The year was 1983. Texas was green, and summer lay across the land in dazzling shades of red, orange, and yellow. The Man and I had been married almost three years, and even though money was tight, we believed our crazy love would conquer all.
That was before the car broke down. Not the car that had quit running two months earlier, but the one we were sharing until we could afford to get the other one repaired. Now they both sat silent in the driveway, hoods up, like opened mouths screaming for cash.
It could not have come at a worse time. Two weeks earlier Stan had made a pledge toward a project at church. He had promised to give $1,000 by the end of August, a mere three months away. It had seemed like an outrageous pledge to me, but I was proud of my husband for wanting to give to a worthy cause. We figured that with enough scrimping between us, we could do it. Now, I wasn't so sure.
Through the screen door, I looked at my husband draped across the engine of the green Thunderbird, an anxious look on his face. It seemed our married life had consisted of one calamity after another. Every few weeks, something either stopped working or started making peculiar noises.
Despair surrounded me like a wet blanket. Moving to the piano, I sat down to play. Many had been the times I played away my blues. But not today. There was no music in my hands. Every chord rang bleak and lifeless—an elegy of doom.
In the past, my faith in God had been a sustaining force during difficult times. But today I felt drained. "Dear God," I whispered, "You see our need. You’re our only hope.”
My husband appeared in the doorway, the weight of our predicament engraved on his face. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. "I guess I’m gonna have to take it somewhere," he announced, rubbing grimy fingers on an old rag before picking up the telephone.
As I listened while he discussed motors and thermostats with someone we had never met, my spirit sank lower. And I felt faint when he hung up and announced, "It's gonna cost about three-hundred dollars to fix it."
He may as well have said three million. "How," I said, "are we ever going to come up with that?"
He shrugged. "Take it out of the checking account, I guess."
"But we have bills to pay, and we need groceries, and…"
"Dayle," he said bluntly. "We have to have a car. That other stuff will just have to wait."
“What about the savings account?” It was a new account he contributed to by-weekly. I knew there wasn’t much money in it yet, but maybe it would cover the car’s expense.
“No,” he said, shaking his head fiercely. “That’s for retirement. Besides, it would barely cover what we need.”
“Well, you’ll never retire if you can’t get to work,” I said, on the verge of tears.
“Hey,” he said, placing a finger under my chin. “It’ll be all right. We’re gonna make it.” He sounded so sure. “Quit worrying.”
By Friday evening, the Thunderbird hummed agreeably in the driveway, and I had contacted creditors, who graciously offered fifteen days of grace. That left one problem: The food supply was dwindling. Payday was still nine days away. Stan seemed undaunted by this fact, constantly admonishing me to, “Quit worrying,” as if he knew something I didn’t.
On Monday, I took inspection of the kitchen. Except for a clutter of condiments, the refrigerator housed a wilted head of lettuce, a bowl of leftover corn, two eggs, and a soda with no fizz. Inside the freezer was a small package containing a leftover entree and a bag of frozen broccoli, while the pantry held a lonely box of popping corn. We could probably make it nine more days, but it would not be fun, nor tasty.
There were a host of friends who would have come to our aid, had they known. Our parents would have insisted on wiring us money. I had a sister living less than five miles away. But I couldn't imagine telling anyone I needed food. I had never needed food. In my mind, this resembled something right out of the Great Depression. I felt sick.
Trudging into the bedroom I fell to my knees beside the bed, mentally exhausted. I rested my head against the cool satin coverlet and stared out the window. And then the tears came, rolling across the bridge of my nose, soaking the side of my face. I thought about praying, but I was too tired to think of a single word, so I just cried quietly.
My Bible lay on the nightstand. I had heard about people flopping open their Bibles, and, boom, there was the exact verse they needed. It wasn't my style, but, taking a giant leap of faith, I opened my Bible. It fell to Job 26 where Job is speaking of God’s creation.
Verse seven leaped out at me: "He stretcheth the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing."
Grabbing a pen, I underlined the verse. "If you hung the earth on nothing, God," I said, with conviction, "you can keep us from going hungry."
Standing up, I dried my face and jumped sky high when a knock suddenly sounded at the front door. Who on earth is that? I wondered
Flinging open the door, there stood my sister, Elaine, smiling her beautiful smile. "Hi!" she said, cheerily. "I thought you might need some groceries, so I brought you some."
I must have looked like I had seen a ghost. Circled around her on the porch sat five grocery bags, spilling over with splendid items like meat, vegetables, bread, pretzels, cookies, and a 2-liter Dr. Pepper. Turning aside, I hoped she hadn’t seen the tears threatening to slide down my face.
My sister knew money had been tight in recent months, she knew about the $1,000 pledge, but she could not have known about the car, nor the empty pantry.
"Elaine!" I practically hollered. "Why did you do this? You shouldn’t have!"
She fixed her jaw real hard. “’Cause I felt like it.” She hugged me tight. “Now, I can’t stay, so help me grab these bags.”
I never did tell Elaine just how barren the kitchen had been that day, and how angelic she looked standing on the porch, the sun on her face. I never told anyone. Maybe that makes me a coward. I don’t know.
I do know when August rolled around, we paid our thousand-dollar pledge. And that lonely box of popping corn? It is still in the pantry. I keep it as a monument to God’s awesome power to make something out of nothing.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14
Dear God, when the cupboard is bare, I'm not afraid. You're a pro at making stuff from scratch.
(Adapted from the book, Silver Linings, by Dayle Allen Shockley.)