“Goodness Lizzie,” her Mom’s voice floated to her ears from downstairs. “You don’t have to rock the house with your joy!”
Lizzie grinned. “Sorry. I won’t rock the house.”
Mom’s laugh sounded. “Why, thank you!”
Lizzie mocked dignity. “You’re quite welcome, mother!”
She didn’t waste another moment standing around. She was already in the bedroom which she and her sister shared.
She placed her hands on her hips and gazed up at the top shelf in their closet, which was the home for almost all her extra belongings. She scanned its contents with unfailing scrutiny. She knew exactly what she wanted to take on this trip.
Standing on tiptoe, she pulled down her thick, used sketchbook, her drawstring bag of colored pencils, her big, black camera bag, and her backpack.
With uncommon zeal, Lizzie stuffed her things into the turquoise backpack and then was back on her feet in a flash. Her roaming eyes found their way to the lower portion of the sisters’ closet, and lit upon the hanging clothes.
She hastily went through everything there, pulling out tops and skirts which struck her fancy. The silky yellow blouse would go perfectly with her knee-length black skirt. And this light blue shirt...it’d be charming with denim. Maybe she could persuade Mom to let her buy a frilly white scarf to compliment the outfit. She could take her cowgirl-boots which Grandma had purchased her last Christmas. Oh-- and she really wanted to wear the red-and-white striped shirt. It made her think of candy canes. She could easily match it with her other dark denim skirt. And this peach one…
She nearly jerked she was so caught off-guard. She cast a swift glance over her shoulder and saw the slight form of her nine-year-old younger sister. “Oh-- hi, Abby.”
She turned back and resumed flipping through her hanging tops.
“Could you...help me now?” came the small voice after a moment.
Lizzie continued perusing. “With what?”
“Remember? You promised to help me draw and cut out some more paper dolls.”
Lizzie stifled and aggravated sigh. She had waited for this trip much too long, and nothing was going to get in the way of her going now. “Well, Abby, I’m kinda busy right now. Can I do it later?”
When she got no response, she looked behind her again and caught her little sister’s wistful gaze.
Abby brushed aside bothersome strands of honey-blonde hair. “You promised.”
Lizzie tucked her own behind her ear. “I’m sorry. I just…” she glanced down at her backpack, “...I’ve just gotta get this done right now, girl. Okay?” she stayed herself to be patient.
Abby’s freckled face slid into one of keen disappointment. She looked down and bit her lip. “Alright.”
Lizzie felt a twinge of guilt tug at her heartstrings as she turned back to the closet and heard Abby’s soft footsteps going out of the room. But her self-reproach was quickly replaced with mounting anticipation for the upcoming trip. She shivered with a surge of excitement-- this would be her first time going to visit her grandparents all by herself.
She hurriedly finished picking outfits, and then selected a few pairs of pajamas. She pulled out her boots, her tennis-shoes, her white flip-flops, and her nice Sunday shoes. All she needed now was to…
Lizzie flipped around to see her twelve-year-old younger brother leaning against the doorpost. “Hey James.”
Her brother’s gaze swept over her recent doings. “So...you’re excited you’re going tonight?”
“Excited?” she nearly burst. “I’m thrilled! I’ve never gotten to do this before.”
A corner of James’ mouth tugged awry into a grin. “Well, I can totally tell.”
Lizzie felt glad that at least one of her siblings so far understood her enthusiasm. She stood in the center of the room and looked around her. A thought suddenly sparked in her brain. “Oh yeah-- I forgot! I need to take that new book series Mom and Dad just got us.”
She just happened to catch a dispirited shift overtake James’ demeanor. “What’s wrong?”
He looked a bit sheepish. “Well...I’m reading them, too.”
Lizzie felt a little put-out. “Oh come’on, James. I’m only going for a week. And besides-- I’ll go through them twice as fast as you do.”
She watched him as he tried to stifle his reluctance. “Okay.”
She breathed out a deep sigh of relief. “Thanks. Hey-- could you bring a suitcase up here? I think I’m ready to start loading up.”
He partially withheld a sigh. “Sure.”
With new energy, she went and located the new series and brought them back to the girls’ room. She found the suitcase already lying open on her bed, just waiting to be filled.
She organized all that she was taking into a perfect fit within the case and then added a few more items to its load. The zipper squealed shut as she drew it around the perimeter of the suitcase, securing the cover to the base. She huffed a sigh of satisfaction. “Done!”
She got a good grip on the handle and then proceeded to get the bulky luggage down the stairs. She quickly realized that it was a heavier task than she had at first imagined it to be, and found herself in quite a predicament once she had gotten halfway down the stairs. The suitcase itself was heavy, and even though at thirteen she was very able-bodied and strong, Lizzie was out of breath from trying to prevent the luggage from rushing down on its own accord.
She was just about to give the process a final try when a voice came from behind.
“You need some help there?”
She turned halfway around and let her shoulders sag in immense relief. “Sure, Josh. You got here just in time.”
“To see the show?” her sixteen-year-old brother grinned goodnaturedly. He took hold of the handle. He was tall, had dark hair, a pair of smiling hazel eyes, and was more than capable of taking over the task which Lizzie was struggling with. “Naw, I’m just joking. You nearly had it there.”
Lizzie smeared a trickle of sweat away. “No, you know I didn’t. Thanks,” she added as she started the stomp downstairs with Josh following.
“So you and Dad are going tonight?” she heard him query.
She gave a decided nod. “Yep.”
“It’s a five-hour trip to Houston, Liz. Try to keep Dad awake behind the wheel, alright?”
She left the last creaky step and planted her next on the solid floor. “I will.” She watched as he lugged it off the last few steps. The wheels of the suitcase smacked the hardwood flooring.
“Thanks again, Josh.” Lizzie smiled as she reached for the handle.
He ruffled her hair with a grin. “You’re welcome, sis.”
Lizzie wheeled her luggage through the kitchen, which was alive with aromas, and left it by the back door.
She glanced out the back window and saw the daylight dying into dusk. Even though it was only early December in Texas, she knew it was going to be a chilly night. All at once a thought struck her. A jacket! She would need one for the trip tonight. And she knew just where she had left hers in her room.
She turned and made for the stairway, but halted at Mom’s voice. “Lizzie, please come and help out with supper.”
She sighed. “Okay. Yes ma’am.”
“Hey,” she caught a raised eyebrow from her mother, who stood stirring something over the heated stove. “If I hear you not being willing to help out, then you can just be willing to say goodbye to this trip.”
Her heart nearly numbed with a surge of fear and panic. All her anticipation over the past week hung in the balance during that moment. She realized that if she wanted to make her dreams a reality, she would have to step it up. “Yes ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Mom turned back to the source of the delicious aroma drifting through the air. “Alright. First can you get out the plates and bring them over here in a stack?”
Lizzie nodded. “Absolutely.”
“After that, get out the condiments.”
She was quick about doing her given duty. She carried the delicate pile of six glass plates over to the dark granite kitchen countertop, and then spun around and made for the fridge. She pulled out the ranch dressing, ketchup, and barbecue sauce (because she knew that each was preferred over the other by different members of her family) and headed for the table.
She caught sight of Abby, her blonde braids swinging, gathering the remnants of what looked like paper crafts off of the table. “What are you making?” she asked casually, purely out of habit.
She noticed Abby’s face for the first time, a little dull, her lips pressed thinly together. “Paper dolls.”
A guilty feeling sacked her in the stomach. “Oh.”
She felt she could only stand still and watch her little sister pick up the mess which she knew that she was supposed to have made with her. “Want me to help you pick up?”
Abby shook her head, scooping the last scraps into a plastic bag. “Nope. Thanks anyway.”
Lizzie set down the ranch bottle. “You’re welcome.”
All at once Mom was calling her. “Lizzie-- come take these filled plates to the table, please.”
She turned around, shoving thoughts of regret far away and picking up her pace. “Sure, Mom.”
Once all the plates were on the table, steaming with an almost irresistible-looking serving of chicken-pot-pie and a side of mashed sweet-potatoes, the entire Kendrick family sat down together to ask the blessing.
After the round of “amens” had sounded, Mom glanced at the clock hanging nearby. “Okay, Daddy and Lizzie-- y’all have ten minutes to scarf this stuff down if you’re wanting to get to grandparents’ by ten o’clock tonight.”
Dad gave Lizzie a playful wink and then dug into his dinner.
Lizzie swallowed down her mouthful of potatoes hard. “Yes ma’am, Mom.”
She felt she had never eaten so fast in her life by the time she was finished. She dumped her dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and then raced off to grab her jacket. She pulled it on as she thundered back down the stairs, catching a swift glimpse of the clock-- 5:35 pm.
She hung around the table as the rest of her family continued eating, Dad doing his best to eat quickly without choking.
“You done yet?” she pressed.
Dad chuckled. “Be patient, honey. Give me a couple more minutes.”
She huffed a sigh and and leaned back against the wall.
Mom raised an eyebrow at her significantly, and Lizzie quickly slid into a more patient manner. “Sorry, Mama.”
“I’m telling you,” she shook her head. “Going on a trip to grandparents’ doesn’t give you an excuse to start acting like a three-year-old. Yes ma’am?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry. I guess…” she bit her lip, “...I guess I’m just so excited. But I’ll try to be self-controlled.”
Mom sent her a forgiving smile. “Alright.”
Dad’s chair scraped the floor as he pushed back away from the table and got up. “Okay Liz. On your mark, get set. Go.”
She laughed. “I can wait, Daddy.”
He smiled. “I know. But I also know you’ve been waiting all week, too. Just remember what you’re mother has said about using self-control.”
Inside she was bubbling over with joy, but she constrained herself to seem calm and composed. “Yes sir. Thanks, Dad.”
She went around the dinner table, giving everybody hard squeezes around the shoulders for hugs.
“Don’t forget forget to wave at the statues for me,” Abby reminded, referencing the two giant outdoor monuments which graced the journey to Houston.
Lizzie snatched a kiss on her cheek. “Don’t worry. I won’t, Abby.”
When she got to Mom, she wrapped her arms around her and squeezed her a little more snuggly than she had before. She felt Mom press a warm, hard kiss on her forehead and then whispered in her ear, “Don’t forget what’s important.”
Lizzie stood up and met her mother’s gaze. “I won’t, Mom. I love you.”
Mom smiled broadly and then gave her a hard pat. “Love you too. Be safe and have a good time.”
She grinned. “Yes ma’am. I will.”
She went to the kitchen door, through which they would be departing, and laid a hand on her luggage, watching as Mom stood up to hug Dad. She was glad her parents loved each other so much-- but was anxious to get going. She was tempted to sigh but caught herself in time.
At length Dad cam over, jingling the keys in his pocket. “Alrighty-- let’s hit the road, Speedy-Gonzales.”
She gave a short laugh. “Okay.” She peered around Dad at the rest of the gang. “Bye guys! Love y’all!”
James saluted her, Abby blew her a kiss, Josh waved, and Mom answered back, “Bye, honey-- love you too!”
The old screen-door banged shut behind them, and then suddenly the luggage was in the trunk and they were in the front seats. Buckles clicked, Dad turned the key in the ignition, and the engine rumbled to life. They pulled out of the narrow driveway and then veered onto the two-lane highway, heading south.
The trip had finally commenced.
Lizzie watched as other cars whizzed past along the dark highway. A sea of red lights lit up the road ahead. Night had at length stolen over the sky, which was alive with stars.
The car window was freezing. The heater near her feet warmed her deliciously. The radio was humming Christmas music on low volume, and Lizzie’s heart was near bursting with ecstasy.
As soon as she got to Grandma and Grandad’s house, she would arrange all of the stuff she had brought with her in Mom’s old bedroom. Then, she knew...oh she just knew...that Grandma would have a jar of oatmeal-raisin cookies on hand...so she would curl up on the couch with cookies and a blanket and would watch a good movie with her grandparents. In the morning she would either have cinnamon rolls for breakfast or donuts, along with a glass of creamy chocolate milk. Then she would spend all morning reading the endless supply of books housed in the front room, where the window-seat in the bay window would serve as the perfect book-nook...the list could go on and on.
She was roused from her reverie. “Mm-hmm?”
Dad’s profile was lit up red from the car’s lights in front of them. “While you’re staying with Grandma and Grandad, I want you to help out with the housework. It’s not an easy job for two seniors to host their lively thirteen-year-old granddaughter-- even though I know that you wouldn’t purposefully make trouble for them. But I want you to look around for ways to help out while you’re there, alright?”
She leaned back against the warm seat. “Yes sir. I will.”
She saw his mouth twitch into a smile. “Atta girl.”
Lizzie felt warm and happy inside. Her eyes lit upon the illuminated radio on the console. She stole a subtle glance at Dad. “May I turn up the music?”
He chuckled and gave her a nod. “You absolutely may.”
She reached forth and tweaked the glowing knob, and the clipped, bouncy, classical version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” filled the cab.
Lizzie’s heart soared with every not of the lively, light hearted melody.
“...On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Ten lords a leaping…”
Dad’s deep bass rang out with her slightly uneven soprano, adding to the joyous atmosphere.
Midway through the song, however, Dad dropped out. Lizzie realized she was singing alone and looked over at him, puzzled. His face was marked with alarm. “Lizzie-- turn it off.”
She hesitated. “Dad, what’s wrong?”
He voice was taught with tension. “Turn it-- now.”
She switched it completely off and turned to see him clearly. “Dad--”
He reached out grabbed her shoulder, pressing her back against the seat-back. “Shhh.”
Her ears tuned in to a thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-THUMP which started jolting the car. She felt her face drain.
Dad veered off of the highway, out of traffic. They slowed to a halt.
Lizzie slowly looked over at Dad. Silence rang about madly. “What...was...that?”
His throat moved. “A flat.”
The realization sank in like a thousand weights. “What…?”
He ran his fingers through his hair and then got out of the car to inspect the deflated tire.
Lizzie waited inside. What was only moments before a joyous, memorable, and hopeful atmosphere was now dark, silent, and lifeless. This could not be real. She still had to go to her grandparents’. That must not change, even if everything else did.
The door creaked open and Dad slid into the driver’s seat. He slammed the car door shut. “It’s as flat as I’ve ever seen one.”
She groaned. “What are we going to do now?”
He pulled his iphone from his pocket and swiped his finger across the screen. “I’m going to call your mother. She’ll have to come pick us up and take us back home.”
In that instant she felt as deflated as the tire. “What?”
He didn’t answer at first because he was dialing. His voice came calmly. “Yep. We’re only one hour into the trip-- so we’re closer to home than we are to your grandparents. If it were the other way around, they would have to come get us.”
Angry tears stung her eyes. “This is so not fair. I’ve been waiting for this trip for weeks.”
She felt Dad’s hand on her shoulder, so she looked over at him through the darkness. Hid eyes came through as tender and caring. “I know, Liz. But you need to put things in perspective.” His tone softened. “Last time this happened I lost your big sister. Be thankful we’re both alive right now.”
His words melted her bitterness considerably. She took a deep breath. Yes, at least she was alive and breathing. “Yes sir.”
“Listen-- we’re going to have to get us a tow to get us out of here. Depending on how this situation flows, I may have to stay here a bit longer. But I need to phone Mom now to let her know what’s going on, okay?”
She sighed and nodded, “Okay,” and then settled back against the seat in the shadowy twilight. She leaned her head against the icy window as Dad’s phone buzzed. She could tell this was going to be one long night.
Bleary-eyed and exhausted, Lizzie stumbled from the car dragging the heaviest backpack in the entire world at that point. She was in the house before she knew it. She glanced over at the oven-clock-- 3 am.
She looked up and saw Josh in his pj’s. She tried to smile. “Hey.”
He pressed his lips together tightly and said nothing, slipping his arm around her shoulders and squeezing her firmly. “Just glad you and Dad are both okay.”
She squelched a deep yawn. “Yeah...me too.” A twinge of sadness stole over her all at once as she realized again that a similar situation had occured before-- and that as a result, she didn’t have an older sister anymore. But then a new regret took over. “I just wish I could’ve gone to Grandma and Grandad’s.”
He rubbed her shoulder. “I know, Lizzie. But hey,” he looked down at her, “this is better than having to camp out in some hotel, right? I mean, at least you’re safe and with people who care about you.”
“Yeah.” She blinked several times to ensure that she was still awake. “Sorry. I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.”
He gave a short laugh. “It’s okay. I’ll go help Mom unload the car, and you go catch some shut-eye, alright? Sound good?”
She nodded slowly without opening her eyes. It was so hard to get words out right. They came out somewhat slurred. “Okay…...sure…”
She somehow found herself stomping up the stairs half asleep. The she was in her dark room. She sank down on her bed without even thinking about her clothes or her shoes. Before she knew it, she was completely out of it and in another world composed of dreams.
Sunlight blinded her the second she opened her eyes. She blinked hard. Where in the world was she?
She furrowed her brows in thought. Then the previous night’s happenings dawned on her like a sudden gush of cold water. She had never gotten to go to her grandparents’ place.
She felt her eyes grow a little watery. She knew it was babyish to cry, but she really had anticipated going for a week. It was a blow she didn’t know how to deal with, other than getting upset about it.
She looked down at herself and realized she was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. Someone, however, had taken her shoes off and put the covers over her. She figured it was probably Mom, but couldn’t be sure.
Lizzie claimed the kid’s bathroom and got ready for the day. Then she took a quick trip back to the girls’ room to grab a sweater-- it was a chilly morning in the top story. She plodded down the stairs-- until the last few steps, when a fresh idea suddenly possessed her entirely.
She raced into the kitchen. “Mom!”
The rest of her family, minus Dad-- who was at work-- raised their heads at her explosive entrance.
Mom smiled from where she sat at the table, pencil in hand over an open spiral. “Morning, honey. What’s up?”
Lizzie stilled her breathing. “We could still go today!”
“Where?” It was James. She looked over and saw him drying the breakfast dishes-- something which was normally her job.
“To Grandma and Grandad’s!” she looked back at Mom. “Please?”
The only thing Lizzie saw was Mom’s face, which was a little sad and matter-of-fact all at once. “No, honey.”
Every bit of hope which had dared to quiver in her spirit was instantly snuffed out. She sank into an empty chair, one question finding its way to her lips. “Why?”
Mom looked a bit taken aback. “Elizabeth. Your Daddy has a heap of work cut out for him today. The car’s in the shop, so he’s using the family van. He would have to take you late, late tonight-- but he’ll be exhausted. And I don’t have to tell you that “drowsy-driving” isn’t the smartest idea.”
Lizzie felt warm tears brewing in her eyes. “I know-- but-- I-- I-- I was just...so looking forward to...this.” she tried in vain to swallow the painful lump in her throat.
Mom leaned forward and reached across the table to hold her hand. “Lizzie. Look at me.”
She raised her gaze to look at her.
Mom’s eyes bore into her soul. “Who is your god?”
The statement was so unexpected that Lizzie nearly stopped breathing. She swallowed. “What?”
“Who is your god?”
She took a moment to think, finally resorting to coming back with, “What do you mean, exactly?”
Mom shrugged. “Well, everybody has a god, whether they like to admit it or not. For some it’s the God of the Bible; for others it’s money or possessions. So I’m asking you: who, or what, is your god?”
Lizzie felt the color creeping over her face. “I--” she halted. She was beginning to see some things now.
“Do you remember the Ten Commandments?”
“Can you list them for me?”
Lizzie hesitated. “Not perfectly.”
Mom nodded toward the stairs. “Okay. Run and go unpack your Bible.”
A sudden catch in her spirit made Lizzie linger. “I...forgot to.”
“To do what?” Mom’s brows knot quizzically.
“To...pack my Bible.”
Disappointment was evident in her mother’s normally easygoing countenance. “I thought I reminded you before you left not to forget what’s important, honey. Did it not register in there?”
Lizzie’s heart burned with remorse. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t ‘I’m sorry’ to me. It’s God whom you’ve been unfaithful to. Now go get your Bible.”
Lizzie was upstairs in a flash. She thundered back down, gripping the overlooked essential in both hands. Then she reseated herself at the table and laid it down.
“Open it to…” her Mom cocked her head and squinted in thought, “...Exodus 20.”
Lizzie flipped through the thin pages until she found the passage. She looked up at Mom expectantly.
Mom nodded. “You read it. Out loud.”
So she moved her hair out of her eyes, gave her throat a gentle clearing, and began.
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 ‘You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 ‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 ‘You shall not murder.
14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
15 ‘You shall not steal.
16 ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’” She paused and looked up at Mom. “Should I stop there or not?”
Mom nodded. “Go ahead and stop.”
Lizzie ran her hand through her hair. “So, why did you want me to read this?”
Mom promptly returned the query. “Why do you think I wanted you to read this?”
She pressed her lips together and furrowed her brows in thought. “Well...I mean, I guess it has something to do with…” a connection ‘dinged’ in her head, “...ooohhh-- something to do with your question, ‘who is your god’.”
Her mother nodded her head significantly. “Mm-hmm. So, based on your the evidence of your recent actions, what’s your answer?”
Realization sank in way too rapidly. “The…” her last words were nearly whispered-- “...trip.”
Silence hung about the air thickly.
Mom’s light brown hair shone softy in the airy morning light drifting in from the nearby window. “So your idol was the trip.”
Lizzie’s face and neck burned. She nodded guiltily.
“Any other laws broken here?”
The question seared deep into Lizzie’s conscience. “I-- I’m not sure...exactly.”
“Well, let me ask you something a bit different--” Mom settled forward on her elbows. “Why did God make these laws in the first place?”
Lizzie met her mother’s deep, probing gaze. To be honest, she had never put much thought into why God had created the Ten Commandments. “I don’t know-- for the Israelites?”
“Okay, that’s who God made them for. But why did He make them?”
Lizzie bit her lip in puzzlement.
Mom continued. “Could he have had...a motive, do you think?”
Lizzie shook her head slightly. “I don’t know.”
Her Mom looked thoughtful. “Alright. Go to Matthew 22. Start at...verse thirty-four.”
She quickly hunted for the correct passage, and as soon as she had discovered it, read aloud: “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these to commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’...” She got caught on the last verse. She slowly looked to her mother. “The Law and the Prophets.”
“So what is this ‘Law’ that Jesus is referencing here?”
“Well,” Mom folded her arms on the table, “let’s just think about this for a second. Looking back at Exodus 20, what are the first four commandments leaning toward?”
Lizzie remembered mentally. “No gods before me...no images...no...taking God’s name in vain...and-- the-- Sabbath. Keeping it holy.”
“Alright. So, those four are leaning towards honoring God-- and the remaining six? What about those?”
“No stealing, murdering...coveting...all towards-- people?” she nearly squeezed out.
“Yep.” Mom’s eyes shone. “So the Ten Commandments talk about ways to honor God and honor other people-- which is pretty similar to the two commandments which Jesus gives here in Matthew.”
Realization dawned. “Okay...I think this is beginning to make a little more sense.”
Mom smiled. “Love. Right?”
Lizzie let loose a sigh, glancing down at her open Bible. She caught the words, “love the Lord your God” and then drifted over to “love your neighbor as yourself”. She nodded. “Yes.”
“Sooo…” Mom raised her eyebrows, “instead of idolizing the trip, what should you do?”
Lizzie cocked her head as she pondered momentarily. “Love God-- and love others.”
“That’s right. So we’re going to put this into action, correct?”
Lizzie felt a peaceful confidence and resolve settle in her soul. She knew it was the only way to go. “Yes ma’am.”
The calm joy which seemed to radiate from her mother’s clear, hazel gaze strengthened her. “Alright.” She patted her daughter’s hand and then pushed away from the table. “Go put your Bible up, and then come back down and get some breakfast.”
“Okay.” She got to her feet and strode to the stairway, covering the flight easily and quickly. She rounded the top of the stairs, swinging onto the landing and entering her bedroom swiftly.
She set her Bible on her handmade nightstand, crafted out of rich oak timber. She was about to leave when she suddenly caught sight of the little photo sitting on the table-top, propped up against the small lamp base.
Three extremely familiar smiles reached out to her. It was Abby, herself, and…...Jennie.
Lizzie took the little photograph in her hand. She traced the faces with her finger. She felt the same unquenchable hunger howl in her heart and the same warm tears moisten her eyes-- and was again taken back to three years before...when she had been blessed with two sisters.
Oh Jennie. Lizzie saw her older sister’s bright smiles...heard her melodic laugh...her characteristic sense of humor lighting up the atmosphere. Her hands-- always doing something for someone else. Jennie had always made time for Lizzie. No matter if she had a thousand homework assignments pulling her in all directions-- Jennie had made a priority of spending time with her little brothers and sisters.
Lizzie sniffed back her emotions hard. That’s what she had always loved about her-- Jennie had shown her love...by spending time with her. Time when she could’ve been delving into her own interests. Sacrificing for her.
With sudden starkness she all at once saw how she had so miserably failed her own little sister and brother. She saw her own selfishness and cringed at the way she had blown away both Abby’s plea and James’ request to read the books. The way they had taken her stinginess cut into her conscience.
A tear found its way down her face. She squeezed her eyes shut and let another slide down noiselessly. How foolish-- no-- how arrogant she had been! Jennie never would’ve done that to her. Never. This was what Jesus had wanted-- simply for her to show love. Simply for her to give. Simply for her to get out of herself and reach out to someone else. How could she have been so blind?
With quick steps she found herself on her way back down the stairs. She halted only until she had reached the kitchen. Tears came warm and running. “Where’s Abby? And James?”
Her little sister left the dish-towel on the counter and neared, her large soft hazel eyes unpresuming and concerned. “Are you alright, Lizzie? What happened? Are you hurt?”
Lizzie couldn’t take it any longer. She clasped her little sister tightly to herself and buried her face in the soft, blonde hair parted neatly into two french braids. Her voice was muffled. “I’m-- I’m so, so, so sorry. I just--” she choked on a sob.
She felt Abby’s arms tighten snuggly around her waist. “I forgive you.”
Those three words were the ones Lizzie needed to hear the most. She sniffed hard and tried to voice her confession once again. “I’m so sorry. I saw-- I saw Jennie’s picture up there-- and-- and I remembered-- how she used to…” she swallowed down a surge of emotion, “...how she used to love me-- and then I saw how I had failed-- and how I had failed God-- I mean, it’s-- it’s all He wants-- is for us to love each other, and…” the knot in her throat made it impossible for her to continue.
But she didn’t need to. Already her mother, James, and Josh had joined to form a tight circle around her and Abby. She felt the soothing arms of the dearest people on earth squeezing her firmly. She melted into their embrace and relished it.
“I forgive you too, Liz.” It was James.
Lizzie cried afresh. “Thanks.”
Mom’s whisper sounded soothingly in her ear. “You learn anything, honey?”
Lizzie made an effort to come back from her moments of total immersion in the joy of reconciliation. She sniffed again and swallowed. “Yes.”
She thanked Jesus inwardly, with everything inside of her, for showing her the lesson she so desperately needed. “I’ve learned that there are ten ways to love.”