In 1994 we leased a big farm house in west Knox County, Ohio near our church. It was a huge 4500 square foot drafty barn of a house which was heated with fuel oil. We loved the space, the great hardwood floors, the big windows looking out on the fields and all the room for the children to play, but it was very expensive to heat. On winter nights I would lie awake and listen to the old furnace kick on and imagine the fuel oil just sucking out of the tank in the basement. Sometimes I would go down into the dark basement and watch the float and imagine I could see it visibly descending. I would worry and pray about how to keep the house warm. We prayed for a mild winter and an early spring. But it was harsh and cold and the winter lingered on. The house was in a prairie like setting with no trees or obstructions for miles west of the house so the wind just raced across the fields and howled around the house.
If the weather was especially harsh it was especially expensive to heat the house and the attendance at church and offerings would be thin because of the weather, so our income was sometimes tentative. This added to my worries. During the winter the heat alone was between 300 and 400 dollars a month. We just couldn’t afford it on our small salary with our large family and other expenses.
We closed off parts of the house and turned the heat as low as we could. I took extra work to make ends meet. I turned the heat down so far that pipes froze creating more expense and difficulty.
It was a very hard time for us. When the children would get sick I wondered if it was because we couldn’t afford to heat the house properly. Our landlord was a selfish and insensitive man.
I would leave for work on winter mornings and commute to Columbus for my job with Nationwide Insurance feeling guilty because I was warm while the family was cold and didn’t have much. Lois made crafts and sold them to buy food that we needed. I longed to be able to spend more time working the build the church.
We loved having our large family all together at home. He were committed to homeschooling them, but we were never able to afford the curriculum that we really wanted for them. Sometimes I just felt suffocating guilt because I wasn’t providing well for the family I loved so much. The children’s teeth needed care, but we could not afford dental work.
One cold evening we saw headlights coming down the road. A small truck turned in to our drive. I went out to meet our guest. It was Cliff Carpenter.
Cliff had visited our church about a year and a half earlier. I called on them a few times. One day I asked him to breakfast and offered to be his “spiritual trainer.” He liked the idea and for the next year I visited his home about every Thursday evening. I took he and his wife Amy through a series of discipleship lessons. Early in our meetings Cliff trusted in Christ for salvation. I baptized him the day Holly was baptized in a farm pond nearby. He then baptized his wife Amy. He read through his Bible for the first time that year. God began to change his life in ways all his friends noticed. They faithfully attended our church.
Once, while I was in his home I noticed he supplemented his heat with a kerosene heater. I showed some interest in it. We made some conversation about it. He recommended that I get one for our home. It would save us a great deal of money. On the way home I thought about it but I knew I could not afford the heater.
When I walked out to the truck to greet Cliff, he quietly said; “I have something for you.” He then reached in the back of his truck and lifted out a brand new heater for us. We used it every winter day thereafter. It took the chill off our home and provided a nice little place for this children to gather around on winter mornings to warm their hands.
When I would leave for my commute to Columbus I would often pause in front of the house and pray for the family in my absence. There at the base of the front stairs in the darkness of morning I would see the warm glow of that heater. I’m still grateful for the warm gesture of generosity.
March 29, 2016