A Time to Give

"Neat as a pin" is the phrase that comes to mind seeing Patricia McGehee's home in Lewisburg, Tennessee.

The yard is well kept, the landscape is tidy and the house is in good repair.

Upon meeting her, a guest in her home is not surprised to see that she, too, is neat and attractive. Every hair is in place. Her makeup is tasteful. Her pink sweater is soft and comfortable.

Mrs. McGehee is the widow of Joseph McGehee, a Tennessee pastor who died of leukemia at age 43 in 1981. Since then, she has lived in the home they bought together. Thanks to GuideStone's Mission:Dignity, Mrs. McGehee doesn't have to worry about being able to stay there.

"My husband and I had lived in parsonages until a few years before he got sick," Mrs. McGehee said. "That was just fine and we appreciated it, but he decided it would make more financial sense if we bought our own home. That was a wise decision for us then and especially for me since he passed away."

After her husband's death, she decided to stay in Lewisburg. "Our two sons were teenagers at the time. I didn't want to have to move them from their school where they were happy and involved. They had been through so much with their father's death that I wanted to keep their lives as stable as I could. We also had such wonderful support from our church. I couldn't leave."

Mrs. McGehee graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1960, with a degree in elementary education. She taught school in Fort Worth, Texas, while her husband attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "I loved teaching," she said. "I love children and helping them learn was such a joy."

Following seminary, her husband received a call from Ewing Drive Baptist Church in Nashville. They were happy to be returning home to Tennessee. Seven years later, he accepted the call to pastor First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Tennessee, the town she still calls home.

"I didn't go back into the classroom after Joseph became a pastor," she said. "He didn't want me to work; just be a pastor's wife."

But, like any pastor's wife, Mrs. McGehee did work! "I was still a teacher," she said with a laugh. "I taught Sunday School, Bible Drill and anything else I needed to teach. I just didn't get paid for it. But, I did love it."

After her husband's death, Mrs. McGehee managed to financially get by, but it was a struggle.

"I took care of Joseph while he was sick, and then after his death, I continued to be a caregiver," she said. "My mother was sick. I took care of her until her death. Then my mother-in-law became ill, and I cared for her until her death."

Caregiving continued to be a thread through Mrs. McGehee's life.

"One of the young mothers in our church called me one day to ask a favor," Mrs. McGehee said. "Her regular babysitter was sick, and she asked if I would be willing to take care of her preschooler for a few days.

"I was delighted," she said. "I had a wonderful time with her those few days. The mother said her daughter had such a good time with me and asked if I would be willing to keep her full time. I said I would love to."

Mrs. McGehee turned her large den into an in-home preschool. She kept a few children at a time and enjoyed every minute of it. "Those children were so sweet," she said. "It was good for me to have something so fulfilling to do. I know it helped the children with their (preschool) education, but it helped their parents too."

She continued her preschool until her last granddaughter started school.

"My husband was pastor of small churches here in Tennessee and, like many pastors, didn't make a large salary," she said. "My widow's benefit is small, but with that and my in-home preschool business I managed."

When she retired from her preschool business, her income dropped considerably. Despite living very modestly, it was a struggle to keep up.

"It seemed like every time a bill came, it was higher than the last one," she said. "Electricity and gas kept going up, insurance, everything."

Her son, Tim, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Tullahoma, Tenn., told her about GuideStone's Mission:Dignity program and asked her if he could help her apply for a grant.

"I had not heard of Mission:Dignity before," she said. "I thought it sounded like an answer to prayer. Tim told me about other retirees who received help and how it was meeting needs in their lives."

Mrs. McGehee was not accustomed to receiving help. She had always been one to help others.

"I've never been one to take anything I don't deserve," she said. "But Tim reminded me that the people who donate to the Mission:Dignity fund want to help retired ministers and ministers' wives. He reminded me all of us have a time to give and a time to receive."

Mrs. McGehee has been receiving help through the Mission: Dignity program since 2010. The extra income from the program has been a blessing to her, allowing her the opportunity to remain in her home and keep her independence.

"Because of Mission: Dignity, I have been able to do some things I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise," she said. "I don't have to worry about paying my bills. Getting the extra Mission: Dignity funds each month has made such a difference in my life. GuideStone has been wonderful to me."

Mrs. McGehee is still an active member at First Baptist, Lewisburg. "I love my church," she said. "For some pastor's widows, it might be hard to stay at the same church where her husband pastored, but I'm glad I stayed." Her church and her family mean everything to her.

Her son, Tim, and his family, live less than an hour away. Her other son, Kevin, is on staff at East Commerce Baptist Church there in Lewisburg, and is athletic director at Marshall County High School. "I'm so proud of my sons and their wives and children," she said. "All of them are wonderful Christians. God has blessed my family richly."