transformed, on a bright Christmas morning, we are relishing new pleasures. Our sensitivities have been jolted, and our sensibility about the season’s meaning has been sharpened.
Much of this re-examination and repairing of the ruts in the roads of our lives came from a special event, and special people, in early November.
Each recent Homecoming Saturday at Wofford College, our workplace for 25 years, we have hosted a post-game party for returning alumni of a senior seminar in American Religion that I have taught since 1999. There are 155 such young alumni, most of them in graduate studies, law, medical, dental, and divinity schools, or in their first jobs in sales, banking or non-profit agencies. Usually we have about 80 former students dropping in and out of our two-hour gathering.
This year the reunion drew about 200 people, and most of them lingered the whole two hours instead of coming and going. Some guest speakers from the seminars also showed up as well as a few parents of alumni, and new spouses and newborn children were shown off — along with one Boston terrier.
Promptly at 5:00 p.m., the party’s mid-point, four alumni moved to a make-shift stage at one side of the big reception room and rapped for attention. Although Betsy (dubbed the Queen Mother by the alumni) and I were the hosts, this was something we had not planned. I began to fret that tailgating beer at the game may have flowed too freely.
What followed has left us teary-eyed, sniffing, and Kleenex-dabbing for six weeks now. This self-anointed committee announced that the Religion 340 Alumni had been asked, by phone and e-mail and in person, to establish an Elizabeth Boden and Larry McGehee Endowed Scholarship. Its annual earnings are to be awarded each semester, by a three-person Wofford committee, to financially-strapped Wofford students, to buy textbooks and other course-related materials.
Religion 340 alumni started soliciting in September to get $25,000 by November Homecoming. By October, they had met that goal…so, they raised the goal to $50,000. And met it by November 3rd!
The excitement in that room was as absolutely electric as the ending of that It’s a Wonderful Life movie — although Betsy and I were virtually speechless. Adding frosting to our cake was the surprise appearance of our Baltimore eldest daughter and our Atlanta youngest daughter and her husband. After unsuccessful efforts to hug and thank every one of the alumni, Chaplain Talmage Skinner led us all in a robust rendering of the Alma Mater, a tradition he has perpetuated for many years. He never sounded better. The room rocked.
None of these alumni has made his or her fortune yet. Their gifts were truly sacrificial, the poor establishing a perpetual fund to help generations of impoverished students yet to come.
These Religion 340 alumni know and practice the art of sacrificial giving, and in the process they have changed our own outlooks, our pocketbooks, and our lives. The teachers have learned from their pupils. That may have been the greatest gift of all from them. God bless them, every one!
Larry McGehee, professor-emeritus at Wofford College, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in The Messenger 12.04.07