I suppose you could easily say we were house-poor, since we couldn’t afford furniture. We did manage a homemade sofa; my husband finally constructed a pretty cool wood frame for which I sewed pillows. I had an imaginary grand piano for a space that stayed empty, but that’s OK. We all had beds to sleep in and a place to sit and eat, just mostly nothing in the living room. Still, that was our private concern. Our “front yard,” also imaginary, was our neighbors’ business. The neighborhood was now old enough that every house had landscaping. . .except ours. We were an eyesore a mound of dirt amidst a lane of greenery. The builders had been kind enough to plop down about a foot of topsoil, which meandered from the driveway without rhyme or reason. The backyard was naked, too, but hidden from the street, so the big worry was the front.
Whenever the morning paper arrived, I would stand on the front door-step and gaze for a while across the street. The Atkins’* had spent many thousands of dollars to have their front yard professionally landscaped. I critiqued it: it was loaded with plant life, and I imagined that as those plants grew, things could get pretty crowded and overgrown. That didn’t quell my envy, however (it looked fantastic for now), nor my worry that we were everyone’s breakfast-table topic. “I wonder when the Harold’s* will get around to landscaping their front yard. It’s about time. They’re the only house on the street with dirt out front.”
We were under financial duress to be sure. When money came in (and it didn’t come in predictably), there was never enough to cover all of our creditors. We’d have to pick and choose. And then, there was tithing.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we Mormons, if faithful, pay ten percent of our income for the building up and sustaining of the Church, which we consider God’s kingdom on earth. There’s no collection box at church, since our donations are made confidentially. We are certified full-tithe-payers simply by stating that we are, and then if we are observant of other important principles, as well, we can qualify to make even higher covenants in Mormon temples.
Beginning to pay tithing is a leap of faith for most new members of the Church. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma calls it “experimenting on the word” (Book of Mormon, Alma 32:27). The new member tries living the principle for a time, and especially if poor, usually begins doubtfully. But then he finds that he has more abundance when paying tithes than he did before he paid them. It’s one of God’s miracles and promises that always works, yet every new member is surprised by the miracle, I think.
We were behind on our tithing. We sat there at the kitchen table with our bills arrayed in front of us, gazing at the bottom line, wondering whether one chunk of money should go to tithing or a creditor. The idea is that if you pay your tithing, you’ll have enough to pay your creditors. We had to remind ourselves that our church leaders constantly counseled members to stay out of debt, and if in debt, to get out as soon as possible. Here we were, in debt, and behind on our tithing. We decided that’s where our money should go, and we wrote out the check and took it to our bishop the next day, which was the Sabbath.
Monday came and hubby went off to his contracting job. That was before the advent of cell phones, so he was pretty much out of reach on the job. I got the kids off to school, bathed the baby, and started cleaning up from the weekend, when there was a knock on the door. A man stood there dressed in work clothes already soiled from an early morning’s labors. “Hi, I’m a landscaper. We’ve just finished a job a few streets away from you, and we have sod left over. Do you want it?”
We had little money left after paying our tithing just the day before, but the front-yard-problem was dire and always on our minds. “How much?” I said it with a little whine. He’d know from the tone of those two words the price had better be low.
“Well, I also have two Austrian pines…” Erck. Austrian pines I knew were pricy (oh, how I loved them), and he was hand-signaling that they were tall and therefore very dear. What else could add to the cost of this endeavor? I began to make excuses…
“We have top soil, but it’s not even graded…,” I said.
“We have a grader, so we can do that.”
“The sod could die before I could find someone to help me lay it…”
“We’ll help you,” he said.
Each of his responses added potential costs to the final bid, but Ohmygosh. A dream come true. “How much?”
“Well, can you come up with $250?”
I was trembling by now. I knew our neighbor’s yard had cost many thousands of dollars, and the two Austrians would probably cost the two-fifty at the nursery. My husband and I had agreed to discuss any expenditure over $200, but he was unreachable and would be until late into the evening. I said a little mental prayer. Heavenly Father, what should I do? I had a profound feeling that we had done something laudable in paying our tithing, and the Lord was over-praising us like new parents when their baby takes a first step “Good job, Harolds! Here’s a lawn!!”
“OK,” I said, my voice barely audible. A few minutes later the grader was there, and we soon had a nice raised bed around the house and gentle hills of topsoil out front on both sides of the driveway. I put the baby in a stroller and lent a hand in laying the sod, pointed out where the trees should go.
When my husband arrived home from work, he drove right past our house.
I have a testimony of paying tithing. Alma, in describing how we can experiment upon the commandments of God, testing God, seeing if there is indeed a reward after our obedience, used the imagery of a seed. As we nurture it, it bears good fruit, and then we see it’s a good seed and a true principle:
Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you (Alma 32:43).
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**Names have been changed.