A Testimony of Prayer and Tithing
A few years ago my wife, Sherry, and I found ourselves in debt beyond our means. One month our bills actually came to more than our income, so we had to decide who not to pay. Our decision was to “borrow” from the Lord by not paying our tithing that month, but we promised we would make it up during the summer. (I am a school teacher, and during the summer I cut timber.) April, May, and June came and our situation didn’t change; each month we “borrowed” from the Lord. Altogether we got behind $400.
When school was out for the summer, it started to rain, so I couldn’t work as many days as I had planned. I was on a ten-month teaching contract, and since my last school check was in June my timber money for July and August had to go for living expenses. By the end of the summer we still owed $335 to the Lord.
We knew we had to pay our tithing back some way, and we constantly worried about it. One day I was near the sand dunes outside St. Anthony, Idaho, and no one was around. I decided to pray about our situation. As I knelt there in the scrub, the Spirit of the Lord touched me, and I promised him that somehow I would repay him but I didn’t know when. I went home feeling renewed and told my wife of my experience. We decided we should fast to ask the Lord to help us manage financially and pay our tithing.
The previous year I had joined a tax-sheltered annuity program in which $25 a month was taken from my check before taxes. We had more or less forgotten about it, but now I decided that I needed to send for the money. Two days before our first school check came, we received a check for the amount of $333.83, just $1.17 short of the amount of the tithing we owed. Of course, we paid our tithing with it.
However, on September 20 temptation came again with our school check. Our bills, including that month’s tithing, totalled only two dollars less than our check. We didn’t know what to do, since we didn’t think two dollars would last too long. Our decision this time, though, was to pay our tithing and all our bills for the month and depend on the Lord. One of the promises in my wife’s patriarchal blessing was that if her husband honored his priesthood, her family would always have sufficient for their worldly needs; we knew the Lord kept his promises. So we made out the checks, mailed them, and worried just a little about the coming month, trying to keep in mind that the windows of heaven are opened to the tithe payer.
A few years earlier, to help put myself through Brigham Young University, I had bought a carpet-cleaning machine. And so I put an ad in the newspaper at the end of August, hoping for some carpet-cleaning jobs to help us get by. By September 25 we still hadn’t had any calls, and we were still worrying and broke.
That day, a Thursday, I went to the mountains after school to get a load of wood for our fireplace. As I was working, I felt the need again to pray to my Heavenly Father and ask him what we should do. As I got up from my knees, I knew everything would be taken care of.
When I walked in the door that night, Sherry told me that a lady had called about a carpet cleaning job. Then a man called and asked me to come and clean his carpet also. Friday morning I visited the school counselor, who is also my bishop, and he handed me a one-hundred-dollar bill! He had borrowed a trailer from me in the spring to haul wood and had decided to buy it. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning I cleaned the two carpets and made $105. Then another lady called, and I cleaned her carpet Monday after school and made $20.
The previous Thursday we had had no money, and now we had $225. The windows of heaven surely did open to show us that the Lord watches out for those who keep his commandments. I know that the events of those few days were not just coincidence; they were actual answers to fasting, faith, and prayer.
Tuition to Eastman
As I stood in line at the treasurer’s window, my dream of attending the Eastman School of Music had now become nightmarish. I had no money for tuition.
Although I had been forced to drive fifty-four hours straight from Utah to get to the audition in Rochester, New York, and hadn’t laid a bow to my violin for two months, I had somehow survived. And although the corrective markings on my entrance exams in music history and theory were so heavy I could barely read the original markings (I had given little thought to these subjects for over three years), still, I had gotten through. Now what? I had not concerned myself with the exact cost of tuition, knowing that it was well beyond my capacity at the moment.
The line grew shorter. Soon it was my turn.
“This is your bill for tuition, Mr. Dalton,” the spectacled matron behind the barred window said.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “I don’t have any money.”
She looked at me in silence. “Well,” she said, “it isn’t very often we have students go to school here without paying for it. You had better see the dean.”
In the adjoining office I found a grey-haired lady with a benevolent smile. “What can I do for you?” the dean asked.
“I have had a strong desire to come to Eastman for a long time,” I told her. “The school has a reputation unexcelled in the country, and I have friends who have been students here and some who still are. They highly recommend the program. There are Eastman graduates in all the leading professional orchestras in the country. Eastman alumni count as some of the leading composers, teachers, and administrators, and. …” I stopped. I wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know.
“Dean, I’m sorry. The fact is that quite to my amazement I have passed the audition and all the examinations. I’ve been admitted—I’m here—and I don’t have any money.”
She looked quizzically at me over her glasses. “No money? Then you must be either foolish, audacious, or perhaps brave. This is, of course, rather serious. You have no savings?”
“You see,” I ventured cautiously, “I’m a Mormon, and for the past few years I’ve been serving the Church as a missionary in Germany. I was supported entirely by my parents, who sent me a subsistence allowance, and I had no income of my own.” (At this point I couldn’t tell whether she was interested or perplexed.) “I got off the boat in New York a month ago, went out West and was married, took a short honeymoon, and when the opportunity came to audition, I drove right back here to Rochester. I’ve honestly not had the time to be too concerned about money, not until right now. We have enough for two weeks’ groceries, and our landlady is letting us stay in our apartment rent-free for the first month. Donna is going to teach in the public schools. We’ll have some income in about a month.” It suddenly occurred to me that I was pleading my case with some fervor.
“So you were a Mormon missionary? Well, well.” The dean relaxed and her smile was more than polite now. “I must tell you that a couple of years ago, when I was returning by ship from Europe, I fell into the company of two of the nicest young gentlemen I have ever met. They had the most admirable manners and decorum: solicitous, attentive, personable but not overbearing, and slightly inclined to take themselves too seriously. Nevertheless, they were as fine young men as I hope to meet.
“Now I know something about your work, and if you were a Mormon missionary, it is quite understandable that you find yourself in financial straits. Yours seems to have been a worthwhile endeavor, and I will see to it that a way is worked out where you can meet your commitments to the school. How would you like to pay your tuition—piecemeal, that is, as you go, or in arrears as you are able?”
By this time I was offering silent prayers of thanks for those two anonymous elders.
“We have a policy at this school,” the dean continued, “of not offering scholarships during a student’s first year of residence. But if your performance is good enough, you might qualify for some assistance next year. Best wishes to you.”
I floated out of the dean’s office, a heavy burden lifted from my soul.
The blessings continued. I didn’t have to wait a full year for financial help. At the end of the first semester, I received notice from the director informing me that I had qualified for a full tuition fellowship for the next semester. The scholarship was renewed in my four succeeding years. Part of that depended, of course, on my own efforts—but I’ve never forgotten that I was building on a foundation laid by two missionaries I’ll never be able to thank personally.
They Knew I Was Coming
I was president of a small branch twenty miles from my home when a Spanish-speaking family from South America moved into the branch. They were strong members, converts of several years, who spoke little English—and I spoke less Spanish. Although both parents were educated professionals, the language barrier forced them into low-paying menial jobs. They managed to earn a humble living for their family, but they had no money for frills—not even a telephone. They lived many miles from the chapel and had no Latter-day Saint neighbors; however, they attended church regularly.
One Sunday evening, after a long day at the chapel, I felt strongly impressed to visit this family. I had been fasting, as was my Sunday custom. I was anxious to go home, and visiting them would mean a long drive and a late night; but I had learned to follow spiritual promptings. I turned the car in the direction of this family’s home. As I entered the small town where they lived I felt misgivings; it was dinnertime, and they would probably invite me to eat with them. I hated to add another person to their closely budgeted family meal. The aroma of a just-cooked meal at their front door confirmed my expectation and my concern. I considered leaving, perhaps to study the scriptures awhile in the car and return later, but the Spirit said to knock. So I knocked.
The door opened immediately and I was greeted by smiling faces. The family invited me to eat with them. I tried to decline, explaining that I would be happy to study in their living room until they finished. Then the sister explained in her beautiful Spanish-English that the family needed very much to speak with me but had been unable to drive to church that day. They had prayed for me to visit them. They felt assured that I would come, and so they had prepared a place for me at the table. They had waited to eat until I arrived.