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Father Leaves Legacy Through Giving

When I was a kid, my dad told me two stories all the time. In the first one, a couple goes to Harvard University and asks to see the president, because they want to give a donation to the university. The president agrees to see them, but he doesn't know them, and because they're from somewhere way out west, he treats them curtly. After a few moments, the woman finally turns to her husband and says, "Come, Leland; I think there are better things we can do with our money." The man was Leland Stanford, founder (with his wife) of Stanford University.

Even as a child, I understood that the moral of this story was not, "Be nice to strangers." Instead, this story was about who has real power. The moral is, "If you have money, you can tell anyone—even the most established, respected, or powerful person in the world—to go take a flying leap."

The second story my father used to tell me went like this: One day a minister was invited to John D. Rockefeller's mansion. As he drove up the winding drive lined with tall trees, he said, "My, my! This is what the Lord might have done—if he'd had the money."

As a child, I understood the moral of this story, too. The minister, who represents belief in God, is overwhelmed by Rockefeller's wealth. Not only that, he says God himself doesn't have as much money as Rockefeller. Implicit in this claim is that he doesn't have as much power, either. Rockefeller is more powerful than God, because money is more powerful than God.

As you might guess from the stories my dad told me growing up, he spent most of his life working really hard to make money. But then he made a tactical error. My mom and I were going to an Episcopal Church service, and he decided to come along. The priest was full of old-time religion, and he gave an altar call. Something connected with my dad that day, and he went forward and began to follow Jesus. He was 60-years-old. He began to read a small, blue King James Bible, and for the first time in his life, he began giving with real interest. He told me, in what was a rare sharing of his personal life, "Kevin, I've started to tithe, and it's been a great adventure."

My dad suffered a heart attack at age 70. He lay in a hospital bed for 5 days, and then he died. At the funeral home, they laid him in a casket with his navy blazer and a Lands' End tie. A woman I'd never seen came up to me and said, "You don't know me, but I was in a bad marriage; my husband was beating me, and I needed to get out to save my life. But I didn't know what I would do to support myself. Your dad paid for me to go to junior college and get a degree, so I could be a dental hygienist. He paid for the whole thing, and nobody else knew about it. Now I have a job, and I'm making it. Your dad literally saved my life."

I wonder what would have been my dad's legacy if he had kept loving money and trying to be like Leland Stanford and John D. Rockefeller. He would have died with a lot of money, but not a lot of love. Instead, he took a risk. He tried to learn how to "keep his life free from the love of money." And when he died, he left behind a woman who knows every day when she cleans people's teeth that it's a miracle she's still alive.

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