Monday with Michael Spencer: Mom’s Money

Monday with Michael Spencer: September 23, 2019
Mom’s Money

My parents were always poor. They came from poor people. They lived through the Depression. The first house I remember was small, run down and drafty. Dad never was able to stay with a good job for very long, then his health broke down and he was disabled. He worked nickle and dime jobs, but never made any money.

Mom always worked for the family. She baby sat, took in laundry, and eventually took on a part time job in a warehouse where she worked for more than twenty years. We survived because of mom’s hard work and my parent’s depression era thriftiness.

I never thought much about this as a kid. I knew that other kids had more — lots more — but I always had a bike and the toys I wanted. When I was into Daniel Boone, my parents got me the appropriate toys to pretend I was a frontiersman. They weren’t as expensive or as authentic as my friends’, but they were adequate. I always had a suit for Sunday, and my shoes were shined. My folks were “poor but proud.”

When I was twelve, my parents moved to another house. It wasn’t as run down or in the obvious category of an almost-shack. It was very, very small. Dad put my room in the basement, which was kind of creepy, but at least gave me a room of my own. It never occurred to me that I really didn’t have a room (the basement wasn’t finished.) I would go to sleep at night with the radio on to keep me company, and if it got too loud, dad would stomp on the floor and tell me to turn it down.

This tiny house was near the hospital, and I realized at some point that dad had bought the house with the hope that the hospital would want the property. He was right.

When I was 15, the hospital started buying up our block. Dad held out longer than almost anyone, and sold the house for a very good profit. It was the one and only time in our life that we had money.

I never saw the money, but I knew it was there. My parents were excited. Their ship had come in. They bought a house in the south end of town; a nice ranch style suburban house. Still pretty small, but considering where we started out, it was palatial. It was a nice neighborhood. We had a real yard that we could enjoy. I had a room that I could bring friends to. The front room had a big window looking out to the street. My parents loved that house, and lived there the rest of their married lives.

Denise and I married, and for years we would visit that house. We had a hide-a-bed in the den. Our kids were born, and slept out there with us. We loved the house, too. It was special because our family never really deserved it.

Dad died in 1993, and mom decided immediately to sell the house and move into a senior adult high rise. The sale didn’t take long, and the profit was, of course, very good. Mom now had some money in the bank, and she took good care of it for the rest of her life.

My mother never spent money — except on her favorite restaurants. She “shopped” at garage sales and thrift stores. The values she grew up with in stark poverty and through the depression were the values she lived out when she didn’t have to any more. She didn’t ever buy a new dress. She never took a cruise or a vacation. She put her money away.

Well…she tithed to her church, and she never let me leave her presence without giving me $20. In fact, when we were driving her to the hospital with the bleeding stroke that took her life, she kept trying to get into her purse and give me money in case I needed it at the hospital.

What did mom do with the money? She put it in CDs. She split it up, and put aside a good bit for each of my kids (her only two grandchildren.) When each graduated, they received the CD and interest. The rest of the money from the house went into a money market account, and there it stayed.

Mom always wanted to know where that money was. Was it OK? Would it be there if she had to go in a nursing home? Could I get to it if I needed to?

Mom passed away in July of this year. One of the last things I did after the funeral was go to the attorney’s office and start the process of making mom’s money — the house money she’d kept all those years — and making it my money.

The process took several weeks, but finally all was in place. I wrote the insurance companies first. Mom had all of $4000 in insurance. If she had taken those premiums and invested them, she’d have been rich, but she trusted the Prudential. Oh well.

Then I wrote Transamerica, and within a few days, the money market fund with all of mom’s money was in my hand. I looked at it. And I thought about what I was holding.

My parents dreamed, worked and sacrificed for this moment. A year before he died, my dad had given me a generous lump sum that he had saved $100 at a time to pass on to me. It was in $100 bills, wrapped in aluminum foil in a tackle box. Dad didn’t trust banks. I remember once when he buried a wad of cash in a coffee can under a rock in the back yard.

Now here was the rest of my parent’s money. Here was mom’s money that she never spent; the money she saved for her son; her one and only boy that had almost killed her coming into the world. I held in my hand all the money my mom had in the world.

I took it to the bank and put it in my account. It was mine now. I never worked for it. I never sacrificed for it. I never did without to have it. I never earned a dollar of it. It was a gift. My mom’s money, given to me because she had passed on, was now mine to do with as I pleased.

I’ve got the number of two good mutual funds.

Why am I telling you this story? To extol the values of my parent’s generation? To be nostalgic about what kind of people God gave me as family? To shame those of us who can’t save a dollar and are 14k in credit card debt and sinking? (That last one isn’t a bad idea.)

No, I am writing this to share the Gospel with you. The Good News of Jesus and his salvation.

II Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8a which he lavished upon us…

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved, 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

God does not give us a plan for earning salvation. He has one and only one plan: grace. Jesus Christ has the riches of his father. The riches of God’s love, acceptance and salvation. The riches of adoption. The riches of forgiveness. The riches of eternal security. The riches of heaven.

God will not be an employer. He is glorified and takes pleasure in giving his riches to us. He gives some of them to every person in common grace, but to those who have faith in Jesus, his son, God gives all of his riches.

Jesus has inherited all the riches of his Father, and now, at the Father’s command, and to fulfill the Father’s purpose, pleasure and desire, Jesus will give all those riches into the account of bankrupt, undeserving, rebels who have spent their lives living as if God and his Son were worthless.

God gives his riches in grace to those who believe, but he can only give them when his Son dies, and passes on, in the New “Testament/Covenant,” those riches to the family. We are the brothers, sisters and family of Jesus. His inheritance is now ours. Undeserved, but ours none the less.

Just as I deposited my mom’s money into my account, and that money became mine, so the salvation, the righteousness and the riches of Jesus Christ are credited to your account when you let go of the worthless treasures of this world, and declare your bankruptcy apart from God’s free gift of the greatest treasure of all: his Son.

An auditor would know that mom’s money was not generated or earned by me. That auditor would know that I came into possession of that money by grace. But the money is in my account. It is mine. It can pay my debts. It can do what money is meant to do, and it will do it for me. I am not just the recipient of kindness; I am the recipient of the gift of righteousness.

And he (Abram) believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6.

Jerry Bridges says the Christian life is a life of perpetual bankruptcy. I prefer to say we live in a state of perpetual inheritance. Never are we anything in and of ourselves, but only by the gracious gift of God, I have on my account the wealth of heaven itself, given to me as a gift.

This little analogy isn’t perfect. Theologians will pick it apart on the specifics. As an analogy, it’s far from perfect. That’s ok. It communicates to me the great gift of God. My parents showed me what God is like through their generosity. I have the opportunity to live the same way. It is not just receiving grace, but living grace, that makes us followers of Jesus. We are, as John Piper says, always standing under the fountain of God’s gracious giving to his children. From that, we should become gracious people who treat others with the love and generosity of God.

What can I do with mom’s money? Whatever I want. How does this gift from my mother change what I want to do with it? Don’t look for any new sport’s cars or cruises. No…I want to be, as much as possible, as good a husband and father as my folks were, so this money is a gift, but also a test and an opportunity.

So the grace of God in salvation is a gift, but also a demand, and an opportunity for God to be glorified even more as grace has more and more affect in the world.

I’ll never think of the money in my account as mine, even though it is counted as mine. I’ll always know it was mom’s, and came to me by her love for me. I also hope I’ll always think of these worldly things as an illustration of the greatest treasure of all: the Gospel.

26 thoughts on “Monday with Michael Spencer: Mom’s Money

  1. I guess my point is that many people never feel the gratefulness and obligation to stewardship. Unfortunately it is quite the contrary in numerous cases.


  2. My wife and I, and our cat, were homeless for a few weeks about fifteen years ago. We had been evicted from our apartment for nonpayment of rent. We stayed at a church in an affluent suburb of Northern Jersey that had a policy of keeping its door open 24/7 for anyone who wanted to come in, a policy they had adopted despite resistance from the municipality. We stayed in a little unlocked room on the lower floor. The same church also gave us an open-ended loan without payment terms so that we could afford security deposit and rent for a new apartment. We repaid the loan a few years later. Being homeless was a terrible experience. I still fear becoming homeless again one day.


  3. “ You may have heard the old proverb, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” In Japan, the expression goes, “Rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations.” The Scottish say “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” In China, “Wealth never survives three generations.”
    It’s a common phenomenon that inherited money is soon lost. That of course is not the point of this post but just an interesting aside.


  4. Some guys that work for me came from a place in Central America where the street, the walkway to your door and the floor of your home we’re one and the same continuous surface. Compact dirt. I don’t know that kind of poverty. I have had some stretches of woe where I literally did not have two pennies to rub together but somehow always found the rent before getting tossed on the street. I do know how bad that feels. The stress is intense. A good meal for anyone who later tastes the American Dream pie.


  5. We may see the abundance of nature in those mountains and green valleys, but they experience them as a trap they are unequipped to escape. Anyplace, no matter how beautiful, and be a prison if one is unable to prosper and thrive in it, or escape from it. The hopelessness generated by that sense of being trapped with no way out, and no way for things to get better, leads to addiction and alcoholism, in the beautiful mountains as much as in the poor inner city neighborhoods. Why clean up the trash in the yard, or keep the garbage off the sidewalks, if you’re only shoveling shit against the tide?


  6. And then divine grace is not a gift given once only. It comes again and again, time after time, even when one has squandered it time and time again. As a result of its character and prodigality, the obligations it imposes are tremendously large, perhaps infinite, and ultimately only it can cosign those obligations to make return.


  7. Yes, I certainly can see all that. Gifts leave obligations for the receiver. No doubt. At the same time, I wonder what obligations Lazarus dying at Dives’ gate and then resting in Abraham’s bosom can meet for the gift God gives him. And I wonder if we are again not dealing in absolute distinctions, but in paradoxes, and if our different understandings are not like parables: they offer insights and illumination, but when stretched too far, they lose their ability to reveal and light the way.


  8. Christiane,

    My father recently passed away and left me a little money. Your thoughts are exactly what I’m experiencing – quite a mix of emotions, and a great sense of responsibility. I’m not even sure I consider it mine. It is a gift, but with obligations, like grace.

    Your post made my think of a book I’ve been reading, ‘Paul and Gift’ by John M. G. Barclay (Durham University). He notes that the ancients (including Paul) would never have considered a ‘gift’ (‘charis’ – the word for grace in the NT) as ‘unmerited favor’ or without obligation. They were always considered reciprocal, and a kind of trust. He summarizes his survey of the ancient sources as follows:

    ‘For our purposes, it is especially important to trace the notion of the emergence of the “pure” gift – the notion of gift as ideally “free” from obligation, and unreciprocated, given without a return. As we have seen, in antiquity it was taken for granted that gifts are accompanied by obligations and should elicit some form of return; even philosophers who disavowed a material return (Aristotle) or scorned utilitas (Seneca) considered gifts/benefactions to be necessarily embedded in reciprocal relations. They did not share the modern idealization of the unilateral gift, which has such a powerful hold on contemporary notions of “altruism,” especially in religious discourse. Given the tendency of this ideology to color our reading of the ancient evidence, it is important to trace its origins. Once we understand the “pure” gift as a cultural product, we can resist the modern tendency to take it as a natural or necessary configuration of the paradigmatic gift.’

    Inheritance, like grace, does have obligations.


  9. I think inherited money is a ‘responsibility’ to the memory of one’s parents, yes. That is, if you know what they went through to earn it and if you know what they gave up to save it to pass on.

    Inherited money comes with obligations that are difficult to explain, and there are emotions involved of grief, of guilt, of how best to use it so that THEY would be pleased if they were aware of it
    . . . illogical? . . . . perhaps; but there it is.

    Inherited money comes with invisible baggage, yep.


  10. Maybe in the hills of Appalachia, those beautiful hills and valleys, where the people who settled built shanty cabins and did the moonshine thing and worked the coal mines for little pay and black lung disease, and the women grew old before their time, and the children grew up to be addicts

    Which is where Michael Spencer lived and worked when he started blogging as Internet Monk. I know he blogged about Appalachian culture in some of this earlier posts.


  11. people who so often claim God’s grace for their sorry selves must realize that their statements of belief don’t sound sincere when THEY are so quick to point the finger with contempt at ‘those other sinners’


  12. “Do we understand ‘poor’ in America?”

    Not my generation by and large. My parents grew up in the depression and at least could fathom the concept of doing without. The boomers were quick to criticize their parents as materialistic and conformist but had no real clue about doing without. Age does bring a kind of wisdom although none of us are as smart as we would like to be. I grew up with a luxury my parents did not have. Only now when I face the third act of the play do I really begin to see that.


  13. Perpetual bankruptcy vs perpetual inheritance, maybe it is a “both and” paradox instead of an “either or” as in say maybe “perpetual personal bankruptcy” and “perpetual godly inheritance.”


  14. There are a lot of deep thoughts in this piece.

    “God does not give us a plan for earning salvation. He has one and only one plan: grace.”

    “God will not be an employer. He is glorified and takes pleasure in giving his riches to us.”

    “Jerry Bridges says the Christian life is a life of perpetual bankruptcy. I prefer to say we live in a state of perpetual inheritance.” (A Christian who thinks we live a life of perpetual bankruptcy… I’d say I’m not sure what kind of God he believes.)

    “…so this money is a gift, but also a test and an opportunity.”


  15. I hired an immigrant family to help us clean and do yard work. The man told me he had never had a pair of shoes until he was about eleven years old.

    Do we understand ‘poor’ in America?

    Maybe in the hills of Appalachia, those beautiful hills and valleys, where the people who settled built shanty cabins and did the moonshine thing and worked the coal mines for little pay and black lung disease, and the women grew old before their time, and the children grew up to be addicts

    the hopelessness, the depression of spirit, the addiction and alcoholism, the trash in the yard, the shabbiness in the midst of great natural beauty and resources all indicate a poverty of the human spirit

    there are some kinds of poverty that are worse than others

    our ‘depression era’ parents were strong people with hope for better times to come, but the poor who live among those mountains who cannot see the abundance of the nature all around them, what is it that they do not know their own wealth and worth? what is it that generationally drives them to moonshine, drunkeness, and opioids?

    poverty? or something much, much worse?


  16. Ultimately, Michael had self sacrificing parents; he was fortunate indeed.

    I was fortunate, my folks were not at all materialistic. That has mostly carried over.

    Growing up, my tennis shoes were always inexpensive – mostly “Red Ball Jets.” By middle school, all my friends were wearing Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars. My very first purchase after starting a job as an afternoon dishwasher at a local hospital was a pair of Converse All Stars. I was thrilled.
    In my late teens, Adidas showed up on the radar. I bought a pair [ many pairs over the years ] because I was a basketball nerd. At 22, got married; two weeks later I’m going thru my closet trying to find my old Adidas. Turns out my wife had thrown them out. We had our first significant fight; I was incensed. She was confused.

    Nowadays, If I could buy a pair of Red Ball Jets for 6 dollars, I would. [ Chuck Taylor All Stars were 12 dollars as I recall. back in the day.]


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