by Margalea Warner
Margalea Warner is a writer and secretary living in Coralville, Iowa. She is a Peer to Peer mentor and motivational speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She belongs to First Mennonite Church of Iowa City. She is kitty mom to her three legged cat Millie. Every morning she asks herself, What do I have to do? Who do I love? What do I look forward to today? Then she does Tai Chi.
I saw life burst forth from a place of barrenness after my father, Phil Warner, passed away at age 92, on January 1, 2008. My father and I had been graced by loving support from hospice and our First Mennonite Church family but I was still devastated to lose him. I knew he had loved me but in the days and weeks after his death I wondered if his love was still available to me. To my surprise, when I least expected it, he persistently showered me with generosity.
The last Christmas before he died my father out did himself in lavish giving. He asked an artist friend from North Carolina to send him some artwork portraying the ocean to give me. She sent three seascapes, one of a cloudy sky beach, one of the moon rising over the ocean, and one of a beach cottage with blue water on the horizon. He hid them under his bed for months and somehow managed to keep them a secret from me. Christmas morning he phoned me and asked, “How do you like your presents?” I said, “I haven’t opened them yet—we said we would wait until I came over.” But his hearing was impaired from an ear infection so he just laughed and declared “I knew you would love them!”
I hung the paintings in my living room and every morning as part of my quiet time I would look at them. I noticed that one painting had two sea gulls gliding through the clouds. It reminded me of the dove coming down from heaven with God’s message for Jesus, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” It took a long time to absorb that message. I was so lonely for the way Dad had kept my mailbox full of cards and clippings from the Washington Post and the occasional one- or five-dollar bill. When I cleaned his room I found his wallet with less than twenty dollars in it. I made a habit of tucking away money in the wallet and calling it “my inheritance.” My inheritance covered emergency taxi rides, friends in need of grocery money, and even the NAMI walk. Where it called for the address of the giver on the donor form, I wrote, “Los Angeles.”
Fast forward to 2014: Imagine my surprise when the University of Iowa named their fund raising campaign “I am Phil.” This was short for philanthropy. But my father’s name was Phil. The campaign’s symbol was packages with gold ribbons. My father’s favorite color was yellow. In that same spirit of generosity, Hills Bank handed out ten dollar bills to customers with instructions to “pay it forward.” I thought perhaps I could assemble one MCC school kit. Coming out of Hy-Vee where I had scanned the school supply aisle, I saw some green paper blowing across the street. Thinking it was litter, I chased after it. But amazingly, it wasn’t trash, but money. There were three one dollar bills and one ten. No pedestrians or even cars were anywhere nearby. I decided Dad had to have sent it as a way of tickling me and making my heart bigger with love.
When I shared this story with my friend Erica Reschly, she went to Hills bank and got her customer pay-it-forward money. We both added the contents of our MCC coin banks. Even my banker, Nick, contributed money that his wife had found unclaimed. But Dad wasn’t finished with his delightful surprises! When Erica put a dollar into the hospital vending machine for a snack late one night at the end of her shift, it spit back her dollar…and then another dollar…and another dollar. In all, the machine burped out twenty dollar bills. We knew my Dad was at it again. We bought school supplies on sale. Erica and her daughters came to my house for a dolls tea party and we helped sew and assemble seven kits total that we took to Crowded Closet to send where needed most. Remembering how exciting new school supplies could be was half the fun.
My inheritance keeps growing, my dad’s loving generosity as faithful as ever. I think Dad would be pleased that I have found in Tai Chi a moving meditation that renews my love and energy. I’ve done it so long and so persistently you could call me a Triumphant Tai Chi Tortoise. I often practice it in my living room facing the painting with the birds gliding in the clouds. I think I hear—both from my heavenly father and my father in heaven—“this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” This advent, I will let that generous inheritance be a living gift.