Coming Home

Fiction By Kyleigh // 9/16/2010

I wrote this about a year and a half ago, and pulled it out a while ago, trying to find something to post on AP. I realized I like it a lot more than I thought  I did. I don't really care for the title - any other ideas?
I have a few more things to post on AP before it closes - I have some more of Nikolai, perhaps a ballad, and the opening of a story I'm writing with Anna.
I do have a Facebook, message me if you'd like to add me and I'll search for you.

I am a daughter, the daughter of a King.

    Admittedly, I didn’t always think like that. My dad and I were good friends, and I loved my heavenly Father – or, at least, I thought I did. Little did I know at the time that the way I was choosing to go in my life was completely contrary to God’s calling for women. I grew up in a house full of boys. My mother had died in a tragic accident when I was eight, leaving my dad to run a household with six boys and a girl.
    Mornings would start with a five AM wake-up call from my oldest brother, Jefferson. He was usually known as “Jeffy,” around the house, even though now at eighteen he hated that nickname, but it stuck too much to get rid of. He and his twin – younger by twenty-two minutes and fifteen seconds – would stand in the hallway of the upstairs of our house with a football. Owen would look at Jefferson, and nod. “SET, HIKE!”
    The other five of us would pour out of our bedrooms, running all over the house, shouting, tackling, and making a mess of things. Dad would come out of his bedroom and call us all to attention, and then we would get dressed and go about our farm chores. My brothers rarely treated me like a princess, no, they thought it was a higher honor for me to be treated like one of them. I thought so, too. My dad didn’t. He tolerated me playing sports with them and running around with them, but he liked me to wear skirts to Church and would take me out on “daddy dates,” where he’d go out and treat me to ice cream or a sandwich and call me his princess. I liked being with my dad and time as just me and daddy – and being the only girl I got it more than my other siblings – but I liked being “one of the guys” just as much. I liked running around and being tackled by Owen, Jeffy, George, Malachi, Jonathan, and Adam. At the same time, though, I knew the Bible commanded me to honor my father, so I did what he asked me to and tried to do it joyfully, even if I didn’t want to.
    This continued past my fifteenth birthday. The day started as usual… “Set Hike!” Entered my sleepy ears and I sat up in bed. I jumped out of bed and pulled my jeans on, then a flannel shirt. Just out of bed and already it was a freezing cold November day. I opened the door of my room to find my brothers in a line in front of my room. Malachi, the musician among us, started singing, and soon the rest of my brothers joined in. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to Be-eth… Happy birthday to you!” My dad came out of his room, and soon I found myself surrounded on all sides with hugs… suffocating hugs, because almost everyone in my family was taller than me. Malachi was my height, Jonathan was up to my nose, and Adam to my shoulder, but Owen, Jeffy, George, and Dad were all about a head taller. Shouts of “Happy birthday, Beth!” filled the house for a few minutes, but then dad separated himself from the group.
    “Muldoon children!” He shouted, and we all stopped and got in line – it used to have been by age, but when Owen got slightly taller than Jeffy he insisted it be by height. And so, we lined up by height. Dad smiled at me. “Happy birthday, Elizabeth Jane Muldoon.” I smiled back.
    “Thanks, daddy.”
    Then he looked at Malachi. “Malachi – it’s your turn to do the birthday girl’s chores for her. Off you go, boys.” My brothers marched downstairs and out to the barn, and soon shouts and songs were coming from the barn as they fed and watered the horses, mucked out stalls, and did all of their farm chores.
    Meanwhile, daddy kept smiling at me. “Well, Beth, where shall we go today?”
    This was my favorite part about being my daddy’s only daughter – birthdays meant the day off of school and farm chores, like it did with my brothers, but it also meant that I got to spend all morning with daddy. I’d been planning this day for the past month, and was ready. “I’ll make a picnic lunch and breakfast and we’ll take McArthur and Winston out for a ride to the ridge.”
    The ridge was on the edge of our property, and my favorite place to be. Some days I’d load my backpack up with my school books and ride McArthur, my horse, out to the ridge and do my schoolwork there.
    “Ok, Beth, we’ll go to the ridge. Pack your Bible and I’ll go get the blanket and picnic basket.”
    A huge grin spread across my face. “Thank you, daddy!”
    I grabbed my Bible out of my room and rushed downstairs to the kitchen, where I quickly pulled fruit out of the fridge and washed it, and then put together some sandwiches and cut up some vegetables – lots of cucumbers and little carrots, of course. Daddy came downstairs a few minutes later with the picnic basket and the picnic blanket mom had made him a long time ago. She was the one who first took me up to the ridge and it had been why she and dad chose this farm when they were house-hunting before their honeymoon. As a wedding gift for dad, she had made and given him a beautiful dark green and dark blue quilt to use as a picnic blanket. As I put sandwiches and cut up veggies into plastic baggies, daddy took them and arranged them in the picnic basket, then getting the thermos out of a cupboard and boiling hot water. “Hot chocolate, tea, or coffee?” He asked me.
    I thought briefly and replied, “Hot chocolate!” Malachi came into the house, followed by the rest of the boys.
    “Farm chores done, Dad,” Malachi said.
    “Thanks for doing mine,” I said, and Malachi shrugged.
    “You do it for me.”
    I rolled my eyes and punched him, and he just punched me back.
    Jeffy started getting out bowls for the boys’ breakfast, then turned to me. “Where are you and dad going today?”
    “Betcha you can’t guess.” I said.
    “I betcha I can…”
    “Then try.”
    “Obviously you’re going on a picnic.”
    “Maybe we’re just getting y’all out of the house so we can have it to ourselves.”
    “Naw, you’re not.”
    “Ok, then, where are we going?”
    “The barn loft?”
    “No… hay makes me itch, remember?”
    “Right. Do tell, Beth, where you and dad are going.”
    “The ridge, silly.”
    Jeffy set down the bowls and ran over to me, picking me up and putting me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Don’t you silly me…” He said, spinning me around and then setting me down. When I came out of vertigo, I quickly dealt him a punch and then dad handed me the picnic blanket. Together, we journeyed out to the barn – me with my Bible in my shirt pocket and blanket slung over my shoulder, dad with the picnic basket filled with food and hot chocolate.
    I smiled. This was going to be a great day with daddy. I put a halter on McArthur, then swung up on him, bareback as always. Dad did the same with Winston, and we galloped out of the barn. My braid flapped against my back as we rode, the wind tearing through my ears. I loved riding with daddy. Soon we reached the plain and we slowed to a canter, gently flying over the fields. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we smiled. McArthur tossed his head, letting the wind rip through his mane.
    I dismounted as McArthur slowed when we reached the ridge. Dad took my halter and tied McArthur and Winston to the trees near us. I spread out the picnic blanket and set out our food, then stood at the top of the ridge, waiting for daddy to come up and join me.
    He gave me a great big hug when he did. “Happy birthday, princess.” Dad sighed and looked around. “Your mama used to bring you up here long before you could walk, Beth. The boys never came out here with her, it was always you, just mama-daughter time. I love you, Beth. I’m just sorry I can’t be the mother as well as the father that you need.”
    “I can cook and clean, daddy.” I hugged him around the waist and smiled up at him. “And I don’t mind being the only girl around.”
    “It’s not that, Beth. I know you can, and you do it so much better than the rest of us. But although I call you my princess, you’d rather be with the boys most of the time, a prince.” His eyes met mine, full of seriousness and yet of love. “I want you to be my little lady, Beth, like you were when your mother was alive – I don’t mean all pink and ruffles and dresses, but you’re not a man like your brothers. Someday you’ll marry a man if the Lord wills it, but woman was created to help man, not be like man.”
    “I know, daddy.”
    “Let’s sit down and eat and we can talk about this more.”
    “Okay.” We sat down and I started pouring hot chocolate into our mugs.
    Daddy grabbed my hand, and we bowed our heads. “Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the precious gift Elizabeth is. Thank you for the grace she brings upon this house and the flavor she adds to it. On this beautiful day, her fifteenth birthday, I pray that you would be revealing your purpose for her life, and starting another page on the journey of her life to be a woman after your own heart. Please bless this food she has prepared for us, bless and guide our conversation and fellowship today as well. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
    “Amen. Thanks, daddy.” I grinned and took a sip of my hot chocolate, then biting into my tuna sandwich.
    We chewed in silence for a little while, looking around at the countryside and watching the horses graze.
    “I always wondered why your mama liked this place so much,” Daddy said. “I never saw much in it.”
    “She liked it because she could see the whole farm from here, like a guardian at the gate, watching what all came in and out… she could get away from the noise of our house and be alone with God and sit in His creation.”
    “And that’s why you come out here?”
    “Yeah.”
    “You’re so much like your mom, Beth.”
    “Thank you daddy. I don’t remember her that much, just from pictures. And I remember the way she’d sneak into bed with me when you were sleeping in the stables during foaling season or when a horse was sick.”
    Dad was silent.
    “You miss her more than we know, don’t you?”
    Dad only nodded.
    I fiddled with my shirt buttons, and turned my attention to the horses for a little while.
    Then dad started talking again, and now he got out his Bible, so I pulled mine out of my pocket. “I know you know this, Beth, but as you’re getting older you’re becoming more different from your brothers, whether you know it or not. I’ve noticed you being less aggressive around them, laughing more at the little things… that’s another way you’re like your mama – the two of you laugh at the smallest things in life, smile at God’s tiniest parts of creation. Maybe it’s part of being a woman that your brothers and I don’t understand… but anyway. I want to thank you for cooking for us, and for cleaning up our messes. I don’t mind you playing with the boys, but when you do, remember you’re not one of them, you’re my princess. Can you do that for me?”
    “I’ll do it for you, daddy.”
    “Will you do it for me joyfully?”
    I took a deep breath. “I don’t know, dad. I’ll try. I really will. Sometimes… I just don’t know how to be different. I mean, I do, it’s in me, but maybe I’m scared, maybe I don’t want them to tease me, I don’t know. And there’s no one else around for me to play with…”
    “I want a read you a verse from Psalms. It’s part of Psalm 144 – ‘May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;  may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!’ Beth, what I want you to see here is that the role of a young woman is, although different, just as important as that of a young man. Can you tell me what a corner pillar does?”
    “My guess is that it supports the house.”
    “Yes, and it also beautifies it. It makes the house lovely – cut for the structure of a palace! Some translations say ‘polished.’ Beth, in asking you to be a lady, I’m not saying that you have to be a prim girl in a skirt doing needlework and being ‘too good’ to go outside. I don’t think that kind of girl can ever be a woman. Proverbs 31 tells us that the virtuous woman is strong! I want you to be strong and tough, durable, but still beautiful – like an Arabian horse. Ready to take on anything, but also ready to submit to your father or husband and serve them. Will you do that?”
    “I’ll do it, daddy, like I said. Pray for joy for me please, daddy. It’s hard, I don’t want to leave being ‘one of the guys,’ but I think that even though I knew in the past that guys and girls are different, I never realized just how and that it was that way in the Bible. I guess I thought it was a cultural thing, not really a command before.”
    “Thank you, Beth.”
    “I love you, daddy.”
    “These sandwiches are lovely!” Daddy commented, putting another quarter of a tuna sandwich into his mouth.
    “I used mama’s recipe.”
    “From the cookbook?”
    “Well, the folder in the cookbook.”
    Dad leaned forward. “I have a secret for you.”
    I leaned closer to him, so my forehead was touching his – I’d done that since I was a little girl and never grew out of it. “What?”
    “Ever wonder if your mama had more recipes than that?”
    “Not really.”
    “Why not?”
    “The cookbook was always enough.”
    “And now  you’ll be cooking more, right?”
    “’Course.”
    He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Your mother has a ton of recipes upstairs in the attic, in her steamer trunk.”
    I pictured the attic in my head. Mama’s steamer trunk? In my mind’s eye, I glanced around the attic. There! I remember that now… “What she called her Hope Chest?”
    “That’s the one!”
    “So I can go up there and look for it?”
    “And anything else in her hope chest, too.”
    I sat back. “What’s the purpose of a Hope chest, daddy?”
    “It’s where a young woman keeps her things for her future home before she gets married. It might be memories, notebooks and journals, recipes, quilts, potholders, afghans… but instead of just being purchased at a store, everything is bought or made with love and holds special memories for the woman.”
    I was quiet. “But why a chest like that? Couldn’t you just keep it in your closet?”
    “I don’t know exactly why… my guess is that it was something the father could make and give to his daughter, and then it would store up memories – first preparing for marriage, and then later when you have children, pieces of their hair, pictures, baby books… things like that will go into it.”
    “Cool. So what all is in mama’s hope chest?”
    “You’ll have to go up there and look sometime. She’s got a lot of stuff in there, I can’t even remember it all.”
    “Can I take Malachi up there with me?”
    “Of course you can, Beth. And talk to him about what we’ve talked about today. It’s not just between you and me, and I want your brothers to be men – part of that is learning how to treat women with honor.”
    “Daddy, what do you think ‘Chi and the others will think?”
    “I think they’ll like having a sister.”
    “You don’t think that they’ll look down on me at all for being a girl?”
    “Have they ever?”
    “No, they always knew that I couldn’t play sports as well as they could.”
    “They’ll support you in this, Beth. It was actually George who approached me about this, not in so many words, but he said he didn’t ever feel like he had a sister, just another brother.”
    “Did he want a sister?”
    “You betcha he did.”
    I grinned. Suddenly something in my heart changed. I can’t say exactly what it was, maybe what Malachi 4 says about the hearts of the children turning to the father. Whatever it was, I think it was that day I finally started my journey toward home and being my father’s daughter.
    It was beautiful, what little I knew of it.

    Malachi stopped at the bottom of the attic stairs. “What are you doing, Beth?”
    “I’m gonna show you something.”
    “You’ve been saying that all morning. What are you going to show me?”
    “Wait and see!” I persisted, as I had “all” three hours so far that morning.
    Malachi sighed, and, admittedly, I smirked a little.
    “There is absolutely nothing of interest up in the attic – just boxes and trunks.”
    I turned around from the top of the stairs to look down at him. “Yeah, but what’s inside the trunks is so fascinating.”
    Malachi jumped three stairs in one step, and I rushed on in to the attic.
    “Okay, I think the trunk I’m looking for has the initials ‘TJN’ on it.”
    Malachi eyed me with a suspicious look. “I know a ‘TNM,’ not a ‘TJN.’”
    “They’re the same person. Mom was Tabitha Jubilee Neil.”
    “Ah, right.”
    We stepped over boxes and dust bunnies for a few minutes, reading labels on boxes as we went.
    “Kids – Drawings, Snapshots, etc.” Malachi read off of one box, opening it and peering inside. “Hey, Beth, come see in here!” I ran to his side, standing on tip-toe to peek into the box.
    “Whoa. Mom and dad sure kept a lot of our stuff.”
    “Yeah, you’re telling me. We really gotta come up here more and look around.”
    “Right, ‘there’s nothing up there but boxes and trunks.’”    
    “Says who?”
    “Says you, silly.”
    Malachi closed the lid of the box and we continued in our search. “Here’s a steamer trunk… but no initials on it.”
    I looked up from where I was looking, over by the attic window. “What’s inside?”
    “File folders, papers… looks like old schoolwork.”
    I sighed. “Keep looking. Dad said it’s up here somewhere.”
    “Ah, so dad’s in on this?”
    “Yeah, of course. I wouldn’t go rummaging through mama’s things without talking to him. He suggested it.” I dusted off the side of another trunk, searching all over it for an initial plate. “Hey! I found it!”
    Malachi flew to my side, and moved boxes off from the top. “Tabitha Jubilee Neil… what’s in here?”
    “Mom’s stuff.”
    “Duh.”
    “This was her Hope Chest.”
    “Which is?”
    “Where before she got married she kept things she’d use for her house…”
    “Neat. But now that she has a house, what’s in there?”
    “Lots of stuff, according to dad. He probably put some of her things back in here. He said that at least she has a bunch of recipes.”
    “More recipes?”
    “Mama’s recipes.” My eyes twinkled.
    “Since when is my little Beth interested in cooking?”
    “Hey – not little yet. You’re not taller than me yet…”
    “Well I will be soon… so, open the trunk.”
    I undid the latches and pried open the lid, coughing because of the dust stirred up. “Man, dad hasn’t looked in here probably since mom died.”
    “Probably put her stuff in, moved it up here, and left it.”
    My jaw dropped as I lifted out a gorgeous dark purple, pink, and blue quilt. “I want to put this on my bed!”
    “Beth and pink? What happened to you?”
    “Dad told me you boys wanted a sister, among other things.”
    “As long as you still play football with us.”
    “I haven’t changed that much, Malachi. I’m just a willing daughter now, not a forced one.”
    “I don’t think I understand all of that… not so much as you seem to, anyway.”
    “I don’t think you have to understand it all, only understand biblical womanhood – but dad will help you look at that when you need to.”
    “I wish mom were around to demonstrate it.”
    “Yeah, so do I.” I sighed. “That’s gonna be the hardest part. If mom were still alive, I’d have an example and I never would have become the tom boy I am… sure, I would have played sports with you, but not become the little feminist I was.”
    “Was?”
    “Er, am trying to get out of.”
    Malachi peered over the side of the trunk. “What else is in here?”
    I dug around a little longer, pulling out three notebooks stuffed with recipe cards, notes, and all manner of other things written in mama’s handwriting. “I think these are the recipes.”
    Malachi took one of the notebook from my hands and opened it. “No, it’s notes on her Bible readings and studies, and prayers.”
    I opened another notebook. “November 21, 1991. Lord of all Creation – thank you so much for this wonderful new bundle of blessing. Help me to raise Elizabeth Jane Muldoon to see your Truth and embrace it, loving it and teaching it to those around her, being a light unto the world.” Tears filled my eyes, and I pulled the notebook close to my chest. Malachi silently flipped through the pages of his notebook.
    “January 10, 2000. This is so strange. I have never felt this way before – in pain and yet rested, wanting to hold on to life, and yet wanting to slip away. If it be your will to take me, Lord Jesus, watch over my sons and my little daughter. Comfort my Beloved and guide him…” Malachi’s voice trailed off, and he scooted closer to me, putting his arm around me. We both cried. It was dark when we dried our eyes, closed the notebooks, and put them on top of the quilt.
    “Let me read them when you’re done,” Malachi said, reaching back into the chest. He pulled out a thick envelope, filled with pictures and smaller envelopes. “Baby Snapshots, Hair cuttings.” He read aloud. He pulled out something else. “Hey, Beth, look at me.” I looked in his direction, and he quickly flicked mama’s veil over my head, smoothing it out as he put it on me. Then Malachi smiled. “You look like mama with that on.”
    “Thanks.”
    “Beth? Malachi?” Dad shouted from downstairs.
    Footsteps sounded on the stairs as dad came up to the attic. “Brr, it’s freezing up here!”
    Malachi and I looked over at dad.
    “Ah, so the two of you found your mother’s hope chest, eh?”
    “Yup,” Malachi and I said in unison.
    “What things of interest did you find so far?”
    I partially lifted up the quilt. “I found this!”
    Dad nodded. “Your mom finished that just a few weeks before she died. It was going to be your birthday present. I didn’t have the heart to give it to you so soon after she was gone.”
    “We also found her notebooks.”
    “How many are there?”
    “There’s just three here.”
    “She had a lot of those somewhere. I’m not sure where all of them have gotten to now, those three are probably just the most recent.” Dad knelt in between Malachi and I. “Found that recipe box yet, Beth?”   
    “No, but there are some recipes in the notebooks.”
    “Those weren’t the ones I meant – somewhere in here, there’s a recipe box or two.”
    I looked at dad. “Why’d you put those in there after mama died?” I asked softly.
    Dad stared at the Hope Chest, as if thinking back to those days. “I couldn’t stand to think about your mom for a few weeks after she died. You kids went to stay with your grandmother and grandfather, and I stayed here to get things ready for you to come home. I didn’t want to cook your mama’s favorite foods, even if they were mine, too. Your quilt, Beth, reminded me of her love and so instead of leaving it where it was in her closet or putting it in your bedroom, I packed it away.”
    “What else did you pack away in here?” Malachi wondered.
    “I put a few of her dresses, her favorite ones, that I thought you could wear some day, Beth, those are nearer to the bottom, her Bible, the letters we wrote when we were preparing to get married, the things she had made for the house…”
    “Would it bother you now if we took some of that out? Like what she made for the house? Her recipes? And the dresses for Beth?” Malachi asked.    
    “No, I don’t think it would. But if you two want to do that you get to re-arrange furniture in the house and then put her things up. Anything you want to do you will have to do – painting, re-arranging, cooking new recipes. Deal?”
    Malachi and I nodded. “Deal.”
    “I’ll make dinner tonight, Beth, so you can stay up here.”
    “Thanks, daddy!”
    Dad went back downstairs, and Malachi and I rummaged around some more.
    “Well, here’s one dress, anyway.” Malachi handed me a pink flowered dress. It was short sleeved, had a square neck, and it looked like it would come to just below my knee.  “Go try it on!”
    I took off the veil and hurried around to behind the boxes, changing quickly.
    “It’s a little cold for November,” I said, stepping out.
    “It looks really nice on you, though, Beth. You really oughta wear it in the summer sometime.”
    I grimaced. “But it’s pink.”
    “You don’t mind the pink on the quilt.”
    “Yeah, but I’m not wearing that, it’s different.”
    “Is it?”
    “I’m wearing it this time.”
    “Beth, you look great in pink. I’ll wear pink with you if you want that Sunday.”
    “You have something pink?”
    “I think I have a pink tie.”
    “If you’re serious about it, I will.”
    “Deal.”
    Malachi and I spent until dinner and then until bed time looking through mom’s hope chest and bringing things downstairs. That night, I slept under the warmth of a quilt made by my mom’s love. I took a deep breath as I snuggled down under the covers, breathing in what I remembered of mom.
    I dreamed of running by her side across the field to the ridge in her pink dress. We were laughing and talking. When we got to the ridge, we surveyed the farm, and then raced back to the house, ending up panting, by the barn.
    I woke up the next morning and cried.

    July fourth, 1992.
    Lord Jesus, spare Elizabeth! You know this fever that’s seeped into her body, you know how to get it out of her. I pray that this night, as I sit beside her small, tiny, little bed in this large hospital… as I watch her being pricked with needles and hear her cries… Spare this precious life, God.

    July 5th, 92
    I can’t stand it, God! I always prayed growing up… ‘never let this happen to me or my future little ones.’ And now it has… and everything seems to be crashing down around me. What do I do, now that this is upon me? Do I sit here and ask you “Why? Why? Why God? Why did this have to happen to my sweet little Beth?” I don’t want to sacrifice my daughter on the altar like Abraham was willing to Isaac. Take this selfishness away, God! I don’t want it to be there. You’re my treasure, You’re my all in all.
    But let her live! Please! These tears from my eyes, the silent tears from my heart, the tearless grief bleeding inwardly.
    It hurts, like my heart is being torn apart.
    Help me be like Job.
    Help me say “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
    Not just when you give, but also when you take away.

    A knock sounded on my door, and dad opened it, poking his head inside.
    “What are you up to?”
    “Reading mom’s notebooks.”
    “Ahhh… Where are you at?”
    “July fifth, 1992.”
    “Amazed yet?”
    I nodded, then the tears began streaming down my cheeks. “Why did she have to die, dad? Why did I never get the chance to really know her? I mean, past hearing the gospel, being spanked, and being her helper and princess?”
    Daddy sat down on the bed beside me. “I don’t know, honey. But I do know that whatever for reason she died, God will use it to glorify Himself. And as you’ve probably just read, a reminder that like Job, whatever happens, whether God gives or takes away, we still need to bless Him and praise His name.”
    “It’s so hard, daddy, it’s so hard.” I said, reaching over and hugging him.
    “I know. Seems ironic, doesn’t it, that he says His yoke is easy and burden is light, yet we have to carry our crosses?”
    “Yeah.”
    “Well, show me what you just read.”
    I handed him the notebook.
    “I remember those days. Oh, were they ever hard on your mother. Jeffy, Owen, and George, too, young as they were then. We spent nights awake, praying hard.”
    “What exactly did I have?”
    “A fever, I guess. Your mom would have known the exact terms… all I knew was that my little daughter was sick and maybe dying. You looked awful, stuck with needles and IVs and all sorts of other medical devices that have complicated names.”
    I giggled in spite of myself. Dad and anything medical clashed completely.  “So how long was I in the hospital?”
    “Almost a week. You came down with a high fever the night of July second, were hospitalized July third, and came out July ninth.”
    “Wow.”
    “Yeah, no kidding. You had your mom and I pretty scared, kiddo.”
    “Not on purpose. I’ll try never to do it again.”
    “Good. Word of honor?”
    “As much as I can give it.”
    Dad smiled, and I smiled back.
    “Thanks, dad.”
    “For what?”
    “For bein’ there. For bein’ here. I sure miss mom, but you sure are a great daddy.”
    Dad hugged me again. “Thanks, sweetie.”
    I looked up at him and smiled.

    “Set HIKE!”
    I groaned in bed. I’d been up late pouring over mom’s notebooks – I’d read from Malachi’s birth to my seventh birthday. I felt like I was starting to know my mom – understanding her thoughts, hearing her heart’s cry, realizing what an amazing person my mother was. When I closed the books, I cried myself to sleep, wishing for mama to come in and sleep in my bed with me like she used to do. Then I realized how much I missed her. As a young girl, I’d only known her as the one who could answer all of my questions, who would teach me, love me, give me hugs and kisses whenever I wanted them… and then just when I really needed her to teach me how to be a girl, she was gone. Gone, just like that, leaving daddy and my brothers and I alone. I didn’t know what else to do, so I followed my brothers, them being the only constant example I had now.
    There was a knock on my door.
    “You comin’ Beth?” Owen asked.
    “Yeah, I’ll be out in a minute,” I replied, slipping out from under the covers and shivering in the freezing morning air. I quickly pulled on my jeans and a flannel shirt over my pajamas, then ran out into the hallway. We went through the normal morning drills. After farm chores and breakfast, I grabbed my back pack from my room and stuffed my Bible, a notebook, and two apples into it.
    “Dad, McArthur and I will be up at the ridge,” I yelled.
    “Ok, Beth, stay safe… you taking schoolwork up there?”
    I paused. “Uh… no. I’ll do it when I get home. Be back before lunch.”
    I grabbed McArthur’s halter on the way into his stall, and quickly slipped it over his head. Then I opened the stall door, swung up on my horse, and we galloped out of the stable. I closed my eyes as we journeyed across the field, letting the wind whip my hair wherever it pleased. McArthur slowed as we neared the ridge, and I tied him to the maple tree at the bottom of the ridge, fed him an apple, and hiked to the top. I had forgotten mom’s blanket, so the ground was still a little wet, but I sat down anyway and unpacked my backpack. I opened my Bible and notebook, took a pen out of my shirt pocket, and bit into my apple. Chewing thoughtfully, I looked around. It was a beautiful day for November. I didn’t like November much… October was much better – slightly warmer, but still nippy, gorgeous leaves, and rain. November was cold and dreary. But thanks for November anyway, God! I thought, picking up my Bible and flipping to the concordance. The thought that had been most prominent in my mind since Malachi and I had rummaged through the Hope Chest three days ago had been of my father. How do I be the best daughter I can be to my father? What’s my biblical role?
    I clicked my pen open and started writing scripture references down, first those with “women,” then, “daughters,” “children,” and finally, “wives.”
    “Looks like I got my work cut out for me, eh, McArthur?” I said aloud. McArthur glanced my way and snorted. I started reading verses, taking notes, pondering the meanings of different words, such as what it means to honor my father, what a “keeper of the home” is and does… I got so caught up in reading Titus and the other Bible verses that I didn’t lift my head from my notebook or Bible until I heard a whistle. Owen was sitting next to McArthur on his horse, Sumter (in case you haven’t noticed yet… all of us Muldoons are major history freaks – Dad, Owen, and me especially).
    “Hey, is this yours?” He asked, reaching down to untie McArthur.
    “Owen, don’t you dare!” I shouted, quickly closing up my books and sticking them back in my backpack.
    “Don’t I dare what?” He yelled back innocently, a grin spreading across his face. But he dismounted Sumter and held McArthur still for me as I ran down the ridge and mounted McArthur.
    “You said you’d be home for lunch.”
    “Yeah, I said that.”
    “Uh-huh, and they’re all eating lunch right now.”
    “Oops… I guess I got a little carried away.”
    “Yeah, no kidding.”
    “Well… anyway. Race you home!”
    McArthur shot ahead of Sumter, and I glanced back at Owen, a huge smile plastered on my face. He shook his head, also smiling, and gently dug his heels into Sumter’s sides. 

    That night, I was kneading dough in the kitchen, following one of mama’s recipes that I had found in her hope chest. I looked lovingly at the handwriting on the index card, loving the soft scrolls and curves of my mother’s handwriting. The kitchen was quiet, all of the boys off in their rooms reading, and dad out in the garage working on another carpentry project. As I finished kneading and began shaping the rolls into balls, a door slammed and dad came into the house, breathing on his hands as he came in. He sat by the fire place dividing the kitchen and the living room, warming his hands.
    “It’s gettin’ really cold out there!” He said.
    “It  is November, almost December, dad!” I said, laughing.
    “Every year it creeps up on us, slowly and timidly, and then it pounces!”
    We both laughed, and then I stopped working at my rolls for a moment to look at dad. Malachi came in and sat next to dad, also warming himself by the fire. I chewed on my lip briefly, then spoke up.
    “Hey, dad, I read the book of Titus today… and chapter 2 verse 3-5 really struck me. This sounds kinda odd – but is there an ‘older woman,’ who would be willing to teach me like that?”
    “Well, think of our church, Beth.”
    “There’s Mrs. Paton – homeschooling her eight kids. You could help her a lot and learn from her at the same time,” Malachi suggested.
    I grinned. “I’ll talk to her on Sunday, thanks ‘Chi.”
    Malachi and I had always been close, mostly because we dealt with grief in the same way – wanting to get away and hide, and because when mom died I wasn’t allowed to go out to the ridge alone, I ran to the barn, and found Malachi had, too. Since then we’d been inseparable, especially when we were thinking a lot. Now I knew he was by my side fully supporting my quest for biblical femininity and daughterhood.
    He stood and walked over to the counter where I was working.
    “What are you making?” He asked.
    “What does it look like, silly?”
    “Rolls.”
    “Uh-huh.”
    “You’ve never made rolls before. I didn’t even know we had a recipe for them.”
    “Mama’s recipe.”
    “I can’t wait to try them!”
    “I hope they turn out!”
    “’Course they will.”

    Sunday morning as we entered the church building I felt a slight flutter in my stomach. I hadn’t talked to Mrs. Paton since mama died, apart from formal “Hello, how are you?’s” Her husband was a lawyer and was sometimes gone for long periods of time, leaving Mrs. Paton at home with their eight children – Micah, eleven, Sarah, nine, Richard and Elaine, twins at eight, Faith, six, Timothy, four, John, two, and a newborn, Connor.  I took in a deep breath of warm air as we entered the church, and shrugged off my coat, hanging it on the coat rack. Malachi looked at me and nodded. I nodded back, and then we went to find Mrs. Paton. A few steps past the foyer, Timothy came running, followed by Faith, calling his name to help him tuck in his shirt. Malachi stepped in front of her and picked her up, spinning her around.
    “Malachi, put me down!” she squealed. “You’re making me whizzy!”
    He set her gently on her feet, holding on to her shoulder to stabilize her. “Is your mom around?”
    “Yeah, she’s somewhere. And ‘course she’s here, daddy’s on a trip to the capitol.”
    “Ok. Thanks, Faith.”
    She looked up at Malachi. “Will you help me catch Timmy and tuck in his shirt?”
    Malachi grinned, then glanced back at me. “Sure, I’ll come help you.”
    I sighed and went off to find Mrs. Paton alone, while Malachi chased after Timmy and tickled him, and then tucked in his shirt and straightened his tie.
    I found Mrs. Paton talking to a newlywed couple in our Church – we had attended their wedding a month ago, and recently the husband had told my dad that they were expecting their first child! I waited patiently while she finished her conversation, and then spoke up.
    “Good morning, Mrs. Paton!”
    “Good morning, Elizabeth!”
    “Beth, Mrs. Paton,” I said. Only my mom and dad ever called me Elizabeth.
    Mrs. Paton smiled understandingly. Timothy hated being called Timothy. “How are things in the Muldoon household?”
    “Never been better,” I said.
    “You had a birthday recently, didn’t you?”
    “Yes, Mrs. Paton.”
    “Happy birthday, Beth! Fifteen, right?”
    “Yes ma’am.”
    “What did your family do for your birthday?”
    “Daddy and I had a picnic on the ridge, and Malachi did my chores.”
    “That sounds wonderful!”
    I nodded, and there was a brief awkward silence. “Mrs. Paton, may I ask you something?” I said, finally working up the courage to ask her. Malachi flashed by in that second, still chasing after Timmy, the little boy’s tie in hand, and gave me a quick wink.
    “Of course, Beth.”
    “On my birthday, daddy was encouraging me to embrace biblical femininity instead of just being another boy in the family. I took his challenge, and the other day I went out to the ridge and was studying verses about biblical daughterhood. I read Titus 2, and…”
    “Were wondering if I would be an older mentor?” Mrs. Paton interrupted excitedly.
    My face lit up, and I nodded.  “I could help with the kids and learn from you at the same time…”
    “It’s a wonderful idea, Beth! What day would work for you?”
    “Our schedule is pretty open, we don’t really have anything set during the week except for Church.”
    “Then how does Wednesday sound?”
    “Great!”
    “Can your dad bring you by around ten in the morning?”
    “I’m sure he can.”
    “And then I’ll bring you home around four in the afternoon.”
    “Sounds great!”
    “Alright, then, Beth, see you then!”
    I grinned as I went off to find Daddy and my brothers in the sanctuary, slipping in between Malachi and Owen just as the worship leader started the service. Malachi glanced my way questioningly. I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear. “Wednesday, ten in the morning until four PM.”
    Malachi grinned, and then we both turned our attention and hearts to the worshipping our Creator.

     Jeffy looked back at me in the review mirror. It was Wednesday morning, and dad had asked Jeffy to drop me off at the Paton’s house on the way to his German class at the local community college. 
    “Excited, Beth?” He asked.
    “A little, I guess. First time doing anything I get skittish.”
    “Skittish like a horse?” Jeffy laughed. He loved the way I put in horse words with humans.
    “Well, yeah, I guess so. Well, really my stomach get skittish.”
    “Well, I guess I was just teasing.” Jeffy said, laughing again.
    I wondered when I would ever learn to get around his teasing.
    “Be thankful you’re driving, Jeffy, or you’d have gotten one for that!”
    “Well, I don’t think you’d do it now anyway, cuz here we are! Want me to walk you up to the house?”
    “You don’t have to. The car will get cold.”
    “Ok, then. Guess my little sister doesn’t need a protector.”
    “I want you to protect me… but don’t want you to get a cold or be late for your class.”
    “Ok, then, hurry up!”
    “Ok, then, I’m going.” I retorted. Just like I said “well” a lot, Jeffy’s phrase was “ok, then.” I got out of the car and ran up the steps, waving to Jeffy. He waved back, and I rang the doorbell.
    Timmy opened the door. He took one look at me and his eyes went wide. “What are YOU doing here?” He asked.
    “I’m here to help your mom.”
    “Oh.” He said. “You look cold.”
    I sighed. “I am cold. You could let me inside.”
    “Just a minute, let me let mom know you’re here.”
    Timmy closed the door, leaving me outside in the cold.
    “Mama, Beth’s here!” He shouted up the stairs. I stomped my feet.
    “Did you let her in?” I heard Mrs. Paton say as she came down the stairs.
    “No…”
    “Timothy James Paton!”
    “Sorry, mama!” He yanked open the door. “Hurry up, get in here!”
    Trying to suppress smiles and laughter, I stepped inside and waited for Mrs. Paton to come to the door.
    “Sorry about that, Beth.”
    I smiled. “No problem, Mrs. Paton. I know I used to do the same thing.”
    Tim’s eyes widened again. “You used to do that? Beth Muldoon used to do THAT?” He said. “Malachi tells me you’re NEVER mean.”
    “Is that saying you’re mean?” I asked him.
    “I didn’t mean that.”
    I nodded knowingly. Timmy crinkled his nose and then ran off.
    “All of the kids are in the school room,” Mrs. Paton told me as I started taking off my cloak. “And I’ve made a list of things that you can do with them. We’ll finish with school and then I have a few chores you can do for me. Is that alright?”
    “It’s perfect, Mrs. Paton!” I said, once more grinning. I followed her back to the school room. They had painted it a brick red, and bookshelves lined one of the walls. There was a couch beneath the windows, and the remaining walls had desks or tables for the children to work at.
    “Welcome to the Paton Schoolhouse, Beth.” Mrs. Paton said as I entered.
    “Wow! This is a neat room!”
    “All my husband’s doing. While I was recovering from pneumonia last year and was stuck upstairs in my bedroom, he and the kids did it for me.”
    I walked around the room quickly, saying “hi” to all of the kids. Timmy just crinkled his nose at me again.
    “Ok, kids, back to your school work. I’m going to quickly show Beth around the house and then we’ll be back in here.”
    And so the day began.
    Twenty-minutes later, I found myself kneeling by Timmy’s desk, trying to get him to focus.
    “Is your hair really that curly?” He asked me, playing with one of my curls.
    “Yes,” I replied. “It’s like my mom’s.”
    “Oh.” He looked down at his math worksheet, then back up at me. “Can I color the cows on here?”
    “You’re supposed to count the cows, not color them,” I said.
    “But I want to color them!”
    “If you count the cows you can color them.”
    “But I can’t count them!”
    I sighed. “Yes, you can. Watch.” I pointed to the cows and started counting. “One, two… what’s after two, Timmy?”
    “Three.”   
    “And then?”
    “Fourfivesixseveneightnineten!!!” He said.
    “Right… but count the cows. So for each number you can color a cow. Here’s a crayon.”
    “Yesss!” He started counting and coloring cows, and I moved on to help Faith with her reading.
    “How’s it coming, Faith?”
    “What’s this word, Beth?” Faith asked, frustrated.
    “Sound it out.”
    “I can’t!”
    “Let me hear you try.”
    “A… a… p… But there’s two ‘p’s’.”
    “Yup, there are. Divide it into syllables, splitting the P’s.”   
    “Ap… ple.”
    “Yeah.”
    “Pete ate the apple.”
    “Good job, Faith. What’s this sentence say?”
    “The… ap-ple… was c-cold.”
    “There you go. See, reading isn’t so hard, is it?”
    “No. I guess not.”
    “Ok, let’s read the rest.”
    “That’s all, I read the rest to mommy earlier.”
    “Good job. What do you have left?”
    “Just history, but that’s for you to read to all of us.”
   

    It was four weeks later, and I’d just finished my fourth afternoon and morning at the Paton’s house. Jeffy pulled up in the car outside of their house, and I hopped into the back seat. Owen, George, and Malachi were all with him.
    “What’s up?” I asked, wondering why they were all there.
    “Nothin’.” They said in unison.
    “Uh-huh.” I replied. “Then how ‘come you’re all in the car at once, just to come pick me up.”
    “We were running errands.” Malachi said.
    “Sure.” I said, too tired to care what kind of errands, and to care that they weren’t being completely honest with me.
    “How was your day?” Jeffy asked, looking back at me in the review mirror.
    “Ehh.” I said.
    “What’s ‘ehh’ supposed to mean?” He wondered.
    “Just ‘ehh.’”
    “’Ehh.” Owen said. “As in awful, frustrating, when will it end, get me out of here, I want to go home… ehh?”
    “Uh-huh.”
    “Welcome to my world.” Owen joked. I glared at him.
    “Owen, lay off.” George said.
    “What was so bad about it?” Malachi asked.
    “Well, Timmy wouldn’t listen or obey, he just wrinkled his nose. John kept throwing pencils across the room and wouldn’t stop… Richard and Elaine kept fidgeting during math… I burned the rolls because Faith wouldn’t get dressed after her bath… and Connor wouldn’t stop crying.”
    “Oh… that kind of ‘ehh.’”
    “Exactly that kind of ‘ehh.’”
    The car was silent for a few minutes. Then we pulled up into the lane and I asked Jeffy to stop the car. “I want to walk home,” I said, unbuckling.
    “’Kay, then get out.”
    I jumped out of the car, and soon Malachi was behind me.
    “Mind if I join you?”
    “Nope. Kinda want some company.”
    “I guessed you had something on your mind.”
    I shoved my hands down into my pockets.
    “Care to share?”
    I sighed. “It’s just not who I am, Malachi. It doesn’t feel like me. Skirts are fun sometimes, and I do like cooking… but I miss being one of you. It doesn’t fit, like something is missing that used to be there.”
    “It’ll come, don’t worry.”
    “It’s been three months since daddy asked me to do this for him, Malachi. I just can’t seem to do it.
    “You seem to be doing it fine.”
    “That’s just it. Inside it still just doesn’t feel right. So it makes me feel hypocritical.”
    “Have you talked to dad about it?”
    “I just can’t bring myself to. I want to be a good daughter, one who embraces biblical femininity and daughterhood. I want to, Malachi! I really want to! I just don’t know how!”
    “Has talking to Mrs. Paton helped at all?”
    “Some… it helps to see it in action. But at the same time I see things I’d do differently and don’t agree with and suddenly it changes the light I see her in.”
    “I’m praying for you, Beth. ‘Been prayin’ for you since the day we went up into mama’s hope chest. Do you want to read the notebooks again?”
    I shrugged and kicked a rock. “I dunno. Might be good, I guess.”
    Malachi stopped me and put a finger under my chin, making me look up at him – yes, he was taller than me now, he’d shot up over the last four months – “Chin up, Beth. You act like you’re about to eat sand glop.”
    “That’s gross, ‘Chi.”
    “My point exactly. It’s not gross.”
    “You’re not in the thick of it.”
    “No, I’m not. But I watch Mrs. Paton and I watch the other mothers and I watch the other girls at Church, Beth, and it’s beautiful. It makes me want to be a man and defend them and protect them.”
    “Really?”
    “Yeah!”
    “What do you see that they do?”
    “They don’t see being women as a curse, Beth. They see it as beautiful and rejoice in being the weaker vessel and being honored and helped by men. They don’t view it as degrading, but as honoring. Instead of being hunched over half-hearted supporters of their brothers, they’re what Psalm 144 says are ‘polished corner pillars.’ I want to see you like that, Beth.”
    “I’m trying, Malachi, I’m trying! My heart’s just not in it anymore!”
    Malachi’s hand slipped down across my shoulder. “Can I help?”
    “I know you can, I just don’t know how!”
    “Would me being a man and treating you like a lady help?”
    “I guess. Never hurts to try.”
    “Then I’ll try it.”
    We’d reached the steps of our house, and Malachi dashed up the steps and opened the door for me. “Starting now.” He grinned, and I gave him a weak smile back.

    “Ooooh man, it’s cold.” I said, stepping outside.
    “Happy January,” George said.
    “Yeah, thanks,” I replied, stomping my feet on the way out to the barn.
    He started running. “Get moving and warm up!”
    I nodded, and trudged on behind him. Everyone else was sick in bed, so George and I got stuck with the farm chores – all of them.
    It was after seven when we got back inside. Jeffy had dragged himself out of bed to start a fire, and so the house was warm when we slammed the doors behind us and yanked off our gloves, hats, coats, and scarves.
    I put a pot on the stove and turned it on. “I’ll heat up some soup for the sickies and make some oatmeal for us. How’s that sound, George?”
    “Sounds good. Anything warm sounds good. Want any tea or hot chocolate?”
    “Tea sounds great.”
    “’Kay.” George filled up the hot water heater and started making some tea.
    I left the pots with food simmering on the stove and ran upstairs. “Need anything, guys?” I asked, peeking into the boys’ room.
    “Just sleep,” Malachi said.
    “I’m making some soup and I’ll bring it up for y’all when it’s done.”
    “We’re in the North, you can’t say ‘y’all,’” Jeffy said, coughing.
    I rolled my eyes. “You don’t seem so sick, Jeffy.”
    “Not as sick as them, don’t worry.”
    “Well as soon as ANY of you feel better you can get up and help with chores around the house, seeing as George and I had to do all of the barn chores.”
    “We’re fine in bed, thanks.”
    I shut the door and went back downstairs to dish up bowls of soup and hot oatmeal. George had finished making the tea, and had set the table. I took some food upstairs and grabbed schoolwork on the way down. Dad came downstairs and left for work a few minutes later, grabbing his coffee cup on the way out of the house.
    “Have fun getting the car heated up!” George shouted.
    “Thanks, I will!” Dad yelled back. “Have fun today, guys! And Lady!”
    I grinned, and returned to my math.
    I looked up a few minutes later to see George grinning stupidly and staring at me.
    “What?”
    He shook his head. “Nothin’.”
    “Yeah, sure.”
    “You’ll find out later.”
    I sighed. “Ok, then.” I went back to my math, and George got up and started cleaning up from breakfast. When he finished, he went upstairs.
    I knew something was up between him, dad, and the boys, but I also knew they wouldn’t be happy if I intruded even the slightest bit, so I stayed downstairs to finish my schoolwork, then cleaned up some around the house until dad got home. The day seemed to drag on. George didn’t come back downstairs, though I did hear thumping coming from upstairs.
    Finally, I heard a car coming up the lane and the garage door opening. A few minutes later dad came inside.
    “Everyone still sick upstairs?”
    “Uh-huh.”
    “Kinda lonely and quiet around here then, eh?”
    “Yeah, you’re telling me. George joined them upstairs right after breakfast. It’s scarily quiet except for a few thumpings upstairs. Are we doing anything after dinner?” I asked. I hated winter – well, not so much Winter as being cooped up inside because it was too cold to do much outside. I always wanted to get out of the house and run around or ride McArthur, but it was too cold and hurt my lungs too much in the Winter.
    “Not that I know of. I’m gonna go check on the boys.”
    “’Kay.”
    I groaned. What a boring day. I couldn’t remember any time when ALL of the boys had  been sick at the same time, or at least mostly sick at the same time. I could tell George wasn’t feeling one hundred percent either.
    I grabbed a book off of the bookshelf and plunked down on the couch to read, curling up and grabbing a blanket. Dad came down a little while later and started cooking dinner. I thought about getting up, but the getting out of my cozy blanket made me cold just thinking about it. 
    Yes, I was being lazy, and I knew it, but somehow I selfishly felt entitled to my right to stay warm on the couch.
   
    I rubbed my mittened hands together and pushed the shovel back into the hay. It was the third stall I’d mucked that day. George had gotten sick this morning, so I was left with all of the barn chores. My hands ached, and already I knew my back was going to be sore. And to add to all of that, it was snowing. Which meant the roads would be bad, and dad would be home from work late. It was freezing. Well, not that 5 AM is ever really that warm, but in the winter it most definitely never is. I kicked the frozen hose and then grabbed Sumter’s water bucket, running into the house to fill it up – after I tried to get the massive ice cube out. I stomped back outside, struggling not to slosh water out of the bucket. Only five more. Inwardly, I groaned. Five more would take forever… and then I’d get to go inside and make oatmeal for dad and myself, and broth for the boys. I moved on to McArthur’s stall. He pranced impatiently inside his wooden box.
    “Sorry boy, can’t take you for a ride today. I’ll turn you all out into the pasture this afternoon, though, promise.” He snorted, and I passed him a carrot.
    It seemed like hours had passed before I finished the barn chores. I looked out to the ridge as I went back into the house, wishing it were summer and I could climb to the top of it, and stand, letting the wind whip my hair and the sunshine fall on my eyes, wiggling my toes in the grass.
    I hated winter.

    The day dragged on even more than the day before it had. Now I was more sure than ever that something was up, because there was even more thumping from upstairs, and the boys didn’t let me come in, even to bring them broth – it had to be left outside their door. So much for secrecy, I thought. I know you’re up to something.
   
    I fell into bed completely exhausted at ten that night – half an hour later than usual, and twice as tired. Daddy knocked on my door a few minutes later.
    “Come in!”
    “Just me, Beth.”
    “Hi, daddy.”
    “I’m proud of you, sweetie?”
    I cocked my head. “Why was today so different?”
    “You tackled a challenge like your mama would have. Not complaining, but obligingly doing everything that needed to be done before sitting down to your books.”
    “Thanks, daddy.”
    “You’re becoming like her, you know.”
    I gave him a weak smile.
    “What, you don’t think so?”   
    “I think so outwardly, but not inwardly. I guess when she died something inside of me changed… I mean, without her influence, I started becoming just one of the boys… and that’s really hard to change.”
    “I’m praying for you, Beth.”
    “I know, dad. I know prayer works… but God seems to be taking an awfully long time.”
    “Your heart’s in the right place. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. And I think the boys have a little surprise for you that will help you.”
    “I knew they were up to something!”
    “If all goes according to plan, you’ll find out tomorrow morning.”
    “Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”
    “Yes, you will!”
    “I’ll try.”
    Daddy kissed my forehead. “Sleep well.”
    “You too. Love you.”
    “Love you more,” He said as he closed the door behind me.

    The sun streaming through the window woke me up the next morning.
    How did I manage to sleep in? Was my first thought, and then I hurriedly jumped out of bed. I stopped short when my feet hit the floor. Voices. Downstairs… eating breakfast. Yipeee! They’re better!
    I got dressed as quickly as is humanly possible, then flew down the stairs (again, only as much as is humanly possible).
    “Morning, everybody!” I shouted as I hit the floor.
    “Mornin’, Beth!” The boys said in unison.
    “Everybody all better?”
    “Yup.”
    I reached for my coat, which was hanging on the door. “Be back in a few minutes.”
    “Farm chores done,” Jeffy said.
    “Thank you!”
    “No, thank you for not letting our horses starve while we were sick in bed.”
    I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard and dished up some oatmeal. “And just how sick were you guys?”
    Malachi looked down at the table. “Corporately or individually?” He asked.
    I rolled my eyes and sat down at the table. “Obviously corporately you were sick enough to stay in bed.”
    “Yup.”
    “But I heard a TON of thunking from up there. What was going on?”
    “Yeah… about that…”
    I saw Jeffy wink at dad and George across the table, and then the three of them stood up.
    Malachi got to his feet really quickly and ran over to them. They briefly held a private conference, just the four of them, and then Malachi nodded and sat back down at the table.
    “What was that about?”
    “Nothin’.”
    “Yeah, sure. You’re really good at hiding things, Malachi,” I said sarcastically.
    “Just a little something to help you.”
    “Ok.”
    Soon I heard grunts and thumps on the stairs. I looked at Malachi quizzically, but he just smiled and took a bite of his breakfast. I glared at him. He was usually not like this – he usually told me everything, just like I’d always told him everything. Well, not always, since mom had died. When mom was still alive, I told her everything, though Malachi was a close second.
    Dad backed into the room, holding something up. Jeffy and George followed close behind him.
    In their arms, they held a gorgeous wooden trunk. The wood had been stained to a beautiful dark brown. The feet of the trunk had been plainly but beautifully carved, and there was a lovely metal lock on the front. Dad handed me a key after they set it down.
    I dropped to my knees in front of it, speechless. Then I unlocked it, and pushed the lid open. Malachi had stacked mom’s notebooks up neatly in there, as well as her dresses and a few of the other precious things we found in her hope chest. I sank down so that my head and arms rested on the edge of the trunk. Then the tears came. The trunk somehow even smelled like mom, and everything about it reminded me of her – the way she liked dark wood, the simplicity and yet beauty of it.
    Before I knew it, I felt fourteen arms around me, holding me close, loving me, rocking me back and forth.
    “It’s your very own hope chest, Bethy,” Dad said.
    “I know,” I replied between sobs. “It’s just… it just makes me think so much of mom… and it makes me want to be like her, all that I know and have read about her.”
    The boys and dad were quiet, and all I could hear in the house were my sobs and their soft breathing. I thought I heard the wind howl somewhere, and maybe one of the horses whinny. But I didn’t care. Maybe they were a little hungry, but this was the best morning in my entire life.
    Something in my heart was breaking.
    It had changed before, changed toward my father.
    But now it was doing something so much more, so much deeper… it was breaking. All of me was saying, “Daddy, here I am! Here I am! I know I’ve fallen into the traps of the world, I know I’ve been angry at God for making me a girl, but daddy, God’s forgiven me. Here I am, take me back. I’m your daughter, daddy… your only daughter… your polished corner pillar!”
    And then I found myself saying it aloud. The sobs stopped, and dad hugged me tighter.
    “I love you, sweetie.”
    “I love you more, daddy.”
    We all stood up, and I straightened my shirt.
    “Daddy, can we run into town and go to the thrift store today?”
    “What for?”
    “I… want to get some warmer skirts!” I said. Everyone laughed, and daddy hugged me again.
    “Sure, Beth, we can do that.”
    I hugged him back. “Thank you, daddy.”

    That night, the lights in the house were dim and it was quiet. Everyone else had gone to bed. My brothers had brought my Hope Chest back upstairs and set it at the foot of the bed, where I now knelt, lovingly running my hands over the smooth wood. I picked up one of my mom’s notebooks and leafed through it. The notebook fell open to my fifth birthday.
    Happy birthday, Beth! Oh, I have so many prayers and dreams for this beautiful little girl with her dark hair and amber eyes and beautiful curls. Thank you for this blessing, Lord God. I wish I had more daughters, but you’ve given me sons and I accept that gift! But with this precious gift of motherhood and daughterhood, give us both grace and peace. Help us to communicate well. Help me raise my daughter to be a woman of God and a keeper at home.
    Grant me wisdom, God.
    And bless my beautiful Beth. Bless her more than we can ever imagine.
    Tears welled up in my eyes again. I grabbed an empty notebook off of my bookshelf. It had been sitting there for years, and now I finally had a use for it. I pulled a pen out of my desk drawer, and smoothed open the first page.
    Today… was a day that God showered His grace on the Muldoon family. My brothers now have a sister, my daddy a daughter. Thank you, God, for taking this prodigal home. Thank you, God, for rescuing me from the mire. Thank you, God, for saving me from my fever… thank you for helping me see what true biblical femininity and daughterhood are. Thank you for all of the men and brothers in my life I can serve and help and spur on to be leaders and men of God!
    Thank you that my brothers love me and want to help me as I journey closer to you and become more and more the woman that you want me to be. Thank you for the hope of the future calling I have in you, thank you for the reminder that this chest is to me.
    I will praise you, O Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Bless the Lord, oh my soul, all that is within me praise His holy name! for you, Lord, made me my daddy’s daughter, and you are polishing me into a supporting and beautifying young lady for the Muldoon home.

    I capped my pen and closed the notebook, breathing deeply of the Cedar smell from my chest. Then I grinned.
   
    I am a daughter. The daughter of a King.
    And I was home, safely home, within the arms of my fathers – above in heaven and below. 
 

Comments

Kyleigh...

... I think this is your most beautiful work yet.

I can't think of a better word to describe it.

It took me most of an hour to read it, but it was worth every minute.

If only more people would think this way. 

James | Sun, 09/19/2010

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

What a beautiful and lovely

What a beautiful and lovely story, Kyleigh. It took me an hour to read this but it was so worth it. I love the whole storyline and message. This is my favorite story of yours. Now, my favorite essay of yours is To Dance Again. God Bless You, Kyleigh!

Lucy Anne | Wed, 09/19/2012

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kyleigh, this is the most

Kyleigh, this is the most beautiful, edifying, convicting, and teaching story that I have ever read. Thank you so much for writing it. I cried in it at least three times, and felt so convicted. Your Beth in the story is me all over again, although I have a Mother and two sisters. My heart hasn't been "home" like it should be, and your story showed that to me. I cried at least three times while I read it. Once again, thank you so much for writing this and posting it.
May God bless you!!!

Damaris Ann | Thu, 10/30/2014

I am an overcomer through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.

I really feel blessed by your

I really feel blessed by your story.

Damaris Ann | Thu, 10/30/2014

I am an overcomer through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.

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