My family have a small collection of parable-people who have been particularly meaningful to us. Personal saints who have touched our shared life as a family.
This might be because they have come to our aid in time of need, such as the family who stopped, leaving half of them with us by the side of the road in the Kenyan wilderness to drive my dad to the next town and back when our tyre blew out on the way to Mombasa.
Or it might be because they have exhibited a particular Christ-like value, such as Florrie McRobert.
When we were a missionary family with MAF in Kenya, part of the deal was that each summer we would go on furlough in order to travel up and down the UK, visiting churches and giving presentations on the work that MAF do and – in short – why they should give us money to do so.
It’s never pleasant asking people for money. We are always looking for excuses not to part with it. Generosity does not come easily to us, and the church suffers when we hoard our finances. I’m not great at it. My primary excuse is that I don’t have a regular income and as soon as I do, then I’ll be able to afford to be generous. It’s a shoddy excuse but it tragically works. Or at least, it will work until July when I will have a regular stipend and will have to either find another excuse or start to be generous – I think I know which one God requires of me.
Florrie McRobert puts me to shame.
She was an old lady in my Grandma’s church in the village of Gargrave who died several years ago. I don’t remember her very well. Short, round-faced, smiley. She was very frail and not very mobile; my Grandma used to pick her up and drive her to church. Over the years since we left Kenya, she has been epitomised in my mind as the classic old lady with a heart of gold.
She wasn’t a rich woman. Far from it. She was a widow and lived off a very meagre pension, if my facts are correct. Basically, if anybody had a reason to withhold their cash, she did.
And yet she was generous with her small pension, choosing to donate what little she could spare towards MAF and our involvement with them. My dad was particularly touched by her generosity, likening her to the widow that Jesus singles out as giving more with her penny than all those young rich men who might give financially more but with neither the heart nor the generosity in terms of percentage (see Mark 12. 41-44).
Florrie McRobert is something of a family saint. She will never be known by many or celebrated and commemorated widely in the Church, but she will be remembered by us for her Christ-like generosity. She is a parable-person. Parables offer an alternative way to live in a society that says there is one way to live. In this case, society says to make as much money as you can and to hoard it. We are not a generous society, by and large. Florrie subverted that narrative imposed by society, giving out of her poverty to aid a charity that flies aid into remote parts of the third world.
Saints are sometimes described as those people who let the light shine through. This came from a child originally, I believe, seeing saints in stained glass windows. The description is profound, though. Saints let the light of Christ shine through their lives by their love and their acts.
Florrie is a brightly shining saint in our family, and she keeps me Christian and will inspire me for years to come to be generous with what this world gives me.