We grew up in a family where, according to my father, religion was somewhat of a curse. My mother was not permitted to "give any of my hard earnings to the church" and once, when she did manage to send a gift to the Lord, my father was furious when he opened her mail and found the receipt.

However, she did teach us the concept of tithing and when I grew up and left home, I knew I was "supposed" to pay tithe. But, as a trainee nurse of those days, I thought I never had enough money. When Arnold and I married, we vowed to the Lord that tithe would be returned promptly even though we were students--and we have not broken that vow to this day.

We were married and had a young child. My husband was partway through his studies and managed to earn a little on the side to keep us going. It had always been our practice to keep a good vegetable garden growing. This was healthful living and helped us make ends meet.

It so happened that one Sabbath when some friends were at our place for lunch, we noticed a terrible storm approaching us. Black billowing clouds erupted from nowhere. It was approaching at great speed across the Galston Gorge, from the then Galston market gardening area. In those days, there were many tomato growers who planted their crops under glass to supply the ever-expanding Sydney population. It was disastrous when one of those hail storms crashed its way across a startled and terrified population, with hail the size of golf balls or larger. Shattered glass and dreams lay strewn everywhere.

In the paddock below the tiny cottage we rented was a lovely little brown horse, grazing contentedly. But he looked up at the first sizzling crack of lightening. Whinnying gently, he trotted across the paddock toward the protection of a large bay tree.

Crack, bang, sizzle! The noise was deafening. In the back door was a square of windowpane, just big enough for the four of us to jam our faces in as we watched the approaching storm. "Oh God! My garden!" I appealed to the One who always hears even an unworthy half-baked Christian as I was then.

Someone in our little group said, "Let's pray." I knew without that garden, we would never make it financially and Arnold would be unable to keep up his studies. "Loving Father, we need to live. I remember the promises you made in Malachi that if we honoured you, we were to call on You and You would open the heavens and pour us out a blessing." I desperately wanted an answered prayer, just like all of Uncle Arthur's Bedtimes Stories I had absorbed in my childhood. "But God! The windows of heaven have opened and I did not ask for the biggest hailstones in the Sydney Basin to choose our house for target practice." The poor horse below our house was being thrashed by the stones and crying out in terror. There was nothing we could do to help him. The extreme noise on the tin roof made conversation impossible. We just looked at each other with despair and pain. "Lord, please strengthen my faith that you will provide another way to sustain ourselves." He did not appear to be listening. The storm raged on and the hail began to mount up around the stone borders protecting the flower gardens and around the tank stand. Apart from that, it was a white-out. Then just as rapidly as the hailstorm struck, it roared off toward Hornsby and other places east. The four of us just stood, dumb and shaken, gazing at the white world outside the little square window. "Let's go and check out the scene," someone suggested. I dreaded what I would discover. The door burst open as we made our way carefully down the slope to the garden. The site that met our eyes was beyond description. The ground was absolutely drenched with the heavy rain but there was not one piece of hail to be seen. In disbelief we searched the whole area, which was quite large. Then Arnold found it. We all burst out laughing in relief. Our heavenly Father, the creator of good humour, had smiled when He allowed one large hailstone to puncture a large leaf from a Queensland blue pumpkin. In His love, it did not damage the small Isobel Paget served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, with her husband, Arnold, and now lives in Tanilba Bay, New South Wales.