It was the last of February in 1923, and the wintry wind rustled the curtains as it forced itself through a crack in my frozen window sill. Poking my head out from under the heavy feather tick quilt, I watched my breath turn into a misty, cold fog.
Last night we had finished the last of the potatoes, and Mom had told us that there wasn’t any more flour to make bread and that we’d have no more to eat until noon today. All we had left in our food storage were carrots and bottled tomatoes, so I knew it was going to be a long day.
I heard muffled voices. That meant that Mom and Dad were up and that a fire would be going in the kitchen stove. That’s the only room we could afford to heat this winter. At least I could get warm. I shivered once, pushed the heavy quilt aside, jumped into my clothes, and made a dash for the stairs. It took no more than a few seconds to reach the warm kitchen, but I was shaking from the cold before I got there.
“Well, good morning, sleepyhead. It’s already ten o’clock,” Mom greeted me, smiling. She always smiled, even when things weren’t going well. This had been one of those not-going-well winters. Dad had only been able to work a month since last November, and he’d earned only thirty dollars all winter.
My three brothers and two sisters were already nestled around the small potbellied stove. I was so cold that I wanted to hug the stove, but I settled for huddling near it and holding my hands out to its warmth. Mom and Dad were sitting across from each other at the wooden table, talking quietly.
“No, we’re going to pay it,” I heard Dad say in a low voice. “It’s not ours, and it isn’t right that we use it.”
“But, Ray, the children,” Mom said pleadingly.
“The Lord will provide, Sarah,” Dad said reassuringly. “We have to trust Him.”
I stood and looked over Dad’s shoulder. On the table were three dollars—enough to buy flour, potatoes, and even a little meat!
“Wow!” I blurted out. “With all that money we can eat again! We won’t have to eat those crummy canned tomatoes today.”
That was a mistake.
“Son, that’s tithing money,” Dad said. “It’s not ours; it’s the Lord’s. I planned to give it to the bishop long ago, but it slipped into the lining of my jacket, and I didn’t find it until this morning. I’ve been worrying about how to replace it, but now I can take it to the bishop today.”
“But, Dad!” I protested.
That was a mistake too. I got the lecture of my life on tithing. I’d heard it all before, but I got the whole sermon about how the Lord requires a tenth of our earnings, how it’s not really ours, and how if we pay the Lord first, He’ll provide for us. But my stomach just wouldn’t let me forget what that three dollars could buy and how that food would taste. I tried to reason with my father: “The Lord loves us doesn’t He, Dad?”
“He doesn’t want us to starve to death, does He?”
Dad didn’t respond, so I gathered courage and continued. “Wouldn’t He understand if we used the tithing money this time? We could pay it back when you get more work.”
Dad looked at me for what seemed like hours. Finally he said, “Son, the Lord will provide. Three dollars won’t buy very much food, but it will provide a lot of blessings.” That was it. No more arguments. The tithing would be paid.
There were a few silent minutes before Dad got up, put on his coat, and handed me mine. “Thomas,” he said, “I’d like you to go with me to see Bishop Rawlings.”
The winter wind bit into my face as we trudged to Bishop Rawlings’s house. We walked in silence except for the occasional growling of my stomach. I knew Dad was trying to teach me something, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating.
When we reached the small white frame house, we were greeted cordially by the bishop. I felt the warm glow of a fire as we stepped inside the house. Dad and the bishop talked for a minute, then tears welled up in my eyes as I watched Dad give him the three dollars.
Sister Rawlings appeared in the kitchen doorway with bread dough on her hands. “Brother Brown,” she said, “could you wait for a loaf of this bread I’m baking? It’s a new recipe, and I’m anxious to see if your family likes it as much as we do.”
“Thank you, Sister Rawlings,” Dad said. “We need to get right home now, because Sarah will have dinner waiting. But if you’d like, Thomas will be glad to run back for it later.”
The cold wind stung even harder as we headed for home and the tomato-and-carrot dinner. A loaf of bread was not my idea of the Lord’s providing. As if he knew what I was thinking, Dad stopped and put a hand on my shoulder. His other hand wiped the tears from my eyes. “Thomas, the Lord will provide,” he said.
Dad was right, I knew. And though it’s hard to trust in the Lord when your stomach’s empty, I decided to give Him a chance. I walked with my shoulders straight and told myself, The Lord will provide!
We were passing Harland’s Market, about three blocks from home, when we met Mr. Gates. “Ray,” he said, greeting my father. “I’m glad to see you.”
Dad and Mr. Gates spoke for a bit about old times; then Mr. Gates said, “Ray, here’s the ten dollars I owe you.” I watched as he handed my father a shiny ten-dollar gold piece!
“What’s this for, Lee?”
“Three years ago, when I was in need, you gave me ten dollars,” Mr. Gates said. “Now I can pay you back.”
I didn’t hear the rest of their conversation. All I could do was stare at the ten-dollar gold piece that Dad was holding.
When Mr. Gates finally left, Dad placed the shiny coin in the palm of my hand. “Would you like to do some shopping before we go home?” he asked, smiling. “I guess Heavenly Father thinks we should have something more than carrots and canned tomatoes for dinner. What do you think?”
My stomach rumbled happily as we turned into Harland’s Market.