My grandma Cartwright passed away last week. With her passing I lost my last grandparent. I was honored Tuesday with the opportunity to say a few words about her at her funeral, and share just how important grandparents have been to me, and how important it is that our boys have grandparents in their lives. Below I've shared my message from her funeral.
The Poor Widow and the Two Copper Coins
I shared the first part of this story several years ago at my grandma Ducey’s funeral, but I think it’s worth repeating today.
About 8 years ago when Katie and I had our first son, we wanted to have our kids grow up closer to grandparents. At the time we lived in North Carolina and several hours away from either of our parents. Spending some time up here this weekend in the heart of an Ohio winter I’m reminded why we chose to live closer to her parents in Virginia than mine here in Ohio.
That move was important to Katie and I because we, like my sisters and cousins and many other relatives here today, were blessed to grow up with grandparents who were active in our lives. We weren’t simply guessing it would be a good idea to have our sons grow up near grandma and grandpa – we had lived it and knew firsthand the kind of influence grandparents can have on grandchildren. Grandchildren who one day grow into parents themselves.
Today we’re here to say goodbye to one of those grandparents, my grandma Cartwright. And for me, it’s my last grandparent. Although each one of my grandparents taught me a valuable life lesson, there’s no doubt one of the lessons my grandma Cartwright taught me ranks as one of the most important in my life.
While thinking about that lesson and how I would describe grandma Cartwright, one word kept coming to mind: humble.
When I looked up the definition of humble one of the definitions I found said this: the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others.
When I think of my grandma Cartwright and her humility, I’m reminded of a story in the bible from the book of Mark. Jesus is hanging out in the temple with some of the disciples, observing what many of us would recognize as the offering time in our churches today. The story goes like this:
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)
If you read the New Testament you might come away with the impression Jesus didn’t care much for rich people. And you would be right. Only it’s not exactly because they were rich, it was more how they handled being rich.
Many rich people in the bible – like many rich people today - used their money to say, look at me, look how great I am. In this story all the people in the temple knew the rich people contributing large sums of money because the rich were dressed for fame. They dropped their bronze and silver coins into the collection baskets with such an attention-seeking clank it was impossible to overlook their extravagance. The widow lady, on the other hand, if Jesus hadn’t pointed her out to his disciples, and if Mark hadn’t been inspired to write about Jesus' observations, it’s very likely no one would have ever noticed or spoke again of the poor widow lady. We certainly wouldn’t be talking about her today.
When I think of the poor widow, I think of my grandma.
Until just a few years ago I’d receive a birthday card from my grandma every year. And I know I’m not the only one here who received these cards. But in these cards there would always be a relatively small amount of money. Whatever the amount – a five, maybe, or sometimes just a couple of ones– you knew grandma couldn’t afford it. I’d feel bad she did that. Standing here today, though, I’m grateful she did. I’ve been blessed to receive some wonderful gifts in my life, but I’m not sure any of them came with more heart and love behind them than the humble gifts that came in grandma’s birthday cards.
The other quiet gift I could always count on from grandma was hand written letters that would arrive in my mailbox out of nowhere and for no apparent reason. She’d simply be taking time to update me on what was going on with her other grandchildren and relatives, and occasionally share secrets about my dad’s growing up years. Each of those letters helped me understand something about grandma. Because of her family and how much she treasured each and every person in it, she may have been like the poor widow in the story above, but her family made her feel like one of the rich people.
Grandma refused to count her blessings in coins; she found it more joyful to count them in grandchildren. I remember taking Elliott and Ian to see grandma a few years back and listening to her rattle off the names and ages of what I think then was 48 or 49 grandchildren. When I think of how many times I can’t get the birthdays right for one of my two children, I realize how impressive that was. But for grandma it was more than an act of memorization. It was recounting with great joy the days she recieved her greatest blessings.
Another thing grandma shared with the boys and me that day was the famous banana story (famous to me at least). It seems grandma took me into the grocery store when I was a little boy just a few years old. When she wasn’t looking I grabbed a banana and began eating it to the point the banana began inflating my cheeks until there was no more room and the fruity remains began sneaking out of my mouth. To grandmas confusion there was no sign of the banana peel anywhere. Grandma looked for it and soon other shoppers joined her in the search. While looking for it one lady asked my grandma, with some concern I guess, you don’t think he ate the peel do you. Every time she re-told this story grandma Cartwright could never hide the aggravation she shared with that lady that day when she told her - my grandson isn’t dumb enough to eat the peel.
I’m grateful my grandma loved that story enough to share it with me a hundred times over the years. Because she did, it’s etched in my memory forever. More than the story itself, though, what will stick out most to me about that story is just how much grandma loved being in the moment that story took place.
We’re lucky that grandma collected and left us so many good memories. But for me, it’s a lesson more than a memory I’ll take away from her. Grandma didn’t waste a lot of time chasing down things in life, nor did I ever hear her complaining about things she didn’t have. All I ever heard grandma do was count and treasure what she did have. Because of that, even though she was humble and went out of her way to make other people feel more important than her, I think grandma lived many days feeling like a very rich lady. I know I'll remember her as one.