Dad’s wallet — learning generosity from my father

My Dad kept his wallet in his back right pocket. I remember it being thick and full of credit cards, a little cash, notes, a full year’s calendar. There was also the plastic photo holder filled with pictures of me, my brothers and my mom.

Dad was very far from ever being considered rich, but you’d never know it from his wallet. If we were at dinner with another family, Dad was always the first to grab his wallet in order to pay the bill. He often did so on the sly so that by the time the time we would finish the meal, the bill would have long been paid leaving the other Dad surprised, and grateful.

I never thought too much about Dad’s wallet until I had a family of my own and discovered how few dollars were usually in mine. I have since learned from my Mom how tight things were when we were growing up. They would talk privately, late into the night, wondering how they were going to make ends meet. But I never knew.

Dad’s wallet always seemed to have more than enough as far as I could tell.

There was the time I found my wallet completely empty. I had nowhere to turn, except Dad’s wallet. A difficult and tearfilled phone call home resulted in an immediate gift which, to this day, I have no idea how Dad’s wallet managed. Missionaries, after all, are almost always just barely surviving financially. There was never even the slightest hint of repayment.

As Dad grew older, the need for his thick back pocket wallet changed. New technology let him carry around his calendar and notes on his cell phone as well as dozens of photos of his family. Several years ago I noticed Dad’s old wallet had become worn out and it was time for a new one. I found a new slim-lined front pocket wallet and wrapped it up for his birthday. It was the last wallet he would carry.

It’s funny how such a simple little thing as a wallet can become meaningful. Just this past week, my Mom and I returned from a trip to visit my youngest son. As we walked through the airport I mentioned I needed a new wallet because mine had started to fall apart. Shortly after returning home, Mom presented me with a gift. Yes, Dad’s wallet. The same one I had given Dad a few years earlier.

I love this wallet. I had carried it many times before running various errands for Dad when he was restricted to his bed. When he gave me his wallet, he intended for me to use it completely and freely, just as if he were standing next to me. And I did just that.

Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I think Dad understood that statement rather well and dedicated his life and wallet to “gain what he could not lose.” Dad believed God’s promises and often talked about being an “heir to an infinite inheritance.” He would quote Romans 8:17: “Since we are His children, we are His heirs…”

As I write this letter to you, Dad’s wallet is resting comfortably in my left front pocket. It was three years ago this month that the Lord took my Dad home to start collecting on that inheritance. Each time I pull out Dad’s wallet, sweet memories come pouring back. It has my things in it now, so I suppose to my kids it still is “Dad’s wallet.”

Over time, I know Dad’s wallet will wear down and eventually need to be replaced. That’s okay, it’s just a thing. But in many ways, it represents who I am, the choices I make and how I live my life. And that makes me wonder what my children will remember when they think about “Dad’s wallet.”

May God give me the grace to “give what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”

Ed Thompson is president of LOGOI Ministries and a frequent contributor to this newspaper. Follow his blog at

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