It was a cold winter day in February when I knocked on Sister Chandler’s door. “Hello,” I called, opening the door a little in case she couldn’t hear me. “Are you sleeping?”
Sister Chandler moved slowly from her kitchen to answer the door. She was small and bent, and walked with a slight limp. Her long cotton dress was stained, as always, from carrying coal to her pot-bellied stove, which demanded constant attention to keep her small home warm. Her white hair, also coal stained, framed a face tired from seventy-nine years of troubles. But it was also a serene face, because as long as she had enough coal to keep her house warm during the winter and a little food she had everything she needed to be happy.
I remembered how I had stared in disbelief when I first learned that she lived on a meager $59 a month. There were only two rooms in the house. The first room contained the temperamental stove, a double bed, a worn-out couch, and a set of broken dresser drawers. The other room, the kitchen, had a small cook-stove, a table and two chairs, and a side shelf for pots and pans and the storage of a little food. When we first met her she had no running water and no bathroom.
During the years my husband had served as her home teacher, we had visited her often. When we visited in the evening the house would invariably be dark. The one bare light globe would turn on when we knocked and turn off immediately when we began to drive away.
Sister Chandler had joined the Church as a new bride—her husband was already a member—and she recalled the days when there was no branch or stake. Their only contact with the Church was an occasional traveling missionary or two. But she had always remained faithful and once told how her testimony had sustained her through the deaths of her two daughters during the influenza epidemic of 1918.
In the few short months I had been Relief Society president I had never heard her complain about her circumstances nor ask for any help from the Church. But we helped her with food when her money ran out, and near the end of the month, a week or so before her Social Security check came, I always tried to visit her to see how she was doing.
Now Sister Chandler’s eyes were sparkling because she had a visitor. “Come in!” she said. “I was just having lunch.” She was shy; she always spoke just above a whisper.
“Please don’t let me stop you. I’ll just talk with you while you eat,” I said.
I took her gently by the elbow and we began to walk slowly toward the kitchen. As we passed the bureau she stopped to get something out of the top drawer. I looked quickly at her lunch. It consisted of a little flour and water that had been made into a kind of white gruel, nothing more.
“Sister Chandler, is that all you have in the house to eat?”
“Yes, that’s all, but it doesn’t matter. My check will be here in a day or two. Please, will you take this to the bishop?” She thrust a wrinkled tithing envelope into my hand. “I didn’t have home teachers this month and I can’t go to church myself anymore. It’s my tithing. Please take it to him.”
I stood staring at the gray envelope. Everything inside of me wanted to cry out, “No, no. The Lord doesn’t expect you to pay tithing!” But one small voice deep inside whispered, “Don’t deny this soul the blessings.”
I struggled not to cry as I quickly said good-bye and ran to the car to arrange for some groceries for her.
Sister Chandler is gone now, but I will always remember the great lesson she taught me about sacrifice and devotion—it was easier for her to go hungry than to neglect her obligations to the Lord.