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His Final Gift


In August of 1966 my parents drove my twin brother and me to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where we began our undergraduate college studies. Southwestern was and is a very fine private school, and my four years there changed my life. But I always wondered how my parents managed it. My father’s income was modest, and Southwestern was pricey. Most of the students I attended school with came from families of considerably higher economic status. I was not haunted by this fact, but I was always curious.

I was 39 years old when my father died in 1987, and I drew the job of helping my mother with estate matters. That is mostly a thankless task that entails more details than I enjoy. One afternoon, however, I was rummaging through an old file cabinet and found the paperwork on a bank loan my father had paid off in 1981. It was with a Wichita Falls bank, and as I read the fine print of the note I began to weep. My father had borrowed a considerable amount of money in order to send us to college, and he had paid faithfully on that note every month for a full eleven years after we had graduated. Up until the day he died, he never said a word about it.

One of the lessons I have learned most fully at age 70 is that we all really do stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. My father had lived through the depression, enlisted in the Navy during WWII, and committed to the ministry at a time when pastors in early appointments often lived in near poverty. He died at age 61, but he left a great legacy. In the years he was with us he taught about the importance of sacrifice, service, and commitment. He had an unflinching belief in the power of the church to change the world and to make a profound difference in the lives of ordinary people. He believed passionately in living a life of generosity. I never doubted any of these things about him. But his final witness came at the time of his death. At age 39, reading the fine print of an old bank loan, I realized how fully he had quietly and unceremoniously embodied all those values he had taught. This was his final gift to me.

Rev. Don Underwood