The Butter Dish


Based on a true story
Adapted from the journal of James Richard Lofthouse, Emma’s son.
“Of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Gen. 28:22).

“Here comes the rest of the family,” Athena called to her mother. “They’re just in time for your birthday dinner!”

“Please put a vase of flowers on the table and set out the butter dish,” Mother said. When Athena set the beautiful etched-glass dish on the kitchen table, the sun’s rays shone through it, splashing rainbows across the walls. Mother ran a finger gently over the delicate glass design. Closing her eyes, she relived again the story she had heard so many times.

Twelve-year-old Louisa Bishop gently rocked her baby sister, Emma, in the old, hand-carved rocker. Their mother lay in bed, her face almost as pale as the white pillows. A deadly illness called diphtheria had struck the children of the family, killing three of Louisa’s five siblings. Exhausted from overwork and grief, Louisa’s mother also became sick. Just when it seemed that happiness would never shine on their world again, little Emma had been born. Louisa, now recovered, lovingly cared for her baby sister so their mother could rest and get well. Emma adored her big sister in return.

As the years passed, Emma and Louisa became closer and closer friends. By the time Emma was 11 years old, Louisa had married, and her husband had left to serve a mission in England. Emma was delighted to go to Louisa’s cabin each day to help out.

One day Emma paused in her sweeping and watched quietly as Louisa emptied the butter out of her sparkling glass butter dish and into a jar. “I hope she isn’t doing what I’m afraid she’s doing,” Emma thought.

Louisa stepped to the washbasin and poured in some clean water from the pitcher. Then she carefully washed the butter dish and laid it on a dish towel to dry. Turning to Emma, she handed her the jar of butter. “Now, Emma dear, I need you to take this to the bishop and pay my tithing.”

Emma folded her arms and shook her head. “I won’t do it!” she exclaimed. “You need that butter more than the bishop does.”

Louisa’s mouth drew into a stern line, but her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Emma,” she softly scolded, “tithing is a law that must be kept. If I am willing to do a big thing like letting my husband serve a mission so far away, then surely I can do a small thing like giving up some butter.”

Emma wasn’t convinced. “But it’s a big thing when you have so little.”

“Don’t worry,” Louisa told her with a smile. “I have faith that the Lord will provide.”

Emma looked closely and saw that her sister’s eyes were glistening with tears. Louisa truly believed what she was saying! Emma took the jar of butter and walked out the door without another word, though she still had doubts.

When she returned to Louisa’s cabin, Emma stopped in the doorway and stared, her mouth wide open. The butter dish was back on the table, and inside was a pound of butter! Emma’s eyes asked the question her lips could not—where had the butter come from?

Louisa smiled. “I told you the Lord would provide,” she said. She took a clean dish from the cupboard and placed the butter in it. Then she stepped again to the washbasin and filled the bowl with clean water. She washed out the beautiful glass butter dish and lid. But instead of setting them on a dish towel to drip dry, she dried them and handed both to Emma.

“I want you to have these,” she said. “And whenever you look at them, I want you to remember that the Lord will always take care of us if we keep His commandments. Remember that, Emma. Tithing comes first.” Emma’s eyes misted with tears as she accepted the butter dish.

All her life Emma remembered the lesson she had learned. Each year as her family gathered on her birthday, she told the story again. After Emma’s death, the butter dish was passed down through the family. And everyone who saw the dish heard the story of how Emma learned to always pay her tithing.

[Pay Your Tithing]

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

“Always pay your tithing and leave the outcome in the hands of the Lord.” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2004, 41.

[illustration] Illustrated by Julie F. Young