TL/DR - My grandmother generously served her "Bible Believing Christian" church for almost 50 years, without asking anything in return. But when she became elderly, disabled and homebound, her church acted like she did not exist - until she was in hospice care and literally on her deathbed, when that church showed a sudden interest in telling Grandma to, "Remember your church in your will". She waited until exactly the right moment, in front of exactly the right audience, to expose these greedy assholes for what they were.....twice.
My grandmother was a member of a large conservative "Bible Believing" church for her entire adult life. This church, which I'll call BigWhiteChurch, was a member of a large Evangelical denomination. BigWhiteChurch was located in a prosperous suburb of a large city in the Bible Belt of the Deep South of the USA.
Grandma was very active in BigWhiteChurch. She worked in the nursery every Sunday morning, helped cook hundreds of church fellowship breakfasts and dinners, accompanied her children and grandchildren on dozens of church retreats and choir tours, taught Youth Bible Study on Sunday nights and was very active in supporting Home Missions, as well as helping with other youth programs. She always tithed, and often gave extra for missions and special offerings.
Grandma's greatest talent was making other people feel important. I've seen this first-hand many times. Although I belonged to a different church, I often visited with Grandma, and when I did, I usually went to BigWhiteChurch functions with her. I've seen her single-handedly cook breakfast for dozens of BigWhiteChurch Youth, a task which took over 2 hours, even in the church's large kitchen. Then, after the meal, she asked the group for a round of applause for the high-school student leader for, "Doing such a great job of organizing the Prayer Breakfast".
I remember that, on a BigWhiteChurch youth retreat at a rural Church Camp, she drove most of the night to go back to the city and retrieve a big box of evangelistic materials, that one of the Assistant Pastors (whom I'll call AssPastor) had forgotten and asked her to get, in time for our morning program the next day. His boss, the Senior Pastor (I'll call him PompousPastor), never found out that AssPastor had screwed up or that Grandma had fixed it for him. AssPastor never even thanked Grandma. Even though I was a child, this bothered me so much that I asked her about it. She said that she didn't mind at all; she told me her reward would be that those materials, "Would help children find Jesus".
Grandma's service to her church ended abruptly at the age of 73, when she broke her back in a car accident. Afterwards, for the last 10 years of her life, she was homebound and could not go to church because of this injury and declining health due to old age. Her mind was just as sharp as ever, and her faith remained sincere, but her body wore out a little more every day.
During those 10 years, she made many efforts to reach out to her church, its leadership and her church friends, inviting them to visit her at her home, etc., without success. Every one of these invitations was declined or simply ignored.
Near the end, when she was in home hospice care, she decided to plan her own funeral. She and my Grandpa called her church and asked for the Senior Pastor, PompousPastor, whom she had known for over 30 years, to visit her so that they could plan her memorial service, which she and Grandpa wanted to be held at the church.
PompousPastor was too busy, but AssPastor stopped by a few days later. According to my Grandpa, here's what happened at that meeting, with my Grandma literally on her deathbed:
Grandma, Grandpa and AssPastor discussed her funeral for a couple of minutes. Then AssPastor started pressuring her to, "Lay up your treasure in Heaven" by, "Remembering your church in your will".
Grandpa told him firmly that, "This is neither the time nor the place to discuss her will."
They went back to discussing the funeral for a few minutes. Then AssPastor steered the conversation back to Grandma's will, with liberal injections of how badly "her" church needed "her support".
Grandpa told him several times that it was inappropriate to talk to Grandma about her will or the church's financial needs, because she was terminally ill and in an enormous amount of physical pain. AssPastor would agree and briefly talk about the funeral, but would then go back to talking about the church's financial needs, heavenly rewards, "Where your treasure is your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34), etc.
My Grandma started crying.
To put this into context, Grandma was more than a "Steel Magnolia". She was "Titanium Coated With Diamond Wrapped In Kevlar". She rarely ever cried, and never EVER cried about herself. Not one tear when the doctor told her that her back was broken so badly that she would never walk again, nor during the following 6 months in futile rehab. She would shed sincere but well-managed tears at funerals and while visiting family members in the hospital when they received bad news. She would cry to console others, "Weep with those who weep". But nobody - not Grandpa, not her daughter (my mom), nor any of my uncles or Grandma's siblings - ever remembered her crying for herself.
My Grandma was sobbing uncontrollably.
Grandpa, a retired steelworker, ex-Marine Sergeant and Korean War combat veteran, physically grabbed AssPastor and "escorted" him out of their house, not too gently.
Contrary to everyone's expectations, Grandma lived another 6 months, mostly because of sheer force of will. Eventually, though, Grandma passed away and we held her memorial service at the funeral home, not BigWhiteChurch. PompousPastor and AssPastor were conspicuously absent. In fact, there were no "Professional Christians", from BigWhiteChurch, at the service at all, not even in the audience.
To start the service, Grandpa stood up at the podium in front of the crowd and said, "Some of you may have heard that I dis-invited PompousPastor and AssPastor from this funeral service. This service is not an appropriate place for me to give you my reasons for doing this, although you all know me and so you know that my reasons are good ones. Also, my wife asked me to exclude them."
"This funeral service may be different from other funerals that you have attended. It is going to be an "open microphone" funeral. Everyone who wants to say something is invited to come up here and describe your friendship with my wife, tell a story about her that is worth remembering, or anything else that you want to say that will honor her memory and bring comfort to everyone here today. I have asked several family members to prepare statements, but you don't have to have anything prepared. Please, if you want to say something, come up here and do so."
There were about a hundred people at the funeral service; at least a third of them eventually stepped up to the microphone. The service, which we had planned to last about 30 minutes, lasted for over two hours and, as best I can tell, not one person left early. There was laughing, crying and hugging, three of her grandchildren played some of her favorite songs on the piano and guitar, we all joined hands and sang her favorite hymns.
Afterwards, dozens of people told my Grandpa that it was one of the most comforting and uplifting funerals they had ever attended. More than a few remarked that, "Funerals are better without preachers anyway", or something similar.
REMEMBERING HER PASTORS AND HER CHURCH IN HER WILL: THE ONE-TWO PUNCH
A couple of weeks later, it was time to start distributing the bequests in Grandma's will. Although Grandma and Grandpa dearly loved each other, they had separate wills because, she told my Mom, "That makes it easier for us to respect each other's turf", and because their lawyer had recommended it. Nobody thought that my grandparents were wealthy. They had lived in the same small but charming house in a prosperous, well-maintained suburban neighborhood for the past 50+ years, and had worked hard and lived modestly. But it was rumored that they had a very nice nest egg.
Of course, there is no legal requirement for anyone to attend "The Reading Of The Will", or to even have a "Reading". Modern telecommunications and near-universal literacy have made this quaint custom practically extinct.
But "The Reading Of The Will" was a tradition in our family because it was one of those events that gave our close-knit, extended family an excuse to get together. We never had "Family Reunions". They were too difficult to schedule for our large family. But we got together at birthdays, holidays, funerals, baptisms, etc., so that if you attended several of these, you would see just about every one of your cousins, aunts, uncles, and even great aunts & uncles who were Grandma's and Grandpa's siblings and in-laws.
With this family tradition in mind, many of our family members' wills often contained very personal bequests of items that had little cash value, but were the departed family member's way of telling their loved ones that they wanted to share a cherished memory with them one last time.
As an added incentive to attend, the family rumor mill had been buzzing with speculation, encouraged by Grandpa, that Grandma's will contained some "surprises".
The "Reading" was held in a conference room at a lawyer's office. Unsurprisingly, the attendees included my mom, as well as aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles and many of the grandchildren.
We were all surprised, however, to see PompousPastor and AssPastor from BigWhiteChurch. They informed us that Grandma's lawyer had told them that Grandma's will had bequests not only for BigWhiteChurch, but also for them personally.
Maybe it was just our imagination; but my siblings, cousins and I couldn't help noticing that these Preachers appeared to be actively salivating over their good fortune at Grandma's generosity.
Grandma had a large family, so a sizeable number of beneficiaries were named in her will. The lawyer's conference room was a bit smaller than an average middle-class living room. Extra chairs had been brought in, every seat was filled and people were standing in every remaining space.
There was barely space for all of us. Grandma's lawyer suggested that PompousPastor and AssPastor sit in chairs which were in the front of the room, next to himself. Since there was a large table in the room, this meant that the lawyer and these two Preachers were the only ones who were directly facing everyone else. Although the Preachers were gratified to be physically next to the center of attention, they did not notice, as all of the rest of us quickly noticed, that these seats made it easy for everyone else in the room to watch them closely, and practically impossible for them to leave the packed-to-more-than-overflowing room before the entire meeting was over, because they were farthest from the room's single door, and there were almost two dozen people standing or sitting between them and their only path to escape.
The bequests were quite generous, but pretty much what we had expected. Grandpa kept their house, its contents, their retirement accounts and everything that remained after all of the bequests had been satisfied. Children, grandchildren and several local charities received nice, but not extravagant, amounts of money. Several sentimental items were named and given to various friends and relatives.
Grandpa was first beneficiary listed in the will. But, after him, all of the other bequests were arranged in order of increasing worth. They started with sentimental items, which had very small cash value. Then each grandchild received several thousand dollars, then each son, daughter, brother, sister, niece and nephew received a little more, then several local non-profits received very nice amounts, etc.
Bequests to BigWhiteChurch, PompousPastor and AssPastor were (almost) the last ones listed in the will. They listened politely to the other bequests, but with steadily growing anticipation, as they noticed the exponential upward trend in Grandma's largess.
When Grandma's lawyer got to the BigWhiteChurch and Preachers' part of the will, he said, "This is a bit unusual, but before I announce these bequests to BigWhiteChurch, PompousPastor and AssPastor, Ms [Grandma's name] requested that I read the following statement to everyone present."
He opened a letter that was written in Grandma's own handwriting...
"For the past 10 years, NOT ONE person from BigWhiteChurch has ever called me, come to visit me or sent me a note to tell me that they cared about me. Not one minister, not one deacon, not one of the church women, not one of the church members who I worked with for all of those years, loved dearly and thought were my friends. I worked very hard for you when you needed me, for many, many years. But when I needed you and your church, you all pretended that I didn't exist."
"I only got one visit. When I was dying and I invited PompousPastor to come to my house and help me plan my funeral."
"This was my last attempt, after many attempts that I had made over the past 10 years, to reach out to my church and Pastor, whom I still loved dearly even though they had made it clear that they did not love me. If only I could have my funeral at my church, maybe some of my church friends, whom I had not seen in a decade, would come to the service to see me one last time. And I know they loved to hear PompousPastor preach, so if he preached at my funeral, maybe they would come to my funeral to hear him, even if they would not have come to see me.
But PompousPastor couldn't find the time to visit me, or even call me to tell me whether or not he was willing to preach at my funeral. AssPastor came by my house, but he didn't want to talk about my funeral. He just wanted me to, 'Remember his church in my will'. That's all. Just, 'Remember his church in my will'".
"It was then that I realized that I had allowed my church to break my heart for one last time. But that was the last time. The VERY last time."
"AssPastor did not know it when he visited me, but Grandpa and I had already prepared my will, long before his visit, which did include a double tithe - TWENTY PERCENT - of my ENTIRE ESTATE, for what was now my former ... FORMER ... church ... BigWhiteChurch.
This amount was [named the amount - an enormous shitload of money - generating muffled "wows" from many of her heirs, including me].
"But I got to feeling badly that we had not personally remembered such nice people as PompousPastor and AssPastor. So I changed my will to include them by name. While I was at it, I changed the amount of money that I left to BigWhiteChurch to match all of the love that they have showed to me during the last 10 years of my life, when I was suffering and lonely, and no longer able to work my ass off for them, for free, like I had done for almost half a century."
"That is her entire written statement", the lawyer said. "Now let's get back to the bequests in the will."
"Bequest to AssPastor: One Cent".
"Bequest to PompousPastor: One Cent".
"Bequest to BigWhiteChurch: One Cent".
The PompousPastor and AssPastor sat there looking like someone had just injected a gallon of novacaine into their jaws.
Every one of Grandma's family and friends felt an overwhelming urge to laugh out loud. But we kept quiet because we knew Grandma. We knew she wasn't finished yet. Grandma was simply setting them up for a one-two punch. The best was yet to come, and we didn't want to miss it.
"There is one last bequest," the lawyer continued, "For a charity called ...", which he named and I'll call "BlackCharity", then he paused before naming the amount....
Most of us had no idea what BlackCharity was. But, by the looks on their faces, we could tell that PompousPastor and AssPastor knew BlackCharity very well. Their faces displayed the same expressions of shock, dread and horror that they would have if the lawyer had said, "This bequest goes to The Demonic Baby Eaters to buy extra large rotisserie barbecue grills and tons of charcoal".
Every eye in the room was now fixated on PompousPastor and AssPastor.
The lawyer, who happened to be my uncle, one of Grandma's and Grandpa's sons, let the silence continue a few seconds more....
If we had been able to read PompousPastor's and AssPastor's minds, we would have known the history behind the looks on their faces. BlackCharity was sponsored by a large Black church just a few miles from BigWhiteChurch. They ran a free food/clothing bank, assistance programs for foster children, home delivery of pre-cooked meals for homebound seniors, legal aid, and other social services.
A long time ago, BigWhiteChurch, which was (and still is) 100% Caucasian, had provided a few years of financial and other support to BlackCharity. Then there was a very bitter, acrimonious breakup, allegedly because BlackCharity was practicing "The Social Gospel", while BigWhiteChurch was preaching "The True Gospel". BigWhiteChurch even sued to try to get some of their money back, although the suit was eventually settled and very little money actually changed hands.
But, this being The Deep South, everyone knew the real reason why BigWhiteChurch, or any white church, would stop supporting a Black charity: "Those n****** were getting uppity and not staying in their place". Grandma and Grandpa had seriously considered leaving BigWhiteChurch at that time. But they had reasoned that it was better to stay there and teach tolerance by their words and example. They knew they would never persuade everyone, but maybe they could reach some of the youth at their white church and break the generational cycle of racism. Grandma used to tell us, "My church is my Mission Field". We did not learn the true depth of her statement until after she died.
Since then, Grandma and Grandpa had secretly sent a portion of their "Tithe" to BlackCharity every month.
Most of Grandma's family, including me, didn't find out about any of this until after the meeting had ended.
But PompousPastor and AssPastor obviously understood what Grandma, by her actions which are more powerful than words, was saying to them. If you had grown up as a white person in the Deep South, as Grandma, Grandpa, PompousPastor and AssPastor had, you would understand.
To many white Southerners, this was one of the most personally insulting things you could do to them. It simultaneously labeled them as racists, condemned their bigotry and crushed their delusions of white superiority by saying, "These Black human beings, whom you hate, disrespect and have mistreated, are better people than you are. So they deserve my money more than you do".
Having allowed time for everyone to observe PompousPastor and AssPastor while they thought about how their white church had treated this Black charity, and how they AND their church had treated our Grandma...
The lawyer said, "The amount is...."
Then he named the EXACT SAME AMOUNT that Grandma had named in her handwritten letter, the huge amount of money that would have gone to BigWhiteChurch if she had not changed her will.
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