Editor's note: This an excerpt from Judy C. Olsen's book "Angels to Bear You Up," which was recently published by Covenant Communcations.
I turned 10 years old the year life changed for me forever. There were only six of us living at home at the time, my parents and four children: Carol, Douglas, Sara and me. Two of my sisters had already married.
We had just moved to a small town in the Midwest, leaving behind a large, beautiful home in Seattle, as well as extended family members, friends and years of meaningful church callings.
My sister Sara and I started at a new school in Waukegan, Ill.; Douglas started at a new high school; and my sister Carol, who had just turned 18, was planning on going to college. We didn’t know anyone in that small town. I felt my world had turned upside down. But as things go, that was only the beginning.
Not long after we moved into an old two-story house on a tree-shaded street, my dad was hospitalized. One night after I had gone to bed and fallen asleep, I was shaken awake by my sister Carol.
“Our daddy has just died,” she told me gently. “You need to come downstairs.” He was only 46 years old.
In my half-drowsy state, I walked woodenly behind her, knowing some terrible calamity had taken place but not sure yet what it would mean to my already fractured world. In the living room stood five or six men and women, all strangers to me. We had not even had a chance to attend the small branch, yet here were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help my mother at this terrible moment. We all stood in a circle, and someone was saying we needed to pray. At some point, the enormity of it settled in, and tears started to fall. A woman put her arm around me and held me close.
The next morning, Mother expected Sara and me to go to school. Looking back, she probably needed us to be cared for while she dealt with a hundred details, but I didn’t see how I could. I asked her to at least write a note to the teacher. I couldn’t just go to school as if the world had not irrevocably changed overnight.
So Mother scribbled a note. I took the note to school and, with great self-control, handed it to my teacher. She began walking away then stopped, turned, and read the note to the class. She looked at my stiffly composed face and said, “Aren’t you sad?” The dam broke, and I put my head down on my desk and cried and cried.
We headed back to Seattle for the funeral, and the procession that followed us to the cemetery was more than a mile long. But everything we owned was still in Illinois, and a week later we headed back.
Once home, we tried to pick up the reins of life. It was not easy. My mother was 42 and had been a full-time homemaker who had created a home for a husband and six children. She had two years of college behind her and no real marketable skills. Those first weeks were very hard. There was no money coming in. In time, she applied for and received Social Security survivors’ benefits and found a low-paying job that would get us through. But right then, those first weeks, we were in great financial distress.
My sister Carol went to work instead of to college, and my brother Doug took up an offer to live with an aunt and uncle in Oregon to finish high school there. I felt like our whole family was somehow falling apart. Sara and I came home from school to an empty home, something we had never had to do before. It was a sad time.
One Saturday morning, my mother changed out of her clean-the-house dress and into a nice go-to-the-store dress, as women did in those days. She picked up her handbag and then, instead of leaving to do the grocery shopping as she had done for countless years, she went into the living room and sat on the sofa.
Curious, I went to sit by her and asked what she was doing. She responded, “I am waiting to get some money so I can do my grocery shopping. I have been a faithful tithe payer all my life. Today I am waiting for the Lord to provide a way for me to buy groceries.”
This struck me with great wonderment. I continued to sit and wait with her. I wanted to know what could possibly happen to provide us with grocery money — right then. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang.
I could hardly believe it, and I ran to answer it. A man stood there. He inquired if we had any suits belonging to my father that he could buy. Mother recognized him and invited him in. He had been over a few days earlier after finding out we had some men’s clothing in his size. He was of a similar size to my father — short and round. The man then explained that he had been paid that very day, unexpectedly, by his employer, who usually waited until the end of the month. He wondered if we had any more suits he could buy. We did, and a bargain was struck.
The man left very pleased to have found additional clothing in his size. Mother picked up her handbag and told us she now had the exact amount of money she generally spent at the grocery store, and she left to go shopping.
I was deeply impressed as a child, both by my mother’s faith and by the immediate result. It was a lesson that stayed with me.
The following summer, my mother moved us all to Provo, Utah, where she entered Brigham Young University on a scholarship and eventually earned a master’s degree in social work. She was able to provide for our family from then on and even supported a son and a daughter on missions for the LDS Church and all of us through college.
Fast forward 10 years. I was a college student out on my own. I shared an apartment with a young woman who was not a student, so we didn’t live in student housing. The apartment had been rented in my name, so even though we shared costs, I was ultimately responsible for the rent. After a couple months, my roommate decided to move out, and I was faced with having to pay the entire rent by myself. I was 20 years old at the time and a junior in college. About then I decided to serve a mission and put in my papers, but I needed additional income to sustain me in the apartment for at least three or four months.
As I searched for some kind of part-time job, I stumbled upon the Fuller Brush Co. At that time it was a popular household brand sold door-to-door by Fuller Brush salesmen. There were few women selling it, but I wanted to give it a try and signed up.
I received my sample case and found out that it would be at least two weeks between sending in the orders, getting the products back and collecting my money. Still, it was the only job I could find that fit in with my part-time job as a receptionist in a car wash and my class schedule at the university.
One Friday, I received my check from my job at the car wash, and on Sunday I intended to pay my tithing. But as I did the math, I realized I could either pay a full tithing now, or I could pay the rent in full a week later when it fell due — but not both. I was alone with no one to help me, and I didn’t know how to get the money for the rent if I went ahead and paid my tithing as usual.
As I stood in the Mormon meetinghouse foyer undecided, I thought back to my mother’s example. The blessings that came into our home that Saturday morning years ago could not be easily dismissed. So I simply decided to pay my tithing. I did not know what to do about the rent, but in the end, I could not walk out of church without giving that envelope to the bishop.
The next day, after work and classes, I started on my first block of knocking on doors to sell hairbrushes and cleaning products. Nearly every home I went to invited me in and placed an order. Not only that, but they also all paid me on the spot. By Saturday, a week later, I had earned enough to pay the company for the products and had my profit as well. It was just enough to pay my full rent on time!
As wonderful as this was, there was yet one more lesson I learned from this experience. I continued to sell Fuller Brush products right up to the time I left on my mission, and never again did a single customer pay me up front. Not once. That’s when I realized the Lord had really opened that door for me. It wasn’t luck or just my hard work. The Lord had created such good feelings in each home I visited that first week on the job that every single customer trusted me, a complete stranger, to take their money first and return with their orders later.
The Lord had given me a testimony of the blessings of paying a full tithing first before worrying about worldly debts. I knew I had been blessed to earn all I needed that week and only the Lord could have opened that door.
comments on this story
This blessing of having the faith to keep this particular commandment had its start when I was only a child of 10, as I watched and learned from my mother’s example. And it came full-circle in my life as I experienced my own moment of choice as a young woman when faced with a difficult adult decision that could bring some unpleasant consequences. This faith to do the right thing led to a strong testimony of tithing that has served me all my life.
Judy C. Olsen has been writing and editing for the LDS audience for many years. She and her husband, Don, live in Sandy, Utah, and are parents of four children and grandparents of 16 grandchildren. Judy enjoys writing, sewing and crafts.