John Jackson was one of the oldest members of the congregation. What hair he had left was snowy white. He was bent with age and walked with an old hickory cane. He had a bad case of rheumatism. He tried every cure in the book and some that weren’t. Once he heard if you soaked in bathwater Filled with garlic, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and a measure of Zippo lighter fluid, your aches and pains would be gone forever. He tried it one night and didn’t get to sleep with his wife Nell for two weeks. He still had his rheumatism.
He was a man full of wisdom and willingly shared it with others who would listen. I was a boy preacher just twenty-one years old. The Jackson’s house was separated from ours by a large grove of guava trees. Two or three times a week I would venture over and just sit in one of the large rocking chairs on the wrap around porch and listen to him talk. The love of a porch and high back rocking chairs was passed on to us by the Jackson’s. If more of our young folks would spend more time with more of our old folks, we’d have a better world in which to live.
I bought an old bus and established a bus route in the county. With practically no brakes and no insurance, I ran it each Sunday with little gas and a superior amount of the grace of God. We filled the bus with 40 singing kids that knew nothing about church or decorum. I was a bit disturbed by what had happened that day so I shared my frustrations with Brother John. “I just don’t understand these country folks. Everywhere I go, they want to give me bunches of fruit and vegetables.”
“Did you accept these gifts?” he asked curiously.
“Absolutely not,” I countered. “Don’t they know I can provide for my own family?” Brother Jackson just sat and rocked and thought for a long moment. He seemed a bit irritated by my reaction. “Boy”, he said quietly (he always called me boy). “Don’t you know it’s easier to give a gift than to receive one?” That is why Jesus said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). These are poor folks that you are dealing with and all they have to offer is what they have grown with their own hands. They love you for what you are doing and how you are teaching their kids and this is the only way they can express that love and appreciation.” Next trip out, when they offer you some fruits or vegetables, just say, ‘Thank you Ma’am, I don’t mind if I do.'”
At first I resisted the concept and instructions. Later that night as I sat on our porch, I thought about what he had said. We could use some fresh vegetables, and we need some fruit. Besides, if it makes them feel better, why not?
You guessed it! From then on as I worked the bus route it became a carnival of vegetable exchange and fruit distribution. “Could you use some tomatoes?” one would ask. My quick reply was simple, “Yes ma’am, I don’t mind if I do.” “How many can you use?” they would inquire. “O, just as many as you want to give.” I did the picking myself and after filling four grocery sacks I would leave with a smile and a shout, “You’re so generous, have a happy day.”
At the next stop I would begin, “Howdy, could you use some tomatoes?” “Yes, ma’am, I don’t mind if I do”, they would say. So it went from house to house redistributing vegetables and fruit of every kind and signing up kids. The bus route grew in popularity with its boxes of tomatoes, turnip greens, cucumbers, squash, beans, onions, okra, collards, carrots and a variety of fruits. The church doubled in size over night and while there was some major adjusting to do, it was wonderful.
That simple lesson of giving and receiving has stayed with me all of my life. I had to learn early that selfish pride and gratitude are strangers to each other. When someone offers to help me, share time with me or give me a bushel of greens, I just sing out, “Thanks friend, I don’t mind if I do.” That kind of response requires humility and blesses both the gift and the giver.
The apostle Paul wrote, “He that sows sparingly will reap also sparingly. He that sows bountifully will reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposes in his heart, let him give, not grudgingly nor of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:6-7). He also loves a cheerful receiver.
Last week I went for groceries. I filled the cart and pushed it into line. I asked a young boy server would he mind putting my groceries on the checkout counter and sacking them for me. I waited with a free cup of coffee. As the lid to the car opened, he carefully put all the groceries in place. It was Christmas time and I offered him double the tip I normally gave. He resisted. I said to him, repeat these words after me. “You are so generous, so helpful and kind. Thank you very much”. He was hesitant but just saying the words brought a smile to his lips. He received the tip and the simple lesson. As I turned to leave, he sang out the greeting, “Happy New Year”.
I smiled and realized that the lesson I learned nearly 60 years ago was still worth repeating.