The Riley family homestead sat high on a hill about five miles from the little town of Gays Mills, Wisconsin, which was nestled in the valley. They were very, very poor. Daddy tried to eke a living from the soil, but it had not been a good summer and crops had been lost.
There was nothing to eat except oatmeal. Now oatmeal would not have been bad, but this oatmeal had worms in it. Mama tried her best to get them all out before she cooked the oatmeal, but the children knew they were there. With lumps in their throats they sat down to eat their meal of wormy oatmeal, for it was all that they had. Those first bites were very hard to take, but hunger overtook their squeamish stomachs, and the food was soon devoured.
In an effort to provide for his family, Daddy had gone looking for work wherever he could find it, happy to earn 25 cents for a day’s hard work. But his effort had been rewarded, and he was able to bring some groceries home to his family. With a large family, food disappeared in quick order, and it was a difficult chore just to keep it on the table in those days. So off he went, looking for more odd jobs, leaving Mama what little money he had left.
As the last of the food in the pantry disappeared from the shelves, Mama knew she would have to get more provisions from town in order to feed her children supper one night. She could not leave home because she had little ones who needed her care, so she chose her eldest son, Harvey, who was about nine years old. Into his pocket she placed a $5.00 bill instructing him to walk into town and buy some potatoes and other items that she needed. That $5.00 was all the money she had in the world.
Harvey felt very proud and grownup to be sent on such a mission. $5.00 in his pocket! Wow! That was a lot of money. He pulled the money out of his pocket as he walked along, admiring this fortune. Soon he slipped it back in his pocket and continued on, kicking the fall leaves that were crunching under his feet. After walking a bit farther, he just had to look at that $5.00 again, so he took it out, holding it tightly in his hand. $5.00! Wow! He’d never seen so much money. Tucking it back inside his pants pocket he continued on toward town. But, oh, how he needed to look at that money again. He reached in his pocket, and there was nothing there!
Frantically he looked around, but it was nowhere to be found. Slowly he retraced his steps, looking, searching for that $5 bill. “Where was I when I looked at it last?” he mused to himself. Back and forth he walked, kicking at the leaves, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of the money, but it was nowhere in sight.
“Jesus, please help me find that money. You know it’s all we got, and if it’s gone we won’t have any supper tonight.” Turning, yet one more time, he began walking back toward home. Faster and faster he walked, tears streaming down his face, as he prayed to Jesus.
Soon he was running and crying. How would he ever tell Mama that he’d lost the money? “Oh, please, Jesus,” he cried, “help me!” Tears blinding his eyes as he ran, he stubbed his toe and fell flat on his face to the ground. What do you suppose was lying right there at the tip of his nose? The $5 bill! Grabbing it, he thrust it deeply into his pocket, and thanking Jesus, he turned and ran all the way to the store.
I always thought perhaps an angel tripped him that day, in just the right spot so that he would fall within a hair’s breadth of that $5 bill. That is how much God cares about you and me.