Red Skirt Generosity

Lately I’ve been contemplating the meaning of “generosity.” Real generosity, not the I-shared-a-Kit-Kat-with-my-husband generosity (even though I maintain that I should get some measure of credit. I mean, c’mon.) Somehow I doubt that re-gifting the pearlescent blue unicorn bust from my Secret Santa qualifies, either.

Widow's Mite
The Widow’s Mite, James Tissot (1886-1894)

Seriously, is painless generosity true generosity if it costs us nothing? Shouldn’t it hurt at least a little? Require sacrifice? Should it not only be an act of kindness but of faith that we have enough? Maybe.

Mark 12: 41 Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. 43 He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. 44 For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”

I do know this much: I aspire to Red Skirt Generosity. Stick with me. I can explain.

My mother ran the house. Even though we were more afraid of our father, we all knew Mom was really the one in charge. If Dad ever got involved in settling disputes or disciplining bad behavior, it was only because Mom told on us.

But more than that, we knew she was the one who kept everything going. She fed us from the garden in the summer and the canned and frozen veggies in the basement the rest of the year. She sewed, she knitted, she quilted, she did the laundry in a wringer washer, hung clothes and sheets on a clothesline, ironed everything, kept track of doctor and dentist appointments, signed permission slips, decided where we were allowed go and with whom, did all the budgeting and bill paying, checked homework, drove us to girl scout and 4-H meetings, picked us up from band practice, packed us for camp, nursed us back to health, performed triage to determine whether or not we needed to go to the emergency room, coordinated family vacations, planned, prepared, and performed every holiday and birthday event, made us visit our cousins, and was pretty much responsible for keeping us alive and human.

And of course, none of us appreciated her mad skills and dedication. It’s what we expected. It’s called Mom Magic. Someone had to do it, right?

It was no big deal to come home from school and tell her I needed 32 cupcakes or poster board or a red skirt tomorrow. Never mind that I knew for two weeks that I would need things and I knew she would be the one who had to procure these things, I generally didn’t see the point in mentioning it until the day before tomorrow.

Well, this particular tomorrow was Friday and the first football game of the new school year, which meant a big-deal pep rally after lunch. We’d sing the fight song, cheer for our team, and chant murderous wishes for our rivals. This tomorrow was so important that it had a name: Spirit Day. And of course everyone would be wearing our school colors, red and white. It was practically a rule.

Except I didn’t have a red anything. I wasn’t really bothered about that small detail because I had a white blouse and I had Mom. I’d tell her I needed a red skirt and surely she’d drop everything, hurry up and get three kids in the car, drive 10 miles to buy a red skirt and 10 miles back home again in time to make supper. Oh, and did I wonder about the money? In those days long before credit cards, I didn’t question whether or not she had cash in her purse with which to pay for said skirt.

I found the white blouse crumpled up on the floor of my closet. It was wrinkled and sour smelling. I carried it to the kitchen and announced that I needed a red skirt and maybe even a white blouse because this one was not in great shape.

Mom calmly stated the obvious. “Well. You don’t have anything red.”

She didn’t drop everything. We didn’t jump in the car. I don’t remember how I handled my disappointment. I suppose the rest of the night was just like every other night. Homework. Supper. Dishes. Bed. Mom and Dad trying not to fall asleep while watching TV. It was uneventful. Except that I fell asleep thinking about how I would be the only person at school not wearing red and white.

The next morning I answered my mom-alarm on her third or fourth summons, as usual. I flipped on my bedroom light and there, hanging on my door, was my white blouse, cleaned and pressed. Beside it, on another hanger, was a red skirt just my size. I got dressed and went to the kitchen.

There was Mom, after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep, I’m sure, quietly and ordinarily as ever, making my breakfast. I must have looked cute in my perfect Spirit Day outfit. I must have, because she looked up from the stove and smiled at me. I must have felt cute, too, because I smiled back. I don’t recall what, if anything, we said. I only remember how beautiful I felt.

You see, sometime after I’d gone to bed and after Mom’s long day of being our mother, she got up from the couch, washed my blouse and ironed it. She then sacrificed her own gorgeous, red coat. She tore it apart and made a perfect little A-lined skirt, complete with a perfect satin lining, for my Spirit Day.

Years later after I was a mother myself, I thought to ask Mom why she sacrificed her beautiful coat for a skirt she had to realize I would only wear once.

“Because I could,” she said in the most casual way. “I knew how to sew. And I had something red. It was possible for me to give you a red skirt.”

It was possible.

Twenty years before Nike started its 1988 “Just do it” campaign, was my mother’s Red Skirt Generosity. For her, there was no excuse not to do what she knew she could do. Getting a few extra precious hours of sleep and looking smart in her fancy red coat were not good enough excuses.  

If it is possible to do something for someone, you do it. And it’s almost always possible to make a sacrifice.

That’s what Jesus People do. That’s what Red Skirt Generosity people do. 

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